I’m reading Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa‘s The Leopard (in the translation by Archibald Colquhoun, whose ancient Scottish surname is pronounced ca-HOON), and I was taken aback by the phrase I’ve bolded in the following sentence (p. 99 of my Harvill paperback):
These were just the years when novels were helping to form those literary myths which still dominate European minds today; but in Sicily, partly because of its traditional impermeability to anything new, partly because of the general ignorance of any language whatsoever, partly also, it must be said, because of a vexatious Bourbon censorship working through the Customs, no one had heard of Dickens, Eliot, Sand, Flaubert, or even Dumas.
Surely Tomasi di Lampedusa, who had a great affection for Sicilian speech, wasn’t saying the locals didn’t know any language, even their own? Fortunately I had borrowed the Italian novel from the Donnell Branch, with its magnificent foreign-language collection, so I was able to compare the original, where the phrase in question reads “la diffusa misconoscenza di qualsiasi lingua.” My Oxford Italian Dictionary says misconoscere means to ‘not appreciate,’ so I would think the phrase should be translated more along the lines of “the widespread lack of appreciation for languages in general.” But I will be happy to hear from readers who actually know Italian (BebaManno?). [A reader suggests that ‘ignorance’ may in fact be correct and that “qualsiasi lingua” here implies languages other than Italian, so that the translation needs only to change “any language” to “any other languages.”]
I’m reading the novel in preparation for the restored version of Visconti’s magnificent movie that starts tomorrow at the Film Forum; movie lovers who live in the New York area owe it to themselves to see it. It runs for two weeks, so you have no excuse.
Incidentally, anyone with a love for historic maps will be as glad as I was to discover the Historic Maps: Garibaldi’s Conquest of Sicily page, particularly the very nice map of Palermo at the time of Garibaldi’s entrance (May 27, 1860). (If you live in NYC, the Map Division of the Research Library has a magnificent 1835 map that identifies virtually every building in the central city, which they will copy for you for a mere $5.00.)
Addendum. I’ve just discovered the Parco Letterario Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, a fascinating but frustrating site; its Palermo page links to a detailed discussion of the geography of Lampedusa’s Palermo, with details of all significant palaces, accompanied by a map with red numbers next to significant buildings… but nothing to link the numbers with the text, and so far as I can tell no way to discover where the buildings mentioned in the text are on the map! But I will persevere, no matter how many maps I have to consult before I solve the puzzle. (Also, there’s a treasure trove of photographs of historic buildings of Palermo, and other Sicilian cities, here.)