An analysis of F.Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" through a consideration of two Italian translations. Part 1.
When F. Scott Fitgerald was writing The Great Gatsby in the summer of 1924, he sent a letter to Maxwell Perkins, his editor at the publishers Scribner’s, saying "I think my novel is about the best American novel ever written". He knew that this, his third novel, would far transcend in artistry and lasting significance the two earlier novels, This Side of Paradise (1920) , and The Beautiful and The Damned (1922 ). "This book", wrote Fitzgerald to Perkins, "will be a consciously artistic achievement and must depend on that as the first books did not". In the two earlier novels Fitzgerald’s fiction was dense with social and psychological detail, richly descriptive and included authorial commentary and analysis. For his new book, Fitzgerald wrote to his editor, "I want to write something new – something extraordinary and beautiful and simple + intricately patterned". Fitzgerald told Perkins that for this new novel he intended to adopt the principles of a narrative form characterized by economy of expression and clarity of design, where every detail is carefully chosen and nothing is superfluous, and to develop his themes through a method of implication rather than by explicit statement. In looking back over Fitzgerald’s correspondence with Perkins during this period, and as his manuscript revisions indicate, he worked hard to achieve this breakthrough, continually refining his choice of phrases and eliminating whatever he felt was not absolutely essential to his creation of an impression of the 1920s or to his delineation of character and theme. Of course when Fitzgerald wrote to his editor saying he thought his novel would be "about the best American novel ever written", the remark was part excitement that The Great Gatsby was meeting his high expectations, and part youthful exuberance ( he was only 28 ). Nevertheless, despite the difficulty of composing a book whose effect depends as much on what is omitted as what appears on the printed page, Fitzgerald never believed that this novel would prove less than one of the great books of its time. ". . . It is like nothing I’ve ever read before . . ." he wrote to Perkins.
My main concern in this paper is to concentrate on Fitzgerald’s style. When the novel was published in April 1925 it received mixed reviews. The overriding opinion of the reviewers was that Fitzgerald represented the Jazz Age, and that at best Gatsby was a novel of limited scope with disagreeable characters and a trivial subject. However, even the early reviewers of the novel praised Fitzgerald’s style and some recognized the difficulty of separating style from meaning. Lillian C. Ford, a critic for the Los Angeles Sunday Times, immediately underlined the fact that the novel’s meaning was embedded in the text yet remained ultimately elusive: "The story is powerful as much for what is suggested as for what is told. It leaves the reader in a mood of chastened wonder, in which fact after fact, implication after implication is pondered over, weighed and measured . . . Mr. Fitzgerald has certainly arrived", she wrote.
In The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald tried to develop a unique language that would create an emotional response not only through its content, but many times through its sound and rhythm. The language in the novel, which Fitzgerald described as "blankets of excellent prose", is characterized by the use of repetitive structures which redevelop ideas and situations through parallels and differentiation. For instance one of Gatsby’s drunken guests has an accident and cannot understand why the car will not go, Jordan Baker passes so close to a workman that her car tears a button off his jacket, and Daisy Buchanan kills Myrtle Wilson while driving Gatsby’s car. All this careless driving suggests the lack of responsibility with which these characters conduct their lives and provides an important example of their moral laxity. The novel also abounds in colours and flowers which, like the drunken driving, form narrative connections that attain symbolic significance through their repetition. We will see, for example, that a narrative thread is established between the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock ( Ch. 1 ) and the "fresh green breast of the new world" ( Ch. 9 ), the two passages ultimately linking Gatsby’s dream with that of the Dutch sailors who first touched the shores of the New World.
Apart from the language in the novel tending to form patterns of incremental repetition, other elements of style include suggestive descriptive phrases, sometimes in the form of oxymorons, as when Nick Carraway’s ambivalent attitude towards the leisure class surfaces in his mention of Jordan Baker’s "charming, discontented face", of Daisy’s "absurd, charming little laugh", and of Tom’s "magnanimous scorn". Another repeated pattern which Fitzgerald uses to confer on his narrative a sense of originality, wit, but also ambiguity is the linking of nouns with surprising adjectives, like "triumphant hat – boxes", and the frequent incongruity of subject and verb, like the wreck of the car which "crouched" in George Wilson’s garage. There is also a vocabulary of impermanence: words like "drift" and "restlessness" appear frequently, reflecting the insecurity of the era and the lack in purpose or direction in people’s lives.
Characterization is not therefore a straightforward business in The Great Gatsby since it is frequently developed through nuance, through suggestion rather than revealed through objective description. This suggestiveness introduces a whole range of possible interpretations and the result is a novel that generates a richness and complexity of meaning that approaches our own experience of life’s multiplicity. Finally, there are hundreds of words related to time, as we would expect in a novel whose main character wants nothing less than to bring back the past, to preserve a golden moment from five years earlier that he wanted to last forever.
The Great Gatsby has been translated into Italian with varying results. Generally the Italian versions of the novel are taken into account more for their content than for an interest in Fitzgerald’s language. It remains to be seen in the excerpts that follow how well Fitzgerald’s artistic conception has been rendered, and whether the translator has been able to reproduce the spirit of the original.
The extracts and page numbers that follow are taken from the following editions:
For the English, The Great Gatsby, Oxford University Press, 1998.
For the Italian, Il grande Gatsby, Grandi Tascabili Economici, Newton, 1989.
Il grande Gatsby, Oscar Mondadori, 1950
The Great Gatsby
Fitzgerald opens his novel by introducing Nick Carraway, the story’s narrator. Nick has returned to the Midwest and is writing a book about events which occurred during a period he spent on the East coast of America. By his own admission Nick is embittered by his experiences there and above all he abhors the things that happened to Gatsby, whom Nick immediately introduces as "the man who gives his name to this book".
