Puppet's Progress

Pinocchio is ninety years old this year, going strong and showing no hint of age. His nose still changes, of course, with every reading of the story that has charmed millions of children and many of their elders. Here is a birthday salute to the hardy splinter, to his creator, Carlo Collodi, and to the rest of that breed of men and women who write stories that, unlike the children they are written for, do not grow old.

What manner of man—or woman—sits down and deliberately writes a book for children? One would suppose that he or she would have had some firsthand experience with youngsters, coupled with a keen sense of what is suitable, pleasant, and instructive. But three of the greatest writers lor children, whose contribution stands unquestioned, were all eccentric bachelors.

If we study the lives of Hans Andersen, Lewis Carroll, and Carlo Collodi. we find it impossible to picture them as fathers, or even baby-sitters. Hans Andersen was a wandering minstrel of a man, a gawky, sensitive crybaby, scarcely to be trusted to cross a street alone. Lewis Carroll was an intense neurotic, obsessed with night fears, a nervous stutterer, who had difficulty sustaining the most ordinary adult relationships. Carlo Collodi, the author of Pinocchio, was a school dropout, a knockabout journalist, hack playwright, odd-jobber on the fringes of literature, possibly the father of an illegitimate child but too scatterbrained apparently even to have been sme about this. At all events he eschewed marriage and legal heirs, finding fulfillment late in life in his dream child.

Yet these writers produced great symbols of their times for their own age and for generations to come. They were men who seem to have made concessions to the world, rather than an adjustment to it. They evaded everything but greatness. Andersen was scarred and shaped by Protestant Denmark in the same climate that brought forth Soren Kierkegaard in Fear and Trembling. The clammy fingers of Puseyism, the glow of the Victorian thawing room, and the cold wind of modern mathematics disfigured and disciplined Lewis Carroll. Collodi, a runaway seminarian, heard the call of Giuseppe Mazzini, found an obscure place in the annals of the Risorgimento, and hoped to write in the pedantic tradition ol the previous century.

Lo write a great book for children—as opposed to an amusing, commendable, or useful book—evidently requires a volatile mixture of contradictions in the personality and a wide measure of iresponsibility. The foregoing is not to suggest that such people are not concerned with morality. But moral earnestness is skeletal to their work. They are priests in harlequinade, moralists in motley. Almost against their wills their sermons are entertainments. Collodi set out, at the urging of his publishers, to write a book for Italian children which should celebrate diligence, deplore idleness, and convey the idea that man is rationally happy only through work. He sought to caution the Italian child that pleasure-seeking leads to misery and a donkey’s grave. He succeeded in writing a wry, elegant, comic, and wistful book, as universal as Pilgrim’s Progress, which it resembles in structure, as Tuscan as a terraced vineyard and antic as the commedia dell’arte, which informs it.

by Martha Bacon

Pinocchio was first published in 1880. but at the time of its appearance nothing like it had been seen in Italy, and the art of writing for children— considered as an art—was new by any standards. Although Voltaire was three years old when Perrault brought out his collection of tales in 1697 and presumably grew up with Cinderella and Puss in Boots, there was little in the Age of the Enlightenment to encourage flights of the imagination, especially in the young. The eighteenth century opened with a glimpse of fairy lands forlorn and closed with the undying fall of Blake’s Songs of Innocence, but these peaks of joy and beauty were almost entirely surrounded by the wastes of pedagogy. The purpose of most eighteenth-century writers for children was propaganda, and to this end they harnessed meager talents to the tumbrels of solid use. discarding at a blow both fact and fancy in favor of reason and expediency.

Young people learned to be contented in the condition to which God had called them from the sublime Mrs. Hannah More. In the most appalling of all her appalling works. The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain, a family of heaven knows how many starving children cheerfully resign themselves to a diet of potatoes and water, while the author approves, for hundreds of pages, of both their situation and their behavior. Children learned from Maria Edgeworth to make wise choices and to prefer useful objects to gawdy ones. Young Rosamond foolishly spends her money on a beautiful purple jar instead of a pair of shoes, which she happens to need. When she arrives home with her trophv she discovers that it is not purple at all but merely seems so, having been fdled with purple liquid. So poor Rosamond, a sadder, wiser girl, finds herself with no shoes and a plain glass jar. As one wanders through these wastelands one scarcely wonders that throwing eggs at grownups in pillories was a popular recreation two-hundred-odd years ago.

