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Authors: Luigi Pirandello

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The Oil Jar and Other Stories

BOOK: The Oil Jar and Other Stories
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The short stories of Luigi Pirandello (1867–1936) are brief, dynamic and full of tragic absurdity. The secret world of the individual personality, and the inevitable deceptions (and self-deceptions) that keep these personalities sane—or mad—form the main preoccupations of Pirandello's art, which also includes his poetry, novels and, most famously, his plays. Pirandello was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1934. The translations herein are based on the texts of the very first publications of the stories.


Copyright © 1995 by Dover Publications, Inc.

All rights reserved under Pan American and International Copyright Conventions.

Published in Canada by General Publishing Company, Ltd., 30 Lesmill Road, Don Mills, Toronto, Ontario.



Bibliographical Note

This Dover edition, first published in 1995, reprints the complete English translations from the volume
Eleven Short Stories/Undici Novelle: A Dual-Language Book
(author: Pirandello), as published by Dover in 1994; the translations were newly prepared for that volume.


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Pirandello, Luigi, 1867–1936.

[Short stories. English. Selections]

The oil jar and other stories / Luigi Pirandello ; translated by Stanley Appelbaum.

p. cm.—(Dover thrift editions)

Contents : Little hut—Citrons from Sicily—With other eyes—A voice—The fly —The oil jar—It's not to be taken seriously—Think it over, Giacomino!—A character's tragedy—A prancing horse—Mrs. Frola and Mr. Ponza, her son-in-law.


1. Pirandello, Luigi, 1867—1936—Translations into English. I. Appelbaum, Stanley. II. Title. III. Series.

PQ4835.I7A225 1995



Manufactured in the United States of America
Dover Publications, Inc., 31 East 2nd Street, Mineola, N.Y. 11501


A dawn like none ever seen.

A little girl came out of the small dark hut, with her hair tousled on her forehead and with a faded red kerchief on her head.

While she buttoned up her plain little dress, she was yawning, still confusedly half-asleep, and she was gazing: gazing into the distance, with her eyes wide open as if she saw nothing.

Far away, far away, a long streak of flaming red was strangely interwoven with the emerald green of the trees, which extended a great distance until disappearing from sight a long way off.

The entire sky was spattered with little clouds of a flaming saffron yellow.

The girl was walking inattentively, and there! ... as a small hill that rose on the right was gradually lost to her view, the immensity of the waters of the sea was displayed before her eyes.

The girl seemed impressed, moved in the face of that scene, and stopped to look at the small boats that were skimming on the waves, tinged a pale yellow.

All was silence.—The gentle little night breeze was still blowing, creating trembling ripples on the sea, and slowly, slowly a pleasing smell of earth arose.

Shortly afterward the girl turned—wandered in that weak morning light and, when she reached the top of the rocky bank, sat down.

She absentmindedly viewed the green valley that smiled to her from below, and she had begun to hum a charming little song.

But all at once, as if struck by an idea, she stopped singing and, in the loudest tone she could muster, cried:

“‘Uncle' Jeli! Oh, ‘Uncle' Je . . . ”

And a coarse voice answered from the valley:


“Climb up ... because the boss wants you! ... ”

Meanwhile the girl was returning toward the little hut, her head lowered.—Jeli had climbed up, still sleepy, with his jacket on his left shoulder and his pipe in his mouth—a pipe that he always allowed to sleep between his teeth.

As soon as he had come in, he greeted Papa Camillo, while Màlia, the steward's older daughter, looked him in the face with two eyes like arrows that could pierce a boulder.

Jeli responded to her look.

Papa Camillo was a little stump of a man, fat as a wine cask.

Màlia, on the other hand, had the face of one of Paolo Veronese's noblewomen, and in her eyes the blessed simplicity of her heart could be clearly read.