Who is Gatsby and what happened to him ? The mysteries begin with the opening pages where Nick tries to explain himself in relation to the story of Gatsby. As the story unfolds Nick will tell us a lot more about this mysterious man; right now all he wants us to know is that something happened to Gatsby. But what exactly ? Here are Nick’s words :
§ ( . . .) it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams ( . . . ) ( pg. 6 )
The words "what preyed on Gatsby" suggest that Gatsby is in danger, that he is helpless and unable to resist some sort of violent attack. If Gatsby is the victim, who is preying on him ? The words which follow ( "what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams" ) anticipate Gatsby’s murder by George Wilson. George Wilson is a car mechanic who runs a garage and petrol station in a part of Long Island known as "the valley of ashes", a desolate stretch of land at the end of a swamp that is being filled in with ashes, garbage and manure. Nick describes it as a place "where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens, where ashes take the form of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air." The most frequent adjective Nick uses to describe Wilson is "ashen". In fact with his dust – covered clothes Wilson even seems to be literally dissolving into the valley of ashes: " Wilson went toward the little office, mingling immediately with the cement color of the walls. A white ashen dust veiled his dark suit and his pale hair as it veiled everything in the vicinity . . . ", writes Nick. It seems, then, that George Wilson cannot be understood apart from the valley of ashes, where he lives. At the end of the novel Wilson, sure that Gatsby is the hit – and – run driver responsible for his wife’s death, shoots and kills Gatsby while he is floating on an air mattress in his swimming pool and dreaming about Daisy. When Wilson goes to Gatsby’s house to kill him, Fitzgerald describes Wilson as an "ashen figure gliding toward" the house. Later, when Nick finds Gatsby’s dead body on the mattress floating in the pool he notices that "it moved irregularly in the pool tracing a thin red circle in the water." Returning to the passage, a "wake" is a trace left behind by an object floating in water, so the words "what foul dust floated in the wake" suggest dust falling off Wilson’s dust – covered clothes and mingling with Gatsby’s blood which is "tracing ["wake"] a thin red circle in the water." The words "of his dreams" possibly refer to the fact that when Gatsby is murdered in his pool he is dreaming about Daisy while dozing off on an air mattress. The idea of a horrible ( "foul" ) murder is also suggested through the fact that "to dust" in American slang means to murder or to kill. There is also a further suggestion of death in the word "wake" since apart from meaning a trace left behind in water, "wake" also means a funeral rite ( as in " to hold a wake over a corpse" ). Finally, the words "in the wake of his dreams" can also be seen in relation to Gatsby waking up and remembering having dreamt about something "foul" that "preyed on" him. In conclusion, through Fitzgerald’s careful patterning of words Gatsby’s murder by George Wilson is foreshadowed right at the start of the novel.
Here is the passage in the translations:
§ (. . . ) fu ciò che lo minava, la polvere sozza che fluttuava nella scia dei suoi sogni ( . . . ) (Mondadori,pg.4)
§ ( . . . ) è ciò che lo corrodeva, quella polvere sporca che fluttuava sulla scia dei suoi sogni ( . . . ) (Newton, pg.22)
In the original the expression "to prey on", which is used to indicate that an animal is in danger of being devoured by another, suggests that Gatsby is in serious danger of being violently attacked. We saw that this turns out to be true: George Wilson shoots and kills Gatsby while he is in his swimming pool lying fast asleep on a floating mattress. When Gatsby dies he is sleeping , he is a helpless victim, a prey ("preyed on" ) as it were. The Mondadori translation uses the verb "minare" to translate the idiomatic expression "to prey on". "Minare" means to undermine, a verb which suggests that something is slowly and gradually weakening Gatsby, but which does not state that he is in serious danger and helpless, as if he were a prey ( "preyed on Gatsby" ). The Newton translation uses the verb "corrodere" which means "to corrode", to eat away by degrees, thus with a similar meaning of something slowly but gradually weakening or destroying Gatsby. Again the idea that Gatsby is in serious danger and helpless, which the English "preyed on" suggests, is lost with this choice of verb. Both translations use " fluttuava" and " scia dei suoi sogni " to translate "floated" and "in the wake of his dreams." "Fluttuare" does indeed mean to float as in something moving in water with a rising and falling motion. A "scia" is a wake. So the possible allusion to dust ( "polvere" ) falling off the murderer’s dusty clothes ( "foul dust" ) and floating ( "scia" ) near Gatsby’s dead body is also present in the translations. "Sogni", which does indeed mean "dreams", possibly refers to the fact that when Gatsby is murdered he is dreaming about Daisy. In the original we saw that the word "wake", also meaning funeral rite, increased the suggestion of Gatsby’s death. This suggestion is lost in the translations since the word "scia" does not have the meaning of funeral rite ("veglia funebre") in Italian. Furthermore, "scia" does not have the meaning of waking up ( "svegliarsi" ) which "wake" has. The connection with Gatsby waking up and remembering having dreamt ( "in the wake of his dreams" ) about something "foul" that "preyed on" him, possibly about his own violent death, is inevitably lost in the translations.
After Fitzgerald has introduced Nick Carraway as the writer of the story, and after Nick has told the reader that he is writing a story about Gatsby, a man who was "great" for him, the actual story begins. It starts with Nick moving from the Midwest to New York in 1922. Nick settles in West Egg, a suburban village in Long Island, where he rents a small house next door to a mansion which belongs to Jay Gatsby. Nick has moved East to seek his fortune as a bond salesman and he commutes from West Egg to his office in New York by train. Daisy Buchanan, Nick’s distant cousin, her husband, Tom, and their young daughter, Pammy, live across the bay in the fashionable community of East Egg. Here is how Nick describes Long Island when he arrives there:
§ I rented a house ( . . . )on that slender riotous island ( . . .)
(pg. 7 )
"Riotous" anticipates the profligate and wanton behaviour that belongs to everyone in the novel apart from Nick. "Slender" refers to the fact that Long Island is a narrow island.
