Lost in translation

Although French was a language that Elisabetta Caminer and her team knew fairly well, the risk of divulging misunderstandings was always a concrete threat. This is the case of a review published in Giornale Enciclopedico (May 1775, p. 130) concerning the novel The married victim: or the History of Lady Villars. The text of the review is the following:


Le Victime ec. La Vittima maritata, o Istoria di Lady Villars, tradotta dall’Inglese; dal S. A., A Londra 1775, e si trova a Parigi presso Merigot, 2 parti in 12. Questo Romanzo, il cui fondo è mediocre, presenta una pittura spaventevole di tutti i mali, che una cattiva femmina può cagionare.


[Le Victime etc. The Married Victim, or, the History of Lady Villars, translated from English; from Mr A, in London, 1775, and available in Paris from Merigot, 2 parts in 12. This novel, whose basis is rather mediocre, offers an appalling picture of all the ills that a bad wife can cause.]


The French review at the base of the Italian one was published in March 1775 in the Journal des Beaux-Arts et des Sciences (pp. 528–529):


La Victime mariée, ou Histoire de Lady Villars, traduite de l’Anglais, par M. A., deux part. in-12. A Londres ;  & se trouve à Paris, chez Mérigot le jeune, quai des Augustins, 1775. Une méchante mère, un père tendre, mais foible & dominé par l’ascendant de sa femme, obligent leur fille à épouser un homme qu’elle déteste, & qu’elle a tout lieu de détester, & à renoncer au plus aimable des hommes, qui enfin meurt de la main du jaloux. Cette mort entraine celle de l’infortunée, dont le père péri de chagrin avant elle. Ce Roman offre le tableau des malheurs dont une méchante femme peut être cause.


[The Married Victim, or History of Lady Villars, translated from English, by Mr A., two parts. in 12. In London; and in Paris, at Mérigot the young, quai des Augustins, 1775. A wicked mother, a tender father, but weak and dominated by the ascendancy of his wife, compel their daughter to marry a man she hates, and that she has every reason to detest, and to renounce the most amiable of men, who at last dies from the hand of the jealous. This death leads to that of the unfortunate woman, whose father perished with grief before her. This novel offers a picture of the misfortunes that a wicked woman may cause.]


It is evident that the Italian journalist took only the last part of the original article. The differences between the two reviews and the excluded material cause some fascinating consequences. First of all, there is no trace in the French review of a judgement on the value of the novel: the Italian journalist talks autonomously about a ‘mediocre basis’. Secondly, in the Italian version there is a mistake with the article in the novel’s title, which is male instead of female (le vs la). An Italian reader who learned of this novel for the first time could possibly not realize it was a typo, and be immediately misled into thinking that the victim was a man, and not a woman. Even more interestingly, the body of the reviews seem to contain some kind of misogynistic information, since it explains how the novel in question deals with the topic of bad wives and the troubles that may arise from them. Conjugating the title and the information of the review, a reader was forced to think that this novel coming from England told an appalling (‘spaventevole’) story in which a poor man was mistreated by a mean woman. The ‘cattiva femmina’ becomes the negative protagonist of the book, and it seems like the male character is, precisely, her victim. But in the original review, the content was extremely different. As explained at the beginning of the foreign article, the real victim is in fact a young woman who is forced into an arranged marriage with a man she does not like. There is, it is true, a bad female character, namely the mother who imposed the wedding. But it appears quite clear that the omission of the first part of the French review by the Italian journalist causes a twist in the whole meaning. The information that reached the Italian audience was wrong, and it conveyed totally different values. There is no reference to the pain of the young woman, no reference to the love of the tender father (who is too weak to go against his wife but will eventually die from sadness. We are far from the stereotype of the powerful patriarch. There is no reference to the tragic epilogue, with a murder and the death of the real lovers. It is hard to tell if the omission was deliberate, or if it was an accident and the journalist did not realize the twist he had caused (we can maybe infer that the journalist was male from the way he speaks about the protagonist). In my opinion, there was no ‘forbidden’ content to be censored, not even the weakness of the father, so it might have been a simple mistake. What matters the most, in any case, is to see how the Italian readers could respond to that review and which opinion they could build about the novelty coming from England through France. Even without pushing the interpretation too far, it appears rather clear that the content of the novel, deemed as mediocre, was not in favour of women. The perspective is rather chauvinistic, as the article deals with the problems that a woman (let’s not forget that the French ‘femme’ might be translated as ‘wife’, even if the Italian journalist chose to be quite literal) can cause to a man in a marriage, excluding any possibility of reciprocity.

Novels, moral and religion

The Italian social, cultural and religious context was of course very different than the English one. This difference played a big role in the process of reception of the novels. In February, for example, 1787 the Journal Encyclopédique published a very long review (eight pages) of the novel Maria, by Elizabeth Blower, in its French translation Maria, ou Lettres d’un gentilhomme anglais à une religieuse, traduit de l’anglois. The judgement is not positive, since from the very first paragraph we can read:


Si ce ouvrage est vraiment une production angloise, l’auteur n’as pas donné a son compatriote, M. Croli, le plus beau role à jouer.


[If this work is really an English production, the author did not give to his compatriot, Mr Croli, the best role to be played.]


The journalist then explains what the plot of the novel is, giving from time to time some personal remarks on the poor value of the story. Two months later, the Nuovo giornale enciclopedico publishes a much shorter review of the same novel, adapting the French content to the Italian readership. The judgement in this case is much sharper than the first one. The novel is defined as a ‘romanzetto di poco edificante condotta e di men lieto fine’ [a novelette of a poorly edifying conduct, with an even less happy ending], filled with characters whose behaviour is unworthy (‘indegnamente’), and whose brains deserve to be burnt (‘cervello ch’era degnissimo d’esser bruciato’). The Italian journalist goes deeper into the moral judgement of the novel: there is no such harshness in the French review, which indulges more on the contents and their weakness. This is made extremely clear by the conclusion of the review, which is the only part completely absent in the French, being an original section added by the Italian journalist:


Maria ha servito di titolo a varie produzioni Letterarie, e chi sa quanto dovrà servirne ancora; ma codesto romanzo non è degno di portare un così bel nome.


[The name of Maria has served as the title for several literary works produced, and who knows how many more it will serve; but this novel is not worth bearing such a beautiful name.]


Such a beautiful name as Maria should not belong to a licentious, negative character. The reference to the holy Mary appears rather clear: giving Her name to a totally unworthy woman is almost blasphemous. It is impossible to determine if the Italian reviewer actually read the novel, or if they simply adapted the information obtained from the French review. After all, it is probably not necessary to understand how the readership was influenced by the review: what is extremely important in this circumstance is to see how Catholic morality was playing a big role in the reception of the English novels. In this particular case, the grounding of ethics is conveyed, starting from a very simple fact, the name of the character, which gives the opportunity to point out how far from moral orthodoxy the novel’s contents were to be located. The example suggests that the questioning of social hierarchies in the English novel, its examination of moral ambiguity, its interplay of gender roles, and its scrutiny of the ethical, religious, and psychological foundations of social norms, are in fact more shocking to the Italian cultural milieu than, for example, the clichéd ‘moral looseness’ of French literature, whose dissemination had been structural in the construction of the 18th century social fabric. The controversial nature of English novels started a debate on their moral values, which in Italy was carried on under specific circumstances, i.e. the Catholic groundings of ethics and the predominance of Cartesian thought in philosophy of knowledge and psychology.

Call for (female) novelists

Journals from the first half of the 19th century seems to a significant fact, concerning the social status of the novelists and the gender dimension of the research. In that period, Italian journalism was starting to become more independent from the French or English sources (see above) when it came to the reception and introduction of foreign culture in the peninsula. In fact, the original contributions started to be more and more every year, while the number of articles “copied” or adapted from foreign journals started to decrease sensibly. This means that the contents that started circulating about the novel, and specifically about the English novels, were the product of totally original reflections and meditations over the topic. This is not an irrelevant particular: after having been influenced by the foreign press, a more mature awareness of the particular social, economical, literary context was animating the journalism of the various Italian regions. The most relevant feature of this new trend concerns the involvement and the active role of women in the production of literature. Let us consider an example. The following excerpt, about female authors of novels, is taken from Giornale Pisano dei Letterati, 1806 (VI, p. 216):

Dopo gli eleganti romanzi delle de Tencin, delle de Fontaines, delle Graffigny, delle Riccoboni, è stato detto con qualche sorta di verità, che questo genere tra tutte le produzioni di spirito è quello di cui le donne sono più capaci. L’amore che ne è sempre il principale soggetto è il sentimento ch’esse meglio conoscono.


[After the elegant novels of the de Tencin, of de Fontaines, of Graffigny, of Riccoboni, it has been said with some sort of truth, that this kind of productions of the spirit is where women are more capable. Love is always the main subject, and it is the feeling that they know best.]


The journalist, clearly a man, prudently states that the novel might be the ideal genre for women writers. It could be said that after all this is just another sexist remark: women should not attempt the road to the poetical glory, and should prove themselves in a less prestigious literary format instead. Journals and pamphlets with this exact idea were circulating all over Europe in the long 18th century. But in this case there seems to be something more: the journalist does not speak depreciatively about the novels like in the previous examples we showed, and actually acknowledges that women are somehow superior when it comes to the topic of love, which was associated to the plots of most novels. Therefore, women should definitely occupy an important place in the literary panorama of the time, and they should do it by writing about what they know best. Also, since some pioneer women opened the path for the others with some excellent results, the public and the audience should expect some significant results from the gentil sesso.

