Academic journal article Annali d'Italianistica

Exile, Translation, and Return: Ugo Foscolo in England

Academic journal article Annali d'Italianistica

Exile, Translation, and Return: Ugo Foscolo in England

Article excerpt

In "Exile, Translation, Return: Ugo Foscolo in England," Cosetta Gaudenzi employs translation as a critical concept to study the work of Ugo Foscolo in England. The article sheds light on Foscolo's role in the process that made Henry Francis Cary's version of the Commedia (1814) the first authoritative translation into English, and examines the reasons behind Foscolo's shift in exile from writing literature to practicing cultural translation and transference.

Tu non altro che il canto avrai del figlio, o materna mia terra; a noi prescrisse il fato illacrimata sepoltura.

(Foscolo, "A Zacinto")

Ugo Foscolo, one of Italy's most notable exiled literati, was born in 1778 on the Greek island of Zante, son of an Italian doctor, Andrea Foscolo, and a Greek woman, Diamantina Spathis. At the age of fourteen, after the death of his father, Foscolo moved to Venice where he began his literary studies and met intellectuals and revolutionaries of the time. Believing that Italy's freedom and unity depended on the French revolution, Foscolo fought for Napoleon on several occasions and continued, though disappointed, even after the French general gave Venice to the Austrians in the treaty of Campoformio (1797). When Napoleon was defeated in 1814, the thirty-six-year-old writer, who by then had gained a considerable reputation, refused to submit to the Austrians and went voluntarily into exile, first to Switzerland and then, in September 1816, to England, (1) where he died in 1827, having never returned to Italy.

The subject of Foscolo and exile has received the attention of various scholars. Some critics, like Glauco Cambon, have treated the general theme of exile in Foscolo's life and works. Others, including Carlo Maria Franzero, Eric Vincent, and more recently John Lindon, have focused on Foscolo's experience in England and his later critical production. Still others have taken a more comparative approach, studying Foscolo in relation to the British literary context. Thomas Cooksey, for example, has examined Foscolo's role in the early nineteenth-century reception of Dante in England. My contribution consists in expanding Cooksey's study and in investigating and explaining the relation between Foscolo and British culture through translation as a critical concept: namely, translation in the general sense of "space of hybridity" as employed by Homi Bhabha in his studies on nation and culture (e.g., The Location of Culture).

The term "translation," from the Latin transferre, literally means to transfer, transport, remove from one person, place, time, or condition to another. It can imply transferal from the realm of ideas into the realm of words, and from one language or culture into another. Accordingly, translation occupies a liminal space that transgresses the synchronically and the diachronically limited. The hybrid nature of translation is analogous to that of exile, in which individuals reinvent themselves to fit a different spatial and temporal context. In fact, translation can become a valuable tool for exiles who use it to communicate the self in a new language, and at times to return to the sources of their cultural tradition, which they then aim to make visible in a new environment. In this article, I show how, in England, Foscolo engaged in the practice of cultural "translation" and transference by writing essays that suggested a reinterpretation of Italian literature, of Dante in particular. I shed light on Foscolo's interest in Dante's work, life, and historical context, and on Foscolo's roles as "translator" of culture and "validator" of cultural translation, most importantly in the process which made Henry Francis Cary's Vision (1814) the first authoritative rendering of the Commedia into English. Finally, I suggest that Foscolo's shift from writing literature to practicing cultural translation and transference represents a kind of literary return to his homeland at a time when the author had lost all hopes for a united Italy, and was therefore seeking to construct a new identity in England. …

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