Here is "riotous island" in the translations:
§ ( . . . ) isola ribelle ( . . . ) ( Mondadori, pg.6 )
§ ( . . . ) chiassosa isola ( . . . ) ( Newton, pg. 24 )
"Ribelle" means rebellious and "chiassosa" means noisy, loud. These adjectives do not anticipate the reckless and wanton behaviour ( "riotous" ) that characterizes the protagonists of the novel.
The story’s first adventure is Nick’s dinner at his cousin’s home. Here are the words Nick uses to describe the mansions across the bay in East Egg:
§ Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water ( . . . ) ( pg. 8 )
The adjective "courtesy" seems peculiar to describe a bay, as if the bay were a favour or a gift generously provided for the rich. The East Eggers live in houses that are palacelike. The fact that the houses are described as being like palaces immediately suggests one thing: large and stately mansions that are affordable only to the very rich. One of the novel’s key themes, wealth, which will be developed in various ways throughout the novel, is immediately introduced through Nick’s description of the mansions as being like palaces. The fact that these mansions "glittered along the water" increases the suggestion of wealth even more because the verb "to glitter" suggests that the light these houses reflect is sparkling, brilliant, just like the light reflected by gold, hence wealth. We should also notice the use of the preposition "along". The houses glitter "along" the water and not on it. Bearing in mind that one of the main meanings of along is "from one end of to the other end of" and also bearing in mind that Nick previously described both East and West Egg as being "enormous" villages, then the use of the preposition "along" might suggest that there are quite a few mansions, perhaps even many, stretched out along the bay. And of course if there are many palacelike mansions along the bay, then this means that there is a lot of wealth in East Egg. Both of these suppositions turn out to be true: there are indeed many mansions along the bay in East Egg and they belong to people whose families have had great wealth for generations. We should also notice the use of the adjective "white" to describe the palacelike houses in East Egg. It was Daisy who chose the red and white mansion she and her husband live in. In fact Daisy is routinely linked with the colour white ( a white dress, white flowers, a white car, and so on ). She speaks of her own "white girlhood" and later we learn that on the night when Gatsby first met her "the sidewalk was white with moonlight" as "Daisy’s white face came up to his [ Gatsby’s ] own." For most of the novel we accept that this whiteness refers to and reinforces our impression of Daisy’s purity. At the end of the novel, Daisy, driving Gatsby’s car, hits and kills Myrtle Wilson without bothering to stop. After the hit – and – run accident she lies to her husband and tells him that Gatsby was driving. We realize, then, that white is also the absence of colour and can, in fact, denote emptiness within Daisy. Perhaps all that white that has surrounded her isn’t so much purity (although Gatsby, of course, would see it as such ), but perhaps the white represents a void, a lack of conscience. To Daisy, Myrtle is expendable because she does not belong to the social elite. Myrtle is only the wife of a poor car mechanic, so what difference does her death make ?
Here is the same passage in the translations:
§ Di là dalla baia gli edifici bianchi della mondanissima East Egg luccicavano lungo il filo dell’acqua ( . . . ) (Mondadori, pgs. 7-8 ).
§ Al di là della piccola baia luccicavano, lungo il filo dell’acqua, i bianchi edifici della chic East Egg. ( Newton, pg. 25 )
In the Mondadori translation "courtesy bay" has not been translated: all we have is a bay ( "baia" ). In the Newton translation the bay is described as being "piccolo", small. The strange idea of a "courtesy bay", as if the bay were at the service of the privileged rich, is lost. The Italian translations both use the verb "luccicare", which like the original "to glitter" suggests that the light these houses reflect is brilliant, shiny, like the light reflected by gold, perhaps. They also both use the preposition "lungo" ("along") and not " su " ( "on" ), which suggests, as does the English, that there might be a number of houses along the bay, perhaps even many. But what kind of houses are they ? Whereas in the English the houses are "palaces", a word which immediately and clearly suggests wealth, in both translations the houses are simply "edifici", mere buildings. "Edificio" is a curious choice since Italian does have a word, "palazzo", which means building but also palace. Quite simply, the word "edificio" doesn’t have the same connotations of wealth as the English word "palace" does. Nick has only seen these mansions from across the bay, he hasn’t been inside any of them yet, not even his cousin’s, but by calling them "palaces" it is clear that Fitzgerald wants to introduce one of the novel’s themes, wealth. In the English, the use of that particular noun leaves the reader without any doubt as to what one of the novel’s themes will be: wealth. This immediacy is missing in the translations because, as we have seen, the houses in East Egg are merely "edifici", nothing more than buildings in other words.
Arriving at his cousin’s mansion for dinner, Nick is greeted by Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband. Tom comes from an enormously wealthy Chicago family and he has no occupation apart from spending his fortune. Here are the words Nick uses to introduce the reader to the kind of hedonistic lifestyle Tom and Daisy Buchanan lead:
§ They had spent a year in France for no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together. This was a permanent move, said Daisy over the telephone, but (. . . ) I felt that Tom would drift on forever ( . . . ) ( pg. 9 )
The Buchanans have spent a year in France, not on war service, like Nick, but in pursuit of pleasure. To describe what Nick sees as the Buchanans’ inability to settle in one place for very long he uses the same verb, "to drift", twice. To drift is to wander aimlessly and this lack of direction might suggest lives without purposes. The fact that this aimless wandering is qualified by the adverb "unrestfully", that is to say without stopping, without resting, enhances even more the idea of the Buchanans’ physical rootlessness. The adverb unrestfully also has connotations of uneasiness, of mental distress or anxiety, as if to suggest that perhaps the Buchanans’ rootlessness is not just an inability to settle down physically in one place, but also some sort of a mental or moral rootlessness too. As the story unfolds, we will see that the Buchanans are indeed both physically and morally rootless: they don’t care where they live as long as it is somewhere where they can be rich with other people and "drift" in and out of love with other people, too.
