Academic journal article American Journal of Italian Studies

The English Translation of Aleramo's Una Donna: A Political Reinterpretation of the Sybil's Vision

Academic journal article American Journal of Italian Studies

The English Translation of Aleramo's Una Donna: A Political Reinterpretation of the Sybil's Vision

Article excerpt

Sibilla Aleramo's Una donna, originally published in 1906, was rediscovered as a feminist text following the release of a new edition in 1950. (1) At that time, many of the arguments that were central to Aleramo's autobiographical novel once more came to the fore, spurred on by the development of the Italian feminist movement that would grow to full-fledged maturity in the 1960s and 1970s. Almost thirty years later, a new translation into English -- the book had been translated into many languages almost immediately after its original publication (A Woman 1980 v-vi) -- was produced for the British and American academia, generating new interest in the author and in a novel that anticipated by ten years the works of feminist novelists like Virginia Woolf.

The new translation was published in 1979 by the feminist press Virago in London. The date may seem inconsequential, and yet it tells a significant tale in the areas both of rezeption-aestetik and of what Pierre Bourdien has called the "field of cultural production." (2) It underscores the fact that, having modernized and altered the language and presentation of the original, a translation can be greatly successful in a market for which it was not intended, even if it is separated in time and space from the original and its cultural milieu. (3) Indeed, the new translation appeared while women in the Anglo-American academy were reevaluating the contributions of women to the 'canon' of Western literature, and the feminist movement itself had grown into a new political force that was attempting to gain a voice in the legislative and constitutional arenas (one need only think of N.O.W. and the drive to amend the American constitution that failed only a few years later). Thus, Aleramo's text, which at times advoca tes similar themes of equal justice in front of the law, presents a message that would resonate among English and American feminists. In this essay, then, I would like to examine the distant communication that took place between the translator in the politically charged 1970-1980 period, and the by-then dead Italian author. In particular, my work explores the text that emerges from the reception and transfer of the original (and its world of signification) to a time and place where the original text, transported across linguistic, cultural and ideological boundaries, appears transformed and peculiarly altered to impart a new message in a more receptive sphere. This study, therefore, is only partially interested in the philosophical questions relating to the feasibility of translation, nor does it, but in the most basic of forms, concern itself with the henneneutics and semantics of translation. Instead, it focuses on the reception of the original, as it appears in the process of interpretation evinced by the linguistic and thematic choices made by the translatress, (4) and as it appears in the interaction with readers who live in a cultural sphere that has a stake in the message presented by the text.

Many critics who have read A woman have noticed that one of the book's most important traits is the development and growth of the main character (and her voice) from a pensive, vet passive, child/bride to a mature individual who is able to overcome, through great personal efforts and the process of self-ecriture, the dominant patriarchal impositions favored by Italian society at the turn of the century (Angelone, Corti, Luciano 96-97, Melandri 41). The title itself in this sense, attests to the individual and solitary nature of this pursuit it underlines the growth that must be performed singly by each woman, while underscoring the double process of 'individuation' that members of the female sex must perform to reassert themselves personally and publicly in the arena of a patriarchal mass culture such as was Italy at the turn of the century. The title also alerts the readers to the exclusive nature of the quest, one that points to the real semantic difference that exists between the traditional roles of women in this society -- as daughters, wives and mothers -- and the point of arrival achieved by this particular woman. …

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