In fairness to these jreople, we must admit that for all their sanctimonious mewling, their trash served as compost. And as one century slipped into another, people of genuine talent began to find a new form of art. From Denmark came a set of tales as luminous as a display of northern lights. The authors of countless tracts and moral tales lay buried. and the Snow Queen, Alice in Wonderland, and Pinocchio danced on their graves.

Pinocchio is as firmly rooted in Italian culture as Alice is in the English. He looks back to Dante and Orlando Farioso, forward to Pirandello and Federico Fellini. He is a descendant and an ancestor. He emerges from a log of wood and becomes a “ragazzo per bene” (a real boy) . He faces death by fire, by hanging, and by drowning, and achieves at last the human condition, the unification of the flesh with the spirit. The consummation was no more than that which his author asked for his country.

Carlo Collodi was born Carlo Torenzini in Florence in 1826, the son of a professional cook and a young woman who was lady’s maid to the Marchesa Ginori Lisci. Young Carlo was bright and engaging, and the Ginori family was benevolent, and the Marchesa took pains to see that the attractive urchin should not waste his brio on the secular life. Carlo was clapped into the nearest available seminary, where by his own account he bedeviled the fathers until at the age of sixteen he went over the wall. Through this gesture the church lost a priest but the country acquired a journalist. Torenzini remained a scribbler for the rest of his fairly long life, with intervals of soldiering in the first and second wars of independence. He wrote blood-andthunder comedies, “mortal sins in five acts” as he called them, and served as theater censor for the provisional government of Tuscany in 1860.

Torenzini took the name of Collodi from the Gastello Collodi in Valdineme, a place which had caught his fancy. His affairs prospered in a mild way. He became an editor of the Tuscan dictionary, was rewarded for his services and made a knight of the Star of Italy. In the 1870s he came under the influence of Felice Paggi, a vigorous and imaginative man, one of the first people to see the possibilities of textbooks as an industry. He had published Italian versions of Perrault and Mme. D’Aulnov, and he urged Collodi to turn his attention to children’s books, a commodity in which Italy was notably lacking.

Collodi obliged his friend by writing the Gianettino, in imitation of the Gianetto of Paravicini. The Giancttino is of no more interest than its eighteenth-century prototype, and Collodi followed it with other negligible work, Minnuzolo and Occhi e Nasi.

But his work within the pedantic tradition served to show Collodi his mistakes. “The brighter the child,” he observed, “the fewer adults it will question and the more it will try to find out for itself.” He abandoned tedious explanations, ceased to imitate, and turned to a celebration of his Italy, its virtues and its flaws, its landscape, festivals, poverty, people, and puppets, its laws and legends.

Collodi was fifty-four when he wrote the epic of the marionette. He had fought two campaigns against the Austrian domination, his mind had been formed by his association with the makers of the Risorgimento, and he understood completely die implications of the new industrialism which would bring the young nation abreast of the modern world. Pinocchio is a children’s story, but it is also a political comment, an interpretation of history, a document of man’s search for his sold, and a sign of the shape of things to come.

As a children’s story Pinocchio is quite matchless. The line is true as Giotto’s, and the language is light as thistledown. The theme is probably the one which children most favor, the search by children for parents and by parents for children, a search which in this case ends in success and reunion. lake all good writers for children. Collodi lets his hero sin. suffer, and triumph strictly on his own recognizances and permits only minimal intrusion by the adult world. No book, to be sure, was ever harmed by a wicked uncle or Satan, but any gifted writer knows that adults or Olympians must be kept in their place—in the first chapter and the last.

