Clarice Lispector in Italian

El Lissitzky, Di hun vos hot gevolt hoben a kam (The Hen that Wanted a Comb), 1919


Between the universal and the feminine

“You who read me, help me to be born” (Água Viva, 1973).

Clarice Lispector, a writer whose birth centenary was celebrated in 2020, cultivated an outstanding relationship with the reader in her short stories, novels and chronicles – a connection that also accompanied her in the private sphere, through her intense correspondence. When developing his literary production in the XNUMXth century (a moment in which, in literary theory, constructions of meaning tended to focus somewhat less on the author and on the text itself and then complete themselves on the reader), he mixed texts of deep introspection with texts that manifested this substantial dialogue, in an interaction that crossed borders and provided exchanges in several languages ​​– among them, Italian.

Lispector published her first book, Close to the Wild Heart, in 1943. Very well received by the critics, he obtained great recognition in 1944 when he received the Graça Aranha prize, which at the time was one of the most important literary prizes in Brazil. During this period, the writer was already living in Europe: married to the Brazilian diplomat Maury Gurgel Valente, she lived in the city of Naples, Italy, between 1944 and 1946.

During World War II, she worked as a volunteer with the nursing staff of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force (FEB) hospital, where she took care of sick and wounded combatants and also read and wrote letters to their families. Her experience as a volunteer is related in her personal letters, such as those to her sister, Elisa, and her friend Lucio Cardoso. Other experiences from the period he lived in Italy are also present in his letters, such as, for example, passages with the painter De Chirico (who had done a portrait of him) and reports about his beloved dog, Dilermando, who left, with great regret, in the care of another person when moving to Switzerland. Some traits of this deep affectionate relationship with his dog are present in short stories and in certain moments of his works. In the years that she lived in Italy, she still completed the writing of the novel the chandelier and he also had contact with the poet Giuseppe Ungaretti, who greatly appreciated the quality of his writings.

According to Mona Lisa Teixeira, Lispector's period in Italy is remembered in chronicles such as "The greatest compliment I've ever received", "Animals", "Village in the mountains", "Body and soul", "An Italian woman in Switzerland" and “Tea”, highlighting impressions about the Italian people and the nature of the country, as well as particular episodes. Teixeira points out that “his personal experiences during this period would later become sources for his writings, as can be seen in his correspondence with his sisters and friends Lúcio Cardoso and Manuel Bandeira, to name a few, in which many She sometimes talks about her problems with adapting to her duties as a diplomat's wife, her difficulties with writing her writings and about the writers she reads, such as Marcel Proust, Emily Brontë and Katherine Mansfield. It is through correspondence that she learns about the political situation in Brazil, as well as the country's intellectual life, as can be seen in her letters exchanged with Manuel Bandeira”.[1]

As pointed out by Dal Pont[2], several characteristic aspects of Brazil are revealed to the reading public of Brazilian works in the context of reception, such as those related to Anthropology, Sociology and Cultural Studies. If the consumption of literary production promotes the construction of references about a certain society and culture in the same country where it is written, abroad the construction of this imaginary has chances of being strengthened. Thinking about the ways of observing Brazilian literature (from within the country itself or from a foreign perspective) and considering the multiplicity of influences on its composition, it is useful to remember, according to Antonio Candido[3], that Brazilian literature spreads through a comparative perspective – while the others exist by themselves. However, over the years, the innovative traits present in national literature have been increasingly recognized, which occurs markedly through the work of Clarice Lispector.

The prominence given to Lispector's writings by Brazilian critics happens with greater intensity between the 60s and 70s, when European ideas arrived in Brazil in counterpoint to the social hegemony or to the engagement present in the aesthetic production of that period. According to Corrêa & Pilati[4], it was in this way that Lispector's writing seems to have taken on universal nuances, with the ability to understand the human soul “due to the deep desire to compensate (recurrence in the history of the Brazilian intellectual) of national backwardness. “Society resolves in the imaginary domain the contradictions that it cannot overcome in reality” (JAMESON, 1985, p.14). The artistic possibility of a writer who is above Brazilian material emerges as an exception – Lispector would exist in this way despite the precarious conditions of the country, and not exactly because of this specific materiality”.

