For the 100th anniversary of Giovanni Verga’s death, I Malavoglia (1881, The House by the Medlar-Tree in the English translation) is being republished in Germany in a new German translation by Anna Leube. To mark the occasion, the Italian Cultural Institute of Berlin is organizing a discussion on the challenges of translating a classic between Leube herself and the Italianist Bernhard Huss.
The meeting will take place online, on the Institute’s Facebook page and on the Zoom platform.
Giovanni Verga, born in Catania in 1840, is the greatest exponent of so-called Verismo. After initially training in law, he decided to devote himself exclusively to literature and, in 1865, he moved to Florence where he composed his first novels: ‘A Sinner’ and ‘History of a Black Cap’. Subsequently, he frequented the Scapigliati in Milan and, under the influence of French realism, developed a new conception of literature that he expounded in various theoretical writings. According to Verga, narrative fiction must recount real life by entering into it and adopting the point of view of its protagonists. This requires the author to work intensively on the language, combining mimesis of speech and literary construction.
From the realist turn, Verga planned a wide-ranging account of contemporary society that was to unfold through several works, on the model of the ‘Human Comedy’ by Honoré de Balzac and the ‘Rougon-Macquart’ Cycle by Émile Zola. This lead to the creation of several novels and short stories with a Sicilian setting: in addition to the Malavoglia, these included Life in the fields (1880), Little Novels of Sicily (1883) and Mastro-don Gesualdo (1889). However, the project remains unfinished. Verga never managed to complete the works that were supposed to be dedicated to the upper middle class and aristocratic circles, probably because they were less in keeping with his style, which makes the representation of the last ones a tool to tell the existential drama of man, caught between the forces of history and fate. Verga died in Catania in 1922.
Anna Leube, former editor at Hanser publishing house, is a translator of, among others, Bruce Chatwin, Shirley Jackson, Claudio Magris, Michael Ondaatje, Alberto Savinio and Italo Svevo.
Bernhard Huss is Professor of Roman Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin and director of the Italenzentrum. A great specialist in Petrarch, he also deals with modern and contemporary Italian fiction.
More information at iicberlino.esteri.it