We should also notice the bizarre formulation " to be rich together" which comes immediately after "wherever people played polo". To play polo is an activity, but is to be rich an activity ? Is being rich something people do together ? We can understand people being happy together, but what exactly does it mean "to be rich together" ? "To be rich together" is a brilliant piece of satire because what the word "together" suggests is that only when these people are with each other do they not have the anxiety of seeing the contrast between their wealth and other people’s poverty.
When Daisy says "this was a permanent move" she means that she and her husband have settled into their new house in East Egg permanently, forever. But "permanent move" also suggests that the Buchanans will always, continually ( "permanent" ) be moving and this takes us back to their aimless and incessant wandering, to the fact that they "drifted here and there unrestfully". The words "[ the Buchanans ] drifted here and there unrestfully", "permanent move" and "I felt that Tom would drift on forever" also anticipate the fact that at the end of the novel the Buchanans do indeed move from East Egg. After Daisy kills Myrtle Wilson in a hit – and – run accident, she and Tom leave East Egg in a hurry without telling anybody where they will be moving to.
Here is the same passage in the translations:
§ Avevano passato un anno in Francia senza motivi particolari, e poi erano stati sospinti qua e la, irrequieti, dovunque qualcuno giocasse al polo e fosse ricco. Questa era una sistemazione definitiva, disse Daisy al telefono ( . . . ) ma io sapevo che Tom sarebbe rimasto eternamente in moto ( . . . ) (Mondadori, pg. 8 )
§ Avevano passato un anno in Francia per nessuna particolare ragione, e poi si erano spostati qua o là, irrequietamente, dovunque vi fosse gente che giocava a polo e fosse, al tempo stesso, ricca abbastanza. Questo era ora un trasferimento definitivo, mi disse Daisy al telefono, ma io (. . .) sapevo che Tom sarebbe stato sempre sospinto ( . . . ) ( Newton, pg. 26 )
To suggest the idea of aimless wandering and therefore lives without purposes Fitzgerald repeats the verb "to drift", which is difficult to translate in Italian. In the Mondadori translation "erano stati sospinti" simply means that the Buchanans had been pushed or carried along, perhaps by the force of circumstances, but the idea of purposeful, aimless wandering is not as clearly suggested with the verb "sospingere". Again, the idea of aimless wandering is not clearly suggested with " Tom sarebbe rimasto eternamente in moto" since the expression "in moto" only gives the idea of moving, of setting out, without the added somewhat negative suggestion of rootless, aimless wandering which the verb "to drift" carries.
Similarly, in the Newton translation, "si erano spostati qua o là" only means that the Buchanans had moved, had gone here and there and "Tom sarebbe stato sempre sospinto" only means that Tom would always have been pushed or moved into or towards something or towards doing something. Again what is missing is the concept of aimless wandering which the verb "to drift" carries and the verbs "spostarsi" and " sospingere" don’t. To describe the way the Buchanans drifted from one place to another Fitzgerald uses the adverb "unrestfully" whereas the first translation describes the Buchanans as "irrequieti", using an adjective, and the second uses the adverb "irrequietamente". These two words carry the same connotations of mental unrest, distress or perturbation as does the English "unresfully". The difference, as we have seen, is that in the English the Buchanans are drifting unrestfully, with the suggestion of aimless wandering carried in the verb "to drift", whereas in the Italian versions they are only moving unrestfully, without any further added suggestion since it is not present, as we have seen, in the verbs of movement used in the Italian translations. What is missing in these translations is the idea of lives without purposes which the English verb "to drift" suggests.
This difference between the Italian and the English leads us to discuss Fitzgerald’s method of characterization. Rather than offering signs of character by describing the Buchanans, by offering a description which clearly tells us the sort of people they are, Fitzgerald often develops characterization through nuance, through suggestion, and these hints are contained in certain key words such as the verb "to drift" and the adverbs "unrestfully" and "restlessly". For example, right after the brief passage we have just seen Nick says that Tom’s eyes are "flashing about restlessly", that Tom " had been hovering restlessly about the room" and that Daisy’s "body asserted itself with a restless movement of her knee". Again all this restlessness suggests Tom and Daisy’s anxiety and nervous pursuit of action.
In the Mondadori translation the strange formulation "wherever people were rich together" has been translated as "dovunque qualcuno fosse ricco." The idea of being rich together ( "insieme" ), as if it were some sort of activity, is missing: the translation inevitably loses the satire of the original. In the Newton translation the bizarre formulation of the English has been translated as " dovunque vi fosse gente che fosse, al tempo stesso, ricca abbastanza", which means "wherever there were people who were, at the same time, rich enough." Again, the idea of being rich "together", a mocking comment, is lost since "together" has not been translated.
"Permanent move" suggests that the Buchanans will always, constantly be moving and can be seen in relation to Fitzgerald’s description of them as restless drifters. "Sistemazione definitiva", in the Mondadori translation, means settling down ( "sistemarsi" ) in a place for good ("definitiva" ): this is the opposite of permanently moving. In the original the suggestion that Daisy and Tom will always be moving ( "permanent move" ), which turns out to be true, connects with Fitzgerald’s description of them as wealthy drifters. This is lost with "sistemazione definitiva" since these word state the opposite: that Daisy and Tom have settled down in East Egg for good. In the Newton translation "trasferimento definitivo" means final change of address, as in to settle down in a different place permanently. A "trasferimento" is a removal and the word comes from "trasferire" which means to move, to transfer. So "trasferimento" is a better translation of Fitzgerald’s "move" than "sistemazione" ( "the place where we live" ) because it can suggest the fact that the Buchanans will be moving ( " trasferimento", "trasferirsi" ), that they will not be settling down in East Egg for good. This, we saw, is indeed the case.
