Rita Unfer Lukoschik, ed. Lettere di Elisabetta Caminer (1751-1796): Organizzatrice culturale.
The book under review is a scholarly work based on archival research in various Italian libraries including those of academies. The editor offers 232 letters (73-312: letters 1-230, plus 207a & 224a) of Elisabetta Caminer, which are accompanied by ample footnotes, 730 to be exact. The first letter, dated Jan. 21, 1769, is addressed to the scientist Lazzaro Spallanzani, the last letter, without date, but probably written in April 1796, the year of Caminer's death, is in another hand and addressed to an unidentified "Preg[evo]le Amico." Caminer's letters to Spallanzani are well known (they appeared in his correspondence and in various anthologies). Forty-one of her letters were included, in English translation, in Selected Writings of an Eighteenth-Century Venetian Woman of Letters, edited by Catherine M. Sama (reviewed in Italica, 81 3:433-435). A few appeared in various journals. Unfer Lukoschik's edition is the first to offer Caminer's entire correspondence in the original language, and as such, is a welcome addition to eighteenth-century Italian studies on the spreading of the Enlightenment in northern and central Italy, as well as in Naples, and on the achievements of a woman frequently overlooked in the past.
Caminer's letters shed light on her incessant work in various fields. She was a translator of French plays, mainly those of the larmoyant genre, as well as of other European works (plays, poetry and prose), which, however, she translated from the French, not the original language, because, as she confesses, she knew well only French, while later she learned some English (33). She never studied Latin or Greek, convinced that these classical languages did not help in spreading the ideas of the Enlightenment, which she hoped to promote beyond the erudite elite. Caminer became an important journalist, working first with her father and then with others, starting with Europa Letteraria and on to the Giornale Enciclopedico which changed name two more times, but ceased to exist after her death. The letters reveal her great involvement in these periodicals, for progressively she assumed more duties till she practically did everything herself: she solicited contributions from scholars, encouraged subscriptions, corrected galley proofs, calmed those who protested when not receiving the periodical (the mail was slow and frequently packages got lost), she edited the articles of collaborators who expressed themselves too openly, she was obliged to make diplomatic compromises, while fighting censorship that scrutinized her periodical and frequently interfered, she complained to her friends about her financial problems. In addition the letters reveal the names of authors whose articles appeared in the Giornale anonymously or with initials only, and allow to identify the authors of some plays.
In her articles, Caminer used a simple Italian in order to reach all those who had no classical education, including women. She was proud that in her period women had distinguished themselves in various fields, but as is well-known, single individuals promoted women's education, but never proposed concrete reforms in those days. The ideal woman was still the obedient wife and dedicated mother. Caminer, one the other hand, saw things from a woman's point of view, for she had been attacked and slandered by some, even if praised by others, such as Giuseppe Pelli Bencivenni, with whom she corresponded (33).
Caminer was also a theatrical producer. She put on plays in Venice and in Vicenza where she even opened a school of dramatic art and where she staged Voltaire's Mahomet (letter 225). She was a publisher: her husband, Antonio Turra, provided the money, she the work of overseeing the printing-house Turra, founded in 1779 in order to publish the Giornale Enciclopedico, because Francesco Vendramini Mosca refused to continue to print it, annoyed by the constant appearance of censors in his shop. The Turras were brave, for among the books they printed, in 1780, was an Italian translation (done by Caminer) of Guillaume-Alexandre de Mehegan's Tableau de l'histoire moderne depuis la chute de l'Empire d'Occident jusqu' a la paix de Westphalie which came out in 1766 (followed by new editions in 1772 and in 1778). Caminer's translation appeared with the false indication of having been published in Paris (letter 134, footnote 409). Turra sold the press in 1794, after Caminer had undergone an operation to remove a tumor from her breast and was no longer capable of doing all the work. She died on June 7, 1796. It is amazing to see with how much insistence and courage Caminer worked on spreading the ideas of the Enlightenment, sacrificing herself and her financial resources for this cause to the point of dying poor.
The book under review also contains an ample Introduction (11-35) by Unfer Lukoschik, who quotes, among others, German sources on the Enlightenment, which might be new to Italianists living in the States. Next is a detailed bio-bibliography of Caminer (37-53), which includes all of her printed work given in chronological order. It is followed by a general bibliography (55-68).
After the letters we find a reprint of Caminer's article in defense of free thought, "Ricerche sommesse intorno ad alcuni dei Riflessi giusti e necessari" (317-336), which appeared in the Giornale Enciclopedico in 1779, in answer to Lodovico Barbieri's Riflessi giusti e necessari sul Giornale Enciclopedico, a pamphlet he published anonymously, in which he accused Caminer of spreading antireligious ideas and evil habits in her periodical. Her "Ricerche sommesse" is "the most intense and decisive defense of the journalistic profession that can be read in that time period" (315).
At the end of the book (337-352), under the subtitle "Iconografia camineriana," are photocopies of three portraits (of Caminer, Spallanzani and Alberto Fortis), of a letter in the hand of Caminer, of title-pages of Caminer's periodical, as it appeared under different names, and of title-pages of three books of her translations. Two useful indexes conclude the book, one of Caminer's works quoted in the letters, the other of people mentioned in the letters, as well as of the addressees, whose letters to Caminer have not been preserved. This book is to be recommended not only as the best contribution on Caminer to appear so far, but also for its scholarly presentation of an extremely important aspect of the Italian contribution to European culture.
San Francisco State University
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2008|
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