Cesare Pavese famously defined the 1930s as “the decade of translations”, perfectly grasping the spirit of his times. What is less known is that the protagonists of this massive cultural mediation were predominantly women. Available sources, in fact, clearly show that women dominated the translation business. Their job entailed a flexible task, which was easily carried out (and hidden) in the privacy of the home, and mostly supplementary to the author’s work. Interestingly, though, for a great number of women this “appropriate” job meant getting involved in the public sphere and acquiring a certain degree of emancipation and freedom.
This is what happened, for example, when they selected books to translate and proposed them to publishers. When, in 1938, Ada Gobetti translated one of the benchmarks of American black feminism, Z.N. Hurston’s Their eyes were watching God, it was certainly not just a literary project. Who were the women who bravely engaged in the “decade of translations”? Did this process of cultural exchange and mediation affect their practices, lifestyles and mentalities? This article examines the private archive of translator Alessandra Scalero, an emblematic case study of the ‘gender transformations’ that affected the translation industry
between the two world wars.