A few lines later Nick has this to say of the Buchanan’s lawn:
§ The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door jumping over sun – dials and brick walls and burning gardens – finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run. ( pg. 9 )
What we notice here is the imagery Fitzgerald uses to describe a lawn. He turns a lawn that goes down to the sea into a wave which dashes itself up "from the momentum of its run" and spreads itself out over the side of the house ( "it reached the house drifting up the side" ). We should also notice that the words used to describe the lawn are words of movement ( " ran" , " jumping" , "drifting", "momentum of its run" ). The repetitive structure is evident: in just a few pages Fitzgerald has constantly associated the Buchanans with words of movement. They drift "unrestfully" or "restlessly" and even their lawn seems to be moving. Clearly Fitzgerald wants us to know right from the start of the novel that the Buchanans are wealthy drifters. The fact that Fitzgerald associates them with restlessness, with nervous movement also anticipates the final outcome of the novel. After Daisy has killed Myrtle Wilson in a hit – and – run accident she feels uneasy, preoccupied that the police will identify her as the driver of the "death car". She and Tom leave East Egg in a hurry without leaving anybody their new address.
When Nick arrives at the Buchanans for dinner Tom Buchanan is described for the first time in terms that emphasize his physical presence. Here is Nick’s description of Tom’s body:
§ He seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing, and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage – a cruel body. (pg. 9 )
Here is the last sentence in the translations:
§ Era un corpo poderoso, dalla forza enorme: un corpo crudele. ( Mondadori, pg. 9 )
§ Era un corpo capace, come una leva, di enorme momento, un corpo crudele. ( Newton, pg. 27 )
We notice that Tom is associated with words of movement ( "shifting" and "moved " ) and this can again be seen in relation to Fitzgerald’s description of him and his wife as wealthy drifters. What is interesting about Tom’s "cruel body" is that normally "cruel" is referred to a person and not to a body. Fitzgerald doesn’t write that Tom is cruel but that his body is cruel, suggesting problematically a separation between his body and his character, as if Tom’s cruel sensuality may assert itself despite his will. The fact that Tom’s "cruel body" comes so close in the text to the description of his muscles almost bursting through his clothes suggests that the purely animal, physical part of his nature ( his "cruel body") is capable of bursting out instinctively at any moment, as indeed it does. In fact Tom bruises Daisy’s finger and breaks Myrtle Wilson’s nose in a rage. The translations both use the same adjective, "crudele", which works just as well as the English "cruel" in stating the kind of cruel, brutal man Tom is.
We should also notice that Fitzgerald writes that Tom’s body "was capable of enormous leverage". Leverage is the power gained by using a lever and this image reinforces the idea of Tom’s physical power. Since leverage not only means the mechanical effect of a lever but also the power to influence, this word is a subtle hint to the power of Tom’s influential words. In fact later when he tells Daisy that Gatsby is a bootlegger involved in all sorts of criminal activities, these words have a vital influence ( "leverage" ) over Daisy who abandons Gatsby without hesitation the moment she hears them. In the Mondadori translation "corpo poderoso, dalla forza enorme" means that Tom’s body was powerful, enormously strong. The statement that Tom’s body was "capable of enormous leverage", suggesting his ability to influence the choices of his wife enormously, is missing.
The image of power gained by using a lever is maintained in the Newton translation: "momento di una leva" is in fact the force, the moment of a lever. However the word "leva" does not have the meaning of power to influence which the word "leverage" has. The allusion to Tom’s enormous ability to influence ( "enormous leverage" ) Daisy is lost.
One day Tom and Nick go to New York together right after lunch. Before setting off Nick says:
§ I think he [ Tom ] had tanked up a good deal at luncheon ( . . . ) ( pg. 22 )
To "tank up" is a slang expression which means to drink alcohol to excess. It aptly conveys Tom’s drinking habits which are indicative of his reckless, pleasurable way of living. To "tank up" also means to move forcefully and powerfully ( as in "tanking up and down the highway all summer" ). A tank is also a powerful vehicle that mounts a cannon and weapons. It is also the container in a car where petrol is stored. So "tanked up", implying fuel and power as it does, describes Tom as if he were a car being fuelled up so that at once there is the suggestion of Tom’s physical, muscular power on the one hand, and of his lavish, up – to – date material possessions ( "tank up" as in to exceed, to exaggerate ) on the other. Tom’s personality and way of life are conveyed with the use of one single image ( "tanked up").
Here is "tanked up" in the translations:
§ Credo che avesse bevuto molto a colazione.
(Mondadori, pg. 26 )
§ Credo che avesse bevuto un bel po’ a colazione.
( Newton, pg. 42 )
"Tanked up" is difficult to translate because Italian does not have a slang phrase with the same range of meanings that "tanked up" has. In the translations Nick thinks that Tom had a lot ( "molto", " un bel po’ " ) to drink at lunch. No further interpretation is possible.
Nick finally meets his cousin Daisy, whom he hasn’t seen since just after the war. Here are the first words Daisy says in the novel:
§ "I’m p – paralyzed with happiness." ( pg. 11 )
Daisy’s first words are " I’m p – paralyzed with happiness" and it is by no means clear what response we should make to these words. What exactly does this mean ? Is it good or bad to be paralyzed with happiness ? Is Daisy happy or not ? The feeling we have when we read this ambiguous phrase is that somehow Daisy is unable to enjoy her life. In other words we interpret what Daisy says as having a negative meaning, and this is because we cannot help linking Daisy’s words to Fitzgerald’s description of Daisy and Tom as wealthy drifters whose aimless wandering, as we saw, also suggested lives without purposes. Daisy’s life is purposeless but also "paralyzed", that is to say almost stagnant with inactivity since her wealth, which is what gives her all her "happiness", has taken care of all her needs. So the feeling we have when we read Daisy’s words is that she is unintentionally describing to Nick her strong sense of boredom, her inability to enjoy life. We should also notice the sense of humour achieved with the stutter on " p – paralyzed ", as if to suggest, amusingly, that some sort of speech paralysis has indeed affected Daisy.
