Women and Folk Tales Bibliography August 1996

Query From Mary Lanser MEL5@psuvm.psu.edu 09 August 1996

I am writing a folk tale of sorts and I suddenly found myself wanting to add to the title--"A Tale for women of all ages." It occurs to me that I am reflecting a need to point to my audience because I am filled with a feeling that oral tradition--that which my story celebrates--has been primarily the domain of men--even once the stories were finally written.

Now I realize that there is a whole genre of feminist folktales but I am not really focused there--my main focus is herbal medicine--which is a function traditionally associated with women--thus I feel I must say through my title that this tale crosses historic gender boundaries and finally I say 'to heck with it'--let this be a tale for women--though ideally I would want a male audience for my story as well.

Those thoughts prompted me to bring this question to this forum. Is there a body of literature that deals with women story-tellers? For this immediate project I am interested in Eastern and Western European tradition, but I am also an Africanist and interested in the gender dynamics of story-telling on that continent as well. Comparatively I am interested in other cultures...


>From Kristin Eldyss Sorenson kzapalac@artsci.wustl.edu 12 August 1996

One of the more important figures in the lively Western European tradition of written fables deriving from a combination of the tales of the Aesopic tradition and tales from the Persian and Arabic collections was the woman known simply (from a couple of lines in the epilogue to her collection) as "Maria de France."

Her late twelfth-century collection (which she claims to have translated from an English translation of an Aesopic collection) contains what are generally held to be the earliest surviving written versions of a number of important fables...including the one that lies at the root of Boccaccio's tale of the "pregnant" fool Calandrino (Decameron 9th day, third story)...which is why I've been delving into it and other collections from the period for a chapter on the differing understandings of selfhood among Christians and Jews and the construction of gendered identities in Western Europe and the US from the first century CE to the Leo Frank case.

Marie's collection, written in Old French has been translated into English several times. If the Aesopic tradition of which it's a part isn't too far from your (oral?) folktale interests I'd be happy to provide some bibliography. It is fascinating material. Happy hunting!

>From Elizabeth Manwell eamanwel@midway.uchicago.edu 15 August 1996

>Is there a body of literature which deals with women story-tellers?

I don't know of a body of literature, per se, but one finds numerous accounts of female storytellers in antiquity, primarily in mythology. I would encourage you to look at Ovid's Metamorphoses (Allen Mandelbaum has recently done a new translation). Stories are told by the daughters of Minyas (who tell tales as they do their weaving), the Muses (who narrate to Minerva), and Athena and Arachne (who compete with each other). I'm sure there are others which I am forgetting.

Also, there is a book written by Samuel Butler, The Authoress of the Odyssey, in which he argues that the author of the Odyssey was a woman. And there is a small amount of testimonia in which female poets (Sappho and Anyte) are called the "female Homer" (although this probably has more to do with their poetic skill than their storytelling abilities).

>From Karen K. Avery SMND@grove.iup.edu 16 August 1996

There are numerous such books in the Native American tradition. Jamie Sams' Thirteen Original Clan Mothers is only one of many that can be found in Borders' Book store.

>From J. Daniel de Almeida doug@br.homeshopping.com.br 26 August 1996

In Brazil, there is Monteiro Lobato's Sitio de Pica Pau Amarelo which is a 15 book series. A woman character, "Dona Benta," owns a little farm, and she deals with lots of fictional and fantasy elements. She tells stories of all types to her grandsons and many other relatives, including a "cotton doll" who speaks [Emedlia], a "man made of corn" [Visconde], and many other characters the author borrowed from national folklore. "D. Benta" is Brazil's most famous woman storyteller.

Monteiro Lobato was one of the most important authors in this century's literature in Brazil, principally in children's literature. He worked between 1918 and 1948, and died on 7/4/1948. He did lots of political works and fought for modernization and was imprisoned for that work in 1941. The books are easily found in Portuguese or Spanish, but I don't know if they were translated into English(I suppose they were). I really don't know if this might help, but I tried...

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