Jones, Christine A. Mother Goose Refigured: A Critical Translation of Charles Perrault's Fairy Tales.
Charles Perrault's fairy tales are so seared into the cultural consciousness of the Western world of the twenty-first century that it is difficult for many to conceive that a new translation can actually cause us to see these tales in a new light. Most casual consumers of fairy tales probably know Perrault from Disney adaptations or from their childhood story books and are unaware of how three hundred years of textual history have altered these stories. Even those readers cognizant that Perrault's tales are much darker and more violent than their Disney counterparts may not know the other ways in which these stories have changed. In Mother Goose Refigured: A Critical Translation of Charles Perrault's Fairy Tales, Christine A. Jones shakes off the detritus of centuries of inaccurate translations and misconceptions about this classic work and presents it to readers as a text that is simultaneously new and closer to what Perrault wanted his original seventeenth-century audience to experience.
Jones's work is an attempt to re-envision Perrault's fairy tales by using fresh language free from the baggage of didacticism and inaccurate translations. She argues that "twenty-first-century English-language readers come to the collection with the weight of three centuries of ideas on their shoulders" (12). After so many generations of accepting misconstrued interpretations or inaccurate translations, contemporary readers inherit a vision of Perrault's tales that is quite different from the original text. The front matter to this volume examines these issues in two main parts. The Introduction, entitled "Mother Goose and Charles Perrault," examines the social and cultural contexts in which Perrault constructed his tales. Here Jones argues that Perrault was not carefully preserving traditional didactic folktales with the intent of morally edifying children; rather, Perrault crafted these stories to give advice to other adults on how to survive life at court. Following this introduction, the section "Notes on Editions, Translations, and Interpretations" demonstrates how over the course of time publishers and translators fundamentally altered readers' conceptions about these stories. As a case in point, Jones pays particular attention to how inaccurate translations of names, such as "Little Red Riding Hood" or "Cinderella," have significantly changed stories but are so ingrained in the minds of English-language speakers that it is difficult to reconsider the tales unless the titular characters undergo the same consideration as the rest of the language in the tales. Jones asserts that "seemingly timeless and fixed names in English mask the rich historical and linguistic environment of seventeenth-century French" (2). Along with changing the names to more accurately reflect those in the original text, Jones's translation of the stories reflects her presupposition that Perrault intended his fairy tales to be contemporary, fresh, and challenging to his audience and not the static, hallowed artifacts of a bygone era. The volume concludes with an extensive annotated bibliography that records editions of Perrault's fairy tales in various languages from the late seventeenth to the late nineteenth centuries that would be a great benefit to any researcher studying these stories.
Jones's translation reconstructs Perrault's rhetorical goals in writing for a courtly, adult audience. Life in the court of Louis XIV was often complicated, yet Perrault managed to thrive in it for decades. His book of fairy tales was his way of passing on his lifetime of knowledge to others. Jones suggests that "ostensibly writing for young people, [Perrault] subtly targeted adults who did not yet fully understand the lessons in power" needed for court (49). In the 1690s, the fairy tale was a new, fashionable genre popular with the well-educated members of the French court. Perrault, in fact, dedicated his collection to the niece of Louis XIV, Princess Elisabeth Charlotte de Bourbon d'Orleans. With this audience in mind, Jones argues that tales such as "The Beauty in the Slumbering Wood" or "Ashkins; or The Little Slipper of Glass" (Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, by their more familiar names) can more easily be seen as models for how to survive courtly life rather than simplistic, didactic children's stories. Jones notes that "in the 1690s, power looked more explicitly dangerous ... and its navigation became a treacherous game indeed, one young people could win only with marvelous help and through their wiles" (51). Like a child wandering the woods alone and being stalked by a wolf or a wretched stepdaughter denied a chance to attend the ball, young, inexperienced courtiers needed guidance if they were going to survive in their own stories.
However, beginning with the earliest translations into other languages at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the distinction between worldly advice for a savvy readership and moral didacticism for a naive audience was lost. Jones's introduction offers an insightful recounting of how generations of translators changed Perrault's original text into something much different. Jones observes how "most hands that tinkered with the older French volume after 1730 let its age support moralism. Frequently it was exaggerated ... into romanticized didacticism" (76). As the years went by and more and more editions were produced, these changes were amplified and accepted as authentic. Jones notes that editors' aims were often to recover "Perrault as a moralist" (76), which is something he never really was. Yet with each generation that was introduced to Perrault's Mother Goose with their children's volumes and chapbooks, the idea that these stories represented moral wisdom handed down through the ages grew ever stronger.
Jones's translation, along with its introduction and notes, allows the text to break free from this burdensome history and invites readers to experience these tales anew. Jones's project is best summarized in her rhetorical question and answer: "What would the stories look like if they were relieved of the great responsibility to be classics? The translations in this volume challenge the assumptions of a three-hundred-year old history that progressively aged the tales into didactic literature for young readers" (79). Creating a translation free from a long history of misconception is a daunting task, and Jones offers a fascinating look at translation theory and her guiding principles in her introduction. For instance, in explaining why she changed the familiar name of "Sleeping Beauty" to "The Beauty in the Slumbering Woodland," Jones says that not only is this title grammatically closer to the original French, but that it has the advantage of "removing sleep as a quality of the heroine, instead attaching dormancy to the rest of the landscape and opening the possibility of reading her as a character who is awake and active for most of the tale" (87). Jones points out how changing the names (and, by extension, many of the titles) plays a central part of her critical translation by jarring readers out of their preconceived notions. The unfamiliar names and titles challenge readers to approach the tales with a sense that they are reading something new, and their experience of the tales will be completely different with the three hundred years of detritus cleared away.
Jones's critical translation breathes new life into a classic work of the fairytale genre. Her scholarship in the introduction as well as in the textual notes are valuable for any fairy-tale scholar, and anyone interested in translation theory will also find this a compelling read. Additionally, her translations of the tales are eminently readable in clear, lively, and contemporary prose. This will surely be a prominent translation for years to come.
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|Publication:||Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2017|
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