The Pleasant Nights
First published in Venice in two volumes in 1550 and 15T53h,e Pleasant Nights (Le Piacevoli Notti) recounts thirteen nights at the Carnival of Venice. Much like its predecessor, BoccaccDioe'scameron, it is a frame story. Straparola's work consists of tales told at the palace of Princess Lucretia at Murano in order to pass the time, and similar to Boccaccio, he dedicates the work to “pleasant and lovely ladies.” Each night's stories exhibit a wide variety of forms: novelle such as were found in thDe ecameron, magical tales, and translations from Girolamo Morlini's LatinNovellae (1520). An added feature for each tale is an enigma or riddle, often taken from earlier souTrchesP. leasant Nights are considered one of the earliest collections of European vernacular fairy tales. Not much, however, is known about Straparola. Even his name, which means “one who talks too much,” gives us no information. As a result, we only know him from the two works that he publishedTh(e Pleasant Nights and aCanzoniere). Although his work was immensely popular in its time, it is only in the last twenty years or so that there has been a new interest in this work. The publication of Magnanini's translation comes three years after Don Beecher's edition oTf he Pleasant Nights, in which he provides thorough co-m mentaries on each story, a well-researched introduction, and several appendices on provenances, folktale types, and illustrations from various editions. Beecher, however, uses what has been the standard translation, that of W. G. Waters, first published in 1894. Beecher edited and retranslated some of the more egregious problems of the Waters translation, but his basic text is Waters's version. It is thus a delight to come upon Magnanini's new translation, using the excellent 2000 Italian edition of Donato Pirovano as its basis. Wanting toTmhaekPeleasant Nights accessible to a wide audience, Manganini has produced a more readable translation. Its English is more fluid and contemporary and is more faithful to the Italian. In a sense, it leaves out the flowery language that Waters uses. For example, in the first story, after his father dies, the character Salardo “diterminò di prendere moglie.” Waters translates this phrase as “he went in hot pursuit of a wife,” whereas Magnanini sticks closer to the original with “he resolved to take a wife.” We are thus able to read the text without the flowery Victorian overtones often found in Waters. Another strength of her edition is that she allows us to compare her translation of the riddles (which are particularly interesting) to th Italian, which she puts in footnotes. Beecher's edition does not have this feature.
Magnanini’s’s introduction is particularly strong. She introduces the reader
to the history of the work and its social setting. Stories such as those found in
The Pleasant Nights, she notes, were popular in sixteenth-century Venice, the
center of the book trade.
Most importantly, she traces its relationship to the fairy tale tradition,
which, she points out, has deep ties to women and femininity. She explains that
Straparola allows his female narrators to carry on a “querelle des femmes” wit
their male companions. Taking place during Carnival, a time when gender roles
are blurred, they are able to challenge patriarchal authority. She argues that
uses “feminized fairy tales” to give the novella tradition “literary legitimacy.”
Using the example of one of the most interesting stories in the collection, that
of a hermaphrodite, she shows how he introduces “a truly other voice, a voice
that, although feminized, is never completely female” (2). Magnanini explains
that Straparola’s storytellers, all women, are educated: they know Latin and hav
read Boccaccio and Petrarch.
Putting Straparola’s work in the wider European tradition, Magnanini explains
that nearly all of the fairy tales published in Italy in this period were written b
men. The stories inside the frame have a female narrator, but they are not the
authors of such collections. The situation was far different in France, she notes.
Straparola was used as a model in the 1690s by French women, who cTrheedit
Pleasant Nights as the source of their own stories. Manganini asks the question
of why French women were fascinated by this work when Italian female writers
largely ignored the genre. She contends that Straparola stresses the French image
of sophisticated women rather than “the domain of old crones spinning tales
around the hearth” (7). Although his women are placed within a domestic space,
they tell lively, intelligent stories, which presents a kind of ambiguity, she notes,
in what they speak about and the social values they are supposed to follow. In
the end, despite the challenge to patriarchal authority, traditional female valu
win out. Although the women have the opportunity to denounce misogyny,
they accept gender roles.
Manganini’s intent is to show “how Straparola’s particular engagement of issues
of gender shapes the tradition of the literary fairy tale inside and outside of Italy
(8). In focusing on the ways in which he highlights women, she has significantly
added to our understanding of fairy tales, and, in particular, of an author who
has not been widely read. Its fluid translation makes it an easily accessible text for
teaching, and its insightful introduction will be of great assistance to all schola
working in this field.
Sally A. Livingston
Ohio Wesleyan University