The cosmopolitan and well-read Marguerite Chapin Caetani played an important role in the European and transoceanic cultural movement as an agent of literary transfer and dissemination in the post-war years, mainly through the two reviews that she founded, which set her as an important cultural mediator between the US and Italy.
After leaving the United States in 1902 and settling in Paris, Miss Chapin married Prince of Bassiano Roffredo Caetani in 1911. His Italian roots brought her closer to the culture of the peninsula.
After WWI, the family lived at Villa Romaine, in Versailles, which soon became a place of gathering for artists and men of letters. The meetings led Caetani to start her first editorial project, the magazine Commerce, active in Paris from 1924 to 1932. In the capital, she became acquainted with Giuseppe Ungaretti, who became the main collaborator for the Italian section of the quarterly review.
In the thirties, the Caetani moved to Palazzo Caetani in Rome, alternating stays in the countryside at Ninfa. The end of WWII marked a new beginning: together with Elena Croce, Caetani participated in the activities of “il Ritrovo”, a cultural group encouraged by Nina Ruffini and Giuliana Benzoni. From 1944 to 1946, it brought together artists such as Alberto Moravia and Ignazio Silone. Caetani’s first meeting with Elsa Dallolio - who collaborated with the Roman review on the sidelines - was probably mediated by Croce.
In Rome, Caetani started her second project, founding the cosmopolitan and multilingual Botteghe Oscure in 1948. The periodical marked Caetani’s role as a cultural mediator between the Italian literary production and the English and American market, supported by Giorgio Bassani, curator and main collaborator.
The solid network of contributors and Caetani’s acquaintances helped her launch Botteghe abroad. Marguerite Young would write to Caetani in 1956: “I suppose it is next to impossible for you to imagine how many readers [Botteghe Oscure] really does have.” Caetani opened Palazzo Caetani to intellectuals and writers, for instance her friend Theodore Roethke; she welcomed at Ninfa Allan Tate and Wallace Fowlie among others; she started a close friendship with Jackson Mathews and Eugene Walter, main collaborator for the American section of the review. Her sister, the poet Katherine Garrison Chapin was yet another bridge connecting Caetani to the other side of the Atlantic. Her readers readers were also instrumental in the promotion of the review, and William P. Wilcox is a good example of it. Wilcox, student at Yale University, wrote a letter in 1955 to thank the princess: “I do not now read Italian, but both my roommate and I, after discovering Botteghe Oscure this spring, signed up to begin classes in it this fall in order to be able to read the Italian selections!”. A special relationship started: Caetani printed a short story he had sent her (Quad. XV, 1955) and Wilcox decided to spend the money she had sent him to buy stamps and sent 3,500 letters to public libraries across the country in support of the periodical.
The success of the anthology New Italian Writers (New Directions, 1950), which displayed the best of the works of the first issues of the review, contributed to the popularity of Botteghe Oscure abroad and triggered the interest of some American publishing houses, giving a real chance to Italian writers to be published. Moreover, Caetani used her influence to point out emergent Italian artists to Cass Canfield, of Harper & Bros, introducing him to Natalia Danesi Murray, who was then in charge of Mondadori’s offices in New York (fasc. Caetani, FAAM).
Caetani played an active role in advertising Guglielmo Petroni abroad. She printed “The House is Moving”, translated by Peter Tompkins, in New Italian Writers, and she contacted Doubleday, Harper & Bros and Knopf to show them Petroni’s novels. Moreover, she commissioned the translations for Il mondo è una prigione and Noi dobbiamo parlare, which were never issued in print. During one of the meetings between Petroni and Blanche Knopf, in the presence of Mrs Bradley, Knopf’s literary agent, Bassani gave to the publisher a list of promising Italian writers together with the last number of Botteghe Oscure (Quad. XIX), an episode that shows the involvement of those working around the magazine in the promotion of transatlantic exchanges (Salvagni, 2014).
Caetani introduced at least two more authors to Blanche Knopf, Elsa Morante and Bassani. The quality of Macha L. Rosenthal’s translation of Storie Ferraresi by Bassani did not convince the publisher, therefore the volume would be printed by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich only in 1971, in the translated version by William Weaver. Weaver would also become Morante’s translator, after meeting her in Rome thanks to Caetani’s intermediation.
An Anthology of New Italian Writers
Poet, Writer, Translator
AME Historical Archive, fasc. Caetani Marguerite. Arnoldo and Alberto Mondadori Foundation (FAAM), Milan.
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