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Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936)


Italian author, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1934 for his "bold and brilliant renovation of the drama and the stage." Pirandello's works include novels, hundreds of short stories, and c. 40 plays, some of which are written in Sicilian dialect. Typical for Pirandello is to show how art or illusion mixes with reality and how people see things in very different way - words are unrealiable and reality is at the same time true and false. Pirandello's tragic farces are often seen as forerunners for theatre of the absurd.

"A man will die, a writer, the instrument of creation: but what he has created will never die! And to be able to to live for ever you don't need to have extraordinary gifts or be able to do miracles. Who was Sancho Panza? Who was Prospero? But they will live for ever because – living seeds – they had the luck to find a fruitful soil, an imagination which knew how to grow them and feed them, so that they will live for ever." (from Six Characters in Search of an Author, 1921)

Luigi Pirandello was born in Caos, near Girgenti, on the island of Sicily, which was to be the inspiration of his writings. "I am a child of Chaos and not only allegorically," he said in his biographical sketch; his family spent vacations at a house called Chaos. Pirandello's father, Stefano Ricci-Gramitto, who had fought with Garibaldi, owned a prosperous sulfur mine.

His childhood Pirandello spent in modest weath in Girgenti (today called Agrigento) and Palermo, surrounded by nurses and servants, and enjoying the adoration of his mother. From his teens Pirandello showed literary talents, but he first studied law. His father intended his son to become a businessman. In 1887 Pirandello entered the University of Rome, from where he was expelled for offending a Latin professor, and then transferred to the University of Bonn, Germany, receiving his doctoral degree in Roman philology in 1891. Pirandello's dissertation, written in Germany, dealt with the dialect of his native region.

After having a liaison with his cousin Linuccia, which his father did not approve, Pirandello started his career as a writer. "Blessed is he who can stop halfway and before old age comes on can marry illusion and preserve it lovingly," Pirandello wrote in 1887 in a letter of his future plans. In Rome, where he had settled with a montly allowance from his father, Pirandello translated Goethe's Roman Elegies, wrote Elegie Renane (1895), and published two collections of poetry, and a collection of short stories, Amori senza amore (1894). In 1898 he became a professor of Italian literature at a teacher's college for women, and worked there for 24 years. L'esclusa (1901) was Pirandello's first full-length novel. In the ironical story the protagonist suspects that his wife is unfaithful and takes her back after the adultery has actually occurred.

Pirandello had married in 1894 Antonietta Portulano, a fellow Sicilian and the daughter of his father's business associate. She suffered mental breakdown in 1904. When her condition steadily worsened - she became insane with a jealous paranoia - the illness deeply influenced Pirandello's writing. During World War I, both of Pirandello's sons were captured as prisoners of war. After his wife's illness got worse, Pirandello was forced to place her in 1919 in a mental institution.

When the collapse of the sulfur mines destroyed the family business, Pirandello had to turn his writing into a financially profitable activity. In 1904 Pirandello gained his first literary success with the novel Il fu Mattia Pascal. Its antihero, Mattia Pascal, is mistakenly declared dead. Offered an opportunity to start life over again, he escapes from his family. In Monte Carlo Mattia wins a fortune, but his newly found freedom turns sour and he must return to his hometown, to his past he had hoped to leave behind. "I can't really say that I'm myself," he thinks. "I don't know who I am. . . . I am the late Mattia Pascal." In the following decades the questions "who am I?" and "what is real?" became central in Pirandello's fiction. Uno, nessuno e centomila (1925-26, One, None, and Hundred-Thousand), a story about husband's descend into madness, owed more to Freud than Gogol. His despair starts when his wife comments a slight defect on his nose - it tilts to the right.

Pirandello started to write plays as early as in the 1880s, but he first considered the stage insensitive medium compared to the novel. After 1915, Pirandello concentrated on the theater and wrote until 1921 sixteen dramas. La ragione degli altri (1915) was Pirandello's first three-act play. It did not gain much understanding, but through the performances of the actor Angelo Musco (1892-1937) his work started to attract attention. His ideal female lead Pirandello found in Marta Abba, for whom he wrote several plays, among them Diana e la Tuda  (1926, Diana and Tuda), L'amica delle mogli  (1927, The Wives's Friend), and Come tu mi vuoi (1930, As You Desire Me). Pirandello also engaged her for his own company, the Teatro d'Arte di Roma, and formed a relationship with her, documented in Pirandello's Love Letters to Martha Abba (1994).

