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Armando Maggi. Preserving the Spell. Basile's "The Tale of Tales" and Its Afterlife in the Fairy-Tale Tradition.

Armando Maggi. Preserving the Spell. Basile's "The Tale of Tales" and Its Afterlife in the Fairy-Tale Tradition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015.

In Preserving the Spell, which is divided into three parts, Armando Maggi traces a backward trajectory of various "classic" fairy tales whose first modern versions originated with Giambattista Basile's 17th-century collection, written in Neapolitan dialect, Lo cunto de li cunti overo lo trattenemiento de peccerille, or The Tale of Tales. With grace and clarity, Maggi focuses his analysis simultaneously on Basile's rewritings of the Cupid and Psyche myth and on modern-day rewritings of tales, such as "Sleeping Beauty," which found "their first complete literary form in Basile's collection." In bridging several centuries and national literatures, Maggi casts an undeniably wide net, but rather than a historical survey, he aims to provide an "archeological" examination and distinguishes his analysis from studies focused on narrative "types" and motifs, such as Aarne and Thompson's The Types of Folk Tale and Thompson's Motif-Index.

Maggi's critical upending of the fairy-tale tradition consists in looking both backward and downward, at the resurgence of the "dirty," "rustic" spontaneity and lower-class culture often associated with oral literature (9-10). In Part One, Maggi outlines the history of the Cupid and Psyche tale from Apuleius's Metamorphoses, written in the second century AD, to Basile's rewritings, and finally to Laura Gonzenbach's Sicilian Fairy Tales, a collection of folk tales translated from Sicilian dialect into German and first published in 1870. Focusing on two of Basile's tales, "The Padlock" and "The Golden Trunk," alongside the narrative frame and several other tales, such as "The Myrtle," "The Three Crowns," and "The Old Woman Who Was Skinned," Maggi traces Basile's use of "some of the best-known moments of the Cupid and Psyche myth," such as the female character's arrival in the palace, her lower social status, her "night visitor" (whose identity remains unknown until she lights a candle), the punishment for her transgression, and their eventual marriage (37). Of particular interest to Maggi is Basile's inversion or conflation of gender roles in the various iterations of the Cupid and Psyche tale; we note, for example, that in The Tale of Tales, Psyche's "transformative process" is sometimes transferred to the male character, just as in "The Padlock," the Cupid figure is subjected to a typically female experience of silence, violence, and shame. Maggi then shifts his attention to the "patchwork" nature of Laura Gonzenbach's 19th-century Sicilian Fairytales and its indebtedness to Basile's multiple rewritings of the Cupid and Psyche myth, as well as to his frame tale. The tales of "King Cardiddu" and "The Beautiful Maiden With Seven Veils," for example, are drawn not only from Apuleius's Latin version of the Cupid and Psyche tale, but also from Basile's two Italian "Psyches," Luciella and Parmetella.

In Part Two, Maggi explores Basile's influence within Romantic Germany, focusing on how his versions of the Cupid and Psyche myth were interpreted and reappropriated by writers like Clemens Brentano, whose Italian Fairy Tales (1846-47) included adaptations of eleven of Basile's tales, and the Brothers Grimm, who summarized all fifty of Basile's tales in their 1822 edition of Children's and Household Tales. While agreeing that Basile "captured the spirit of the Italian people" (29), Brentano and the Grimms drew divergent conclusions about the significance of The Tale of Tales, which are reflected in their creative reworkings of the collection. Maggi notes how the Grimms applied "the same ideological strategies" used in their own collection of German tales to their summaries of Basile, while also tending to reduce female characters' direct discourse and "brave deeds" in order "to bring them closer to the female identity typical of many of their German tales" (171). On the other hand, Brentano, a Catholic convert and close friend of the visionary Anna Katharina Emmerick, whose revelations he recorded, transformed Basile's tales "into powerful allegories of religious experiences" (124). For Maggi, the kind of "oral" mysticism embodied by Anna Katharina not only influenced Brentano's unique "making and unmaking of the Cupid and Psyche tale" (265), but also shows that fairy tales and mystical narratives "share some fundamental traits," including their orality and specific form of storytelling aimed at communicating a "timeless reality and truth" (170). The final chapter of this section is focused on the German Romantic poet Novalis (1772-1801) and his description of the fairy tale in his fragmentary, encyclopedic work, The Universal Brouillon. Throughout Parts One and Two, Maggi provides translations, summaries, or "abridged" versions of the tales in question--which are indented, set in a smaller font, and set off from the rest of the text by horizontal rules--that offer readers a taste of the unique (con)texts of each.

Part Three, inspired by Basile's "Sleeping Beauty" ("Sun, Moon, and Talia"), is focused on the postmodern fairy tales of American novelists like Robert Coover and Stanley Elkin who reclaim the "orality"--rather, the "original dirtiness" or "vulgarity" (255) --of earlier forms of storytelling and also use the same "brutally realistic, un-fairy-tale settings" (9) adopted by Basile. Maggi then turns to contemporary memoirs, such as Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), Darin Strauss's Half a Life (2010), and Joyce Carol Oates' A Widow's Story (2011), which contain aspects of the fairy-tale narrative, such as original trauma (the death of a parent, child, or spouse) and oral storytelling (Didion's memoir, Maggi notes, was adapted into a one-character play). The final chapter offers an analysis of the film Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), which returns to an oral form of storytelling rooted in the grimmer aspects of reality and which, like Basile, replaces the "magic of nature" with "the unmagical depravity of contemporary society" (127). Maggi's examination of The Tale of Tales and the rhetorical function of "oral" and "literary" modes of expression within the fairy-tale genre, in addition to his rich Appendix containing "The Grimms' Adaptation of Giambattista Basile's The Tale of Tales," offers scholars and students a fresh and valuable framework for reevaluating not only Basile's place in the western literary canon, but also for questioning and challenging the traditional oral/written dichotomy.


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Author:Cabot, Aria Zan
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2018
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