“Listen, Jeli,” said Papa Camillo, “prepare some fruit because tomorrow the master and his family are coming from town.—Good ones, right? ... otherwise ... I swear to God! ... ”

“Oh! Always the same story,” replied Jeli, “and you should know better than to say things like that ... and to me of all people! ... ”

“Meanwhile,” continued Papa Camillo and, taking him by the arm, led him out of the hut, “meanwhile ... if you ever again take it into your head to ... Enough! You understand me ... ”

Jeli seemed thunderstruck.

Papa Camillo went down through the valley.

The situation couldn't be better, and the young man dashed over to the little hut.

“We're lost!” said Màlia.

“Silly!” said Jeli. “If I don't succeed by fair means ... ”

“Oh! Jeli, Jeli, what do you mean?”

“What, you don't understand me? We'll run away.”

“Run away?” said the girl, surprised.

“Or else ... ,” Jeli added, and he put his gleaming sickle around his neck ...

“My God!” exclaimed Màlia, as if a shudder ran all through her body.

“This evening, you hear? At seven o'clock!” said Jeli, and vanished.

The girl uttered a cry.


It was becoming dark.

The arranged time was getting close and Màlia, extremely pale, with lips like two small petals of a dried rose, was sitting in front of the door.

She was looking at the green plain that was being submerged in darkness—and when, far off, the village bell rang the Angelus, she too prayed.

And that solemn silence was like a divine prayer of Nature!

After a long wait Jeli came. This time he had left behind his pipe, and was a little flushed and very determined.

“So early?” said Màlia, trembling.

“Fifteen minutes sooner, fifteen minutes later, it's all time gained,” answered Jeli.

“But ... ”

“Damn it all! I think it's time to put aside all these ‘buts' ... Darling, don't you know what we're undertaking? ...”

“I do know! I know it very well... ,” Màlia hurriedly replied, unable to adjust to that rash determination.

Meanwhile a distant whistle informed Jeli that their conveyance was ready.

“Come on!” he said. “Be brave, my little Màlia! It's happiness that's calling for us ... ”

Màlia uttered a cry—Jeli took her by the arm, and off they ran...

As he set foot inside the farm wagon, he shouted: “As fast as you can!”

The two young people embraced and kissed freely for the first time.


At nine o'clock Papa Camillo returned from the valley and gave a loud whistle.

The little girl came hurriedly and before she arrived:

“Where is Jeli?” he asked her. “Have you seen Jeli?”

“Boss! ... Boss! ... ” she replied in a breathless, stifled voice.

“What are you trying to tell me? Helpless simpleton!” roared Papa Camillo.

“Jeli... ran away ... with Malia ... ”

“ ... ”

And a hoarse, ... wild sound escaped Papa Camillo's throat.

He ran ... flew to the hut: he took the carbine and fired into the air. The girl was watching, stunned.

That man's mad rage was a strange sight. A frenetic laugh burst from his lips and was lost in a choked rattle.—He no longer knew what he was doing ... And, beside himself, he set fire to the little hut as if to destroy everything that spoke to him of his daughter. —Then, gun in hand, he raced furiously off down the path, where he perhaps hoped to find the lovers.

In the mournful evening those tongues of flame rose bloodred into the sky.

The little hut, blackened, was pouring out smoke, pouring smoke and crackling, as if with its slow snapping and popping it wanted to greet the little girl, who, pale, horrified, was watching it with fixed gaze.

All her thoughts seemed to be following the column of smoke that was rising from her humble dwelling ...

The little hut, blackened, was pouring out smoke, pouring smoke and crackling, and the little girl stood there in silence, resting her gaze on the gloomy ashes.


Palermo '83


“Is Teresina here?”

The servant—still in his shirt sleeves, but with his neck already squeezed into an extremely high collar and with his sparse hair carefully dressed and arranged on his cranium—raised his thick, joined eyebrows, which resembled a displaced mustache that had been shaved off his lips and pasted up there so he wouldn't lose it, and examined from head to foot the young man standing in front of him on the staircase landing: a rustic from the look of him, with the collar of his rough overcoat raised up to his ears and his hands—purple, numbed with cold—holding a dirty little sack on one side and a small old suitcase on the other, as a counterweight.