Cosi è (se vi pare) (Right You Are - If You Think You Are), published in 1918, marked Pirandello's interest in the examination of the relativity of truth. The story was about a woman whose identity remains hidden and who could be one of the two very different people. Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore  (1921, Six Chracters in Search of An Author) asked the question, can fictional characters be more authentic than real persons, and what is the relationship between imaginary characters and the writer, who has created them.

Six Characters in Search of an Author consists of roles-within-roles. In rehearsal preparations of a theatrical company are interrupted by the Father and his family who explain that they are characters from an unfinished dramatic works. They want to interpret again crucial moments of their lives, claiming that they are "truer" than the "real" characters. "How can we understand each other if the words I use have the sense and the value I expect them to have, but whoever is listening to me inevitably thinks that those same words have a different sense and value, because of the private world he has inside himself too. We think we understand each other: but we never do," says the Father. He tells that he has helped his wife to start a new life with her lover and the three illegitimate children born to them. The Wife claims that he forced her into the arms of another man. The Stepdaughter accuses the Father for her shame – they met before in Mme Pace's infamous house, and he did not recognize her. She was forced to turn to prostitution to support the family. The Son refuses to acknowledge his family and runs into the garden. He shots himself and the actors argue about whether the boy is dead or not. The Father insists that the events are real. The Producer says: "Make-believe?! Reality?! Oh, go to hell the lot of you! Lights! Lights! Lights!" and The Stepdaughter escapes into the audience laughing maniacally.

Six Chracters in Search of An Author created a scandal when it was first performed in Rome, but it was hailed as a masterpiece in Paris, innovatively produced by Georges Pitoëff. G.B. Shaw praised it as the most original play ever. Enrio IV (1922, Henry IV, known in the United States as The Living Mask), premiered in Milan, received much better reception. The play told about a man who has fallen from his horse during a masquerade and starts to believe he is the German emperor Henry IV. To accommodate his illness his wealthy sister has placed him in a medieval castle surrounded by actors dressed as eleventh-century courtiers. The nameless hero regains his sanity after twelve years, but decides to pretend he is mad.

With the trilogy Six Characters in Search of An Author, in which the characters of the title are called into existence by a writer, Ciascuno  suo modo (1924) and Questa sera si recita soggetto (1930), Pirandello revolutionized the modern theatrical techniques. A second trilogy, La nuova colonia (1928), Lazzarro (1929), and I giganti della montagna (1934, The Mountain Giants) moved from the limits of truth-telling to the reality outside of art. The Mountain Giants was left unfinished. It portrayed a magician, who lives in an abandoned villa. A theatrical company decides to perform at a celebration given by the 'Giants of the Mountain.' The barbaric audience tears two of the actors to pieces and kills one of the directors of the company.

Pirandello once said: "I hate symbolic art in which the presentation loses all spontaneous movement in order to become a machine, an allegory - a vain and misconceived effort because the very fact of giving an allegorical sense to a presentation clearly shows that we have to do with a fable which by itself has no truth either fantastic or direct; it was made for the demonstration of some moral truth." (from Playwrights on Playwriting, ed. by Toby Cole, 1961) Pirandello's central themes, the problem of identity, the ambiguity of truth and reality, has been compared to explorations of Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, but he also anticipated Beckett and Ionesco. One of the earliest formulations of his relativist position Pirandello presented in the essay 'Art and Consciousness Today' (1893), in which he argued that the old norms have crumbled and the idea of relativity deprives "almost altogether of the faculty for judgment." A central concepts in his work is "naked mask," referring our social roles and on the stage the dialectic relationship between the actor and the character portrayed. In Six Characters the father points out, that a fictional figure has a permanence that comes from an unchanging text, but a real-life person may well be "a nobody." Pirandello did not only restrict his ideas to theatre acting, but noted in his novel Si gira (1915), that the film actor "feels as if in exile - exiled not only from the stage, but also from himself."