In both translations we have:
§ "Sono p . . . paralizzata dalla felicità."
( Mondadori, pg. 11 and Newton, pg.28 )
The translator has no difficulty with "I’m p – paralyzed with happiness" because the syntactical collocation is equally possible in both languages. Therefore "sono paralizza dalla felicità" works just as well as "I’m paralyzed with happiness" in creating a sense of ambiguity as to how we should interpret exactly Daisy’s words. In English, as in Italian, it is always something negative such as fear or terror that paralyzes us. So what does it mean, then, to be paralyzed by happiness, a positive feeling ? Precisely because "to be paralyzed" indicates something negative, the vague and as yet unconfirmed feeling we have when we read these words in the English or the Italian is that Daisy’s happiness is not good for her. If we are rich and happiness is associated with wealth, Fitzgerald seems to be posing the question of what do we do once we are happy ? Daisy’s words suggest that now that she is rich and achieved happiness her life is empty of purpose, she no longer knows what to do with herself. Her strong sense of boredom does indeed emerge later when she complains "What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon and the day after that, and the next 30 years ? ". Perhaps, then, happiness lies not so much in achieving the state of happiness but rather in pursuing it.
Daisy’s conversation at dinner is aimless and meaningless. When she sits down at the table and looks at her slightly bruised finger, this is how Nick describes that moment:
§ ( . . . ) Her eyes fastened with an awed expression on her little finger. ( pg. 13 )
The adjective "awed" seems entirely inappropriate to this trivial injury. This adjective adds to our sense of Daisy’s character in that it suggests a lack of proportion in her judgement and in her responses. It suggests that she sees life in a distorted way. At the same time the word "awed" is an example of Fitzgerald’s subtle verbal patterning as it anticipates the sense of wonder, suggested by the word "awed", that animates Gatsby’s enchanted vision.
Here is the same passage in the translations:
§ ( . . . ) Gli occhi di lei si fissarono con espressione preoccupata sul mignolo. ( Mondadori, pg. 14 )
§ ( . . . ) I suoi occhi si fissarono sul suo mignolo con un’ espressione di timore. ( Newton, pg. 31)
The Mondadori translation uses an expression that is entirely appropriate to the immediate context of a bruised finger. "Preoccupata" is a standard , straightforward way of saying that Daisy is simply worried about her finger. It suggests that perhaps she is worried that her finger might swell or need bandaging. This adjective does not add to our sense of Daisy’s character because it does not suggest as does the English "awed", that she sees things in a distorted, exaggerated way.
The Newton translation uses the word "timore", which is as inappropriate to the context of a bruised finger as the word "awed" is in the English. In fact "timore" means dread , fear. Nobody looks at a bruised finger with that kind of an expression, so the translation has done well in suggesting an exaggeration, a lack of proportion in the way Daisy sees life. However, whereas in the English the use of the word "awed" is an example of the careful, subtle patterning of the narrative because it anticipates the sense of wonder that informs Gatsby’s grand vision, this foreshadowing is not achieved with the word "timore". This is because the word "timore" does not have the connotation of wonder that the word "awed" has. What animates Gatsby’s entire life is a kind of wonder inspired by a grand vision of himself and of Daisy. The idea of wonder is echoed in the word "awed" but not in the word "timore", in which this connotation is missing. At the end of the novel Nick strolls down to the shore where Gatsby once stood and writes "as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock." In this passage both translations use the word "stupore" for "wonder". "Stupore", on the other hand, is a fine choice since the connotation of wonder is strong in this word.
During the meal, Daisy teases her husband Tom about a book he is reading. Here are her words:
§ "Tom’s getting very profound", said Daisy, with an expression of unthoughtful sadness. ( pg. 14 )
And in the translations:
§ "Tom sta diventando molto profondo", disse Daisy con aria melanconica e distratta. ( Mondadori, pg. 15 )
§ "Tom sta diventando molto profondo", disse Daisy, con un’ aria malinconica e sbadata. ( Newton, pg. 32 )
This is another example of the stylistic device that we saw before with the example of Tom’s "cruel body": the linking of a noun with a surprising , unexpected adjective. A person can be absent – minded or careless, but how can sadness be that ? How do we interpret the adjective "unthoughtful" referred to the word sadness ? Does it mean that sadness comes to Daisy naturally, mechanically, unthoughtfully ? Does it mean that sadness comes to her unexpectedly ? If Fitzgerald had written "thoughtful sadness" this might have suggested that Daisy is sad for Tom since "thoughtful" also means marked by consideration for others. In this sense Daisy’s "thoughtful sadness" would have been a positive kind of sadness. But Fitzgerald writes "unthoughtful sadness" and we don’t quite know how negative this sadness is. Does it mean that Daisy is sad and also lacks consideration ( "unthoughtful") for Tom ? The words seem to suggest that Daisy is sad and has no thoughtful regard for Tom, but as the story develops we see that this is not the case. So what exactly is Daisy’s " unthoughtful sadness " ? In the translations "unthoughtful" has been translated with "distratta" and "sbadata" which mean absent – minded. These adjectives do not however work by denying ( " – un ") the fact that sadness can possibly be "thoughtful", as in someone being sad because he has consideration (is "thoughtful" ) for others.