“Who is Teresina?”

The young man first shook his head to get rid of a little water drop on the tip of his nose, then replied:

“Teresina, the singer.”

“Ah!” exclaimed the servant with a smile of ironic amazement: “That's her name, just plain Teresina? And who are you?”

“Is she here or isn't she?” asked the young man, knitting his brows and sniffling. “Tell her that Micuccio is here, and let me in.”

“But there's no one here,” continued the servant with his smile congealed on his lips. “Madame Sina Marnis is still at the theater and ...”

“Aunt Marta, too?” Micuccio interrupted him.

“Ah, you're a relative, sir? In that case, step right in, step right in ... No one's at home. She's at the theater, too, your aunt. They won't be back before one. This is the benefit night
of your ... what is she to you, the lady? Your cousin, perhaps?”

Micuccio stood there embarrassed for a moment.

Micuccio stood there embarrassed for a moment.

“I'm not a relative ... I'm Micuccio Bonavino, she knows ... I've come on purpose from our hometown.”

Upon receiving this reply, the servant deemed it suitable above all else to take back the polite
form of address and go back to the ordinary
he led Micuccio into a small unlighted room near the kitchen, where someone was snoring noisily, and said to him:

“Sit here. I'll go and get a lamp.”

Micuccio first looked in the direction from which the snoring was coming, but couldn't make out anything; then he looked into the kitchen, where the cook, aided by a scullery boy, was preparing a supper. The mingled aromas of the dishes being prepared overpowered him; their effect on him was like a heady intoxication; he had hardly eaten a thing since that morning; he had traveled from Reggio di Calabria: a night and a full day on the train.

The servant brought the lamp, and the person who was snoring in the room, behind a curtain hung from a cord between two walls, muttered sleepily:

“Who is it?”

“Hey, Dorina, get up!” the servant called. “Look, Mr. Bonvicino is here ...”

“Bonavino,” Micuccio corrected him, as he blew on his fingers.

“Bonavino, Bonavino ... an acquaintance of the mistress. You really sleep soundly: they ring at the door and you don't hear it ... I have to set the table; I can't do everything myself, understand—keep an eye on the cook, who doesn't know the ropes; watch for people who come to call ...”

A big, loud yawn from the maid, prolonged while she stretched and ending in a whinny caused by a sudden shiver, was her reply to the complaint of the manservant, who walked away exclaiming:

“All right!”

Micuccio smiled and watched him depart across another room in semidarkness until he reached the vast, well-lit salon at the far end, where the splendid supper table towered; he kept on gazing in amazement until the snoring made him turn once more and look at the curtain.

The servant, with his napkin under his arm, passed back and forth, muttering now about Dorina, who went on sleeping, now about the cook, who was most likely a new man, called in for that evening's event, and who was annoying him by constantly asking for explanations. Micuccio, to avoid annoying him further, deemed it prudent to repress all the questions that he thought of asking him. He really ought to have told him or given him to understand that he was Teresina's fiance, but he didn't want to, though he himself didn't know why, unless perhaps it was because the servant would then have had to treat him, Micuccio, as his master, and he, seeing him so jaunty and elegant, although still without his tailcoat, couldn't manage to overcome the embarrassment he felt at the very thought of it. At a certain point, however, seeing him pass by again, he couldn't refrain from asking him:

“Excuse me ... whose house is this?”

“Ours, as long as we're in it,” the servant answered hurriedly.

And Micuccio sat there shaking his head.

By heaven, so it was true! Opportunity seized by the forelock. Good business. That servant who resembled a great nobleman, the cook and the scullery boy, that Dorina snoring over there: all servants at Teresina's beck and call ... Who would ever have thought so?