In 1923 Pirandello requested membership in the Fascist party and obtained Mussolini's support in founding the National Art Theatre of Rome (Teatro d'Arte di Roma). However, the company was closed in 1928 on grounds of financial problems. In 1934 Pirandello's libretto for Gian Francesco Malipiero's opera The Fable of the Changeling was criticized by the Fascist authorities. Pirandello had first seen in Mussolini a man committed to the facts rather than theory, but later he described Mussolini as "as top hat, and empty top hat that by itself cannot stand upright." Remaining critical towards the regime, he did not support the Ethiopian invasion by Italy. Pirandello died in Rome on December 10, 1936.

Pirandello's influence can be seen on such European and American writers as Jean Anouilh, Jean-Paul Sartre, Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, Jean Genet, Eugene O'Neill, and Edward Albee. In Latin America, Jorge Luis Borges's questioning of the nature of identity have much in common with Pirandellian themes. Several of Pirandello's works have been adapted to screen, including As You Desire Me (1932), starring Greta Garbo, L'homme de nulle part (1937), based on the novel The Late Mathias Pascal and directed by and Pierre Chenal. Kaos, directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani (1984), was based on the author's four Sicilian stories.

For further reading: Characters and Authors in Luigi Pirandello by Ann Caesar (1998); Luigi Pirandello, 1867-1936, His Plays in Sicilian by Joseph F. Privitera (1998); Luigi Pirandello: The Theatre of Paradox, ed. by Julie Dashwood (1997); Ars dramatica: Studi sulla poetica di Luigi Pirandello by Rena A. Lamparska (1997); Understanding Luigi Pirandello by Fiora A. Bassanese, James N. Hardin (1997); Pirandello & Film by Nina Davinci Nichols, et al (1995); A Companion to Pirandello Studies, ed. by John Louis Digaetani (June 1991); Moments of Selfhood by James V. Biundo (1990); Luigi Pirandello by S. Bassnett-McGuire (1983); Luigi Pirandello: an Approach to his Theatre by O. Ragusa (1980); Dreams of Passion: The Theater of Luigi Pirandello by R, Oliver (1979); Introduzione alla critica pirandelliana by A. Illano (1976); Pirandello: a Biography by G. Giudice (1975); Pirandello fascista by G.F. Vené (1971); Luigi Pirandello by G. Giudice (1963); L' arte di Luigi Pirandello by F. Puglisi (1958); Playwrights on Playwrighting, ed. by Toby Cole (1961); Luigi Pirandello by L. Ferrante (1958); Luigi Pirandello by L. Baccalo (1949); L' Uomo segreto by F.V. Nardelli (1944); L'opera di Luigi Pirandello by M. Lo Vecchio Musti (1939) - Suomeksi Pirandellolta on käännetty useita näytelmiä ja esseekokoelma Uusi teatteri ja vanha teatteri (1934).

Selected works:

