An early Italian translator
of Conrad’s works: Mario Benzing

by Gian Mario Benzing

I am very honoured and pleased to rescue from oblivion and to bring to your knowledge the story of an Italian man of letters who devoted a large part of his life to the spreading of modern English novels and especially to the works of Joseph Conrad. I am grateful to Professor Mario Curreli who allowed me to introduce to such an illustrious international assembly the strange and sorrowful story of a Conradesque personality and fate.

Very humbly I would like to offer you a small biographical picture of Mario Benzing, one among the first Italian translators of Joseph Conrad. Of German origins, Mario Benzing was born on December 7th, 1896, in Como, in northern Italy, where his family momentarily lived, before going back to Stuttgart, the original seat of the motherly branch of his family. His father died when he was only seven years old; his mother deserted him putting him under the care of renowned boarding-schools and colleges. After finishing his studies abroad, in Lausanne and in London, Mario Benzing settled in Milan, in northern Italy. Just like Conrad, Mario Benzing was grown up in a multilingual environment, speaking German as mother-tongue, then English and French, but choosing afterwards Italian as his adoptive language in his new adoptive fatherland.

During the First World War, he enlisted as a volunteer in the "Arditi" Corps in the Italian Army. This one was a very special Corps, distinguished by its patriotic ardour, almost by its fury in fighting; these soldiers were charged to face the most dangerous actions in the front line, often with steel weapons. It is almost impossible to imagine a German fighting under Italian flags against the Austrian Army! In summer 1918 during a bloody battle on the East–Italian Front he was wounded by a stab and by chance he was taken to the same military hospital in Milan where Ernest Hemingway too in the same period was a patient and he made his acquaintance. He too bid his “Farewell to Arms” and he found love in Milan. In 1927 he married Giovanna Raschi.

After the war, he remained in Italy and he began his literary activity. He wrote some novels in Italian (we know his detective story Il mago del Mottarone, published in 1934, and La ridda del filo nero, unpublished), biographies of historical figures (as Cleopatra, Messalina and the Queen Christina of Sweden). Above all he worked as a literary translator from English, German and French, writing for many publishing houses; often was he forced to sign as Mario Benzi, because of the nationalistic laws of the Fascist period, which imposed Italian names.

The authors to whom he especially devoted his work were Jack London, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Schnitzler, Edgar Allan Poe, Lewis Carroll, Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, Herbert George Wells and above all Joseph Conrad. So here we have a German who translated English masterworks in Italian! From 1928 until 1947 we may list about 80 translations by Mario Benzing now available in the Italian libraries. As far as Conrad is concerned, Mario Benzing translated:

in 1929:                Lord Jim; The Shadow-Line (first Italian translation); Suspense (under the title L’aquila ferita);
in 1930:                The Secret Agent;
Almayer’s Folly; Youth;Heart of Darkness;
in 1931:                Nostromo;
in 1934:                Chance (under the title La figlia del galeotto)

But a cruel destiny was waiting for this passionate German who spent his life in popularising English novels among the Italian public, in a very difficult period, against the increasing nationalistic impositions of a dictatorial regime, bearing the hardship and the sacrifices of the war-time and the consequent crisis of the publishing market.

Summer 1943. Some friends inform Mario Benzing that a bombing air-raid on Milan is imminent. In a great hurry Mario Benzing arranged for his wife and two sons to be evacuated in the countryside, far from the town. In the night of August 7th about 200 Lancaster of the Royal Air Force bombed Milan with incendiary bombs. Large parts of the town were destroyed. Among them, the historical Teatro alla Scala, the Royal Palace, 55,000 ancient volumes in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana were destroyed by fire. Mario Benzing, who lived in San Marco Road, next to the basilica which hosted Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, sheltered in the underground of the opposite building, the seat of the most popular Italian newspaper, “Corriere della Sera”.

After the bombing attack he went up again on the road. The whole town was on fire. An incendiary bomb was fallen upon his house breaking it in two. From the street Mario Benzing saw the fire which began to burn his large library, the treasure of a whole life, his own works and many historical editions, the heritage of his family, ancient illustrated books about ships and sailing, which were his sources of sea-terms… In vain he called for help. No fireman in such a tremendous night, among the desperate shouts of the injured and cries of survivors was there to help to rescue books instead of wounded. Book after book, the whole library and then the whole house were burnt down. Mario Benzing, utterly powerless, saw it being completely destroyed. He saved all what was left to him, his typewriter, and left on foot for the countryside.

Many books and many libraries in Milan went lost that night, so that it is very difficult to find now in Italy a book by Mario Benzing. Irony of a cruel fate: British bombs destroyed the works of one among the most prolific pioneers of the diffusion of modern English literature in Italy. Without his library, without his books Mario Benzing wasn’t the same man any more. He worked as translator of technical subjects for a big industry, forever leaving English literature. Fond of ancient languages of the Near East and of Chaldaic Oracles, he studied Aramaic. He was friend of many scholars and artists, as composer Umberto Giordano. He played for his pleasure the piano and a special six-chord banjo. He died in Milan on November 30th, 1958.




