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  • Carlo Collodi As Translator:From Fairy Tale to Folk Tale
  • Ester Zago (bio)

There is a general consensus among critics of Collodi in acknowledging the indebtedness, on the part of the author of Pinocchio, toward the French fairy tales. Few have explored the topic much further,1 and yet it seems to me that this important influence on Collodi's work deserves closer scrutiny. Collodi's translation method appears to have been by his own training as a journalist and by the interest in folklore studies that accompanied the rise in patriotic sentiment in Italy during the nineteenth century.

My focus will be on Collodi's treatment of Peau d'Ane (Donkey-Skin), and shall also look at his handling of Perrault's prose tales. Finally I shall discuss Collodi's techniques in translating the six stories by Mme d'Aulnoy and Mme Leprince de Beaumont. First, however, it may be useful to trace a brief account of the circumstances, both personal and cultural, which led to Collodi's translation of the French fairy tales.


In 1875 Sandro Paggi suggested to Carlo Lorenzini, better known under the pen name of Collodi,2 that he translate a collection of French fairy tales which included Perrault's Contes, four tales by Mme d' Aulnoy and two by Mme Leprince de Beaumont.3 According to several critics,4 Collodi was not familiar with Perrault's fairy tales or the Cabinet des Fées before receiving this commission. Sandro Paggi, together with his brother Felice, owned a bookstore in Via del Proconsolo in Florence, as well as a publishing house. The Paggi brothers had known Collodi for a long time when they entrusted him with the translation of the French fairy tales. They became the loyal publishers of all of Collodi's work.

Collodi began his literary career in 1848. After participating as a volunteer in the first war for the independence of Italy, he came back to his native Florence, and for ten years he worked as a journalist for several Florentine magazines and newspapers. This experience was probably instrumental in developing the clarity of his style, the sharpness of his wit, and his shrewd understanding of what attracts and retains the reader's attention. But Collodi was also aware of the limitations inherent in the journalist's trade. He wrote that "one is born a poet, but there is no need to be born a journalist. In fact, once you become a journalist, you die a [End Page 61] journalist. . . . Journalism is like Nexus' shirt, once you have put it on, you cannot take it off."5

Like many Italian writers of his time, Collodi had an excellent knowledge of the French language; moreover, he demonstrated an early interest in problems of translation. In 1854 he stated in an article entitled "I traduttori e le traduzioni" that a good translator must have

. . . a thorough and perfect knowledge of the two languages he is dealing with, and not only of words and phrases, but more importantly, of the nature, the physiognomy, the temperament of each language. . . . To translate does not mean to transpose a word from one language into another. . . . This is the task of the very modest compilers of pocket dictionaries. . . .

(Bertacchini 177, my translation)

In the same article he went on to say that it is not sufficient to know the language: the translation of a literary text poses different problems from the translation of a history text. It would seem that the translation of a fairy tale poses its own unique set of problems, as Collodi was to discover some 20 years later.

When the Paggi brothers decided to publish the Italian version of the French fairy tales, they were demonstrating an astute recognition of the market's demand for a literary genre which could not only please but also instruct a public composed of children and adults. Concern for the imperatives of public education had considerably increased in Italy during the Risorgimento. Under the Cavour ministry, a law was passed which required two years of compulsory education for all citizens of Piedmont and Lombardy. The law was extended to Tuscany when the region was annexed to the dominions...


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