During the course of dinner Tom’s overriding concern is protecting the status of the privileged white upper class from the rise of other racial and ethnic groups that threaten it. "We’ve got to beat them down" says Daisy, agreeing with her husband not because she is interested in politics or because she has read the book with the racist theories that Tom is reading, but only so as not to start an argument with him. When Daisy says "We’ve got to beat them down" Nick observes that she is not looking at her husband. Instead, Nick writes, Daisy is:
§ ( . . . ) winking ferociously toward the fervent sun. ( pg. 14 )
Why is Daisy winking intensely, violently ? Is the vehemence with which her husband is talking about politics making her very nervous ? Or is it the hot, burning sun that is making her wink so violently ? Or could it be both of these things ? However what is really odd, bizarre, is the use of the preposition "toward". Instead of looking away from the sun, as anyone who is "winking ferociously" would do, Daisy is looking towards it. By winking toward the sun it is almost as if Daisy were angry ( "ferociously" ) and seeking complicity with the sun against her husband. By having Daisy "winking ferociously toward the sun" instead of away from it, perhaps Fitzgerald is hinting at Daisy’s masochism. Indeed this is very much the case with Daisy, as we will see. She is fully aware that her husband has constantly committed adultery yet she is unable to leave him or do anything about it.
Here is the same passage in the translations:
§ "Dobbiamo sterminarle" mormorò Daisy, ammiccando con violenza sotto i raggi del sole caldissimo. ( Mondadori, pg. 15 )
§ "Annientiamole ! ", mormorò Daisy, fortemente ammiccando contro un sole caldissimo. ( Newton, pg. 33 )
The verb " ammiccare", used in both translations, means "to wink" and this suggests that Daisy is seeking some sort of complicity. However, in the Mondadori translation she is not winking "toward" the sun but only "sotto", under it. The strange idea that Daisy seeks complicity, perhaps masochistically, with the sun by winking "ferociously toward" it is lost with "sotto", which only means that she is "under" the sun and winking violently ( " con violenza" ), but not that she is winking "toward" the sun. To translate "winking toward the sun" we would have to write "ammiccando verso il sole" or "ammiccando al sole".
In the Newton translation Daisy is again not winking toward the sun but only "contro", against it. The idea that she is somehow seeking complicity with the sun by winking toward it is lost with "contro" since this word only suggests that she is trying to protect her eyes from the sun, against a burning sun ( " contro un sole caldissimo" ). So although Daisy is winking ( "ammiccando" ), and this seems to be suggesting that she is seeking some sort of complicity, the translations are however not as unsettling as the original in which Daisy is winking "toward" the sun, as if she were actually seeking that complicity, quite bizarrely, with the sun itself.
Myrtle Wilson is Tom’s mistress. Her husband, George, is a car mechanic who runs a modest garage and petrol station in a desolate and run – down part of town that marks the intersection of the city with the suburbs. One day Tom and Nick meet George at his garage and Tom chats briefly with George before quietly arranging to meet Myrtle in New York that afternoon at an apartment kept especially for their adulterous liaison. Here are some of the words Nick uses to describe the interior of Wilson’s garage:
§ ( . . . ) the only car visible was the dust – covered wreck of a Ford which crouched in a dim corner. ( pg. 22 )
What we notice here is the incongruity of subject and verb: an animal or a person can crouch down, but not a car. We should also bear in mind that this verb has the double meaning of to stoop or bend low, but also of preparing to spring into action, as an animal or a person ( a sprinter, for example ) might do. It is also important to know that this Ford belongs to George Wilson himself. The verb "to crouch" suggests Wilson’s subjugation to his wife, as is the case. But this verb can also suggest that George Wilson is ready to spring into action at any moment, like a runner crouching down at a starting block. Indeed this is very much the case with Wilson because as soon as he hears that his wife has been run over and killed by a car, he immediately becomes obsessed with murdering the person who killed her, kills Gatsby, the wrong man, and then shoots and kills himself.
Here is the same passage in the translations:
§ ( . . . ) la sola macchina visibile era il rottame coperto di polvere di una Ford rannicchiata in un angolo buio. ( Mondadori, pg. 27 )
§ ( . . . ) la sola automobile in mostra era il rottame impolverato di una Ford rannichiata in un buio angolo. ( Newton, pg. 42 )
Both translations use the same adjective, " rannichiata", from the verb "rannicchiare", which means to crouch. What is important, however, is that the verb "rannicchiare" does not have the meaning of pouncing, springing into action which the verb "to crouch" has. "Rannicchiare" merely means "to crouch" as in to huddle or curl oneself up: what it lacks is the connotation of latent, potential action that is present in "to crouch". The verb "rannicchiare" simply doesn’t reflect the potential menace of Wilson’s disturbed personality which the English verb "to crouch" suggests.
While on their way to Tom and Daisy’s apartment, Myrtle sees a man selling dogs and insists on having one. Here is what she says to this man:
§ "I’d like to get one of those police dogs; I don’t suppose you got that kind ? " ( pg. 24 )
Once at the apartment, Myrtle phones her sister, Catherine, and her friends, the McKees, to join her for a drink. As soon as Catherine arrives, these are the first words Myrtle says to her:
§ "My dear", ( . . . ) I had a woman up here last week to look at my feet, and when she gave me the bill you’d of thought she had my appendicitus out." ( pg. 27 )
A party takes place at the apartment and while entertaining Myrtle says this to Mrs. McKee:
§ "I got to write down a list so I won’t forget all the things I got to do." ( pg.31 )
Myrtle Wilson is a woman who is eager to escape from the drudgery of her life into the paradise of the upper class. All of her life she has aspired to refinement and propriety. She is, however, far from refined, and this is evident in her continual misuse of correct grammar. She uses "got" instead of "have", doesn’t know how to use the question form, uses " you’d of " instead of "you would have", and confuses "appendix" with "appendicitis" managing also to mispronounce the word as "appendicitus" instead of "appendicitis". Quite simply, the speech she utters reveals her lack of education and of refinement: it could never come out of the mouth of one of the upper class.