The universal nature present in Lispector also helped her work to spread abroad. The editor and writer Pedro Corrêa do Lago, in an article by Tom C. Avendaño for the newspaper The country in 2017, he considers that it was the translations and the interest it began to awaken abroad that turned it into a Brazilian publishing phenomenon. In his words, “great artists know how to project, in a very strange way, a very eccentric and personal vision onto speakers of an entire language, and they also know how to make them believe that this vision is their own. Thus, it is impossible to imagine Spanish without Cervantes, English without Shakespeare, and Portuguese without Clarice.”[5].

According to Francavilla[6], the author represented a break with literary tradition by moving from the local and national approach, predominant in Brazilian literature from the post-independence context until the time of its first publications (1940s), to universal themes and, at the same time, , with traces of introspection linked to the sensations and questions of the human soul; opening space, in this way, to new possibilities of literary work in Brazil.

With regard to Italy, the 1970s represented a milestone for the translation of Brazilian fiction. As Torquato elucidates, several hitherto unpublished Brazilian authors were introduced to the Italian publishing market during this period. The following decades would continue this literary exchange, intensifying it, as occurred in the 1980s. This is the case of Clarice Lispector: since she was published for the first time in Italian, she has become one of the most translated Brazilian authors in Italy ( alongside Machado de Assis and Jorge Amado).

Torquated[7] indicates that Italy came into contact with Lispector's fiction many years after other countries. The author had already been translated in France, for example, since 1954 (with the publication of Close to the wild heart); and in 1967 it was translated for the first time in the United States (with the American edition of The Apple in the Dark). However, apparently, after the contact of the Italian reading public with the narrative of the Brazilian writer through the translation of An apprenticeship or the book of pleasures [An apprenticeship or the book I wrote][8], in 1981, Italy sought to recover the period without translations, because in a short period of time (1981-1989) an average of one publication per year was translated.

The parallels between Lispector's writing with James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, for example, also contributed to a more “canonical” position of the author in the reception of Brazilian literature abroad. One of the most striking points in common is due to the fact that Lispector also uses language to achieve the expression of a “stream of consciousness”, typical of interior monologues. She also presents identification – albeit unintentionally – with female writing, from the perspective of Hélène Cixous[9], who proposes, among other aspects, changing the notion of the “feminine” as part of a binary logic that opposes the notion of the “masculine” (while the first is attributed to women and the second to men), and conceives the notion of of the feminine as transcendent of biological distinctions.

In order to form a readership whose demands can be met, it is necessary that the editorial and marketing spheres act in harmony. Cixous's writings helped spread Lispector internationally at a time when women were faced with political and social issues, referring to their space in the world - and female literary expression could act as a great aid in the elaboration and synthesis of these same questions.

The feminist approach present in the studies of Hélène Cixous also had wide repercussions among the Italian readership (mainly female). Thus, regarding the wide international dissemination and reception of Clarice Lispector in Italy, Guerini & Torquato[10] (2006) explain that, from the 1970s, Lispector became known in the country mainly as a result of the feminist movement.

Clarice Lispector is intentionally not related to feminism, as she did not even allow herself to be classified as a feminist, but her writing met the expression needs of this movement. The author developed her literary production at a time when the feminist movement in Brazil had not yet consolidated. Biographer and specialist Nádia Gotlib[11] explains that, “although she was not an activist and even criticized feminism for the risk of its bureaucratization, Clarice contributed decisively to the emancipation of women, by unveiling new perspectives on life against the paternalistic limits imposed by an authoritarian and sexist society” .

With regard to the use of Lispector's works by prominent Italian feminist theorists, Bonalumi[12] exposes that the work The Passion according to GH [La passione secondo GH][13] was one of the most impactful works on which these scholars dedicated discussions, largely motivated by the feeling of being in front of an inaccessible author, to which one must return many times to obtain a deeper understanding of her. Bonalumi also completes that after the publication of the Études littéraires by Hélène Cixous in 1978 (an article about the book The Apple in the Dark), Clarice Lispector becomes more widely read worldwide, due to the intensification of translations. It is interesting to remember that Translation Studies also began to structure itself parallel to the development of feminist studies in the 1970s, although the two areas remained apart until very recently.

In addition to the first movement of translations of Clarice Lispector in Italy, in recent years there has been a second movement of translations and retranslations of her work into Italian, also following an international trend. Benjamin Moser[14], biographer and one of Lispector's translators into English, considers that the author brought new approaches to literature, standing out in the international context, above all, for her talent.