What we have been trying to describe so far is made extremely clear by another article published in 1826 in Biblioteca Italiana, at that time one of the most prominent periodicals of the Milanese area and of the whole country. A (male) journalist wrote an article about the fact that Italy had still produced no significant novels until that moment, even if the Italian language would have been a good instrument and the Italian literary tradition an outstanding support. At one point in his essay, the journalist wrote

Più che agli uomini convien forse al sesso gentile questo genere di componimenti […]. E questo bene può ora l’Italia dalle donne aspettarsi, dappoiché la coltura dello spirito e lo studio delle filosofiche discipline qui ancora costituiscono nelle due primarie classi non l’infima parte della femminea educazione. Più soggette le donne al sentimento delle passioni, più sagaci nel seguirne gli andamenti, più studiose nel penetrare fra l’uman cuore e trarne profitto, aver debbono, ove intendano la letteratura, una naturale inclinazione ed attitudine a quel genere di libri, il cui scopo è quello di dipignere i costumi e lo stato della civile società, della quale formano esse la parte più soave e più bella; genere che non esige sempre volo d’immaginazione o vigore di raziocinio, ma piuttosto squisitezza di sentimento e diligenza di osservazione. […] Quanto non sarà più agevole alla vezzosa metà della specie nostra l’ottener nome trattando in prosa argomenti d’ immaginazione in un secolo assai più che agli studj poetici dedito alla morale ed alla filosofìa, e molto più se elleno alla naturale attitudine accoppieranno il corredo delle virtù domestiche? Così i giovani e le donne d’Italia non più sentirebbero il bisogno di pascere il lor cuore coi romanzi delle straniere nazioni; né inesperti volgarizzatori servirebbero in ciò sì facilmente l’avidità de’ librai; e fors’anco cesserebbe la guerra che a sì fatti libri venne dai vecchi nostri Aristarchi dichiarata.


[The genre is more suited for the gentle sex rather than for men […] And Italy can expect this from women, since here the culture of the spirit and the study of the philosophical disciplines still constitute in the first classes an important part of the female education. Women are more subject to the sentiment of passions, wittier in following its paths, more diligent in penetrating the human heart and in taking profit from it. They have, when they understand literature, a natural disposition to that kind of books, whose purpose is to depict the customs and the civil state of society, of which they represent the most suave and beautiful part. It is a genre that does not require flights of imagination or robust reasoning, but rather an exquisite sense of sentiments and a clever spirit of observation. […] How much easier will it be for the sweeter half of our species to acquire fame treating topics of imagination in prose, in a century keen on moral and philosophy rather than poetry, and even more if they will match to this natural attitude their domestic virtues? This way, the youngsters and the ladies of Italy would not feel the need to feed their hearts with novels coming from abroad; and also, no inexpert translator would easily help the greed of the book sellers; maybe, even the war carried against this genre by the many, old Aristarchus of our literary tradition would end]


This appears to be a “call for novels”, specifically addressed to Italian women. Surely, the domestic virtues are still perceived like a fundamental component of women personality, even for the artists. After all, women are still the sweetest, most lovely (therefore innocuous?) part of society. But besides this, the journalist clearly acknowledges and recognizes the superiority of women when it comes to the interpretation of passions, to the penetration of the human heart and to the depiction of society’s rituals and costumes. After having been for many decades the almost exclusive readers of the genre, it is time for women to capitalise this long training-experience, and to put it at the service of their natural attitude to the interpretation of sentiments and their spirit of observation. Even without pushing the interpretation of this article too far, it seems rather clear that it represents one of the first witnesses of an invocation for women empowerment in Italy, to be pursued through a specific kind of literature, which was not anymore facing the hostility experienced in the past. On the contrary, to quote the journalist, it was about time that a novel worth reading was published in Italy, as this achievement would also allow three important consequences. Firstly, to stop the everlasting xenophilia, that was historically perceived by many intellectuals like a threat for the Italian literary tradition. Secondly, to influence the book market, by slowing down the bad habits of the book sellers, which used to assign to inexpert people the translation of foreign books in order to save money and maximize their profits. Lastly, and most importantly, the rise of women novelists in Italy could put an end to the prejudices and the resistance the genre was encountering since the very beginning within the traditional literary milieu. Such a difficult challenge is now addressed to women, who are warmly invited to have an important spot in the Italian cultural and literary consortium

Reading novels is dangerous!

The research project we are leading (see explanatory posts 1, 2 and 3) has also a significant gender dimension. For example, many of the novels that were introduced to the Italian readership were written by women, and a woman, Elisabetta Caminer Turra, was among the most prolific reviewers. To this day, there are no in-depth studies about the role women had in the Italian literary press of the period: the project will deal with all the moral issues connected to the novels, and it will also investigate the topic of women’s reading practices, as the novel was considered a “female genre” (see D’Alia, Di Fino, Pearson, Franchini). The following examples concerns general articles strictly connected to this aspect of the research. First of all, the novel was considered as a very dangerous genre for the mental stability of the women who read too much. In an article published on the 28th March 1819 on the Gazzetta di Milano, it is possible to read the report of a journalist after a visit in a mental asylum:

La pazzia fra le donne rinchiuse in quest’ospizio non mi sembra aver, come altrove e nell’umano consorzio, che due caratteri ben distinti: l’amore e la vanità. La prima donna che abbiamo visitata avea perduto la ragione a forza di legger romanzi


[Madness among women locked up in this mental hospice has nothing but two well defined features: love and vanity. The first woman we visited lost her mind because she read too many novels]


According to the article, many of the women that were kept in the asylum became mentally ill after reading too many novels. In many other occasions, reports like this were published in journals and newspapers, stating that the novels were challenging the mental stability of the female readers. From this kind of anecdotes we can infer at least two things. Firstly, the perception that novels were read intensively mostly by women was clear from the beginning: it is in fact impossible to find not only stories in which men lose their mind for too much reading, but, for a long time, even reports stating that the genre was appealing for the male readership. Secondly, it is rather clear how the values conveyed by the novels were having a disruptive impact on the audience, to the point that they were believed to literally drive people, and namely women, mad and ill. To face such a threat, many journals started to publish articles with the aim of discouraging the reading of novels among young ladies. An example could be the following, from the journal Teatri, arti e letteratura, published in1827:

Le signorine non debbon leggere romanzi

La loro lettura è od inutile, od anco perniciosa. […] la mia sentenza, troppo pronta e troppa assoluta, non sarebbe passata per buona dal bel sesso, che oltre ogni dire si compiace di leggere romanzi, ed a’ tempi nostri un tal genere si è fatto universale; né solamente ingegni leggerissimi se ne occupano siccome dapprima, ma uomini per ogni titolo commendevolissimi non hanno dubitato, e non dubitano di mescersi nell’infinito esercito de’ romanzieri.


[Young ladies should not read novels.

Reading novels is generally either useless, either damaging. […] My sentence, too absolute, would not be appreciated by the gentle sex, which is too keen on reading novels, a genre that nowadays is universal. Not only light minds are interested in it, like it was before, but also eminent men did not hesitate in joining the infinite army of the novelists]


The (almost surely male) author of this article is not really pleased by the widespread success of the novels, and calls them useless when not even damaging. By stating that the “bel sesso” (women) would not be very happy hearing this sentence, the journalist is clearly pointing out the audience of that kind of literature. Also, by pinpointing the dangers of the novel for the ladies, he is recognizing the strength of the genre as a vehicle of new, shocking and controversial values for the Italian social fabric. In the first half of the 19th century, the novel as a genre was starting to be legitimated also in Italy: in 1827 Alessandro Manzoni would publish I promessi sposi, the first and most famous Italian historical novel, which gave rise to many other publications following its success. In the second part of the small abstract, it is possible to see the journalist’s awareness of the fact that the novel was undergoing an evolution, somehow: written by “poor minds” for the pleasure of young (and maybe silly, according to the journalist) ladies in the past, novels were now attracting more prominent literary figures, who were starting to realize that the popularity of the genre could translate into good publishing contracts.

A lazy cultural mediation?When the news used to be “copied&pasted” across the countries – 2

We saw here how Italian journals used to copy the information about English novels they found in topical part of the sources, like the beginning and the ending. In other occasions, they just took a direct ‘copy and paste’ from the French reviews. The first case concerns the novel Memoirs of the Manstein family. Pathetic, sentimental, humorous and satirical, published anonymously in 1783. A review appeared in July 1784, p. 122:


Memoires ec. Memorie sopra la famiglia di Manstein, Storia patetica, sentimentosa, piacevole e satirica. 2. vol. in 12. Londra, presso Lowndes. 1783. – La lettura di questo Romanzo e’ interessante, e lo sarebbe ancora piu’ se contenesse un minor numero di digressioni.


[Memoires etc. Memoirs of the Manstein Family. Pathetic, sentimental, humorous and satirical story. 2. vol. in 12. London, Lowndes. 1783. –This book is an interesting read, and it would be even better if it contained fewer digressions.]


This article is taken in its entirety from Journal Encyclopédique (December 1783, p. 549):


Memoirs on the Manstein family &c. C’est-à-dire, Memoires sur la famille de Manstein, histoire pathétique, sentimentale, plaisante & satyrique, 2 vol. in  12. A Londres, chez Lowndes. 1783. La lecture de ce roman est intéressante, & se seroit encore plus s’il y avoit moins de digressions.


Another example concerns Lucy Peacock’s The rambles of Fancy, or, moral and interesting tales and friendly labours, published in 1786. The review appeared in Nuovo Giornale Enciclopedico in May 1787 (pp. 124–125):


The rambles, ec. Le escursioni dell’immaginazione, ovvero Novelle morali ed interessanti. 2 Vol. in 12. Londra presso Buckland 1786. In questi diversi squarci, dovuti alla giovane Miss Pencock, le descrizioni sono ripiene di fantasia, e le situazioni sovente inverisimili. L’Autrice abbandona per le grazie del romanzo l’impero della natura; eppure la cognizione ch’ell’ha del cuore umano le permetteva di penetrar negli ultimi ripostigli di esso, e trarne situazioni superiori di molto alle pitture triviali d’un padre moribondo asperso delle lagrime d’un amato figliuolo, il quale resta privo nel medesimo tempo d’ogni sua facoltà.


