- Fairy Tales Framed: Early Forewords, Afterwords, and Critical Words Edited by Ruth B. Bottigheimer
This thought-provoking and well-conceived volume draws attention to the often overlooked textual elements that are integral parts of the first collections of magic tales of the Western tradition published in early modern Italy and France, where this genre first flourished and developed. As Ruth Bottigheimer underscores in the preface, this critical anthology results from the fertile collaboration among some of the most dedicated scholars in the field of fairy-tale studies in the United States: Suzanne Magnanini, Nancy Canepa, Betsy Harries, Christine Jones, Sophie Raynard, and Bottigheimer herself. The goal of their joint endeavor is twofold.
First, Fairy Tales Framed emphasizes that literary fairy tales, which often became the source of oral retellings, are not isolated narrative organisms but rather components of a broader literary project. Forewords, authorial commentaries within the tales, and afterwords are indeed crucial editorial tools that enclose the single tales within a unifying literary strategy. Gerard Genette’s seminal work on paratexts still awaits to be fully integrated into the study of literary, and oral, magic tales. Jens E. Sennewald’s Das Buch, das wir sind (2004), dedicated to the Kinder- und Hausmärchen, is an excellent example of critical study founded on the paratextual system. Raynard and Bottigheimer stress, for instance, that, although Madame d’Aulnoy’s influential tales are available in English, no translation has ever included her “frame tale peritexts,” which serve as commentaries “on the tales, the settings within which, and circumstances under which the tales were fictively told in Madame D’Aulnoy’s collections” (170). Fairy Tales Framed fills this lacuna. Calling for a closer analysis of the actual structure of the single collections of literary but also oral fairy tales could seem like an obvious demand, but new questionable English editions of European collections prove that this is not the case. Recently, a well-known compilation of nineteenth-century oral tales from Europe was disassembled, rearranged, and even split into multiple volumes according to the scholar’s personal choice, with no respect for its original format. [End Page 180]
The second fundamental goal of Fairy Tales Framed is ideological. Bottigheimer intends to emphasize the literary connotation of Western European fairy tales. As she states in the introduction, “The continuing use of paratext-less editions of fairy tales reinforced folklore-based assumptions that fairy tales were folk creations” (5). A particularly significant claim in Fairy Tales Framed concerns, in my view, the influence of Giambattista Basile’s Lo cunto de li cunti on late-seventeenth-century French collections. Whereas Giovanni Francesco Straparola’s Piacevoli notti was acknowledged as an explicit source of several French tales, the presence of the Neapolitan book has always been moot, given its seeming absence in France. Using Magnanini’s important essay on the possible transmission of Lo cunto de li cunti through its Neapolitan publisher Bulifon, Fairy Tales Framed establishes Basile as a firm source of the French vast production of fairy tales (see, in particular, pages 130 and 140). This is a bold and even contentious assertion that, nonetheless, tries to make sense of the innumerable narrative and thematic coincidences between the seminal Italian volume and the later French collections. These unmistakable echoes cannot be easily dismissed by invoking a common oral root. As more than one scholar has pointed out, Perrault’s “Sleeping Beauty” reads as a moralized version of Basile’s “Sun, Moon, and Talia.” Insisting on a vaguely oral origin is not less problematic than hypothesizing Perrault’s familiarity with the Italian literary source. Bottigheimer points out that Charlotte Rose de La Force’s Tales of Tales (1698) “invokes” Basile’s Tale of Tales, although the two books have quite different structures (195). In my view, Bottigheimer is right in stressing that echoes of Basile’s storytelling are particularly detectable in La Force’s tale “More Beautiful than a Fairy,” a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth (196).
The section dedicated to early Italian theorists and...