In Italy, after the recent acquisition of rights to publish translations of Clarice Lispector by the publishing house Adelphi (Adelphi Edizioni), several titles translated into Italian are expected to be released in the coming years. The most recently released Italian language titles were Aqua viva[15], A soffio di vita][16] e All the stories][17].

In such a way, the author's most recent internationalization process is largely related to current editorial dynamics and, in time, comes to remember and honor the efforts of many editors, translators, professors, researchers and readers who, for decades, dedicate – in Brazil, Italy and around the world – to the memory, interlocutions and presence of Clarice Lispector.

*Dayana Loverro is a doctoral student in Letters at the Postgraduate Program in Italian Language, Literature and Culture at FFLCH-USP.

Originally published in the electronic magazine Translated Italian Literature, v. 1, no. 12, Dec. 2020.


[1] TEIXEIRA, Mona Lisa Bezerra. “A Foreigner of the World – Memories of Clarice Lispector in Italy.” In: Proceedings of the XV International Congress of ABRALIC (Brazilian Association of Comparative Literature). Rio de Janeiro, 2017, p. 6791-6792.

[2] DAL PONT, Stella Rivello da Silva. “Canon in translation: Three decades of literary connections between Brazil and Italy (1977-2007)”. Thesis. Center for Communication and Expression. Federal University of Santa Catarina, Florianópolis, 2017.

[3] CANDID, Antonio. Formation of Brazilian Literature: decisive moments. Belo Horizonte: Editora Itatiaia, 2000.

[4] CORRÊA, Camila Chernichiarro de Abreu; PILATI, Alexandre Simoes. "The historical dimension of Clarice Lispector's work". In: Proceedings of the XV International Congress of ABRALIC (Brazilian Association of Comparative Literature). Rio de Janeiro, 2017, p. 2598.

[5] LAKE, Pedro Corrêa do. “Clarice Lispector: the most popular secret of Brazilian literature”. El Pais (newspaper). Spain, 20/09/2017. Available at:

[6] Cf. FRANCAVILLA, Roberto. “Language is a horse: translating Clarice Lispector”. In: Olho d'água Magazine. UNESP: São José do Rio Preto, 2018.

[7] See TORQUATO, Carolina Pizzolo. Brief study of Brazilian literature in Italy: translations between 1882 and 1996. Florianópolis: Editora da UFSC, 2007.

[8] LISPECTOR, Clarice. An apprenticeship or the book I wrote. Trad. Rita Desti). La Rosa: Turin, 1981.

[9] CIXOUS, Helene. “The Laugh of the Medusa” (1975). In: FREEDMAN, Estelle B. The essential feminist reader. New York: Modern Library, 2007.

[10] GUERINI, A; TORQUATO, CP “The Italian letteratura tradotta in Brasile e la brasiliana tradotta in Italia”. Mosaic (magazine), nº 26. 2006. Available at:

[11] GOTLIB, Nadia Battella. “[INTERVIEW] Nádia Battella Gotlib talks about Clarice Lispector”. Folha de Pernambuco (newspaper). Brazil, 09/12/17. Available at:

[12] Cf. BONALUMI, Emiliana Fernandes. “Analysis of similarities and differences in the use of reformulation markers and lexical phrases, in a parallel corpus, consisting of short stories and novels by Clarice Lispector, and the respective translations into English and Italian”. Thesis (doctorate) – São Paulo State University, São José do Rio Preto, 2010.

[13] LISPECTOR, Clarice. La passione secondo G.H. Trans. Adelina Aletti. Feltrinelli Editore: Milan, 1982, 1991.

[14] MOSER, Benjamin. “An interview with Benjamin Moser, Clarice Lispector's biographer”. Vice Media Group (news site). USA/Canada, 14/12/2015. Available at:

[15] LISPECTOR, Clarice. Aqua Viva. Trans. Roberto Francavilla. Adelphi Edizioni: Milan, 2017.

[16] LISPECTOR, Clarice. A soffio di vita. Trans. Roberto Francavilla. Adelphi Edizioni: Milan, 2019.

[17] LISPECTOR, Clarice. Tutti i racconti. Trans. Roberto Francavilla. Feltrinelli Editore: Milan, 2020.


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