Mario Benzing’s bibliography1


1. Novels

Mario Benzing, Il mago del Mottarone, Milano, 1936

Mario Benzing, La ridda del filo nero, unpublished


2. Biographies

Mario Benzi, Cleopatra,, Milano, 1934

Mario Benzi, La regina Cristina,, Milano, 1934

Mario Benzi, Messalina, Milano, 1935


3. Translations

Vicki Baum, La via del palcoscenico, Milano, 1934

Enoch Arnold Bennett, Anna delle cinque città, Milano, 1929

Guy Boothby, Il maleficio del serpente, Bologna, 1932

Edgar Rice Burroughs, L' infanzia di Tarzan,, Milano, 1935

Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan genio della giungla, Milano, 1935

Lewis Carroll, Alice nel paese delle meraviglie, Milano, 1935

Joseph Conrad, L' agente segreto, Sesto San Giovanni, 1930

Joseph Conrad, La figlia del galeotto (Chance), Sesto San Giovanni, 1934

Joseph Conrad, La follia d'Almayer, Sesto San Giovanni, 1930

Joseph Conrad, La linea d'ombra, Milano, 1929

Joseph Conrad, L'aquila ferita (Suspense), Milano, 1929

Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, Milano, 1929

Joseph Conrad, Nostromo, Sesto San Giovanni, 1931

Agathon Jean Francois Fain, Il crollo di un impero, Milano, 1935

John Alexander Ferguson, Geraldine l'oscura, Milano, 1938

Otto Forst De Battaglia, Poniatowski, l'ultimo re di Polonia, Milano, 1930

George Goodchild, Mister X, Milano, 1938

Anna Katharine Green, Ho voluto uccidere,.in "Vizio nella città: due romanzi in uno", Milano, 1960

Robert Hansen, La vendetta, Milano, 1942

Ferenc Herczeg, Il ribelle, Milano, 1940

Headon Hill, Sotto il capestro, Milano, 1933

Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann, Schiaccianoci e il Re dei topi, Milano, 1940

Johannes Vilhelm Jensen, Il mostro, Milano, 1937

Helen Hunt Jackson, Ramona, Milano, 1937

Eduard von Keyserling, Case crepuscolari, Milano,1932

Eduard von Keyserling, Il Padiglione cinese, Milano, 1933

Johann Killian, Storia del cristallo, Milano, 1943

Rudyard Kipling, Capitani coraggiosi, Sesto San Giovanni, 1930

Rudyard Kipling, Il libro della giungla, Milano, 1933

Rudyard Kipling, Il Naulahka, Sesto San Giovanni, 1932

Rudyard Kipling, Il secondo libro della giungla (Il figlio dell'uomo), Milano, 1930

Rudyard Kipling, Kim, Milano, 1928

Rudyard Kipling, La luce che si spense, Sesto San Giovanni, 1932

Rudyard Kipling, Racconti da "Il libro della giungla" e "Il secondo libro della giungla", Milano, 1962

Rudyard Kipling, Stalky & C, Sesto San Giovanni, 1933

Klabund (alias Alfred Henschke), Borgia, Milano, 1930

Theodor Kraus, Il Goebe. Il Moewe. Il combattimento di Thaiti, Milano, 1935

David Herbert Lawrence, L' arcobaleno, Milano, 1937

William Le Queux, Il mistero delle labbra sigillate, Milano, 1933

Jack London, Avventura. Racconti del Mare del Sud, Sesto San Giovanni, 1931

Jack London, Fumo Bellew, Milano, 1931

Jack London, Il figlio del lupo. Il gioco. La fiducia degli uomini, Sesto San Giovanni, 1937

Jack London, Il lupo di mare, Sesto San Giovanni, 1929

Jack London, La crociera della Saetta. La strada. Il dio dei suoi padri, Milano, s.d.

Jack London, La figlia delle nevi, Sesto San Giovanni, 1929

Jack London, Il morbo scarlatto, Milano, 1931

Jack London, La rivolta dell'Elsinore, Milano, 1928

Jack London, La valle della luna, Sesto San Giovanni, 1929

Jack London, Martin Eden, Milano, 1936

Jack London, Tre cuori in lizza, Milano, 1928

Jack London, Un Figlio del Sole. Quando Dio ride. Storie di guardie del pesce, Milano, 1931