  • Laute und Lautentwicklung der Mundart von Girgenti, 1891
    - The Sounds of the Girgenti Dialect, and Their Development (translated by Giovanni R. Bussino, 1992)
  • Mal giocondo, 1889
  • Pasqua di Gea, 1891
  • Marta Ajala, 1893 (republished as L'esclusa in 1901)
  • Amori senz' amore, 1894
  • Elegie Renane, 1895
  • L'epilogo, 1898 (published, produced in 1910 under the title La Morsa)
    - The Vise, in One Act Plays (ed. Arthur Livingstone, 1928)
  • L'esclusa, 1901
    - The Outcast (translated by Leo Ongley, 1925)
  • Il turno, 1902
    - The Merry-Go-Round of Love (translated by Frances Keene, 1964)
  • Beffe della morte e della vita, 1902
  • Quand'ero matto , 1902
  • Bianche e nere, 1904
  • Il fu Mattia Pascal, 1904
    - The Late Mattia Pascal (translated by Artur Livingston, 1923; William Weaver, 1964)
    - Mennyttä miestä (suom. Liisa Ryömä, 1992)
    - films: 1925, Feu Mathias Pascal, dir. by Marcel L'Herbier, starring Ivan Mozzhukhin, prod. Cinégraphic; 1936, L'homme de nulle part / The Man from Nowhere, dir. by Pierre Chenal, starring Pierre Blanchar; 1985, Le due vite di Mattia Pascal, dir. by Mario Monicelli, screenplay by Suso Cecchi d'Amico, Ennio De Concini, starring Marcello Mastroianni, prod. Antenne-2
  • Erma bifronte, 1906
  • La vita nuda, 1908
  • L'umorismo, 1908
    - On Humor (translated by Antonio Illiano and Daniel P. Testa, 1974)
  • Arte e scienza, 1908
  • Scamandro, 1909
  • Suo marito, 1911
    - Her Husband (translated by Martha King and Mary Ann Frese Witt, 2000)
  • Lumíe di Sicilia, 1911
    - Sicilian Limes (in Plays of the Italian Theatre, translated by Isaac Goldberg, 1921)
  • Terzetti, 1912
  • Fuori di chiave, 1912
  • Cecé, 1913
    - Chee-Chee (in One Act Plays, ed. Arthur Livingstone, 1928)
  • Il dovere del medico, 1913 (prod.)
    - The Doctor's Duty (in One Act Plays, ed. Arthur Livinsgtone, 1928)
  • I vecchi e i giovani, 1913
  • Le due maschere, 1914
  • La trappola, 1915
  • La ragione degli altri, 1915
  • Si gira..., 1915
    - Shoot: The Notebook of Serafino Gubbio, Cinematograph Operator (translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, 1926)
    - Elämän filmi (suom. Anna Silfverblad, 1927)
  • Erba del nostro orto, 1915
  • Se non rosi, 1916
  • All'uscitta, 1916
    - At the Gate (in One Act Plays, ed. Arthur Livingstone, 1928)
  • E domani, lunedi?..., 1917
  • L'innesto, 1917
  • Pensaci, Giacomino!, 1917
    - Think It over Giaccomino! (in Pirandello: Collected Plays: Volume 4, ed. Robert Rietti, 1996)
  • Liolà, 1917
    - Liolà (in Naked Masks, ed. Eric Bentley, 1952)
    - films: 1964, dir. Alessandro Blasetti, starring Ugo Tognazzi, Giovanna Ralli, Pierre Brasseur, Anouk Aimée, Elisa Cegani, prod. Cinecittà; 2009, dir. Gabriele Lavia, prod. Globe Films
  •  Così è (se vi pare), 1918
    - Right You Are, If You Think You Are (translated by Stanley Appelbaum) / Right You Are (If You Think So) (in Each in His Own Way, and Two Other Plays, translated by Arthur Livingstone, 1924) / It Is So (If You Think So) (in Naked Masks, ed. Eric Bentley, 1952)
    - Niin on (jos siltä näyttää) (suom.)
  • Un cavallo nella luna, 1918
  • La patente, 1919
    - The Judgement of Court (in One Act Plays, ed. Arthur Livingstone, 1928)
  • Il piacere dell'onestà, 1918
    - The Pleasures of Honesty (translated by William Murray, 1962)
  • Il Carnevale dei morti, 1919
  • Tu ridi, 1919
    - films: TV comedy 1996, Ra gatsinebs?!, dir. Amiran Chichinadze; 1998, dir. Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani, prod. Dania Film
  • Ma non è una cosa seria, 1919
  • Il giuoco delle parti, 1919
    - The Rules of the Game (translated by Robert Rietty, 1959; David Hare, 1971)
    - films: TV comedy 1967, De Regels van het spel, cast: Pim Dikkers, Ann Hasekamp, Ton Lensink, Cor van Rijn; TV film 1975, dir. Kirk Browning, prod. New Phoenix Repertory Company
