Elisabetta Caminer Turra. Selected Writings of an Eighteenth-Century Venetian Woman of Letters.
The book under review is part of the series, "The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe," edited by Margaret L. King and Albert Rabil Jr., who successfully continue to offer English translations of works by women writers, some well known others practically unknown outside their country. The general introduction by these two editors appears first (xiii-xxxiii). The second introduction (1-74), by the volume's editor, Catherine M. Sama, deals with the life, achievements and struggles of the translator, journalist, publisher, and director of theatrical producrions, Elisabetta Caminer Turra, described to the readers of Italica in my review (76.4: 534-35) of Elisabetta Caminer Turra (1751-1796): una letterata veneta verso l'Europa, title of the editor's article, Rita Unfer Lukoschik, (Verona: Essedue, 1998), a book which includes a contribution by Sama. This book and the volume under review have more in common than just the portrait of Elisabetta on the cover. Sama is indebted to Unfer Lukoschik, to Lorenza Farina, whose dissertation "Carteggi di Elisabetta Caminer Turra" (University of Padua, 1978-79), she mentions, and to some extent to Mariagabriella di Giacomo, author of I'illuminismo e le donne. Gli scritti di Elisabetta Caminer. "Utilita" e "piacere": ovvero la coscienza di essere letterata ("Studi e Ricerche: Testi," Universita degli Studi di Roma "La Sapienza," 2002), an anthology of Elisabetta's writings taken from Europa Letteraria and Giornale enciclopedico, grouped according to subject matter.
Sama's introduction is followed by a chronological bibliography of works by Caminer (75-78), by a list of manuscript sources used (78-79), as well as of correspondence cited (79-80), and by a bibliography of published primary (80-82) and secondary sources (82-95). In her "Note on the Translation" Sama states that she strove to preserve the "original tenor" of Caminer's voice in translating her writings (74). There still is no edition of Caminer's vast correspondence. Only a few of her letters were published, such as those to Spallanzani (nine in his Edizione nazionale delle opere. Parte Prima: Carteggi, vol. 3, ed. Pericle di Pietro [Modena: Mucchi, 1985] 308-15), but Sama does not point them out. She gives the date of the first letter as "[2?] January 1769" (99) and the name "Schoeffer" (101), while in the Edizione nazionale we find "21" (308) and "Schaeffer" (309), respectively. Caminer's publications are very rare in the United States. From the few other cases where I was able to compare the English text with the original Italian (given by di Giacomo and partially by Unfer Lukoschik), I round Sama's translations precise and well rendered.
The anthologized selections (a total of seventy) of Caminer's writings are divided into two parts: "The Making of a Woman of Letters in the Eighteenth-Century Veneto" (97-164), and "Women and Society" (165-214).
Part I contains forty-nine selections: four poems, a preface to and a commentary on her own published translations of plays, the fly sheet for her Giornale enciclopedico, a polemical writing, and forty-one letters: twenty-one addressed to Giuseppe Pelli Bencivenni, seven to Giuseppe Gennari, five to Lazzaro Spallanzani, four to Clemente Vannetti, one to Alberto Fortis, and the test to other collaborators and supporters, all given in chronological order. With these examples Sama stresses first of all that Caminer used strategies to "successfully make a place for herself in male-dominated professions, in part by building and maintaining a network of influential male colleagues" (6). She had no formal education, but had mastered French well enough to start a career as a translator at an early age and was introduced to the journalistic world as an assistant to her father, Domenico Caminer, publisher of various journals. The texts offered also provide an insight into some of the daily routine of Caminer's work as a critic, translator, journalist and publisher eager to spread the ideas of the Enlightenment, for which she was frequently and ferociously attacked by conservatives, including Carlo Gozzi.
Part II is divided into three sections: "The Intellectual Life" (eight selections), "Fashion" (five selections), and "Marriage or the Convent" (eight selections), to illustrate Caminer's opinion on these subjects. These, together with Part I, "reveal much about how Caminer perceived her own place in her society, both as an exceptional woman and as an advocate for women" (6). She was, indeed, actively involved in the debate on women, their education and role in society. She was a modernist in favor of progress and science, which she ardently promoted.
All the selections, as well as the "Introduction," are accompanied by detailed notes, so that the reader always knows who the addressee of a letter is, or who the people referred to are. Moreover, Sama indicates when Caminer borrowed from French reviews of books she wanted her readers to know about, but had not received yet.
It is very obvious that Sama put a lot of work and dedication into this first English edition of Caminer's writings. (She also published an additional article "Liberty, Equality, Frivolity! An Italian Critique of Fashion Periodicals," Eighteenth-Century Studies 37.3 [Spring 2004]: 389-414, an elaboration of her book's "Fashion.") Sama convincingly illustrates, with the anthologized selections, Caminer's struggle both as a woman in a man's profession and as a promoter of the Enlightenment in Italy. At the end the reader is left with the desire to know more about this woman, who was maligned and attacked not only by individuals, but also by the official censors of the Venetian Republic, up to its collapse with the Napoleonic invasion, a fact that perhaps merited greater attention, for Caminer was conscious that "as long as the press is not free, Italy will be inferior in matters of literature" (32).
Unfortunately, there are some blemishes. For instance, Caminer's text has: "The Triumph of Good Wives: A Character Comedy in Prose by the German Mr. Elia Schlegel" (137), but in the note the latter is identified as Johann Elias Schlegal (sic, also in the Index), as if Caminer had made a mistake. Similarly the twice repeated (79 and 153) "Archivio Storico dell'Istituto dell'Acc. Iugoslavia" (sic for Iugoslava), accompanied by an additional "Zagubria" (79 only) for Zagabria, makes one wonder why the Italian name for a Zagreb (Croatia) institution, which now has a new name, for English readers. Nor is it clear why "Kaznacic" (79 and 153) has no diacritical marks which are correctly used in other Croatian names on the same page. Moreover, in identifying Alberto Fortis, Sama states that his book Viaggio in Dalmazia "helped inspire a rediscovery of the culture of Baltic Europe" (18n56). While confusing Baltic and Balkan might be common, it should not appear in a book printed by a university press.
San Francisco State University
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2004|
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