[The rambles], etc. The Rambles of Fancy, or, Moral and Interesting Tales and Friendly Labours. 2 Vols, in 12. London, Buckland 1786. In these various passages, which we owe to young Miss Pencock [sic], descriptions are full of creativity, and circumstances often implausible. The author abandons the realm of naturalness in favour of the beauties of the novel; and yet, the knowledge of the human heart she possesses allowed her to enter its most secluded corners, and draw out of them some far superior situations than the trivial images of a dying father perfused with the tears of his beloved son, who is at once deprived of all his possessions.]


The French review at the base of this one was published in Journal Encyclopédique in March 1787 (pp. 367–368):


The Rambles Of Fancy, &C, C’est-à-dire, Les Excursions De L’imagination, ou Contre moraux & intéressans. 2 volumes in-12. A Londres, chez Buckland. 1786. Dans ces divers morceaux, que l’on doit à la jeune Miss Peacock, les descriptions sont pleines d’imagination, & les situations souvent invraisemblables. L’auteur quitte en faveur des scènes brillantes du roman, l’empire de la nature. Nous le voyons avec d’autant plus de regret, que sa connoissance du cœur humain lui permettroit d’en pénétrer les derniers replis, & d’y puiser des situations bien supérieures aux tableaux triviaux d’un père mourant, arrosé des pleurs d’un enfant chéri qui est en même tems privé de tout ce qu’il possédoit.


In both of these cases the attitude of the Italian journalist was rather passive: the source review is imported without any modification or omission.

A lazy cultural mediation?When the news used to be “copied&pasted” across the countries – 1

In many cases the operation of cultural mediation from France to Venice was very easy, almost ‘lazy’. Once a portion of the source review is deemed to have enough interesting information about the novel, it is copied in the Italian journal without any significant changes. This happened particularly with topical parts of the articles such as the incipit or the explicit. Indeed, the omissions are quite interesting for the history of the reception of the English novel. Let us look at some examples of this trend. Giornale Enciclopedico (p. 133) published the following review of Henry Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling in September 1775:


L’Homme sensible. L’Uomo sensibile ; tradotto dall’Inglese. Parigi presso Pissot 1575 [sic]. L’Aut. è il Sig. Brrok noto per altri suoi romanzi. Il Traduttore è il Sig. di S. Ange, da cui sono stati tradotti anche alcuni pezzi delle Metamorfosi d’Ovidio.


[L’homme sensibile. The Man of Feeling; translated from English. Paris, Pissot 1575 [sic]. The author is Mr Brrok, also known for other novels he wrote. The translator is Mr S. Ange, who has also translated some extracts from Ovid’s Metamorphoses].


The source review was published in Journal Encyclopédique in April 1774, and it was a lot longer, consisting of nine pages (282–290). As we can see from the following excerpt, the beginning was copied meticulously by the Venetian journal:


L’Homme sensible, traduit de l’anglois. A Paris, chez Pissot. 1775. L’Auteur de cet ouvrage est M. Brook, connu en Angleterre par quelques romans. Le traducteur est M. de St. Ange, jeune home connu avantageusement par la traduction de quelques morceaux des Métamorphoses d’Ovide.


First of all, it should be noted that the French journal made a mistake with the attribution of the novel, as suggested already by Pierre M. Conlon.[1] The Venetian journalist did not investigate the French text to see if it was correct or not, and passively imported the information containing the erroneous attribution. This is a significant example of how the cultural mediation used to work sometimes between the two or, on numerous occasions, three countries: the Venetian readership was introduced to the English novels through an operation of absorption that at times was not really mediated, but rather ‘osmotic’. People could indeed build an opinion about the novels reading the journals, but it was inevitably ‘partial’ in relation to the amount of information originally available. This partial opinion was derived because, the contents of the source reviews were reduced quite drastically (another example of how the Venetian press did not like the French tendency to give long abstracts of reviewed books), and the journalists were not yet completely and fully aware of how to deal with such a big novelty, henceforth ‘strategic’ pieces of texts were edited out. In this specific case, the Italian article omits two important parts of the French one: firstly, a rather long disquisition about the novel as a genre, a topic that neither the Italian public nor the actual journalist was entirely familiar with ; secondly, the pages containing the plot summary are completely skipped, leaving the readers with no precise information on the storyline and which characters were involved. The Venetian journalist had the chance to introduce the readers to a more complete description of the publication (copying would have sufficed!), but decided not to. It is difficult to determine the reasons behind this approach: it could very simply be for practical reasons (less space in the journal) as well as an ideological one (the novels were deliberately shortened because they were considered less important than other news). When tracing a history of the reception of the English novels through the press, what matters is that the Italian readership of the time was sometimes introduced to them in quite an enigmatic way. Unlike the French readers, who could access the publications more easily and take advantage of more detailed reviews, engaging with the novels also from a critical point of view, the Italians had to make an extra effort to approach the novels whose publication was announced. This trend, of course, has enormous implications: the definition and the affirmation of the novel as a genre was neither an easy process to follow nor linear, and the disclosure conveyed by the periodical press is a clear example. Venetian and Italian readers at large could access the novels coming from England with less awareness and less ‘help’ from the media which was playing a big role in their introduction: the information was taken from the French source but often de-contextualized, with the result that the subjects must have been perceived as rather mysterious on many occasions, even if the cultural mediators actually had more articulated and detailed sources available to them.

Another interesting example of this pattern can be found in Giornale Enciclopedico (May 1776, p.  135). The subject of the review is a translation of The history of Miss Lucinda Courtney, published by an anonymous author in 1764. The text is the following:


Histoire, ec. Istoria di Miss Lucinda Courtney tratta dall’Inglese. Londra, e si trova a Parigi presso Moutard 1775. Questo romanzo è scritto in uno stile naturale, ma qualche volta un poco negletto.


[Histoire, etc. The History of Miss Lucinda Courtney, translated from English, London, available in Paris from Moutard 1775. This novel is written in a natural style, but neglected at times.]


The source review appeared in Journal Encyclopédique in December 1775, p. 545. In a similar same vein to the previous example, it is not much longer, consisting of just one page. The first part of the text, entirely omitted by the Italian journalist, gives details about the plot and the characters. Once again, this information is not considered important by the Italian journalist and is entirely lost in the migration to the Giornale Enciclopedico. The last paragraph is the one that ‘survived’, but with some interesting details to be analysed. The ‘selected’ passage is as follows:


Ce romans a quelques détails piquans, et peut être trop de ce qu’on trouve dans toutes les productions de ce genre ; le style en est naturel, mais quelques fois un peu négligé.


[This novel has some piquant details, and maybe too much of what we find in every work produced in this genre. The style is natural, but sometimes a bit neglected.]


In this case, there is room for a more accurate assumption on why the Italian journalist decided to omit some of the lines of the selected passage. First of all, speaking about ‘piquant details’ was probably perceived as not appropriate for the public, a content that would have conflicted with the moral values of the Italian readership, even in the rather free Venetian environment. Secondly, the Italian public was probably not ready to think about the English novel in terms of a wide cultural phenomenon, or, even capable of doing so. When the French journalist mentions ‘what we find in every work produced in this genre’, the Italian reader might have struggled to fully understand the meaning of such an affirmation, with all the inter-textual implications deriving from the conceptualization of the novel as a genre. As we observed before, the awareness of the Italian cultural milieu of the English novel, and the literary reflection about it, was still in its early stages. So, a sentence like the one we are pinpointing here would have perhaps been rather problematic to understand. In other words, the journalist could have omitted the reference to the novel as a genre because they realized that it would have been difficult to adapt such content for the target audience.

[1] Pierre M. Conlon, Le siècle des Lumières: Bibliographie chronologique, Volume 17:1773-1775, p. 499. The same identification mistake with The Man of Feeling was made in Giornale Enciclopedico in May 1775 (p. 132): “L’homme, & la femme, ec. L’uomo, e la femmina sensibili; tradotto dall’Inglese; Londra 1775. e si trova a Parigi presso Le Jay, 2 parti in 12. S’assicura che l’Autore è il S. Brook cel. scrittore di Romanzi: ed il presente è molto piacevole, e interessante [L’homme, & la femme, ec. The man and the woman of feeling; translated from the English; London 1775. and available in Paris from Le Jay, 2 parts in 12. The Author is guaranteed to be Mr Brook, famous writer of Novels: and the present one is very pleasant, and interesting].” The wrong author is described as a celebre novelist: this is an example of how sometimes the cultural mediation was building on misunderstandings and mistakes, which, most of the time, were not amended by the Italian journalists, who did not have the instruments or the interest to verify the reliability of the French sources. The readership was therefore led in building an idea about English novels and authors based on erroneous assumptions. In its early steps as cultural mediators, periodicals were sometimes conveying confusing or misleading information, that the readership could hardly verify. Only at the beginning of the 19th century Italian journalism started to be more independent and ‘careful’ about its sources.

Acknowledging the sources: from France to Venice

As stated in our previous post, most of the reviews and articles that appear in Caminer’s journals might be traced back to French sources that are usually acknowledged at the beginning of the column treating foreign press news. On many occasions there are direct references to the original journals in the text of the Italian articles. These published links allow us to see the attitude Italian journalists had towards their sources. Let us look at some examples. The first is a review of a French adaptation of Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, published in Nuovo Giornale Enciclopedico (May 1785, p. 202):

Nouveau, ec. Nuovo viaggio in Francia, del Sig. Sterne, a cui è unita la Storia di Lefevre, e una scelta di Lettere del medesimo Autore. Ginevra 1785. – E’ conosciutissimo per le piacevoli Opere da lui pubblicate e pel suo Viaggio Sentimentale il fu Sig. Sterne. Questo nuovo Viaggio in Francia è sul gusto della vita di Tristano Shandy. Un po’ di piacevolezza, un po’ di stravaganza, una dose copiosa d’originalità rendono cotali opere intraducibili, e insuscettibili d’Estratti. In Francia però subiscono e l’uno e l’altro maltrattamento.

