115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Just an ‘English Whore’? Italian Translations of Fanny Hill and the Transcultural Novel

Clorinda Donato, California State University, Long Beach

This paper examines Carlo Gozzi's 1764 Italian translation of John Cleland's Fanny Hill, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, which he entitled La Meretrice.  The domestication of Gozzi's translation reflects the cultural reality of eighteenth-century Venice, resulting in a strikingly different novel from Cleland's original.

Proposal: 

 

John Cleland’s Fanny Hill was published several times in Italian translation during the course of the long eighteenth century, not to mention its continuing success as a translated work in contemporary Italy.  While today’s Italian translations carry the title, Fanny Hill. Memorie di una donna di piacere, the titles of the 1764 and 1810 Italian editions, La Meretrice (The Whore) and La Meretrice inglese (The English Whore)  respectively, both raise important issues about the relationship of the translation of this particular English novel to the birth of the novel in Italy. There is much to be uncovered.  While the number of French translations is known, the number of translations into other languages is still vaguely cited, as reflected in a recent newspaper article about the impact of the novel on European literature:  “By the end of the 18th century there were at least 20 versions in circulation in English, 14 French translations, and other editions in German, Italian and Portuguese.” (Daily Mail 2015).  This paper takes up the Italian editions in an attempt to provide greater precision, and argues that the decision by Carlo Gozzi to translate Fanny Hill into Italian reflects the condition of prostitutes, courtesans, and actresses in eighteenth-century Venice whose status was changing.  Gozzi was intimately involved with the underbelly of Venetian theater life where he spent a good deal of his time writing and staging plays as well as frequenting the actresses who performed in them. He spoke often and vociferously about women in his correspondence and The Useless Memoirs, his autobiography. He was certainly drawn to Fanny Hill as a way of both exploring and condemning the familiarity of Cleland’s prostitute, her humanization, and joyful sexuality, all of which he saw unfolding in Venice. Though clearly the beneficiary of such open sexual mores, he condemned them. His warnings to his own actress-lovers about abandoning their wanton lifestyle are highly indicative of the menace he saw in a protagonist like Fanny.

Recent work by Mary Helen McMurran and Bethany Wiggen focusing on the importance of translation in the evolution of the novel in England, France, and Germany offers useful theoretical guidance that will be employed in the development of this contribution. However, the primary focus will be to investigate the ways in which a single novel, John Cleland’s Fanny Hill, could so profoundly affect novelistic production in Italy. It will also consider some of the issues raised in Ian Moulton’s Before Pornography: Erotic Writing in Early Modern England (2000), in which Moulton examines the influence of Aretino on pornographic writing in England.  Here, Aretino’s influence, via Cleland, who introduces a new form of erotic writing to Italian readers through Fanny Hill, will also be considered in our discussion of the transcultural and transhistorical dynamics linking Fanny Hill, La Meretrice, and La Meretrice inglese, and the conditions from which they emerged. 

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