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.

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