[New, etc. The new journey to France, by Mr Sterne, with the History of Lefevre, and a choice of letters by the same author. Geneva 1785. —The late Mr Sterne is very well known for the pleasant Works he wrote and for his Sentimental Journey. This new Journey to France is similar in its style to the life of Tristan Shandy. A touch of agreeableness, a touch of extravagance, and an abundant amount of originality make these works untranslatable, and uncongenial to be reduced to excerpts. In France, however, they are subject to both types of mistreatment.]

The source appeared in Journal Encyclopédique (May 1785, pp. 71–79). The French article is much longer: eight pages. It deals with the plot and the characters of the book, giving some comments and presenting extracts. In the Italian review there are no traces of information about the story: the judgement is limited to a few words, which are different from the tone of the French review. After all, Sterne was a well-known author, and the Italian review could offer some independent opinions (see infra with regard to how established authors were treated). Even more importantly, the journalist, probably Alberto Fortis, seems to attack the Journal Encyclopédique (‘In Francia…’). The French review, in fact, serves as the base to criticize some aspects of French journalism, like for example the long extracts taken from the book without appropriate context. On this occasion, the attitude towards the source is one of being sceptical about some of its communicative strategies, and manifesting an early intention of affirming a different and more independent way of spreading knowledge and information about the English novel through the press.


The second example I will show is about another work by Sterne, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, a review of which appeared in Nuovo Giornale Enciclopedico (October 1786, p. 92):

Fin, ec. Conclusione della Notizia su lo spirito e le Opere di Mons. Sterne. Codesto strano Autore, che pur piace e seduce anche i non istrani, ha avuto la disgrazia d’avere tre traduttori, che si sono prese libertà imperdonabili alterando, e troncando tratto tratto il di lui testo. Si discute in questo scritto qual sia quello che l’ha storpiato più. Uno però de’ tre traduttori, il Sig. D. L. B., merita d’essere preferito, perchè ha raccolto e pubblicato in fine Viaggio Sentimentale molte lettere scelte e frammenti di Sterne, che non erano conosciuti in Francia.

Fin, etc. Conclusion of the News entry regarding Mr Sterne’s spirit and Works. This strange author, who yet manages to please and seduce the less strange readers too, had the misfortune of having three translators who took unforgivable liberties in their work, changing and cutting his text here and there. It is debated here who among them has distorted it more. However, one of the three translators, Mr D. L. B., deserves to be preferred, since he collected and published at the end of the Sentimental Journey several selected letters and passages by Sterne, which were not known in France.

The source is once again the Journal Encyclopédique (August 1786, pp. 134–142), and once again the article is a lot longer than the one that appeared in Venice. The French review contains some information about a series of translations of the novel published in France at that time, which are provided with some comments and some details about the quality, deemed as not excellent. The Italian journalist expresses quite a sharp judgement about the translations in the first paragraph, but only motivating it with general and brief considerations. His conclusion is also very brief, with the acknowledgement that an enigmatic ‘Mr D. L. B.’ is the one to be preferred. The Italian readership is not provided with further explanation or contextualization: sometimes, the process of reception of foreign culture was building on laconic information. The Italian article, in fact, looks more like a review of the French review, rather than an informative piece: ‘si discute’ shows that the attitude of the journalist towards the source is rather passive, aimed at summarizing more than actually contextualizing the content to be later delivered in Italy. It gives an account of what was going on in France, but it does not provide the same apparatus that was available for the French readership.

Another example of how the sources were acknowledged concerns a review that appeared in Nuovo Giornale Enciclopedico (November 1788, p. 124) about Edward and Sophia. A novel by a lady, who is an anonymous author. The text is the following:

Edouard, ec. Odoardo e Sofia, Romanzo tradotto dall’Inglese. 2 vol. in 12. Parigi presso Desenne 1788. vale 3 lire di Fr. Vien lodato anche questo. Noi non lo abbiamo veduto.

[Edouard, etc. Edward and Sophia, Novel translated from English. 2 vols. in 12. Paris, Desenne 1788. Worth 3 French liras. This one is also praised. We have not seen it].

The source review was published in Journal Encyclopédique (September 1788, p. 538), and it is slightly longer:

Edouard et Sophie, roman traduit de l’anglois. 2 volumes in 12. A paris, chez Desenne. 1788. (Prix, 3 livres). « Donner l’extrait d’un roman, (dit-on dans un avis imprimé que nous venons de recevoir) c’est ôter au lecteur le plaisir de la surprise que causent toujours des événemens bien tissus, c’est le priver de l’attrait qu’on trouve à en deviner les fuites & les résultats, c’est enfin l’instruire de ce qu’il doit ignorer pour lire avec un intérêt complet ces sortes d’ouvrages ».

« Nous nous contenterons, pour annoncer celui-ci, de dire que le traducteur, frappé de la vérité des caractères, de la vraisemblance des anecdotes intéressantes qui le composent, du naturel de son dénouement, a eu soin de faire disparoitre les longueurs de l’original qui auroient pu assoiblir l’intérêt, & lui a donné la rapidité qu’on aime à trouver dans ces sortes de lectures. Enfin le but moral qu’on apercoit dans ce roman, y est rempli par des événemens qui attachent, en faisant aimer les personnages vertueux, & détester ceux qui réunissent autant de vices que de ridicules ».

[Edouard and Sophie, novel translated from English. 2 volumes in 12. In Paris, at Desenne’s. 1788. (Price, 3 pounds). ‘To give the excerpt of a novel,’ (it is said in a printed notice which we have just received) ‘is to deprive the reader of the pleasure of the surprise always caused by well-organized events, and to deprive him of the attraction of discovering the leaks and the result is, finally, to instruct him in what he must ignore to read with a complete interest in these kinds of works.

‘We will content ourselves, to announce this one, to say that the translator, struck by the truth of the characters, the plausibility of the interesting anecdotes which compose it, of the natural of his denouement, took care to make the length of the original work disappear, which would have been able to soften the interest, and gave him the rapidity which one likes to find in these sorts of readings. Lastly, the moral object which we perceive in this novel is filled with events which are attached, and make us love the virtuous characters, and detest those who have so many vices they become ridiculous.’]

It is evident that the first paragraph of the French review is completely overlooked (even if, as we saw earlier, the tendency to give excerpts and synthesis of the novels was not appreciated by Italian journalists as well), and that the second is summarized with a laconic ‘this one is also praised’, without giving any of the information contained in the original text. On the other hand, the Italian journalist declares they did not have the chance to see the novel: so the French are completely ‘responsible’ for what the Italians say about it. The attitude of the journal is, in this case, rather passive or, at least, neutral: without the possibility of building a personal opinion, the journalist opts to report the news without adding any unverifiable details.

Elisabetta Caminer: the first female cultural mediator

Following what we observed here, with this post we will briefly analyse an article (see below) written by Elisabetta Caminer that appeared in the Giornale Enciclopedico in January 1782, which deals with matters of literary taste in Italy. The review is about the publication of Fielding’s Amelia. Before indulging in a long paragraph in which the plot of the novel is described, along with the moral qualities and the misadventures of the female protagonist (the journalist at one point speaks about the “fatti strani [bizarre facts]” that abound in the novel: in Italian the word “strani”, which can also translate into “diverse”, is really revealing of the perception of the diversity of such complicated, sentimental plots by the Italian intellectual milieu. Also, Elisabetta underlines the fact that the female protagonist is characterized by beauty, grace, amiability, and she plays an active role in the falling in love process. She is not “conquered”, she actually displays her virtues and her courage in the pursue of true love and happiness) Elisabetta praises the book and reflects on the only two categories of people that might not enjoy it. According to her, literary taste was compromised in Italy by a passion for the preposterous and a sort of analytical frenzy. Italy is the place where published novels were characterized by extravagance, unlikely events, monstrosities and a fake conception of the marvellous (a ‘twisted’ heritage of the extremely successful epic poetry). Therefore, the simplicity and the naturalness of the reviewed English novel would not be understood or appreciated by readers, who were fond of preposterous literature. Also, the ‘aridi pensatori’ [arid thinkers] who flatter themselves talking about ‘things’ and ‘reality’, always using cold reasoning and ‘dissecting’ literary works analytically, will never grasp the real meaning of the ‘arte interessante’ [interesting art] conveyed by the novel: they cannot draw from the pleasure of the illusion, they never listen to their heart, so they remain insensitive towards the ‘bellezze di dettaglio, a quegli slanci del sentimento, a quella malìa dell’eloquenza che l’anima sola può valutare, e che in apparenza assessorj, divengono per chi gl’intende i principali oggetti d’ un’Opera di questo genere’ [beauty of details, rushes of emotion, or charm of eloquence that only the soul can evaluate, and that while appearing to be secondary, become to those who can understand them the foremost objects of a work of this kind]. The perception of the novelty and the disruptive impact of the novel on the Venetian cultural milieu might be seen in the filigree of these words: to fully explain the sentimental value of the novel, Elisabetta recurs to a comparison with well-known literary works like Nouvelle Heloise or Phaedra. Only insensitive people will not find those adventures, as well as those of Amalia, moving and touching, full of ‘interesse, soavità, tinte felici, natura’ [interest, suavity, well-chosen shades, naturalness]. It looks like Elisabetta felt the need to prepare the readership, to explain the state of mind to be adopted in order to fully appreciate and comprehend the meaning of the novel. In this case, her function as a cultural mediator appears rather clear.



Operette galanti. Tomo Primo. Venezia; addi I. Gennajo 1782, e Tomo II addi 16 Gennajo.

