In order to widen the scope of the international and multilingual magazine Botteghe Oscure, published in Rome between 1948 and 1960, Marguerite Caetani edited An Anthology of New Italian Writers, meant for the anglophone market. The voluminous anthology (477 pages) offers the English translations of some of the texts printed in the first five issues of Botteghe Oscure. The volume was published in the USA by New Directions in 1950, and the following year in the UK by John Lehmann.
New Italian Writers was mainly conceived as an instrument to promote Botteghe Oscure and shed light on its youngest and least known contributors, concurrently offering an insight of contemporary Italian literature. By presenting the texts in translation, the anthology overcame the linguistic difficulties, in that they guaranteed a wider access compared to the review, which has texts in the original language, not necessarily spoken by many (multilingualism can be considered at the same time a limit and an added value of the Roman review).
The volume alternates works in prose and poetry. It also represents the first book-length effort for William Weaver, who translated 8 out of the 14 texts displayed, which include Giorgio Bassani, Franco Fortini, Antonio Rinaldi, and Roberto Roversi’s poetry, as well as Attilio Bertolucci’s verses from “The Indian Hut”, Giorgio Caproni’s “The Funicular” and “Novel 1917” by Alfonso Gatto, and one novel, Vasco Pratolini’s “The Girls of Sanfrediano". William Packer collaborated by translating two short-stories by Joyce Lussu, and “Angel Island” by Giuseppe Dessì. The other contributions to the anthology consist of Guglielmo Petroni’s “The House is Moving” (translated by Peter Tompkins), Tommaso Landolfi’s “Cancroregina” (translated by Jack Murphy), Bassani’s “Love Story” (translated by Margaret Bottrall), and Mario Soldati’s “The Window” (translated by Henry Furst). The volume ends with the Notes on Contributors, which provide basic information about the authors in English.
Despite a general positive reception, the reviewer for The New Yorker (Nov. 18, 1950) believed that the quality of the poems presented was mediocre, but praised Petroni’s “The House Is Moving”, Landolfi’s “Cancroregina” and “The Window” by Soldati. Similarly, Thomas Bergin shared a rather negative comment about poetry in The Freeman (Dec. 25, 1950) but was impressed by Petroni’s text. Bergin also acknowledged that the anthology was valuable because it could “give the American reader a good vision of what [was] going on in contemporary Italian creative writing”. In the Dallas Time Herald (Feb. 4, 1951), Oscar de Liso showed appreciation for both prose and poetry, in particular for Joyce Lussu and Petroni, and recognized the instrumental role of the volume in introducing new Italian writers to the American readers (Salvagni, 2013).
Towards the mid-fifties, Caetani planned to publish a second anthology to promote other Italian writers. She turned to Roger Straus for help but did not meet with the support she had hoped for. She accused Farrar, Straus & Young of wanting to include only famous names and altering the very essence of the project. Indeed, she later wrote to Frances Steloff, owner of Gotham Book Mart in New York (an important distributor of Botteghe Oscure): "I chucked the Anthology after all that work and worry as it would have had nothing of the letter or spirit of Botteghe Oscure […] What propaganda for Botteghe Oscure. […] I would appear as the defender of the interests of the young and unknown” (Barolini, 1998). She thus abandoned the project.
Marguerite Chapin Caetani
Editor, cultural promoter, patron of arts
Barolini, Helen. “The Shadowy Lady of the Street of Dark Shops.” The Virginia Quarterly Review, vol. 74, no. 2, (Spring, 1998): 297-313.
Caetani, Marguerite ed. An Anthology of New Italian Writers. Edited by Marguerite Caetani and selected from the pages of the review Botteghe Oscure. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press Publishers, 1970. First edition by New Directions, 1950.
Healey, Robin. Italian Literature since 1900 in English Translation: An Annotated Bibliography, 1929-2016. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019.
Salvagni, Lorenzo M. "In the Garden of Letters: Marguerite Caetani and the International Literary Review Botteghe Oscure." Doctor of Philosophy dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2013.
Valli, Stefania ed. La rivista Botteghe oscure e Marguerite Caetani. La corrispondenza con gli autori italiani, 1948-1960. Rome: L'Erma di Bretschneider, 1999.