Luigi Pirandello is far better known as a dramatist with a fondness for exploring themes related to masks, disguises and the various personae that people choose to wear or have forced upon them. In fact, the very first major literary work in which Pirandello took on this theme as his own was in a novel written more than five years before his playwriting career began. The Late Mattia Pascal was published in 1904 as his second novel. Though he would continue publishing novels off and off for the next twenty years, The Late Mattia Pascal remains his most well-known and highly considered.
The story follows the title character from his miserable life trapped in a marriage he was essentially forced into as he attempts to escape this persona and establish his own identity. This chance arises as a result of his wife mistakenly identifying a dead body as belonging to Mattia and his subsequent decision to life a brand new life under an assumed name. As with so many of Pirandello’s more famous works for the stage, however, his main character finds the pursuit of identity far easier than the actual establishment of one. Ultimately, his fate is one which will be shared by a great many Pirandello characters: discovering that identity is very often merely the adoption of a different mask
Although the story takes some dark twists and turns and the theme is pervasively one of profound seriousness, the narrative of tone of The Late Mattia Pascal if often very, often verging into the more familiar Pirandello world of ironic satire. Although Hollywood has yet to discover its cinematic possibilities, the novel has been adapted into three different films, beginning with a silent version in 1925 with the last version hitting screens in 1985. Interestingly, in 1937, a production was simultaneously shot by two different directors using the same sets, one releases in French and the novel’s original language, Italian.