Il Sig. Pietro Valvasense comincia ad eseguire l’impresa da noi accennata nelle Novelle Letterarie dello scorso mese, e il principio lascia concepire di essa felici speranze. I due volumetti che annunziamo contengono la prima Parte e porzione della seconda d’un Romanzo intitolato Amalia, composto dal celebre Fielding Inglese, Autore del rinomato Tom Jones. V’hanno due generi di persone alle quali egli potrà sembrar peravventura poco interessante ora che l’amor dello stampalato e la furia d’analizzare hanno corrotto in questo proposito o distrutto il gusto. I Romanzi bizzarri, usciti più che altreve in Italia, hanno siffattamente invogliato i principalmente destinati a questa lettura di avventure stravaganti, d’accidenti improbabili, di situazioni mostruose, d’un falso meraviglioso, che la semplicità e la naturalezza non ponno fare con essi fortuna; e dall’altra parte quegli aridi pensatori che si fan belli colle eterne parole in bocca di cose, di realità, e che sommariando Giulia, Fedra, Zaira, e ridu- (98) -cendole a scheletro, si credono permesso di giudicare a testa fredda e con un pesante ragionamento questi capi d’opera d’ un’arte interessante, privano se medesimi del piacere dell’illusione, non si mettono giammai la mano sul cuore, e quindi rimangono insensibili a quelle bellezze di dettaglio, a quegli slanci del sentimento, a quella malìa dell’eloquenza che l’anima sola può valutare, e che in apparenza assessorj, divengono per chi gl’intende i principali oggetti d’ un’Opera di questo genere. Proviamoci a far così bella analisi. La Nuova Eloisa altro non è finalmente che una fanciulla la quale si lascia sedur del suo precettore, ne resta innamorata tutta la vita, e sceglie un marito stoico per confidente de’ suoi affetti. Il capo d’opera di Racine presenta solo una matrigna innamorata del figliastro, la quale inganna un vecchio sposo, e s’ammazza per non essere ammazzata quando ha fatto perire con una bugia quello che la negligeva. Zaira è una ragazza inesperta combattuta dall’amore d’un uomo e dal timor dell’Inferno, che viene uccisa da un Turco per gelosia. — Ognuno è capace di far questo bello spoglio: ma infelice chi non sa trasportarsi con un’amante tenera, delicata, infelice, e ammirare un’ingenua sposa e una virtuosa madre di famiglia; (99) chi non sa piangere su’ rimorsi della sciagurata vittima d’una malnata e fomentata passione; chi non sente nell’anima qual contrasto tumultuoso e terribile debbono produrre le due più forti passioni del cuore umano, e non è scosso da’ tormenti ch’elleno destano nella figliuola de’ Lusignani! Questi insensibili ritroveranno communi le avventure d’Amalia: quanto a noi, confessiamo d’esserne rimasti commossi, e d’aver trovato nella porzione di esse che abbiamo sotto agli occhi interesse, soavità, tinte felici, natura. Nel render conto di questa Operetta ci conviene seguire gli avvenimenti come stanno, giacché non possiamo vederne sennon in progresso la concatenazione e ’l fine. Un amabile giovane ripieno di bellezza, di grazie, di merito viene arrestato una notte in Londra, perché soccorrendo a un uomo assalito da due nemici avea fatto dello strepito, e rotto la lanterna a una Guardia notturna. Condotto in prigione, vede arrivarvi poco dopo una bella e magnifica giovane, che pagando ottiene dal Carceriere una stanza separata dagli altri rei. Fanton aveva creduto di riconoscere in essa una giovane di nobile e ricca famiglia, con cui aveva stretto amicizia in Provincia, ma il nome datole di Mistriss Versan, e ‘l (100) sentirla imprigionata per un omicidio gli fa credere d’ingannarsi. Ell’ è nulladimeno realmente Miss Matheus, la quale riconosciutolo e fattoselo chiamare, lo riempie di sorpresa quant’ella lo è di tristezza. Fanton rimane estatico allorché credendola inorridita pel delitto attribuitole, la sente furiosa applaudirsene. Noi non sappiamo peranche se Miss Matheus ha un episodio in questa Istoria o un oggetto de’ principali, ma ecco le di lei avventure, ch’ella racconta al suo giovane amico. Una tendenza fortissima, che faceva inclinar per esso il cuore di Miss Matheus, sarebbesi cangiata in passione, se un altro oggetto che occupavagli ‘l cuore e ch’ei sposò dopo non avesse trattenuto un’anima che non trovavasi secondata. Quest’anima disposta all’amore non avea potuto resistere alle amabili attrattive, alle grazie, alle seduzioni d’un Tenente di Dragoni, che stabilitosi in quella Provincia lungotempo dopo la partenza di Fanton, erasi reso familiare in casa del di lei padre grand’amatore dei difensori della patria. Mistriss Carrey amica della di lei sorella, venuta da Londra per visitarla, donna ricca e sull’aria galante, avea cercato d’innamorare il giovane Summers, il quale adoperando con arte la fusta possente della gelosia, secondato dalla bellezza, da mille (101) grazie, erasi talmente impadronito dell’animo di Miss Matheus, che. . . giunse un momento fatale, ella non poté resistere alla forza dell’amore, alle lusinghe, alle promesse, all’impeto de’ sensi riscaldati, fu debole, e non ebbe forza più di non esserlo in seguito; tanto è vero che il solo passo difficile è ‘l primo, e che una donna una volta soggiogata, è dessa quella che va incontro a nuovi discapiti per assicurarsi che le prime azioni non le hanno fatto discapitare, non l’hanno resa poco amabile a colui ch’ella dominava e che la domina. Miss Matheus ne fece la fatale sperienza; le sue imprudenze le aveano dato delle ragioni per desiderar che suo padre acconsentisse, malgrado alle altre idee che coltivava rapporto ad essa, alla sua unione con Summers; questi invece sottraevasi sempre, quand’ecco improvvisamente, e con un’apparente afflizione le fa sapere, che il suo Reggimento era destinato per altra provincia, e che doveva partire. Che non se la disperata per ridurlo a sposarla, a palesar tutto a suo padre? il perfido unì alle ripulse lo scherno, l’infelice cadde svenuta, e il suo delirio fece conoscere la verità al di lei genitore. Summers allontanossi dalla provincia, ma il buon padre perdonando alla figlia lo richiamò, e promettendogli vantaggi che soli poteano determinar il crudele, (102) dopo stancheggi, difficoltà e freddezze lo fece ritornare laddove la sua bellezza e ‘l suo ascendente gli faceano perdonar tutto da una donna innamorata e avvilita. Ma che colpo le si preparava! Gli articoli erano estesi, il matrimonio vicino ad effettuarsi, quando Miss Matheus rileva che Summers er’ammogliato. Non v’hanno espressioni per descrivere lo stato della sventurata vittima d’un mostro; eppure egli arriva ad ottenerne perdono; confessa la colpa, la adduce per iscusa delle proprie freddezze, piange, si dispera, egli è amabile, vien ritrovato seduttore ma non incostante, l’amor proprio è meno mortificato, l’amante quindi perdona. Non basta: lusingata che una malattia incurabile della moglie di Summers debba presto metterla in caso d’occuparne il posto, sedotta da colui che la domina, non avendo coraggio di confessare al padre quello che doveva dividerla da esso, ell’acconsente a fuggire in sua compagnia, aspettando che la morte venga ad autorizzare la loro unione. Il di lei padre muore di dolore; lacerata alternativamente da’ rimorsi e trasportata dall’amore ella passa un anno con Summers, il quale in capo ad esso finge la morte d’una Zia per allontanarsene, le scrive alla prima, la trascura in seguito, e la lascia nella più orrenda tristezza. La figliuola della sua alber- (103) -gatrice per distraerla la conduce quasi a forza al Teatro; in una delle più distinte loggie con due donne magnifiche e brillanti ella scorge quella Mistriss Carrey che già odiava; ma quale rimane la sciagurata al veder comparirvi Summers, ch’ella credeva lontano da Londra! Le ricchezze di Mistriss Carrey lo aveano determinato a sposarla, giacché recentemente sua moglie era morta. A quali eccessi l’amore disperato e l’onore offeso non guidano una donna appassionata è [sic] avvilita? Miss Matheus fuori di se [sic], forsennata si fa condurre alla casa di Summers, lo trafigge quasi sugli occhi dèlla nuova moglie, lo vede involto nel proprio sangue, viene arrestata, disprezza il suo pericolo, non sente altro che il piacere della vendetta; e quando, mentre sta ragionando coll’amabile Fanton, il carceriere le reca per consolarla la nuova che Summers non è morto e che s’ei risana ella può esser assolta, la furiosa si dispera per dover salvare la propria vita a prezzo di non esser vendicata. Qualunque apparenza in questo racconto faccia compiangere Miss Matheus, si concepiscono dei sospetti relativamente al di lei carattere, alla sua condotta prima della conoscenza di Summers, e si travvede per questi una possibilità di scusa; vedremo in seguito se l’interesse sparso nell’Istoria o i (104) riflessi dell’Aut. che la seguono abbiano il maggior fondamento. Quanto a noi, ci siamo trattenuti su queste avventure sul dubbio che non sieno un semplice episodio, ma una parte essenziale dell’Istoria. Miss Matheus esige da Fanton ch’ei le narri quanto è accaduto anche ad esso dopo la loro separazione. Questa parte del Romanzo abbonda meno di fatti strani, e il merito suo principale consiste in que’ dettagli che pochi sanno rendere interessanti. Fanton, che per la morte di suo padre e d’un fratello doveva esser il più ricco gentiluomo della sua provincia, ritrovò ne’ propri beni un così grande sconcerto prodotto da’ loro disordini, che fu ridotto a impegnare ad un congiunto per vent’anni le terre onde soddisfare a’ debiti, e ad appigliarsi al partito dell’armi. Entrato in un Reggimento come Volontario, dopo una Campagna ottenne una Compagnia. Conobbe Mistriss Harris, amica già di sua madre, e le di lei due figliole. Divenuto famigliare in quella casa, le bellezze, le grazie, l’amabilità di Miss Amalia gli fecero conoscere per la prima volta l’amore, ed egli la interessò quanto erane innamorato. Conoscendosi per altro in grazia delle sue circostanze inferiore di troppo a quel partito (105) che Mistriss Harry cercava pella sua ricca figliuola, egli fece ogni sforzo, per eccesso di delicatezza, onde tener occulti ad Amalia i suoi sentimenti, ma l’amore lo può star poco tempo. In una interessante conversazione non solamente questa giovane amabile lo rileva, ma sua madre, che già insospettita l’ascoltava nascostamente, verifica i suoi timori, ed esige da Fanton che si allontani dalla sua casa fino a che Amalia sia maritata. Questo virtuoso giovane vi si assoggetta, anzi risolve di lasciar Londra, allorché sopraggiuntagli un’indisposizione di salute, i suoi affari cangiano faccia. Il Dot. Harrison, uomo austero e burbero in apparenza, ma ripieno di virtù, d’umanità, di bontà vera, informato degli amori di Fanton con Amalia ne aveva avvertito Mistriss Harry sua cugina onde lo allontanasse, ma sentita poscia la di lui sommissione, il suo delicato procedere, n’era rimasto trasportato per modo, che avea ridotto la madre d’Amalia a deporre l’idea di darla a un Lord, e a concederlagli in isposa. Egli va a cercare lo sciagurato giovane, prende un tuono bizzarro, insultante, per poi sorprenderlo colla notizia della sua felicità. Egli crede d’averla in pugno, quando una lettera di suo cugino lo richiama in provincia, perché l’unica sua sorella ch’egli ama teneramente (106) sta per morire; e la di lui assenza lascia il tempo all’istabile Mistriss Harry di cangiar pensiero, di rivolere un Lord per sua figlia, e d’obbligarla a sposare Milord Nesbì. Una lettera del Dot. Harrison, cui questa mancanza di parola rende furioso, richiama Fanton; egli ritorna dopo aver sepolto la sua povera sorella; Mistriss Harry conduceva Amalia a un casino di campagna coll’idea di tenervela fino a tanto che sposasse Milord. Fanton vi si reca, avverte Amalia con un viglietto, ella lo va a raggiungere nel giardino, i due amanti hanno insieme il più tenero colloquio, quanto sentono la madre che accorre furente a cercarli, avendo ritrovato il viglietto di Fanton sul tavolino d’Amalia. L’amore, la tema, la disperazione ispirano ad essi coraggio, l’appoggio del virtuoso parente che nulla tanto desidera quanto di sposarli fa sembrar loro meno colpevole un passo ardito, fuggono, e si ricoverano in casa della nutrice d’Amalia, ove mandano ad avvisare il Dot. Harrison che si trovano. Questi era con Mistriss Harry (accorsa a Londra per cercare i fuggiaschi) all’arrivo del Messo, che incautamente fa l’ambasciata dinanzi a lei. Il Dot. Harrison, inflessibile fino allora alle scuse di sua cugina, vedendoli scoperti cangia tuono, impiega rimostranze, preghiere, (107) consigli, le parla al cuore, la vince, e partono insieme per consolare gl’infelici amanti, i quali alla notizia dell’arrivo di Mistriss Harry quasi rimangono senza vita. Alla loro agitazione per altro succede la felicità, e rimangono contenti al casino d’ond’erano fuggiti disperati. Il matrimonio si conclude; la tenera inquietezza d’Amalia fa risolvere sua madre a trattenerle vicino lo sposo, a farlo uscire dal suo Reggimento per entrare in quello delle Guardie. Nel fine del secondo tometto si temono gli effetti della gelosia della Sorella d’Amalia, la quale avida, interessata, freme in veder che sua madre, sapendola provveduta riccamente da una zia, si dispone a beneficar Amalia a preferenza di essa; poiché Betzy sperava che avesse dovuto arle [sic] deporre questo pensiero un matrimonio così poco conforme alle idee ch’ell’avea per sua figlia.