Collodi manages his father figure beautifully. Gepetto, nicknamed Polendina because of his yellow wig—the color of cornmeal—appears a fully rounded character, crotchety, warmhearted, cynical, and selfless, lie carves the puppet from a piece of wood, clothes him in scraps, and makes a little cap of bread dough for him. He embraces the marionette as a son and names him for a family of his acquaintance, Pinocchio: “Everyone in the family, Pinocchio father, Pinocclna mother, and Pinocchi all the sons and daughters: they all did well in life; the richest of them begged for a living.” He pawns his jacket to buy his son an alphabet book, and the marionette, after passionate protestations of affection and promises of good behavior—he took to lying upon emerging from the log of wood from which he was carved—runs away in search of pleasure and excitement. He finds plenty of both, and we never encounter Gepetto again until Pinocchio discovers him inside the belly of the sea monster. By this time he lias almost ceased to lie a parent and is but a pathetic dotard, entirely dependent on the marionette. The reunion is partly effected now, but it is not complete until the final chapter when the magic change takes place. “Through labor and through hope” Gepetto renews his youth and finds himself the happy father, not of a puppet, but of a beautiful boy with chestnut curls and sparkling blue eyes—a boy of roses. To be a human child is to Pinocchio what the Gelestial City is to Bunyan’s Christian.

hike the damned as seen from heaven, the marionette lies, a discarded husk, in a corner, and the living father embraces the living son, while blessings rain upon the house. The fairy with azure hair who lias watched over and disciplined Pinocchio, as Beatrice watched over and disciplined Dante, lias shown herself not dead but a living presence, and in a most practical and Tuscan manner. She has paid back the forty soldi which Pinocchio earned for her during the course of his metamorphosis from puppet to person.

As a political allegory Pinocchio makes an unequivocal statement. Collodi believed that two imperatives must govern tlie mind and spirit of Italy: the republican idea and the necessity for sacrifice and work. Mazzini himself never wrote a more commanding call to republican sentiment than the opening sentences of The Advent arcs of Pinocchio:

Once upon a time there was—
A king! my little readers will say at once.
No. boys and girls. You are wrong. Once upon a
time there was a piece of wood.

Nowhere in Pinocchio do we find the traditional nobility of the fairy tale. The story is about the common people of Italy, the cobblers and carpenters. the puppeteers and circus touts, the fishermen and farmers, the dogs and donkeys, the cats and crickets, the fishes of the Mediterranean, and the leaden-eyed boys who slouch at street corners to prey upon and corrupt the unwary. The book rings with the salty speech of Tuscany, and its characters live with its sardonic proverbs.

The only “personage” in the book is the fairy with azure hair, the enchanted being who has lived many thousands of years in the neighborhood of Pinocchio’s adventures, and she is not a mortal maiden. Even she does not maintain at all times an exalted station in life, although she occasionally resides in a castle. She is served by a veritable zoo of queer animals, snails, jackdaws, rabbits, and she is at home in the humble guise of a peasant girl, her beautiful, blue locks neatly plaited, and once she takes the form of a little blue goat. The only official to intrude on the narrative is a judge, and he is an ape who in a fit of legal logic condemns Pinocchio to prison for having been robbed by the fox and the cat. He subsequently refuses to let the marionette out of prison on the grounds that only criminals can be released under the duke’s decree of amnesty and Pinocchio is innocent of any crime.

In Collodi’s book the highest level to which the human spirit may rise is humanity itself. The transcendent flaw iu this spirit, as Collodi saw it, was pleasure-seeking. Pleasure is not happiness and pleasure is the business of puppets, but the business of men and of the Risorgimento was work, and it is through work alone that puppets become men.

“Open a school,” cried Gollodi, “and you will close a prison.”

The foregoing describes the political atmosphere of Collodi’s book, but if allegorical interest were its only merit it would have long been relegated to the remaindered list. Pinoechio is more than a puritan sermon by a conscientious patriot. It is a fragment of the commedia dcH’arte. And for all that he reforms, ceases his lies and his follies, and learns wisdom and thrift, Pinoechio is Harlequin.

“Harlequin,” says Professor Allardyce Nicholl, “exists in a mental world wherein concepts of morality have no being and yet despite such absence of morality, he displays no viciousness.” The description fits Collodi’s hero to his wooden fingertips. Harlequin haunts Italy and occurs like Buddha from time to time in one incarnation or another, and Pinocchio is one of them.

