Re-Situating Folklore: Folk Contexts and Twentieth-Century Literature and Art

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Re-Situating Folklore: Folk Contexts and Twentieth-Century Literature and Art. By Frank de Caro and Rosan Augusta Jordan. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2004. Pp. x + 332, acknowledgments, introduction, photographs, illustrations, notes, index. $35.00 cloth)

When Bruce Rosenberg published Folklore and Literature in 1991, he could legitimately argue that "the theoretical intersection of the study of folklore and of literature" was an "interdisciplinary interstice seldom discussed today"-the exceptions being principally Mary Ellen Brown's Burns and Tradition (1984) and Carl Lindahl's Earnest Games (1987). Since that time, however, scholarly interest in the subject has increased dramatically, as evidenced by the publication of such books as Trudier Harris's Folklore and Fiction: The Novels of Toni Mormon (1991), Karen Beardslee's Literary Legacies, Folklore Foundations (2001), and now Frank DeCaro and Rosan Jordan's Re-Situating Folklore: Folk Contexts and Twentieth Century Literature and Art.

This volume is primarily concerned with what the authors describe in the introduction as "the process by which folklore is somehow taken from its position in a sociocultural context (de-situation) and placed into a literary or artistic context, whether by description, textual quotation, or some other means (such as the adaptation of a plot structure) (re-situation)" (6). Though indebted to such early folklore/literature studies as Alan Dundes' "The Study of Folklore in Literature and Culture: Identification and Interpretation" (1965), Re-situating Folklore does not merely rework older theories, but aims to break new ground in at least two ways-by adding a third step to Dundes' identification and interpretation schema, which will have us "look also at conceptions of how folklore fits into culture and to consider how these conceptions have influenced and determined the re-situating of folklore into purely literary contexts" (15) and by expanding the purview of folklore/literature studies to include the visual arts in addition to fiction, poetry, and drama.

These ideas find their fullest expression in Chapters 1, 5, 7, and 8. Chapter 1, "Riddles of Love and Death: Two American Novels," examines Jay Mclnerney's Story of My Life and Ana Castillo's So Far From God as representations of folklore and its "mimetic cultural contexts" while extending "consideration of folkloric re-situations into art forms beyond the literary" (44), particularly those of Latina/o artists such as Antonio Burciaga and Ester Hernandez. Chapter 5, "Pageant, Death, Initiation," follows a similar pattern, exploring the role of public ritual in works ranging from Diego Rivera murals to novels such as E. M. Forster's A Passage to India, Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, Nikos Kazantzakis's The Fratricides, and Walker Percy's The Moviegoer. Chapter 7, "Cultural Objects, Personal Images," focuses exclusively on the "folklore/visual arts connection," giving particular attention to the role of folklore in the works of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo and American photographer John Laughlin. The same comparative approach is used in Chapter 8, "Folk Ideas and the Lore of Place in Written and Visual Arts Texts," which explores representations of New Orleans life in such diverse works as John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, Bunny Matthews's newspaper cartoons, and Brooke Bergan's collection of poems, Storyville: A Hidden Mirror.

More traditional in subject and approach but equally insightful in their analyses of specific texts are Chapters 2, 4, and 6, which focus mainly on the ways in which various authors-particularly fiction writers-have adapted or recreated folkloric genres to support their literary aims. Chapter 2 ("Somebody Always Gets Boiled: Reworking The Robber Bridegroom'") examines similarities and differences between two literary adaptations of the same folktale (AaTh 955)-Eudora Welly's The Robber Bridegroom and Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride. …


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