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Friday, March 23, 2012

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell has its first Italian translation at last! It was published by Jo March Agenzia Letteraria in November 2011. I'm proud to own a brand new copy thanks to the publishers,  which I soon added to my Gaskell shelf,  and I'm proud to introduce you the translator of this amazing classic novel: Laura Pecoraro. You know how much I love this work and how much I wrote about it (and about the TV adaptation and a few sequels  as well) both here on FLY HIGH and on LEARN ON LINE. I actually dreamt of translating it myself  - but never felt quite good enough - because I thought it was so unfair Italian reades couldn't enjoy such an interesting literary work. This is why I'm really grateful to the publishers and the translator for their efforts. Not for myself, of course. But for the millions of potential readers out there. I hope they won't miss the chance!
Here we are, then. Meet Laura Pecoraro. Read our chat about Nord e Sud, its themes and characters, and especially about  the difficult journey toward a good translation. Enjoy!

First of all, congratulations Laura on the achievement of this ambitious goal: the translation into Italian of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell,   a beloved English classic ,  after more than 150 years from its publication. I’ve actually thought about it more than once since I first read it many years ago, but not being a translator, I didn’t dare even try. I know there was an abridged translation in the 1960s by Ada Borrelli published in Italy by Casa Editrice Giuseppe Principato (I mentioned it in one of my posts HERE) , did you read it?

Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to speak about this wonderful experience of translating Gaskell’s North and South. I’ve read the abridged translation by Ada Borelli. In some cases I found it useful because it helped me to understand the meaning of some expressions used by Gaskell and it also gave me useful information about the context. However, in the footnotes, Borelli gives the explanation and translation only of some words, names and expressions and deals only with some chapters and not with the whole novel. Moreover, the Italian she uses is, in most cases, obsolete and not suitable to a contemporary reader. Though respecting the style and language used in the 19thcentury and trying to be truthful to the text, the aim of my translation was to render the novel readable and enjoyable to today’s readers.

Where did your work on this translation start from?  Text, context, author? Did you carry out any research? 

 All started with a phone call by one of my professors at the University, Marisa Sestito,  who with me translated the verses and wrote the introduction. She had already translated Gaskell’s Cranfordand a collection of short-stories (Lois the Witch and other Stories, translated into Italian as “Storie di bimbe , di donne e di streghe”), has got a long and successful carreer as literary translator and  is one of the major expert and translator of Charles Dickens in Italy. I attended her course on literary translation when I was at University and she knew that my deam was to translate a novel. I’ve worked on 19thcentury women writers during my PhD in English Literature and I got to know the context in which Gaskell wrote quite well. Of course I did some research on her writing before starting translating the novel. Research is a very important task of a good translator, and a necessary instrument to obtain a good translation. I’d say I started from the context, from my interest in women writers and from my dream of translating a book.

What is the most fascinating aspect in this novel? 

What I find very fascinating in this novel is Gaskell’s way of analysing and portraying both social and individual changes and in particular contrasts, which are geographical (the idyllic and romantic South and the cahotic and dirty North), social (two classes, the masters and the workmen), personal (the crisis of conscience and religious doubts of a clergyman and the inner struggle of a woman between being truthful to herself and her own values and her feelings for Thornton, the cinical and proud self-made man).  In my opinion, Gaskell’s ideas on the complex and conflicting relationship between masters and workers can be very modern and applicable to the contemporary society: two worlds, two forces can work together in harmony, with a mutual understanding and respecting each others’ peculiarities and abilities. The theme of the novel is very modern, think of the North and South of the world.

Which page/chapter was the hardest to translate? 

Translating this novel was not easy at all! Apart from the dialect spoken by the workers, which of curse was difficult to translate, Gaskell’s writing is characterised by long periods, with a complex structure, which in some cases I had to semplify in order to allow a more immediate comprehension and a fluent reading, respecting the rhythm at the same time . However, I tried to be as more truthful to the original text as I could, in order to give a translation which, using Umberto Eco’s words, ‘says almost the same thing’. Almost because I think that there are cases in which we must accept that when translating literature, something of the meaning of a word can be lost. Interpretaion, rhythm, punctuation, style are all important elements a translator has to consider to convey the truth, what the author had in mind. This said, the chapters in which there are many dialogues with the workers, like chapter 11, were very difficult.  Moreover, North and South is full of references to other texts and quotations expecially from the Bible, which sometimes I was not able to identify immediately. Therefore I thought that the use of footnotes was absolutely necessary.

Which was instead the passage you most loved translating?