  • L'uomo, la bestia e la virtù, 1919
    - film 1953, dir. Steno, screenplay by Vitaliano Brancati, Lucio Fulci, starrig Totò, Orson Welles, Viviane Romance, prod. Rosa Film
  • Berecche e la guerra, 1919
  • Maschere nude, 1920-1929 (2nd ed., 31 vols.)
    - Naked Masks: Five Plays (ed. by Eric Bentley, 1952)
  • Tutto per bene, 1920
    - All for the Best (translated by Henry Reed, 1962)
  • Il berretto a sonagli, 1920
    - Cap and Bells (in Plays: Vol. 5, ed. Robert Rietti, 1996)
  • Come prima, meglio di prima, 1921
    - films: 1956, Never Say Goodbye, dir. by Jerry Hopper; 1945, This Love of Ours, dir. by William Dieterle starring Merle Oberon, Claude Rains
  • L'innesto, 1921
  • Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore, 1921
    - Six Characters in Search of An Author (translators: Edward Storer, 1922; Eric Bentley, 1952; John Linstrum, 1979; Mark Musa, 1995; Jennifer Lorch, 2005)
    - Kuusi henkilöä etsii tekijää (suom.)
    - films: TV play 1962, Sex roller söka en författare, dir. and adaptation Bengt Lagerkvist; TV comedy 1971, Zes personages zoeken een auteur, dir. Robert Lussac, prod. Belgische Radio en Televisie (BRT); TV film 1973, Seks roller søger en forfatter, dir. Leon Feder, prod. Danmarks Radio (DR); TV film 1976, Six Characters in Search of an Author, dir. Stacy Keach, adaptation by Paul Avila Mayer, prod. Hollywood Television Theatre; TV film 1978, Sechs Personen suchen einen Autor, prod. Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF); TV film 1992, dir. Bill Bryden, cast: John Hurt, Brian Cox, Tara Fitzgerald, Susan Fleetwood; TV film 2004, 6 personnages en quête d'auteur, dir. Laurent Preyale, prod. Alamagordo Films et Spectacles
  • Enrico IV, 1922
    - The Emperor (Henry IV) (in The Genius of the Italian Theatre, ed. Eric Bentley, 1964) / Henry IV (translated by Frederick May, 1962; Julian Mitchell, 1978; Mark Musa, 1995) / Enrico IV (translated by Gloria Pastorino, 2002)
    - films: 1943, dir. by Georgio Pastina. Cast: Enzo Biliotti, Clara Calamai, Rubi D'Alma, Lauro Gazzolo, Augusto Maracci, Umberto Melnati, Luigi Pavese, Giorgio Piamonti, Francesco Rissone, Oswaldo Valent; 1984, dir. by Marco Bellocchio, starring Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Leopoldo Trieste, Paolo Bonacelli
  • Novelle per un anno, 1922-37
    - Ahdas frakki ja muita novelleja (valikoinut ja suom. Leena Rantanen, 2009)
  • La signora Morli, una e due, 1922
  • Three Plays, 1922 (translated by Edward Storer, Arthur Livingstone)
  • Vestire gli ignudi, 1923
    - Naked (translated by Nina da Vinci Nichols, 2004) / To Clothe the Naked (translated by William Murray, 1962)
  • La vita che ti diedi, 1924
    - The Life I Gave You (translated by Frederick May, 1959)
  • Each in His Own Way, and Two Other Plays, 1924 (translated by A. Livinsgtone)
  • Ciascuno a suo modo, 1924
    - Each in His Own Way (in Each in His Own Way, and Two Other Plays, translated by Arthur Livingston, 1924; in Naked Masks, ed. Eric Bentley, 1952)
  • Sagra del signore della nave, 1924
    - Our Lord of the Ship (in One Act Plays, ed. Arthur Livingstone, 1928)
  • La giara, 1925
    - The Jar (in One Act Plays, ed. Arthur Livingstone, 1928; in Plays: Vol. 5, ed. Robert Rietti, 1996)
    - film 1971, Kvevri , dir. Irakli Kvirikadze, screenplay Revaz Gabriadze, prod. Qartuli Telepilmi
  • L'altro figlio, 1925
    - The House and the Column (in One Act Plays, ed. Arthur Livingstone, 1928)
  • Quaderni di Serafino Gubbio operatore, 1925
    - The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio, Cinematograph Operator (translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff)
    - Elämän filmi (suom. Anna Silfverblad, 1927)
  • Uno, nessuno e centomila, 1925-26