Fashionable gallant works. First Volume. Venice; on the 1st January 1782, and Volume II on the 16th of January.

Mr. Pietro Valvasense begins to carry out the endeavour we have mentioned in last month’s Novelle Letterarie [TN: the Literary News section of the Giornale Enciclopedico], and its beginning allows us to envision good hopes about its outcomes. The two little volumes that we are presently announcing contain the first Part and a section of the second from a Novel titled Amelia, written by the famous English Fielding, author of the renowned Tom Jones. There are two kinds of people to whom this might perhaps appear of little interest, now that the love of the preposterous and the frenzy of analysis have corrupted or destroyed good taste in this respect. Bizarre Novels, which were published in Italy more than elsewhere, have so lured the people who were principally destined to this type of reading about extravagant adventures, improbable events, unbelievable situations, wonderful falsehoods, that simplicity and naturalness cannot fare well with them; and on the other hand those arid thinkers who embellish themselves by constantly having the words facts and reality in their mouths, and who summarizing Julia, Phaedra, Zaira, and (98) reducing them to skeletons, believe themselves to be allowed to judge with cold minds and rigid reasoning these examples of an interesting art, deprive themselves of the pleasure of illusion, never put their hands to their hearts, and thus remain insensitive to that beauty of detail, to those rushes of feeling, to that charm of eloquence that the soul only can evaluate, and that while appearing to be secondary, become to those who can understand them the foremost objects of a Work of this kind. Let us try to make a similar analysis. The New Heloise is none other than a girl who lets herself be seduced by her tutor, remains in love with him for her entire life, and chooses a stoic husband as the confidant of her affections. Racine’s masterpiece only presents us with a stepmother who is in love with her stepson, and deceives an old husband, and kills herself in order not to be killed when her lies have caused the death of the one who neglected her. Zaira is an inexperienced young woman, torn between a man’s love and the fear of Hell, who is killed by a Turk out of jealousy. — Anyone is capable of doing this sort of scrutiny: but unhappy is the one who does not let himself be carried away with a tender, sensitive, unhappy lover, and admire a naif bride and a virtuous mother; (99) who is unable to cry over the remorses of the wretched victim of a star-crossed and incited passion; who does not feel within their soul what a tumultuous and terrible fight the two strongest passions in the human heart must entertain, and is not shaken by the torments that they must arise in the daughter of the Lusignanis! These insensitive people will find Amelia’s adventures commonplace: as for us, we confess that we were moved by them, and that, in the part of them which we have under our eyes, we have found interest, suavity, well-chosen shades, naturalness. In accounting for this Work, we’d better follow events as they unfold, since we cannot see their sequence and aim if not in their progression. An amiable youth full of beauty, of graces, of merit is arrested one night in London, because while helping a man attacked by two enemies he had caused some clamour, and broken a night watch’s lantern. Led to prison, he sees arriving there shortly after him a beautiful and magnificent young woman, who pays to obtain from the Warden a separate room from the other criminals. Fanton had believed to recognize in her a young lady from a noble and rich family, with whom he had struck an acquaintance while in the Province, but the name of Mistress Versan by which she was called, and having (100) heard her imprisoned because of a murder make him believe he has been mistaken. She is in fact none other than Miss Matthews, who, having recognized and called him, fills him with surprise as much as she is with sadness. Fanton is ecstatic when, believing her to be horrified by the crime she is being blamed for, he hears her applauding herself frenziedly for it. We do not yet know whether Miss Matthews is an episode in this Story or one of its main objects, but here are her adventures, which she tells to her young friend. A very strong inclination, that led Miss Matthews’ heart towards him, would have changed into passion, if another object that was occupying his heart and that he then married had not held back a soul that did not find itself pleased. This soul ready for love had not been able to resist to the amiable charms, the graces, the seductions of a certain Lieutenant of Dragoons, who, having established in that Province a long time after Fanton’s departure, had become a familiar presence in the house of her father, a great lover of the homeland’s defenders. Mistress Carrey, a friend of her sister, having come from London to see her, had tried to make the young Summers fall in love with her, and he, artfully employing the powerful whip of jealousy, aided by beauty, by a thousand (101) graces, had conquered Miss Matthews’ heart to such a point, that. . . a fatal moment arrived, she could not resist to the strength of love, the flattery, the promises, the ardour of excited senses, she was weak, and did not have the strength not to continue being so after that; it is very true that the only difficult step is the first, and that a woman, once subjugated, throws herself into new disadvantages to assure herself that the first actions were not to her detriment, and have not made her less amiable to the one whom she dominates and who dominates her. Miss Matthews had the fatal experience of this; her imprudent acts had given her reason to wish that her father gave his consent, although he had other ideas for her, to her union with Summers; this, on the other hand, kept backing out of it, when suddenly, and with apparent affliction lets her know that his Regiment was destined to another province, and that he had to leave. What could the wretched one do in order to force him to marry her, but disclose everything to her father? The wicked one added scorn to rejection, the unhappy woman fainted, and her delirium made the truth known to her father. Summers moved away from the province, but the good father, having forgiven his daughter, called him back, and having promised him the many advantages that could only have convinced the cruel one, (102) after deceptions, difficulties and cold-hearted acts made him return where his beauty and his influence made everything he did be forgiven by a disheartened woman in love. But what a blow was in store for her! The announcements [?] were laid out, the wedding close to its celebration, when Miss Matthews finds out that Summers was married. There are no expressions that can convey the state of the wretched victim of a monster; yet he manages to obtain her pardon; confesses his guilt, ascribes it as an excuse to his coldness, cries, grieves, he is lovable, is found again to be a charmer, but not an inconstant one, self-respect is less mortified, the lover then forgives. It is not enough: pleased by the fact that the incurable illness which plagues Summers’ wife puts her in the position of being soon able to take her place, seduced by the one who dominates her, without the courage to confess to her father what should have kept her from him, she agrees to flee with him, waiting for death to authorize their union. Her father dies of sorrow; alternately torn by remorses and transported by love she spends a year with Summers, who, at the end of it, fakes an Aunt’s death in order to get away from her, writes to her in the beginning, then neglects her, and leaves her in the most horrible sadness. Her landlady’s daughter (103), in order to distract her, takes her almost forcedly to the Theatre; in one of the most distinct boxes together with two stunning and brilliant women she catches sight of Mistress Carrey, whom she already hated; but what is the wretched one’s reaction upon seeing Summers appear there, when she believed him to be far away from London! Mistress Carrey’s riches had determined him to marry her, since his wife had recently passed away. To what excesses can a desperate love and a wounded honour lead a passionate and mortified woman? Miss Matthews, out of herself and crazed, asks to be brought to Summers’ house, stabs him almost right under his new wife’s eyes, sees him covered in his own blood, is arrested, scorns danger, does not feel anything but the pleasure of vengeance; and when, as she is reasoning with the amiable Fanton, the warden, in order to comfort her, brings her the news that Summers is not dead and that if he gets better she can be absolved, the furious woman despairs over having to save her life by sacrificing her vengeance. Whatever appearance in this tale may make us pity Miss Matthews, some suspicions can be formulated with regard to her character, her behaviour before meeting Summers, and a possibility for excusing him can be glimpsed here; we will see later on whether the interest in this Story or the (104) Author’s reflections which follow it have a more solid foundation. As for us, we have lingered on these adventures upon the doubt that they might not be a mere episode, but an essential part of the Story. Miss Matthews demands from Fanton that he tell what has happened to him as well after their parting. This section of the Novel is less rich in bizarre events, and its main merit lies in those details that few are able to convey in an interesting way. Fanton, who should have been the richest gentleman in his province because of the deaths of his father and one of his brothers, finds his properties in such a state of devastation because of their disarray, that he was forced to pawn the lands to a relative for twenty years in order to pay back his debts, and to enlist in the army. Having entered a Regiment as a Volunteer, after a Campaign he obtained a Company. He met Mistress Harris, a friend of her mother’s, and her two daughters. Having become familiar in that house, Miss Amelia’s charms, graces, and sweetness make him encounter love for the first time, and she found him as intriguing as he found her lovable. Knowing himself to be far too inferior, because of his circumstances, to that prospect (105) which Mistress Harry was in search of for her rich daughter, he made all efforts, because of an excess of sensibility, to keep his feelings hidden from Amelia, but love cannot keep him for long. During an interesting conversation, not only this young woman detects his feelings, but her mother, who, already suspicious, was furtively listening to them, confirms her fears, and demands from Fanton that he move away from the house until Amelia is married. This virtuous young man bends to this demand, indeed he decides to leave London, when he suddenly suffers an illness and his concerns change appearance. Doctor Harrison, an apparently strict and surly man, but in fact a man full of virtue, of humanity and of true generosity, having been informed of the infatuation between Fanton and Amelia, had warned his cousin Mistress Harry about it so that she could send Fanton away, but having then heard about his submission, his tactful behaviour, he had been so struck by it that he had induced Amelia’s mother to abandon her idea to marry Amelia to a lord, and to give her hand in marriage to Fanton. He goes to look for the unlucky youth, takes on a bizarre, insulting tone, to then surprise him with the news of his happiness. He believes to have her in the palm of his hand, when a letter from his cousin calls him back to the province, because his only sister, whom he loves dearly (106), is about to die; and his absence leaves time to the volatile Mistress Harry to change her mind, and again want a Lord for her daughter, and force her to marry Milord Nesby. A letter from Dr. Harrison, who is made furious by this failure to keep the promise, calls back Fanton; he returns after having buried his poor sister; Mistress Harry led Amelia to a country house with the idea of keeping her there until her wedding to Milord. Fanton goes there, warns Amelia with a note, she joins him in the garden, the lovers have the most tender meeting, when they hear her mother running to look for them in a fury, having found Fanton’s note on Amelia’s desk. Love, fear and desperation infuse them with courage, the support of the virtuous relative who wishes nothing more than their marriage makes them see less guilt in a bold step, they flee, and take refuge in the house of Amelia’s nurse, where they send word about their location to Dr. Harrison. He was with Mistress Harry (who had rushed to London to look for the fugitives) when the Messenger arrives, and imprudently delivers his message in front of her. Dr. Harrison, unyielding up to that point to his cousin’s pleas, upon seeing the lovers exposed changes his tone, employs remonstrations, appeals, (107) advice, speaks to her heart, wins it over, and they leave together to comfort the unhappy lovers, who are almost struck dead at the news of Mistress Harry’s arrival. Their anxiety, however, is followed by happiness, and they happily remain at the country house from which they had fled in desperation. The wedding is concluded; Amelia’s tender apprehension drives her mother to the decision of keeping her husband next to her, making him abandon his own Regiment to enter the Guards’ one. In the end of the second volume we fear the consequences of the jealousy of Amelia’s sister, who, greedy and self-absorbed, quivers upon seeing that her mother, knowing her to be richly provided for by an aunt, prepares to benefit Amelia over her; since Betsy was hoping that he would abandon this thought after a wedding so distant from the hopes she had for her daughter.