In his mind he saw once again the dreary garret, way down in Messina, where Teresa used to live with her mother ... Five years earlier, in that faraway garret, if it hadn't been for him, mother and daughter would have died of hunger. And
he, he
had discovered that treasure in Teresa's throat! She was always singing, then, like a sparrow on the rooftops, unaware of her own treasure: she would sing to annoy, she would sing to keep from thinking of her poverty, which he would try to alleviate as best he could, in spite of the war his parents waged with him at home, his mother especially. But could he abandon Teresina in those circumstances, after her father's death?—abandon her because she had nothing, while he, for better or worse, did have a modest employment, as flute player in the local orchestra? Fine reasoning!—and what about his heart?

Ah, it had been a true inspiration from heaven, a prompting of fortune, when he had paid attention to that voice of hers, when no one was giving it heed, on that very beautiful April day, near the garret window that framed the vivid blue of the sky. Teresina was singing softly an impassioned Sicilian arietta, the tender words of which Micuccio still remembered. Teresina was sad, that day, over the recent death of her father and over his family's stubborn opposition; and he too—he recalled—was sad, so much so that tears had come to his eyes when he heard her sing. And yet he had heard that arietta many other times; but sung that way, never. He had been so struck by it that the following day, without informing her or her mother, he had brought with him his friend, the orchestra conductor, up to the garret. And in that way the first singing lessons had begun; and for two years running he had spent almost all of his small salary on her; he had rented a piano for her, had purchased her sheet music and had also given the teacher some friendly remuneration. Beautiful faraway days! Teresa burned intensely with the desire to take flight, to hurl herself into the future that her teacher promised her would be a brilliant one; and, in the meantime, what impassioned caresses for him to prove to him all her gratitude, and what dreams of happiness together!

Aunt Marta, on the other hand, would shake her head bitterly: she had seen so many ups and downs in her life, poor old lady, that by now she had no more trust left in the future; she feared for her daughter and didn't want her even to think about the possibility of escaping that poverty to which they were resigned; and, besides, she knew, she knew how much the madness of that dangerous dream was costing him.

But neither he nor Teresina would listen to her, and she protested in vain when a young composer, having heard Teresina at a concert, declared that it would be a real crime not to give her better teachers and thorough artistic instruction: in Naples, it was essential to send her to the Naples conservatory, cost what it might.

And then he, Micuccio, breaking off with his parents altogether, had sold a little farm of his that had been bequeathed to him by his uncle the priest, and in that way Teresina had gone to Naples to perfect her studies.

He hadn't seen her again since then; but he had received her letters from the conservatory and afterwards those of Aunt Marta, when Teresina was already launched on her artistic life, eagerly sought by the major theaters after her sensational debut at the San Carlo. At the foot of those shaky and hesitant letters, which the poor old lady scratched onto the paper as best she could, there were always a few words from
from Teresina, who never had time to write: “Dear Micuccio, I go along with everything Mother is telling you. Stay healthy and keep caring for me.” They had agreed that he would leave her five or six years' time to pursue her career without impediment: they were both young and could wait. And in the five years that had already elapsed, he had always shown those letters to anyone who wanted to see them, to combat the slanderous remarks his family would hurl at Teresina and her mother. Then he had fallen sick; he had been on the point of dying; and on that occasion, without his knowledge, Aunt Marta and Teresina had sent to his address a large sum of money; part had been spent during his illness, but the rest he had violently torn out of his family's hands and now, precisely, he was coming to return it to Teresina. Because money—no! He didn't want any. Not because it seemed like a handout, seeing that he had already spent so much on her; but ... no! He himself was unable to say why, and now more than ever, there, in that house ... money, no! Just as he had waited all those years, he could wait some more ... Because if Teresina actually had money to spare, it was a sign that the future was now open to her, and therefore it was time for the old promise to be kept, in spite of anyone who refused to believe it.

Micuccio stood up with his brows knitted, as if to reassure himself about that conclusion; once again he blew on his ice-cold hands and stamped on the floor.