It’s not easy to answer this questions. I liked translating many chapters. Chapter 7 for example, in which Gaskell describes the busy, crowded, dirty streets of Milton and the first meeting between Margaret and John. Chapter 51 when Margaret meets John again and not only can’t she hide her feelings for him but also realises that they share same values and ideas and can put their forces together to start a new business project.

How difficult it was to render the dialectisms of the workers in North and South?

Actually, quite difficult! For this the collaboration with Marisa Sestito, Lorenza and Valeria was very important.  As stated in the translator’s note, I decided not to use the dialect of a particular Italian region, but to render the workers’ speech through colloquial and idiomatic expressions,  slang etc.  I tried to imagine what expressions and words a worker would have used.

What have you learnt from Mrs Gaskell translating her work? I found her one of the bravest women writer in English literature.

I think she’s extraordinary. She has the courage to write and publish in a time when women had to use pseudonyms to have the possibility to publish (think of George Eliot or the Brontë. Moreover, social themes and analysis of the changes and contrasts in the Industrial era were certainly not ideal for a woman writer. And yet, North and South is one the most important industrial novel of the 19thcentury, together with Hard Times by Dickens, who liked her and asked her to publish in his Household Words. I think that the way she puts together social analysis, personal experiences and romanticism is extraordinary. 

Who’s your favourite character ?

Margaret of course. She is determinate, she manages to build a life for herself, to ‘take her life in her own hands’ as Gaskell says,  thanks to her courage but also accepting fully what life deserves to her, learning from every experience, especilly from the painful ones: she leaves her beloved South and all the people she knows there to move to the North where the people seem to be hostile and nasty to her at the beginning (Mrs Thornton, John, even Nicholas Higgins in the firs moment).  She faces the death of her mother showing a pragmatism that her father doesn’t have and then the death of her beloved father, remaining ‘aone! alone!’ as the title of chapter 42 points out. She prefers running the risk of a bad reputation with the man she loves  to being untruthful to herself. In all that pride and firceness thare is respect for herself. It reminds me of Jane Eyre’s when she rejects Rochester“I must respect myself”. Despite all her courage she is not a heroine; she is a real woman who consciously decides that her values and feelings are most important than reputation and what other people may think. She leaves the life  she wants to live, she doesn’t accept compromises or half-truths. Only when she reaches emotional and economical idenpendence she is ready for real love, the love between a man and a woman. And the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ mark the end of the story suggesting that the two protagonists have grown into adults and are ready for love. Moreover, she has a good sense of humour, she is sensitive and of course altruist, but she doesn’t express her altruism through charity. She wants to help the Higgins, the workers of Milton, in a practical and pragmatic way, trying to understand their ways of thinking and their needs.  She didn’t just give them money, but brings them to have confidence in themselves and in their  capacity to build their life and believe in a better future. She gives them ideas, suggestions which convey a peaceful message, that a cooperation with the masters can exist.

While working of their thoughts, feelings, fears, hopes, emotions, what did you come to think of the two protagonists , Margaret and John?

 I have already said what I think of Margaret in the previous answer, I think maybe too widely. As regards John Thornton, the self made man, the ‘tradesman’ whose self-confidence and determination vacillates after meeting Margaret, Mr Hale and Nicholas Higgins. Like Margaret’s, we see also his Bildung. He lives an inner struggle, a crisis of consciuosness  which brings him to change his opinion of workers and business. Initially cynical, cold and tough, he  looses the self-control he was so proud of and learns to know and understand the workers of his company, cares for them and their problems and shows his feelings.

Did you see the BBC series (2004) based on the novel? What ‘s your opinion on the adaptations and its changes respect to Gaskell’s story?

 I saw the series and even though I think it is very romanticized and idealised I liked the settings. I didn’t like the changes respect to Gaskell’s story. I think the book is much better and very worth reading

What are you working on at the moment? And what’s in your future as a translator?

Laura Pecoraro
 I’m an English teacher in the secondary school at the moment and I’m collaborating  with the University of Udine, where I’ve just taught English Literature. I would love to translate a novel again, and actually there’s a project regarding translation that I have in mind... I hope it’ll be as successfull as the translation of North and South seems to be!

Laura Pecoraro obtained a PhD in Literary Sciences at the University of Udineand a Diploma in Translation at the same University. Her main fields of study are women writers (19th century in particular), Irish literature and Partnership Studies and she is a member of the Partnership Studies Group of the University of Udine. She is currently teaching English at the secondary school and collaborating with the University of Udine


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