Fairy Godfather: Straparola, Venice, and the Fairy Tale Tradition

Fairy Godfather: Straparola, Venice, and the Fairy Tale Tradition

Fairy Godfather: Straparola, Venice, and the Fairy Tale Tradition

Fairy Godfather: Straparola, Venice, and the Fairy Tale Tradition


In the classic rags-to-riches fairy tale a penniless heroine (or hero), with some magic help, marries a royal prince (or princess) and rises to wealth. Received opinion has long been that stories like these originated among peasants, who passed them along by word of mouth from one place to another over the course of centuries. In a bold departure from conventional fairy tale scholarship, Ruth B. Bottigheimer asserts that city life and a single individual played a central role in the creation and transmission of many of these familiar tales. According to her, a provincial boy, Zoan Francesco Straparola, went to Venice to seek his fortune and found it by inventing the modern fairy tale, including the long beloved Puss in Boots, and by selling its many versions to the hopeful inhabitants of that colorful and commercially bustling city.

With innovative literary sleuthing, Bottigheimer has reconstructed the actual composition of Straparola's collection of tales. Grounding her work in social history of the Renaissance Venice, Bottigheimer has created a possible biography for Straparola, a man about whom hardly anything is known. This is the first book-length study of Straparola in any language.


FAIRY GODFATHER GREW OUT OF A longstanding fascination with an arresting distinction between two kinds of magic tales, those that restore position and patrimony and those that record a rise from poverty to wealth. Tales of restoration revolve around social position lost through misfortune and restored by goodness, perseverence, courage, or magic. “Cinderella,” despite the fact that its title and plot customarily stand for rags-to-riches tales, is a restoration tale, for its heroine began her life in comfort as the daughter of a rich man before she was thrust from her rightful place by spiteful stepsisters and stepmother. The happiness of the tale’s ending depends on the fact that the heroine’s restoration surpasses her original social and economic level.

Tales that I have come to call “rise tales” recount different stories altogether. They tell of heroes and heroines who began their lives in real poverty, but who achieve riches and attain a throne, catapulted upward by a marriage mediated by magic.

In midwinter 1551 Giovanfrancesco Straparola, known among his friends and acquaintances as Zoan (sometimes “Zuan”), published a book of twenty-five stories, which he followed two years later by a second book with forty-eight more stories. Most were urban tales of artisans, the bourgeoisie, and the nobility, but folk narrativists have come to identify a number of them as “fairy tales”: “Cassandrino” (night 1, story 2), “Pre Scarpafico” (night 1, story 3), “Doralice” (night 1, story 4), “Peter the Fool” (night 3, story 1), “Biancabella” (night 3, story 3), “Fortunio” (night 3, story 4), “Costanza/Costanzo” (night 4, story 1), “Ancilotto” (night 4, story 3, “Guerrino” (night 4, story 5), “Three Brothers” (night 7, story 5), “The Tailor’s Apprentice” (night 8, story 4), “Cesarino” (night 10, story 3), and “Costantino and His Cat” (night 11, story 1). These tales should more properly be called Märchen, as Wilhelm Grimm called them in his little essay on Straparola in his notes to his collection. Although they are brief tales, as Märchen are . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.