Compton Mackenzie, La strana vita di Sylvia Scarlett, Milano, 1947

Richard March, Il tesoro degli otto, Milano, 1938

Gustav Meyrink, La faccia verde, Firenze, 1931

Hellmuth von Mucke, I superstiti dell'Emden. L'Ayesha, Milano, 1935

Hellmuth von Mucke, L' Emden, Milano, 1935

Edgar Allan Poe, Avventure di Gordon Pym, Milano, 1934

Manfred von Richthofen, L' asso rosso, Milano, 1935

Sax Rohmer, Il fiore del silenzio, Milano, 1939

Arthur Schnitzler, La signorina Elsa, Milano, 1928

William von Simpson, Il nipote, Milano, 1943

Adolf Spiegel von Peckelsheim, La tragedia del „Wiesbaden“, Milano, 1934

Adolf Spiegel von Peckelsheim, Sottomarini all'agguato. La crociera dell'U-202, Milano, 1935

Edgar Wallace, Il segreto della cassaforte. La melodia della morte, Milano, 1933

Edgar Wallace, La casa segreta, Milano, 1933

Hugh Walpole, La tetra selva, Milano, 1933

Jakob Wassermann, La bocca mai baciata, Milano, 1933

Jakob Wassermann, Le maschere di Erwin Reiner, Milano, s.d.

Ehm Welk, Il grande ordine, Milano, 1940

Herbert George Wells, Gianna e Piero, Milano, s.d.

Herbert George Wells, Il mondo di Guglielmo Clissold, Sesto San Giovanni, 1931

Herbert George Wells, La ricerca magnifica, Sesto San Giovanni, 1934

Herbert George Wells, La sirena, Milano, 1929

Charles Norris e Alice Muriel Williamson, Le perle azzurre, Milano, 1938

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, Denaro trovato, Milano, 1932

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, I conquistatori di coppe, Milano, 1932

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, Mike: storia di un collegio, Milano, 1932

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, Quattrini a palate, Milano, 1936

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, Una penna di coda, Milano, 1932


1 Books now available in the Italian libraries or in the Benzing family’s collection as described in the website



Second Series

16-18 September 2004

Hosted by

Dipartimento di Anglistica

Facoltà di Lingue e Letterature Straniere

Dottorato in Letterature Straniere Moderne

Università di Pisa


In memoriam Edward Said and Ian Watt

Thursday, September 16th, 2004

Aula Magna Storica

Ground floor, Palazzo della Sapienza (entrance at back of monument)

Via Curtatone e Montanara (just off Lungarno Pacinotti)

Chair: Zdzisław Najder, University of Opole


9.00–10.00: Registration.

10.00: Conference opens: Welcome addresses.

10.15: Inaugural lecture: Zdzisław Najder, University of Opole, Poland

"Joseph Conrad and the Classical World"

10.50: Andrzej Busza, University of British Columbia, Vancouver,

"The Rover: Conrad’s Nostos"

11.20: David Lucking, Università di Lecce

"Narcissus in the Underworld: Counterpointing Myths in The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ "


12.00: Yannick le Boulicaut, Université Catholique de l’Ouest, Angers

"Lost in the Maze of Hell"


12.30: Discussion.


13.00: Lunch (Osteria I Santi, 71-73, Via Santa Maria: voucher N° 1).


15.00-16.30: Guided tour of the Duomo (or St Mary’s Cathedral, begun 1063), Baptistery (begun 1153), and frescoes of the Campo Santo, begun in 1277 and considered by many "the crowning glory of Pisa" (the definition is Leigh Hunt’s).

Meeting point at the foot of the Leaning Tower: the climbing of the Campanile (or belltower) itself is not included in our cumulative ticket (courtesy of the Opera della Primaziale Pisana), but delegates may embark on its breathtaking ascent at their own (heart’s) risk.


16.30: Afternoon coach trip to Livorno, meeting point: Piazza Manin (outside the Duomo Square, just past the Baptistery). Guided tour of the Accademia Navale and its Historical Museum.

Leghorn was one of the steamship Europa’s ports of call, where young Korzeniowski, then an ordinary seaman, landed on December 28, 1879, as recorded by the Gazzetta Livornese of that day. Sailing the day after for Naples, the Europa passed in view of the Isle of Elba.


19.30: Dinner in Livorno at the "Mimbelli" Staff Officers Clubhouse.


22.30: Return to Pisa.



In memoriam Philip Conrad and Bruce Harkness

Friday, September 17th, 2004

Centro Culturale Agora

Lucca: Piazza dei Servi

Chair: Cedric Watts, University of Sussex


8.00: Departure for Lucca by coach. Meeting point: Piazza Carrara (Lungarno Pacinotti).


9.15: Sylvère Monod, Sorbonne Nouvelle, Emeritus

"L’Albergo d’Italia Una" as an "Inn of the Three Witches"


9.45: Laurence J. Davies, Dartmouth College

"Conrad, Ethel Voynich, and the Mutton-chop of History"


10.15: Jean Szczypien, SUNY/FIT

"An Unrecognised Polish Nobleman in Nostromo"


10.45: Myrtle Hooper, University of Zululand

"The Private Spaces of Nostromo"


11.15: Cedric Watts, University of Sussex

"Reflections on Giorgio Viola"


11.50: Mario Curreli, Università di Pisa

"Intertextuality and Myth in Nostromo"


12.10: Discussion.