Who is Harlequin? Some say that he is the spirit of the night, Hellequin, cousin to the devil, but time has robbed him of his Satanic qualities. He is one of the foremost characters to animate the commedia dell’arte. The commedia clell’arte is, we are told, dead. Even in Italy the theater is a written thing which actors study and then recite. They are no longer required to create the play which they perform, and yet it appears that the Italian theater has never quite forgotten its merry and irresponsible infancy. The titles of many of Luigi Pirandello’s plays wistfully recall it: Tonight IVe Improvise, Six Characters in Search of an Author, Right. You Are If You Think You Are, As You Desire Me bear witness to the influence of the theater of the cathedral square and the back alley. It is apparent also in the improvisations which occur in many recent Italian films, and the film art indeed owes some of its vocabulary to the commedia. The word scenario originally described a rough outline of the plot upon which a group of actors would improvise.

A vivid artistry was lavished on the commedia, and from records kept by individual actors we can learn something of its voice. It bears some resemblance to aria and recitative in opera, but it keeps the rhythm of common speech, the short sentence, and the quick riposte. It is with this voice that Pinoechio speaks:

“Good morning, Master Antonio, what do you do on the floor?”

“I am teaching die ants their alphabet.”

“Good for you.”

“What has brought you to me, Father Gepetto?”

“My legs. You must know that I’ve come to ask a favor.”

It pours forth without benefit of intellect and is saved by brio, by dancing, tumbling, handstands, and snatches of music. Like Harlequin, Pinoechio never thinks before he speaks. He hasn’t time. The book gives the effect of improvising itself. Pinocchio is a commedia character to the end of his long nose, which grows alarmingly whenever he starts to deal in falsehoods. His nose and the indestructible cricket are his conscience, and he can never escape them.

When Collodi wrote Pinocchio he was determined that no mention of religion should be made in the text. He was devout, and like Lewis Carroll he had a morbid dread of anything approaching irreverence. There should be no allusion to the Deity or to the Mother of God or her Son. But how remarkable is Mary, Star of the Sea, especially in Italy? Every Italian child wakes and sleeps, plays and works under the veil of the Madonna. With her magnificent hood of azure hair she sanctifies Pinocchio in the role of the fairy. She mothers him, nurses him when he is ill. rescues him from assassins, and punishes him as a wise and just mother punishes. She teaches patience, fortitude, and resignation, and rewards him in the end with her fragrant but invisible presence in his apotheosis. She is the great lady, the Madonna Coronata in her castle and the peasant Madonna of the hill towns. She is the suffering Madonna, full of animal grief, who stands on the rock when Pinoechio is engorged by the great fish. She is the blue and worshiped Italian sky.

When Federico Fellini made his remarkable film La Dolce Vita, he could not, whether or not he intended to, escape Collodi’s story. He preaches the same sermon and makes use of both the devices and the symbols which inform Collodi’s work. The film begins with the puppet Christ carried over the rooftops of Rome and continues as a polemic delivered against idleness, lies, corruption, both sexual and spiritual, and above all pleasure for pleasure’s sake. Marcello, the hero, is a Harlequin, openhanded, irresponsible, changeless, a puppet whose strings are pulled by fear and lust. He is an undutiful son, a faithless lover, a gull, the prey of any fox or cat who can catch him. He is not evil, and he is aware of what a man ought to be but lacks the will to be one himself. We see Marcello in the final sequence of the film, about to be engulfed by the sea monster of sensation, a dead, single-eyed, and shapeless thing. Marcello sees but he cannot hear the fanciulla, the young girl, Paolina, who is desperately and vainly trying to recall him to her side.

It is “the sweet life,” Fellini tells us, which could destroy the republic, not crime, but acedia, the deadly sin of sloth. This is the rot which besets Harlequin, Pinoechio, Marcello. In Fellini’s film, Steiner, the musician, sees it and kills himself and his children rather than submit to it.

Harlequin, Child of the Sistine Chapel, Pinoechio stands at the center of Italy, “the terrible puppet of her dreams,” a character forever “in search of an author.”