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Emilio's Carnival Hardcover – October 1, 2001
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"This publication is an important, welcome event. Svevo's almost unknown masterpiece, Senilita, is now available in a fresh, deft new translation by Beth Archer Brombert. Victor Brombert's introduction aptly places Svevo and the novel in the great European tradition." William Weaver, Bard College "Senilita is unquestionably a classic, a masterpiece by a great writer and Italo Svevo's best work. Beth Archer Brombert's translation is excellent and catches the simple and enigmatic quality of Svevo's prose. It will gain many readers for this classic novel and will not be replaced for a long, long time." Giuseppe Mazzotta, Yale University
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Henry McBride Series in Modernism and Modernity --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Emilio of the tile of this book -- middle-aged, middle-of-the-road writer working at a mediocre profession -- lives with his sister in Trieste, which, at the turn of the twentieth century surely must have been of one the great showcases of what solid bourgeois life was all about (or lacking in, depending on your perspective) in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The book recounts Emilio's fall not from grace so much as from a delusional orderly heaven straight into the cold hell of a realization that much of his take on life and morality are but an illusion. And since Emilio's passions, such as they are, seem to have been spent on his -- and in his -- imagination, rather than in life or in giving voice to them through the arts, he is left in a state of inertia, or that of "senilità." In this sense, this novel is thoroughly modern, and Emilio's inner life is likely to be more than familiar to the folks equivocating on the frozen shores of "analysis paralysis."
Svevo narrates Emilio's entanglement with the cherubic-looking, but unselfconsciously promiscuous and vulgar, Angiolina with an almost unsettling edge of unreliability, provoking a sense of vertigo -- at least in this reader. What anchors the reader as he or she navigates through the precipitous landscape of Emilio's psyche are the passages in the novel that bring the city of Trieste to unequivocal life in all kinds of weather. That and the realistic descriptions of the last days of the lonely Amalia, Emilio's sister, who dies in an addiction-induced delirium and in "the agony reserved for the dissolute."
Irony, unreliability, delusions, and delirium are the prime forces that move the plot and shape character in this novel, bridging Svevo's world and ours and making this book a fresh read even now, even in the post post-modern literary world. I believe that the following quote from the novel sums up not just Emilio's problem but also Svevo's approach to literature in general: "He realized that the truth he was attempting to relate was less credible than the dreams he had fabricated as reality."
It is also representative of the most interesting trends in High Modernism precisely because of the self-consciousness of its atttiude toward narrative and language. Svevo, as is well-known from any synopsis of summary of his career, was an Italian Jew brought up primarily in a German-speaking milieu. He is therefore demonstrably and purposefully uncomfortable in his use of Italian (just as Kafka in Czech-speaking Prague is deliberately not quite at home with German, or many post-colonial writers from Africa or India are fluent writers of English but nonetheless not native speakers of the language--this disparity is by definition and design a feature of their writing). And although there is no explicit reference to Jews or Judaism anywhere in this novel, it is not difficult to extrapolate his anamolous presence as a Jew in Catholic Italy as a motivation for his estranged, alienated, detatched mode of storytelling and social observation.
These are factors that make Svevo an interesting writer and an important innovator in literary history. They also make him a surprisingly difficult author to translate--starting with the title of this book, which nobody, not even his friend James Joyce, seems to have understood or cared for.
Senilita is a great novel, but this is an unacceptably sloppy translation; it was so bad that I ended up buying the NYRB publication, which retains Joyce's preferred title, AS A MAN GROWS OLDER, just to wash the taste out of my mouth from this unidiomatic version. The NYRB translation, by the way, is also less expensive!!
I was most disappointed by this version's carelessness--frequently missing or misspelling words, and apparently making little effort to find an equivalent English idiom for Svevo's self-conscious Italian prose. The insight of Svevo's observations manage to shine through this dull translation, but not the enigmatic fascination of his writing style. Additionally, the preface is disorganized, repetitious, and as full of errors as the translation itself.
All of this is very surprising, coming from Yale University Press. The NB imprint intends to underscore the significance of writers such as Svevo to the international development of literary modernism. Why, then, have the publishers damned this great work with such a careless translation?