Here are the same passages in the translations:
§ "Vorrei un cane poliziotto; chissà se ne avete." (Mondadori, pg. 29 )
§ "Vorrei uno di quei cani poliziotti; non so se ne avete." (Newton, pg. 45 )
§ (. . . ) "La settimana scorsa ho fatto venire qui una donna a curarmi i piedi, e quando mi ha dato il conto pareva che mi avesse tolta l’appendice." ( Mondadori, pg. 33 )
§ ( . . . ) "Ho chiamato una donna la settimana scorsa a farmi curare i piedi, e quando mi presentò il conto c’era da pensare che m’avesse tolto l’appendicite." ( Newton, pg. 48)
§ "Devo scrivere una lista per non dimenticarmi di niente."
( Mondadori, pg. 38 )
§ "Ho deciso di scrivermele queste cose, per non dimenticare nulla di quello che devo fare." ( Newton, pg. 53)
In both the translations Myrtle’s grammar is perfect: she makes no grammar mistakes at all. Even the slang of "I had a woman up here last week to look at my feet" has been turned into the very neat and proper "I called a woman here last week to cure my feet". The only mistake Myrtle makes is in the Newton translation where the translator has her saying "appendicite" instead of "appendice", thus maintaining the error that is also in the English. However, whereas in the English Myrtle pronounces appendicitis incorrectly, in the Italian her pronunciation of " appendicite" is correct. What is happening is that in the original Myrtle’s lack of education and of refinement is evident in her continual misuse of grammar and in the use of the slang expression referring to the lady who has cured her feet. In the translations Myrtle’s perfect speech doesn’t reveal her lack of education and of refinement.
The party ends in the early morning with Nick, half – drunk, seeing Mr. McKee home and then heading home himself with the 4 a.m. train from Pennsylvania Station. Here is the brief exchange of words between Mr. McKee and Nick just before Nick sees him off:
§ "Come to lunch some day", he suggested, as we groaned down in the elevator.
" Where? "
"All right ," I agreed, "I’ll be glad to"
. . . I was standing beside his bed and he was sitting up between the sheets, clad in his underwear, with a great portfolio in his hands. ( pg. 32 )
Nick’s encounter with Mr. McKee, an amateur photographer, is shrouded in mystery. What has happened between the two men ? How are we to interpret "We groaned down in the elevator" ? Presumably it means that the lift is rather noisy, but it could also be hinting at the possibility of some sort of homosexual experience having taken place between Nick and Mr. McKee. In the context of a sexual encounter, the verb "to groan" is commonly and typically used in English to indicate pleasure or desire. Of course the use of this verb does not indicate that a sexual encounter has actually taken place, but it does introduce the possibility. Our suspicions grow after a curious use of ellipses by Fitzgerald. These ellipses indicate that something has happened but has been left out, has not been mentioned, between Nick’s last words in the lift ( " All right , I’ll be glad to" ) and Nick saying that he . . . " was standing beside his [ McKee’s] bed and he [ McKee] was sitting up between the sheets, clad in his underwear, with a great portfolio in his hands." Fitzgerald very purposely skirts the issue – homosexuality was not commonly spoken of at this time – dropping hints ("we groaned down" and the use of the ellipses ) but no concrete evidence, and leaves us to ponder the possibility of a sexual encounter between the two men. If Fitzgerald wanted to focus on the theme of homosexuality, then why didn’t he make it more pronounced in the text ? Fitzgerald possibly only hints at it just as the society of which he was a part only hinted at it. In other words by refusing to make the theme of homosexuality more pronounced, he is mirroring the refusal of society at large to acknowledge a lifestyle choice that was socially unacceptable in most circles. Through this hint at homosexuality Fitzgerald suggests that the 1920s was a time of changing sexual boundaries. Indeed the 1920s was a time in which people, particularly the trendy young people, were eager to break established boundaries.
Here is the same passage in the translations:
§ "Venite a colazione da noi, un giorno" mi invitò mentre scendevamo con l’ascensore cigolante.
"Bene" acconsentii. "Volentieri"
. . . Ero in piedi accanto al suo letto, e lui era seduto tra le lenzuola, coperto dalla maglia, con un grande album in mano. ( Mondadori, pgs.39 – 40 )
§ "Venga a colazione, un giorno", mi invitò, tra il cigolio dell’ascensore.
"In qualsiasi posto."
"Bene", acconsentii, "ne sarò lieto."
. . . Ero in piedi accanto al suo letto, ed egli era seduto tra le lenzuola, in camicia, con un grande album tra le mani. ( Newton, pg. 54 )
In the English the phrase "as we groaned down in the elevator" hints at the possibility of some sort of sexual experience having taken place in the lift before the two men reach Mr.McKee’s apartment. This suggestion is missing in both translations since everything is very clearly explained: it is simply the lift that is squeaking ( "cigolante" ) or making a squeaky noise ( "cigolio" ). We should also notice that in the original Mr.McKee is only wearing his "underwear". This is a word that has quite a few meanings in American English, whereas the words used in the translations have one meaning each : a "maglia" is a vest ( undershirt in American English ), and a "camicia" is a shirt. The word underwear, in American usage, has the same two meanings of vest ( "maglia" ) or shirt ( "camicia"), in other words of an item of clothing that is worn under other clothing. However, it also has the rather more intimate meaning of boxer shorts which the Italian words "maglia" and "camicia" do not have. So in the English we can interpret the phrase in which Nick says that Mr. McKee "was clad in his underwear" as meaning that he was practically naked , wearing only his boxer shorts, and this is far more intimate than saying that he was wearing a vest or a pyjama ( "maglia" ) or a shirt ( "camicia" ). The point is that what the word "underwear" immediately suggests is something far more intimate, far more sexual than what the words "maglia" or "camicia" could ever suggest. In the translations the whole idea about the possibility of a sexual encounter between Nick and Mr. McKee having taken place is suggested only by the use of the ellipses. They suggest, as in the English, that something has been omitted, something has happened between the two men but has been left out by Fitzgerald. As we saw in the comments to the English passage, the ellipses are a stylistic device which Fitzgerald uses to suggest the idea of homosexuality.
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