    - One, None, and a Hundred-Thousand (translated by Samuel Putnam, 1933) / One, No One and One Hundred Thousand (translated by William Weaver, 1992)
  • Diana e la Tuda, 1926
    - Diana and Tuda (translated by Marta Abba, 1960)
  • L'imbecille, 1926
    - The Imbecile (in One Act Plays, ed. Arthur Livingstone, 1928; Plays: Vol. 4, ed. Robert Rietti, 1996)
  • L'uomo del fiore in bocca, 1926
    - The Man With the Flower in His Mouth (in One Act Plays, ed. Arthur Livingstone, 1928; Frederick May, 1959, tr. Eric Bentley, in One Act Short Plays for the Modern Theatre, ed. Samuel Moon, 1961)
  • L'amica delle mogli, 1927
    - The Wives' Friend (translated by Marta Abba, 1949/60)
  • The One-Act Plays, 1928 (ed. Arthur Livingstone, translated by E. Abbot et al.)
  • Bellavita, 1928
  • La nuova colonia, 1928
    - The New Colony (in The Mountain Giants and Other Plays, translated by Marta Abba, 1958)
  • O di uno o di nessuno, 1929
  • Lazzarro, 1929
    - Lazarus (translated by Phyllis H. Raymond, 1952)
  • Sogno (ma forse no), 1929
    - A Dream (but perhaps it isn't) (in Stand, Vol.5, no. 3 (translated by Frederick May, 1961)
  • Come tu mi vuoi, 1930
    - As You Desire Me (translated by Samuel Putnam, 1931; in Twenty Best European Plays on the American Stage, translated by Marta Abba, 1957)
    - films: 1932, dir. by George Fitzmaurice, starring Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Erich von Stroheim; 2001, Va savoir, dir. Jacques Rivette, scenario Pascal Bonitzer, Christine Laurent, prod. Pierre Grise Productions
  • Questa sera si recita a soggetto, 1930
    - Tonight we Improvise (translated by J. Douglas Campbell and Leonard G. Sbrocchi, 1987)
    - Tämä iltana improvisoimme (suom.)
  • Trovarsi, 1930
    - To Find Onself (translated by Marta Abba, 1960)
    - Löydänkö itseni (suom.)
  • Quando si è qualcuno, 1933
    - When Someone Is Somebody (in The Mountain Giants and Other Plays, translated by Marta Abba, 1958)
  • Better Think Twice About It, and Twelve Other Stories, 1934
  • The Naked Truth, and Eleven Other Stories, 1934 (translated by Arthur and Henrie Mayne)
  • I giganti della montagna, 1934
    - The Mountain Giants (in The Mountain Giants, and Other Plays, translated by Marta Abba, 1958)
  • La favola del figlio cambiato, 1934
  • Non si sa come, 1935
    - No One Knows How (translated by Marta Abba, 1963)
  • Novelle per un anno, 1937-38
  • The Medals and Other Stories, 1938
  • Four Tales, 1939
  • Naked Masks: Five Plays, 1952 (ed. Eric Bentley)
  • Novelle per un anno, 1956-57 (2 vols.)
  • Tutti i romanzi, 1957
  • Maschere nude, 1958 (2 vols., new ed. 1978)
  • The Mountain of Giants, and Other Plays, 1958 (translated by M. Abba)
  • Opere, 1958-59 (5 vols.)
  • Short Stories, 1959 (translated by Lily Duplaix)
  • Saggi, poesie, scritti varii, 1960
  • The Rules of the Game; The Life I Gave You; Lazarus, 1960
  • To Clothe the Naked and Two Other Plays, 1962 (translated by William Murray)
  • The Merry-Go-Around of Love and Selected Stories, 1964
  • Pirandello's One-Act Plays, 1964 (translated by William Murray)
  • On Humor, 1974 (tranlated by A. Illiano and D. Testa)
  • Tales of Madness: A Selection from Luigi Pirandello's Short Stories for a Year, 1984 (translated by Giovanni R. Bussino)
  • Eleven Short Stories / Undici Novelle, 1994 (translated and edited by Stanley Appelbaum)
  • Oil Jar and Other Stories, 1994 (translated by Stanley Appelbaum)
  • Lettere a Marta Abba, 1995
    - Pirandello's Love Letters to Martha Abba (edited and translated by Benito Ortolani, 1993)
  • Luigi Pirandello, 1867-1936: His Plays in Sicilian, 1998 (2 vols., translated by Joseph F. Privitera)
  • Three Major Plays, 2000 (translated by Carl R. Mueller)

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