I am very puzzled by the bit about the wives of the railroad workmen from this fragment by Pirandello (“Il fu Mattia Pascal”). Mattia Pascal, very happy, travels by train and smiles at everything:

Mi veniva di sorridere così di tutto e a ogni cosa: a gli alberi della campagna, per esempio, che mi correvano incontro con stranissimi atteggiamenti nella loro fuga illusoria; a le ville sparse qua e là, dove mi piaceva d’immaginar coloni con le gote gonfie per sbuffare contro la nebbia nemica degli olivi o con le braccia levate a pugni chiusi contro il cielo che non voleva mandar acqua: e sorridevo a gli uccelletti che si sbandavano, spaventati da quel coso nero che correva per la campagna, fragoroso; all’ondeggiar dei fili telegrafici, per cui passavano certe notizie ai giornali, come quella da Miragno del mio suicidio nel molino della Stia; alle povere mogli dei cantonieri che presentavan la bandieruola arrotolata, gravide e col cappello del marito in capo.

Is this the Italian flag they're all wearing? What are they doing with it — just “showing”, why? Was this some kind of custom or obligation back then? And why are they all pregnant — are they many people scattered along the road, or only one group who just happen to expect children? I hope I asked the question at the right place.

Thank you very much!

1 Answer 1


The narrator is obviously generalising out of single occurrences of farmers, birds, telegraph wires and signalmen's wives. Just like not every farmer in Italy – nor even along a given rail journey – snorted, and not all wires transmitted the same news of his suicide, so he is generalising from one or two pregnant, flag- and hat-bearing women he'll have seen.

As for the bandieruola, I am not an expert about rail signals in the early 20th century, but an easy guess is that it was indeed a rail signal, a kind of semaphore to let the engine driver know that the level crossing is secured, the points are correctly switched or whatever.

  • Thank you very much! That makes sense. So that woman's husband probably didn't work in construction (like I thought) and rather was some kind of watcher or rail switcher (hard to say exactly), and his wife took his duties for a while.
    – Wanderer
    Aug 6, 2017 at 17:45
  • I guess Mattia Pascal didn't see those farmers but only imagined them, having seen only a villa from his window?
    – Wanderer
    Aug 6, 2017 at 17:47
  • 1
    Yes, I didn't specify that a cantoniere was a workman responsible for some stretch of railway or road,.
    – DaG
    Aug 6, 2017 at 21:54
  • Thanks a lot! I read that entry but probably misinterpreted it.
    – Wanderer
    Aug 7, 2017 at 17:51

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