Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

France's First Fairy Tales: The Restoration and Rise Narratives of Les Facetieuses Nuictz Du Seigneur François Straparole

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

France's First Fairy Tales: The Restoration and Rise Narratives of Les Facetieuses Nuictz Du Seigneur François Straparole

Article excerpt

This article explores French fairy tales in the context of print and publishing, in particular the French history of Giovan Francesco Straparola's Piacevoli notti with its interspersed fairy tales. For one or more of their tales, authors such as Charles Perrault, Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy Henriette-Julie de Murat, Eustache Le Noble, Jean de Mailly, Antoine Gallands single oral informant, and Antoine Hamilton drew directly or indirectly on Straparola's tales.

As I use the term, "fairy tale" means (1) a brief narrative in which a prince or princess is expelled from his or her royal station, suffers tasks and trials, and is finally restored to their rightful royal place by magic; or (2) an even briefer narrative in which a poor boy or girl rises with magical assistance to a royal marriage and consequent wealth. Corresponding to these categories, I developed the terms "restoration" and "rise" in Fairy Godfather: Straparola, Venice, and the Fairy Tale Tradition (11-27). In my writing I distinguish fairy tales from folktales, which treat the often comic experiences of familiar figures from daily life-wives, husbands, doctors, priests, beggars, and thieves.

Setting Straparola's fairy-tale texts of restoration and rise next to lateseventeenth-century texts such as Perrault's "Le maître chat" plainly shows that Perrault followed Straparola paragraph for paragraph (Bottigheimer, Fairy Godfather 125-28). Mme d'Aulnoy's "La princesse Belle-Étoile et le prince Chéri" is literarily a more complex tale, yet if we number the plot elements in Straparola's third story of the fourth night, we find all thirty elements in exactly the same order as in d'Aulnoy's tale in a congruence that is consistent only with copying. Raymonde Robert called attention to "ce phénomène inattendu" ("this unexpected phenomenon") which she believed could "ouvre peut-être des perspectives intéressantes" ("open perhaps interesting perspectives") (117). Roberts position represented an advance on Marc Soriano's claim that d'Aulnoy's tales only embellished tale material that people were telling in the countryside at a time when oral transmission was still alive and well. I cite Raymonde and Soriano because their studies of the seventeenth-century French fairy-tale phenomenon in general and of Perrault in particular remain necessary starting points. However, their acceptance and foregrounding of the folk as the later authors' primary (Soriano) or secondary (Robert) source has continued to overlook the absence of any documentation for oral fairy tales and to deflect attention from Straparola's fairy tales' large print presence in France. It is in this context that I explore the relationship of Straparola's tales in French to those that followed them a century or more later.

The Folk, the Stories They Told, and Nursemaids

A fundamental ahistoricity has long characterized discussions of fairy tales. On the one hand, a tale gathered from an illiterate or semi-literate informant in the nineteenth century has been held to prove the oral circulation of the same tale among the folk in the seventeenth century or earlier (see Darnton). On the other hand, scholars' fancy rather than historical fact has underlain the resident nursemaids so often thought to be a fairy-tale author's source. In a word, it is widely assumed that French fairy tales originated in oral compositions told by peasant storytellers and that those peasants transmitted their tales to upperclass authors via peasant nursemaids resident in upper-class households.

The following material examines the kind of stones the folk are documented as having told, the location of nursemaids in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century French society, and the print history of Straparola's tales in France. Available evidence suggests that fairy tales of the restoration and rise type were a genre newly introduced into France in the late 1500s and early 1600s via the book trade. In the period in which Straparola, Perrault, d'Aulnoy and their contemporaries composed their fairy tales, no evidence exists to prove that simple people were telling each other fairy tales. …

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