- Beautiful Angiola: The Great Treasury of Sicilian Folk and Fairy Tales
Jack Zipes makes a strong claim when he asserts that Laura Gonzenbach’s 1870 collection Sicilianische Märchen is “perhaps the most important collection of fairy tales, legends, and anecdotes in the nineteenth century, more important perhaps than the Brothers Grimm” (p. xii). He follows, however, by making an equally strong allowance, that although Gonzenbach—unlike Wilhelm Grimm—“did not intermediate as censor, philologist, and German nationalist,” she “may have edited the tales somewhat to bring out her own progressive views about women. We do not know this for sure” (p. xii). We do not know it at all, except for circumstantial evidence like her unusually progressive upbringing. Other evidence of her editorial work or personal relationships with informants was lost when the Gonzenbach family papers were destroyed in the 1908 Messina earthquake. We do know the names of her dozen or so informants, almost all women from the peasant or lower middle classes. It is also likely that she adopted “a suitab[ly] literary voice” for her versions from the Grimms’ and possibly also from French fairy-tale collections (p. xv). After she collected her Sicilian tales, Gonzenbach immediately translated them into literary or “high” German. We don’t know the manner with which she recorded the narratives. However, Zipes suggests that we should consider the transcriptions to be accurate by pointing out that, in their abrupt narrative style and use of folk speech, the language of the transcripts is similar to that of the Sicilian tales recorded in dialect by Gonzenbach’s near-contemporary, Giuseppe Pitrè. Here they are made accessible for the first time in an English scholarly edition, with an apparatus that is as appealing to the generalist as it is rigorous in its comparisons to variants in other European tale collections from the eleventh through the nineteenth centuries.
Beyond these claims, Zipes pushes his discussion further. What if we viewed some of the great female-vindicating types in the European tale tradition—“The Maiden in the Tower” (AT 310), “The Wishes” (AT 403A), “The Kind and Unkind Girls” (AT 480), and of course “Cinderella” (AT 510A) and its incestuous half-sister “The Dress of Gold, of Silver, and of Stars” (AT 510B)— through a more feminist frame than that provided for those “highly stylized and censored tales of the Brothers Grimm that were constantly changed and edited by Wilhelm” (p. xii)? Zipes offers such a frame when he reorders Gonzenbach’s collection and dispenses with the plodding plot-motif order imposed by Reinhold Kohler, who wrote the introduction to the twovolume original. Zipes defends this change by noting that there is an ongoing “struggle for appropriation, adaptation, and authenticity whenever tales are translated and printed” (p. xxx). He has moved a handful of especially empowering variants of woman-centered tales (here titled “Sorfarina,” “The Green Bird,” “The Snake Who Bore Witness for a Maiden,” “The Sister of Muntifiuri,” “Betta Pilusa,” and the titular tale “Beautiful Angiola”) from the middle of the book to the front.
The effect is breathtaking. Sorfarina, the heroine of this edition’s first tale, believes that [End Page 371] sometimes a man needs a good slap and that, if during courtship he asks for an apology, the better response is another slap. The character exhibits audacious independence, traveling ahead of her errant husband and seducing him in the guise of her own double, satisfying him in all ways except for that apology. The story brims with the character’s frustration. In the second tale, the character Maruzza demands vindication from a husband who recoiled at her ugliness after his abandonment made her ugly. The third tale’s nameless maiden uses a magical snake to torture a prince into confessing that he raped her before making him marry her. In “Beautiful Angiola,” the main character is not submissive like her counterpart Rapunzel; rather, she outmaneuvers the witch in whose tower she...