Elisabetta Caminer and the reception of English novels in Venice – 1

When Domenico Caminer, a famous journalist and publisher of the ‘Settecento’, left the co-direction of the Giornale Enciclopedico (formerly L’Europa letteraria) in 1776, his daughter Elisabetta took over the control of one of the most popular journals of the time. Elisabetta promoted a project which was more organic, moving the journal towards a deeper cultural and editorial engagement closer to the reality of the times. The Giornale Enciclopedico and others that were published under her direction (Nuovo Giornale Enciclopedico, Nuovo Giornale Enciclopedico d’Italia) sought to establish new relationships with prominent literary men and scientists of the era, while looking for new means and centres of distribution. Elisabetta had experience as an editor in the dissemination of foreign culture in the Italian peninsula: during her career her aim had always been to renovate and improve the intellectual milieu of the period, often attracting harsh criticism and opposition. Nevertheless, Elisabetta’s journals played an important role in the Italian reception of foreign literature during the second half of the 18th century.

Building on the studies conducted by Sama, Liuccio, MacMurran, Mangione, von Kulessa and most of all Parmegiani,[1] this essay aims at investigating how English novels were reviewed, censored, and introduced to the Italian public through an assortment of articles, reviews and announcements [often written by Elisabetta Caminer Turra] that appeared in the journals she supervised.

Undoubtedly, the Italian cultural and political horizons of the eighteenth century were extremely variegated. The editorial industry was no exception: many pre-Unitarian States possessed active publishing hubs, which engaged in the intellectual debates of the time and were attentive to various literary and reading trends. In this fragmented context, Venice certainly had the most prolific printing industry of the epoch. Over a third of all the books published in the peninsula came from the lagoon city, making it a point of reference within a growing inter-European cultural dialogue in the second half of the century on the continent. Instrumental in such dissemination was the periodical press: its popular appeal reflects, like no other medium, the perception of ‘other’ European cultures and European cultural diversity. The Caminer family played a major role in the development of Venetian journalism. As Parmegiani explains in her seminal work on eighteenth century Venetian journalism:

‘one of the longest-lasting, ideologically progressive and unconventionally run periodical ventures of the second half of the century was the Caminer-Fortis ‘project’. Rather than a laid out project from the start, it was a progressively evolving initiative that lasted three decades, despite the relatively short life of the individual periodicals of which it was comprised. The Caminer-Fortis project included five Venetian periodicals that from 1768 to 1797 formed a continuous publishing enterprise that positioned itself at the forefront of progressive ideas, promoted Enlightenment values and played an essential role in fostering a network of critically informed Italian readers. In 1768 Domenco Caminer […] founded the periodical L’Europa Letteraria. Among his collaborators, he appointed his seventeen-year-old daughter Elisabetta who was then just starting her career as a translator and director of French plays. In 1773 L’Europa letteraria was restructured and changed its title in Giornale Enciclopedico. In 1777 Elisabetta assumed its direction, moved the periodical to Vicenza (where she was living with her husband) and transformed it into a combative, progressive, and internationally-minded enterprise.’[2]

Parmegiani also stresses that Elisabetta was a member of the Venetian bourgeoisie, who found an ideal environment in the native city to fully exploit her intellectual work. Besides her activities as a journalist (the first female journalist in Italy), she eventually became an editor and a renowned translator, at the same time directly managing all her publishing enterprises. It is remarkable that her collaborators were predominantly male: under her management the journals developed a progressive view of society. The emancipation and education of women was one of the foundational ideas of the cultural initiative promoted by her journals (with some contradictions in the process, which I will point out below). Among the most important and active collaborators was the aforementioned Alberto Fortis, an enthusiastic promoter of the Enlightenment culture. During his appointment as a contributor to Caminer’s journals (and to a certain degree right-hand man), he produced many reviews, translations and original articles. The editorial team was particularly receptive towards cultural and literary news coming from abroad, and especially from France. The very name of the journal, Giornale Enciclopedico, and its variations illustrate that the debt of inspiration to trans-alpine journalism is rather blatant: Le Journal Encyclopédique was extremely popular in France, and played a fundamental role stretching as far as Italy (cf. details provided below). The French mediation is one of the most significant aspects that must be taken into account, when attempting to recreate the history of foreign culture reception through the periodical press of the late 18th century in the Italian peninsula. The reception of English novels is no exception: many of the reviews concerning this new literary object and published in the Venetian journals stem directly from reviews previously published in France. Mercure de France, Journal des Savants, Journal Encyclopédique are only a few examples of the many French journals that were an endless source of information for Italian journalists. In order to outline the history of the reception of the English novel through the periodical press, the most interesting and useful research approach is to trace the genealogical dimension of each review that made its way to Italian journals from English journals, via the French. This operation is usually quite easy: normally, once the Italian review is found, it can be assumed that a couple of months earlier a review of the same novel was published in one or more French journals. Our research reveals that in the journals directed by Elisabetta Caminer, almost 60 reviews and announcements about English novels were published over twenty years. Of these 60, the vast majority stem directly from the French press, and only a very small percentage may be traced directly back to the British press. Understanding and pinpointing in which way the Italian reviews differ from the French (and through which patterns) is crucial for the reconstruction of the Italian reception of the English novel in the literary press. In the aforementioned article, Parmegiani has already shown some significant examples of how the Venetian press dealt with the reviews of English novels and the French mediation. With a series of blog posts, we now aim to show some case studies, to analyse the extent of the phenomenon.