“Cold?” the servant said to him passing by. “It won't be long now. Come here into the kitchen. You'll be more comfortable.”

Micuccio didn't want to follow the advice of the servant, who confused and irritated him with that lordly air. He sat down again and resumed thinking in dismay. Shortly afterward a loud ring roused him.

“Dorina, the mistress!” screamed the servant, hurriedly slipping on his tailcoat as he ran to open the door; but seeing that Micuccio was about to follow him, he stopped short and issued an order:

“You stay there; let me notify her first.”

“Ohi, ohi, ohi ... ,” lamented a sleepy voice behind the curtain; and after a moment there appeared a large, stocky, carelessly dressed woman who trailed one leg on the ground and was still unable to keep her eyes open; she had a woolen shawl pulled up over her nose and her hair was dyed gold.

Micuccio kept looking at her foolishly. She too, in her surprise, opened her eyes wide when confronted by the outsider.

“The mistress,” Micuccio repeated.

Then Dorina suddenly returned to consciousness:

“Here I am, here I am ...,” she said, taking off the shawl and flinging it behind the curtain, and exerting her whole heavy body to run toward the entrance.

The apparition of that dyed witch, and the order given by the servant, suddenly gave Micuccio, in his dejection, an anguished presentiment. He heard Aunt Marta's shrill voice:

“Over there, into the salon, into the salon, Dorina!”

And the servant and Dorina passed by him carrying magnificent baskets of flowers. He leaned his head forward so he could observe the illuminated room at the far end, and he saw a great number of gentlemen in tailcoats talking confusedly. His sight grew dim; his amazement and agitation were so great that he himself didn't realize that his eyes had filled with tears; he closed them, and he shut himself up completely in that darkness, as if to resist the torment that a long, ringing laugh was causing him. It was Teresina laughing like that, in the other room.

A muffled cry made him open his eyes again, and he saw before him—unrecognizable—Aunt Marta, with her hat on her head, poor thing! and laden down by a costly and splendid velvet mantilla.

“What! Micuccio ... you here?”

“Aunt Marta ... ,” exclaimed Micuccio, almost frightened, pausing to examine her closely.

“Whatever for?” continued the old lady, who was upset. “Without letting us know? What happened? When did you get here? ... Tonight of all nights ... Oh, God, God ...”

“I've come to ... ,” Micuccio stammered, not knowing what more to say.

“Wait!” Aunt Marta interrupted him. “What's to be done? What's to be done? See all those people, son? It's Teresina's celebration ... her night ... Wait, wait here for a bit ...”

“If you,” Micuccio attempted to say, as anxiety tightened his throat, “if you think I ought to go ... ”

“No, wait a bit, I say,” the kind old lady hastened to reply, all embarrassed.

“But,” Micuccio responded, “I have no idea where to go in this town ... at this hour ... ”

Aunt Marta left him, signaling to him with one of her gloved hands to wait, and entered the salon, in which a moment later Micuccio thought an abyss had opened; silence had suddenly fallen there. Then he heard, clear and distinct, these words of Teresina:

“One moment, gentlemen.”

Again his sight grew dim with the imminence of her appearance. But Teresina did not come, and the conversation resumed in the salon. Instead, after a few minutes, which seemed an eternity to him, Aunt Marta came back, without her hat, without her mantilla, without her gloves, and less embarrassed.

“Let's wait here for a while, would that be all right?” she said to him. “I'll stay with you ... Now they're having supper ... We'll remain here. Dorina will set this little table for us, and we'll have supper together, here; we'll reminisce about the good old days, all right? ... I can't believe it's true that I'm here with you, son, here, here, all by ourselves ... In that room, you understand, all those gentlemen ... She, poor girl, can't avoid them ... Her career, you get my meaning? Ah, what can you do! ... Have you seen the newspapers? Big doings, son! As for me, I'm all at sea, all the time ... I can't believe I can really be here with you, tonight.”

BOOK: The Oil Jar and Other Stories
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