13.00: Lunch in Lucca.

Early afternoon: Guided tour of Lucca (where Emily Gould’s aunt, the Marchesa, "led a still, whispering existence, nunlike in her black robes and a white band over the forehead, in a corner of the first floor of an ancient and ruinous palace"), followed by a coach trip to Seravezza to visit the Parco Apuane and the Versilian quarries where Michelangelo got the marble he used for the Medici tombs, mentioned by Conrad in one of his essays.

"The little town of Vezza stands at the confluence of two torrents that come down in two deep valleys from the Apuan mountains. Turbulently – for they still remember their mountain source – the united streams run through the town; silence in Vezza is the continuous sound of running waters." These two torrents mentioned by Huxley in the incipit of Those Barren Leaves are the Serra and the Vezza, hence, according to popular ethimology, the real town is called Seravezza. Here the Grandukes of Florence had one of their summer villas built: this Palazzo Mediceo now houses the "Museo del Lavoro e delle Tradizioni Popolari della Versilia Storica". The Museum documents the main manufacturing activities of this area, centered around its marble and silver-mining industries, which date back to the Etruscan and Roman periods and saw their heyday in the Renaissance. It was here that Charles Gould took Emily, since "the work resembled mining in so far that it also was the tearing of the raw material of treasure from the earth."



In memoriam Frederick R. Karl

Saturday, September 18th, 2004

Istituzione dei Cavalieri di Santo Stefano

1, Piazza dei Cavalieri, Ist floor

Chair: Don Rude, Texas Tech University, Editor of Conradiana


Please note new meeting place at N° 1, Piazza dei Cavalieri


9.00: Welcome by Dr Rodolfo Bernardini, President of the Order of the Knights of St Stephen.


9.10: Manuela Bertone, Ambasciata di Francia in Italia: Servizi culturali - Roma

"L’affreux pastis Gadda-Conrad"


9.35: Marilena Saracino, Università di Pescara

"Unreadable plots: Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent and Carlo Emilio Gadda’s Quer Pasticciaccio brutto de Via Merulana"


10.00: Mario Domenichelli, Università di Firenze

"Heart of Darkness and Flaiano’s Tempo di Uccidere"

10.25: Elena Paruolo, Università di Salerno

"Dacia Maraini’s translation of The Secret Sharer"


10.50: Roberta Ferrari, Università di Pisa

"Translating/Transforming: Dacia Maraini’s reading of The Secret Sharer"


11.15: Michel Arouimi, Université du Littoral

"Heart of Darkness and Cristo si è fermato a Eboli: Thematic and Structural Similarities"


11:40: Laura Giovannelli, Università di Pisa

"Conrad as Paradigm and Countervoice: Notes on Moravia, Pavese, and Berto"


12.10: Gian Mario Benzing: Corriere della Sera, Milano

"An early Italian translator of Conrad’s works: Mario Benzing"


12.30: Fausto Ciompi, Università di Pisa

"Under Italian Eyes"


13:00: Discussion.


13.30: Lunch: Ristorante Turiddo, 12, Piazza San Frediano (just off Piazza dei Cavalieri, towards Lungarno Pacinotti). Opened in 1904, this restaurant was patronised, among others, by Maria Curie and, in 1925, by George V and Queen Mary.



In memoriam Hans van Marle

Saturday, September 18th, 2004

Istituzione dei Cavalieri di Santo Stefano (1, Piazza dei Cavalieri)

Chair: Sylvére Monod, Sorbonne Nouvelle, Emeritus



15.15: Gene M. Moore, Universiteit van Amsterdam

"How (Un)finished is Suspense?"


16.00: Anne Luyat, Université d’Avignon

"From Marseilles to Suspense: The Opacity of the Mediterranean Experience"


16.30: Philip Olleson, University of Nottingham

"From Novel to Opera: The Case of Richard Rodney Bennett’s Victory"

17.15: Carola M. Kaplan, CSU Pomona, President, JCS of America

"Italy as Alibi and Intimate Other in Conrad’s Criticism of England"

17.45 Sema Postacioglu-Banon, Università di Venezia

"Contentions of Wit in The Secret Agent"

18.15: Robert Hampson, Royal Holloway, University of London

"Conrad and the Rossettis: ‘a casual conversation about anarchists’ "

18.45: Discussion, followed by visit to the Ugo Mursia Library, housed in the JC Study Centre, Dept. of Anglistica, 67 Via Santa Maria.

20.30: Farewell buffet chez Mario & Vanna