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Radical Translations

Elisabetta Caminer Turra


  1. Jenneval ovvero il Barnevelt Francese del Signor Mercier translation translator



Also a theatre director.


Venetian journalist and translator who revolutionised Italian theatre and was the first Italian woman to found and direct a newspaper.

Elisabetta Caminer Turra (1752-1796)

Born to a middle-class Venetian family, Elisabetta became a key figure of the Italian Enlightenment and one of the first female journalists in Europe. Initially apprenticed to a milliner's shop, she soon joined father's newspaper business as a copyist and translator, and later as main editor of a new venture, the Giornale Enciclopedico. In 1769 she married the Vicenza biologist and physician Antonio Turra, she moved to Vicenza where she opened a printing press and launched an experimental theatrical company.

Aged fourteen or fifteen, Elisabetta was already translating excerpts from the Mercure de France for her father's literary periodical Europa letteraria and reviewing new publications in French, including Voltaire and Rousseau. Enthusiasm for Enlightenment ideas and a defiant attitude towards censorship continued to animate her own Giornale Enciclopedico, where in 1774 she published extract of Helvétius' famous De l’Esprit, one of the most censored books in Europe.

But Caminer's passion was the theatre, and she translated widely from Mercier, Beaumarchais and other contemporary French playwrights, often overseeing successful stage productions herself. She also produced Italian versions of plays by Caldéron, Lessing, Schlegel, and the Irish dramatist Arthur Murphy, working, as was common, from French translations of the original works. She saw translation as a means to bring radical change to Italian comedy and open it up to foreign influence and alternative models beyond classical sources the traditional commedia dell'arte. Caminer had a specific philosophy of translation that followed more the principle of adaptation rather than a literal translation. This approach led Caminer to adapt Mercier’s texts to the Italian audience. The choice of translating Mercier's theatrical works was not an obvious one: the Italian public was not used to the bourgeois drama where the exaltation of good values came through representing scenes of the daily life. Caminer was aware of this difficulty and freely intervened in the texts she translated. For example, in the case of the translation of the Mercier's Déserteur she decided to change the tragic end of the protagonist, executed for having deserted his military service, with a more acceptable happy ending (61). In another occasion, Elisabetta wrote directly to Mercier to ask if she could cut some parts of Olinde et Sophronie that she considered redundant for the Italian public.

Her translations for the theatre were collected in book form as Composizioni teatrali tradotte da Elisabetta Caminer Turra (1772), Nuova raccolta di composizioni teatrali (1774) and Drammi trasportati dal francese idioma ad uso del teatro italiano (1794).

Caminer openly stated that translating French theatrical pieces was her way of contributing to the diffusion of reason across the Venetian society [quote?]. While Elisabetta Caminer Turra embraced the enlightened ideals of unveiling the hypocrisy of religious and aristocratic authorities, she did not share the call for equality and brotherhood promoted by the French revolution. Yet, her translations from the French offered to the Italian public a new form of theatre where the lives of ordinary people received the same serious and complex treatment as heroes of the Greek tragedies.


Women writers database http://neww.huygens.knaw.nl/authors/show/2852

Marino Berengo. La Società veneta alla fine del Settecento. Ricerche storiche. Firenze, 1956.

Mariagabriella di Giacomo (ed.), L' illuminismo e le donne: gli scritti di Elisabetta Caminer : "utilità" e "piacere" : ovvero la coscienza di essere letterata. (Rome, Università degli studi di Roma La Sapienza), 2002.

Green, Karen. A History of Women’s Political Thought in Europe, 1700–1800. (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2014).

Rita Unfer Lukoschik (ed.), Lettere di Elisabetta Caminer (1751-1796) Organizzatrice culturale. (Rome, 2006)

Catherine Sama (ed.), Caminer Turra, Elisabetta: Selected Writings of an Eighteenth-Century Venetian Woman of Letters. (Chicago/London, Un. of Chicago press, 2003).