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Italian Folktales in America

The Verbal Art of an Immigrant Woman

Elizabeth Mathias Richard Raspa

Publication Year: 1988

In 1941, while studying folklore at Wayne University with Professor Emelyn Gardner, Bruna Todesco collected from her mother, Clementina, the twenty-two märchen and legends presented in this book. Bruna, her mother, and her father, John, immigrated to America in 1930 from their native village of Faller in the Veneto region of northern Italy. Not just made up of the recorded texts, this book is also built on the reminiscences of that storyteller and some of her old neighbors in her birthplace, and is a record by two resourceful fieldworkers of what it takes to study memory culture. The result is a work that greatly enriches our understanding of who told (and tells) märchen to whom, why and how they are told, and, perhaps most important, under what conditions.

Published by: Wayne State University Press


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pp. c-c


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pp. i-ii


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pp. iii-iii


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pp. iv-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword by Roger D. Abrahams

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pp. ix-xvi

Italian Folktales in America: a modest title for a truly unusual work. The reader will not find here just another collection of Europeanstyle wonder tales which happened to be collected in the United States. Rather, this is a record of the repertoire of a remarkably animated and artful storyteller, Clementina Todesco, as recorded...

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pp. xvii-xviii

In 1941, while studying folklore at Wayne University with Professor Emelyn Gardner, Bruna Todesco collected from her mother, Clementina, the twenty-two marchen and legends presented in this book. Bruna, her mother, and her father, John, immigrated to America in 1930 from their native village of Faller...

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pp. xix-xxii

Our greatest debt is, of course, to Clementina Todesco, our storyteller, who with grace and patience allowed herself to be interviewed for this book. John Todesco, her husband, was supportive and encouraging. Ben Todesco provided the photographs of Bruna, Clementina, and John. The people of Faller provided...

Part I Background

Map of Northern Italy

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pp. 2-2

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pp. 3-20

Alpine winters were long and cold, and night came early to the mountains. The upper pastures had long since filled with snow, and the cattle came down to the village stables. As night fell, women prepared dinner in the kitchens and carried the food to the stables. There the family ate together in the warmth furnished...

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Context and History

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pp. 21-30

Clementina Todesco was born in 1903 in Faller, then a village of some six hundred inhabitants in the province of Belluno, which is part of the Veneto region in northern Italy. One hundred miles northeast of Venice in the Dolomite mountain range, the town is one of five villages snuggled along the slope of a mountain called

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The Storyteller in Italy

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pp. 31-52

Clementina Slongo Todesco was one of eight children of Benvenuto Slongo, the town mayor, notary, folk veterinarian, and landowner. Benvenuto was considered the richest man in town because he owned over twenty head of cattle and many acres of land. As a child, Clementina would often go with her brothers...

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The Storyteller in America

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pp. 53-60

Clementina revealed a characteristic belief of immigrants, one which is likely to have prompted over four million Italians to come to the United States between 1885 and 1914:

In America when you work you earned money and could eat and...

Part II Photographs

Family Album

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pp. 62-66

Informants from Faller, Italy

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pp. 67-72

The Village of Faller

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pp. 73-76

Part III Tales

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pp. 79-212

In a summer home on top of a high mountain, during the grazing season for the cows, lived a father and his five daughters. The youngest of the five daughters was called Barbarina, and she was the prettiest, most amiable, and loveliest one of them all. Each of the five girls had different chores to perform every day, and the...

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Legends and Religious Tales

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pp. 213-242

It is heartily believed by all the small children of Faller (and by some of the grown-ups too) that an evil elf dressed in bloodred garments lives in the surrounding hills and mountains. This elf, it is believed, is out purposely to lure children from their proper...

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Narratives of Personal Experience

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pp. 243-294

I had five brothers and sisters. My younger sister was able to do the chores around the house; she could milk the cows and make the polenta. There was always enough to eat compared to our neighbors, who were always in misery. I often went to visit the...

Notes to the Text

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pp. 295-298

Annotations to the Tales

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pp. 299-308


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pp. 309-314

Index of Motifs

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pp. 315-320

Index of Tale Types

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pp. 321-324


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pp. bc-bc

E-ISBN-13: 9780814338360
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814321225

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 32
Publication Year: 1988

OCLC Number: 821902802
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Italian Folktales in America

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Todesco, Clementina.
  • Italian Americans -- Folklore.
  • Tales -- United States.
  • Tales -- Italy.
  • Storytellers -- United States.
  • Storytellers -- Italy.
  • Italian American women -- Folklore.
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