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Marvels & Tales 17.1 (2003) 169-175



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Fiabe e mercanti in Sicilia. La raccolta di Laura Gonzenbach. La comunità di lingua tedesca a Messina nell'Ottocento. By Luisa Rubini. Biblioteca di "Lares" n.s. 53. Firenze: Leo S. Olschki Editore, 1998. xii + 401 pp.
Fiabe Siciliane. Rilette da Vincenzo Consolo. By Laura Gonzenbach. Edited by Luisa Rubini. Roma: Donzelli editore, 1999. xxix + 576 pp.

In these two books, Luisa Rubini has produced the richest available portrait of a key episode in the history of fairy-tale studies: the migration of German philology to the Mediterranean in the second half of the nineteenth century. At the same time, she offers important new data for an emerging discussion about the relationship of peasant women, capitalist modernity, and the fairy tale.

Laura Gonzenbach (1842-78), the daughter of the Swiss consul in Messina, was asked in 1868 by Otto Hartwig, a historian of Sicily and a founding figure in German library science, to send him a few fairy tales that might illuminate Sicilian peculiarities. Gonzenbach, caught up in the project, collected ninety-two tales in the course of the next eighteen months, using the network of the German community's employees and dependents to locate informants in Messina, Catania, and the Etna region. Hartwig published a two-volume edition of the tales in Gonzenbach's German translations, with an introduction of his own and extensive annotations by the leading comparativist Reinhold Köhler. The Sicilianische Märchen came out under Gonzenbach's name from the Leipzig publisher Engelmann in December 1870, just in time, as Hartwig had urged, for Christmas sales. Gonzenbach, now married to a colonel in the new Italian army, moved to Naples, had five children, and wrote no more, dying at the age of thirty-six. [End Page 169]

Fiabe siciliane reclaims this forgotten collection for an Italian readership. The stories are retranslated from German into standard Italian, with two tales in the original Sicilian as in the 1870 edition. (The dialect originals of the rest were probably lost, along with almost all documentation of Gonzenbach herself, in the great Messina earthquake of 1908.) The volume has a solid introduction by Rubini contextualizing the collection and the tales themselves (a summary of her larger study), and comparative notes on the tales integrating Köhler's original annotations with Rubini's amplifications and commentary.

Like the 1870 original, this new edition follows in the tradition of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen, combining tales rendered suitable for leisure reading with scholarly apparatus presuming a restricted set of comparative concerns. As such, it is useful and attractively produced, enriched by color reproductions of seventeen watercolors on fairy-tale subjects by Casimiro Piccolo (1894-1970), a Palermitan aristocrat whose illustrations are heavily indebted to northern sources, thus pointing to a later chapter in the history of German-Sicilian fairy-tale encounters. The title page describes the tales as "rilette" (reread) by Vincenzo Consolo, a Sicilian novelist who has also contributed a foreword, and the nature of Consolo's editorial contribution in "resicilianizing" the tales, though it appears to be minimal, is not made explicit. Most of the original paratexts, such as Hartwig's introduction, are not retained: scholars concerned with textual and contextual issues will want to consult the 1976 reprint of the German original.

Fiabe e mercanti is a historical study of the Gonzenbach collection, prodigiously researched and documented. To compensate for the near-absence of Laura Gonzenbach's voice and those of her overwhelmingly female informants, Rubini offers a richly layered body of commentary from family, interlocutors, and rivals. We come to know such figures as Peter Viktor Gonzenbach, merchant and consul, as he renegotiated his position through the vicissitudes of Italian unification; Otto Hartwig, who spent his Grand Tour as pastor to the Messina German community and became obsessed with Sicilian criminality; Magdalena Gonzenbach, the older sister who became a pioneer of women's education in Italy; and the local scholars who took in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1536-1802
Print ISSN
1521-4281
Pages
pp. 169-175
Launched on MUSE
2003-05-12
Open Access
No
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