Let us start with the only case of completely original reviews and advertisements. As I hinted at the beginning of the article, Venice was the most active publishing hub in the entire peninsula. This means that the city was receptive towards literary novelties coming from abroad in terms of foreign publications, and some publishers were starting to circulate Italian translations of those novelties. This is the case of the Venetian publisher Pietro Valvasense. Sandra Parmegiani has already pointed out how:

‘the early 1780s were the years in which the Venetian publisher Pietro Valvasense printed two collections of Fielding’s and Richardson’s novels, and Elisabetta Caminer translated for him the History of Sir Charles Grandisson. Since she had no knowledge of English, Elisabetta based her translation on Prevost’s heavily abridged version published in Amsterdam in 1755, according to a well-established practice, and legitimized well into the nineteenth century. There is, however, no extended review of this work to accompany the several announcements of the new translation that appeared in her press, where the old masters of the English novel were, as a rule, acknowledged as such, without too many words spent to justify the relevance of their work or their significance for the Italian readership. Though certainly great novels, they were well established in the second half of the eighteenth century and not often in need of many journalistic remarks.’[3]

The fact that well-established authors did not seem to need extensive comments is a pattern that we will have the opportunity to further investigate later on. In an article about Venetian editorial initiatives, Richardson is for instance introduced to the readership as ‘l’autore immortale, la di cui penna è stata condotta dalla natura, dalla virtù, dalla morale più fina, e dal sentimento più delicato’ [the immortal author, whose pen was steered by nature, by virtue, by the finest morals, and the most delicate feeling] Nuovo Giornale Enciclopedico (1786, pp. 111–112): a simple yet truly meaningful description. Not many words were used to describe his work, either: ‘Crediamo inutile il rinnovare gli elogi di quest’Opera, che nel suo genere può dirsi eccellente’ [We believe it is unnecessary to repeat our praise of this work’s worth, which can be said to be excellent in its genre] (Nuovo Giornale Enciclopedico, October 1785, p. 125). Richardson’s reputation was already established, and his work was quite popular among the Italian readers. Some more stylistic remarks will integrate Parmegiani’s words. While introducing the news of the imminent publication of a collection of ‘Operette galanti’ [gallant works] by Valvasense in May 1781, the Giornale Enciclopedico states that the publisher would always opt, in this regard, for works in which the dominant feelings are Love, Virtue and Truth. Immediately after, the ‘ultimi Romanzi del famoso Fielding Inglese’ [the last novels of the famous English author Fielding] are named as the first books to open the collection. It seems quite obvious that the audience, after reading this announcement, was immediately brought to associate the concepts of Love, Virtue and most of all Truth with Fielding’s works, and by extension with the literature coming from England. On the one hand, the journal was showing an early appreciation for the sentimental novel, on the other, it was pinpointing some of its key concepts, which will prove to be fundamental in the change of the literary paradigm that the reception of the English novel, often investigating the dialectics between love, decorum and virtue, will bring into the Italian cultural horizon of the time.



[1] Catherine Sama (editor and translator), Selected Writings of an Eighteenth-Century Venetian Woman of Letters. Elisabetta Caminer Turra. University of Chicago Press, 2003; Michaela Liuccio, Elisabetta Caminer, la prima donna giornalista italiana. Il Poligrafo, 2010 ; Mary H MacMurran, The Spread of Novels: Translation and Prose Fiction in the Eighteenth Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010; Daniela Mangione, Prima di Manzoni. Autore e lettore nel romanzo del Settecento. Salerno Editrice, 2012; Rotraud Von Kulessa, Elisabetta Camniera Turra e L’Europa letteraria. Riflessioni sulla traduzione, in “Circula”, 2, 2015, pp. 18-30; Sandra Parmegiani, Textual Mobility in the Eighteenth Century: English Novels and the Venetian Press, Crossways Journal, 1, 1, 2017, 11 pp.

[2] Id., p. 2.

[3] Ibid., p. 3.


Mapping The Reception Of English Novels In Italy During The Long 18th Century (2/3): a transcultural enquiry into the early shaping of the modern Italian literary and cultural identity


As we explained in the previous post, beyond episodic and geographically limited areas of enquiry, the reception of English novels in Italy in the long 18th century is still an open field of research, waiting to be addressed and thoroughly studied. From the 18th through the early 19th century a fully-fledged inter-European cultural dialogue developed on the continent, thanks to the wide dissemination of knowledge granted by the so-called “second printing revolution”. The periodical press was instrumental in such dissemination and its popular appeal reflects the perception of “other” European cultures and of European cultural diversity like no other medium. The Italian literary press acted as a vehicle for the propagation of English novels through announcements and reviews, and played a key role in the propagation of new ideas and moral values, together with new stylistic and narrative features. The research will outline specific readers’ response to the English novels, related to the revolutionary social ideas and the new narrative features they spread, according to geo-political areas. The study will trace different characteristics of the Italian reviews (concerning style, language, authors, objectives), and will delineate the particular function they played in the Anglo-Italian intercultural dialogue.

As stated before, the corpus consists of 600 critical reviews and editorial advertisements published in the literary journals of the time across the Italian peninsula in the pre-unitarian states, which have been collected in recent years during archival research. Particular emphasis will be given to the Venetian Republic, which at that time was the most active publishing hub in Italy (1/3 of all books published in Italy were printed in Venice). Among the 66 journals that have been examined, all published within the years 1700-1830, some of the most relevant are Giornale de’ Letterati d’Italia (1710-40); Giornale de Letterati di Europa (1727); Giornale Enciclopedico di Liegi (translation with additions of the Belgian journal Journal encyclopédique de Liège, 1756-60); Biblioteca antica e moderna di Storia Letteraria (1766-1768); La Frusta letteraria (1763-65), which is an example of the English influence on Italian culture: the model of the English journal Spectator (1711-12) is in fact the basis of its structure and concept; Il corrier letterario (1766-1768); L’Europa Letteraria (1768-1773); Giornale Enciclopedico (1774-83) founded by the most important female journalist of the time, Elisabetta Caminer Turra; Antologia Romana (1774-1796); Gazzetta Letteraria (1774); Nuovo Giornale enciclopedico d’Italia (1787-1794); Nuovo Giornale letterario d’Italia (1788-1792); Giornale bibliografico universale (1807-1810); Giornale italiano (1811-1812); Annali di Scienze e Lettere (1810-12); and the main issues of Biblioteca italiana (1815-1840). Venice’s thriving international book trade left in its archives many periodical publications from the Venetian Republic, Italian and international cultural centres. This material is nearly completely inaccessible in digitized form and it represents an untapped source of intellectual debates, trends in reader reception and popular culture, and in the transcultural dimension of intellectual exchanges in an increasingly cosmopolitan Europe. To carry on the research on the corpus effectively, the research team will create an open access, annotated and searchable digital repository (in the form of a dedicated website which will include a relational database) on the reception of English novels in Italy during the long 18th century. The repository with the encoded reviews will allow the application of modern DH tools. The project has three primary objectives:

  1. To explore the transcultural dimension of the corpus of data relative to the information about the English novels, their translation and their diffusion in the Italian literary press during the long 18th century. The preliminarily created digital database will allow in-depth textual and spatial analysis and visualizations of popular reading trends in 18th and early 19th century Italy, thanks also to a tagging process which will help to categorize not only the thematic aspects but also the lexicon of the corpus, allowing both a stylistic and linguistic analysis. A stylometric analysis will provide understanding of the specific features of Italian literary journalism at the time, unveiling the communication strategies that were adopted to disseminate knowledge and information.
  2. The interpretation of the content of the reviews. This critic work will lead: 1) to understand its relevance when compared to reviews of Italian and French novels (which were published in the same journals); 2) to comprehend the extent to which the Italian press was receptive to the innovative nature of English fiction; 3) to outline the debate it sparked and how this played a role in the definition of Italy’s discourse about modern cultural identity (i.e. in which sense and by what means the Italian process of cultural and, in the aftermath, political unification was influenced by the reception of the English novel). The research will uncover how the English novels were introduced to the Italian readership, censored and translated. A preliminary reading suggests that the questioning of social hierarchies in the English novel, its examination of moral ambiguity, its interplay of gender roles, and its scrutiny of the ethical, religious, and psychological foundations of social norms, are in fact more shocking to the Italian cultural milieu than, for example, the clichéd ‘looseness of morals’ of French literature, whose dissemination had been structural in the construction of the 18th century social fabric. The controversial nature of English novels started a debate on their moral values, which in Italy was carried on under specific circumstances (i.e. the Catholic groundings of ethics and the predominance of Cartesianism in philosophy of knowledge and psychology). The study of the readers’ response to the contents, spread by the novels via the reviews, is deeply connected to the stylistic analysis of the reviews the research team will achieve with the work related to “Objective a”. In fact, the outlining of the reviews’ stylistic features is crucial to understanding in which ways the contents were revealed to the public, and how the audience was influenced in the perception of the moral values and the social messages of the novels (see below in “Methodology” the details concerning the approach to this aspect of the research).
  3. To create a methodological paradigm to examine the reception of English novels in the literary press of other Western European countries during the long 18th century. Even though the phenomenon of the reception of the English novels presents particular aspects for each country (e.g. morality was different in each nation, the importance of religion varies from country to country etc.), there are well defined functional aspects that can be studied with the same methodology that will be developed with the project: the reviews’ stylistic characteristics, their geographical distribution and the sociological impact of the divulgation of the novels are only a few of a series of important aspects that can be considered as constant features of this cultural phenomenon.