Massimiliano Morini

Jane Austen's Irony: Lost in the Italian Versions of Pride and Prejudice?

  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: Jane Austen; Translation; Linguistic Irony.

Ask a reader in Britain or the US why one should read Jane Austen, and the answer will unfailingly contain at least a passing reference to irony; ask a non-specialised Italian reader, and that most elusive of rhetorical figures will probably make room for other, more reassuring qualities. Jane Austen's novels, the Italian answer will run, are fascinating, highly polished, formally perfect representations of a fascinating, highly polished, formally perfect world: one goes to them in order to immerse oneself in the manners of a faraway age and place. While irony and the representation of manners are not mutually exclusive - in fact, the ironic depiction of manners can be said to be one of Austen's great strengths - this difference in emphasis reflects deep-seated notions of literature and language in the English-speaking world on the one hand, and Italy on the other. For most English-speaking readers, the primary aim of fiction is to entertain, even though different levels of aesthetic and linguistic complexity are allowed for within this general framework. In the Italian cultural system, by contrast, great novels are thought of primarily as repositories of useful information and timeless moral values, with fun being frowned upon as a mark of popular (i.e., lowbrow) culture. English canonical novels are therefore translated and adapted in accordance to the taste of a general readership that tends to equate seriousness with a moralising attitude, and elegance with a high register. In this article, Morini looks at some Italian translations and refractions of Austen's most popular and most light-hearted novel, "Pride and Prejudice". By focusing on source passages that are arguably imbued with linguistic irony, the author demonstrates that most target versions tend to mute or erase all traces of non-literal meaning, thereby effectively aligning the novel with the "conservative" readings of Austen's art.

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