Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Early Cinderellas: Of a Young Girl Nicknamed Peau d’Asne and How She Was Married With the Help of Small Ants

Okay, folks. This is one of my favorites! Even if you're bored with some of these--I promise I am going to focus on the strange and quirky and weird Cinderellas in the near future--this one should not be missed.

From my book, Cinderella Tales From Around the World:

One of the earliest known Cinderella variants recorded in Europe is “Of a Young Girl Nicknamed Peau d’Asne and How She Was Married With the Help of Small Ants” (D’une jeune fille sunommée Peau d’Asne, et comment elle fut mariée par le moyen que luy donnerant les petits formiz). It is often attributed to Bonaventure des Périers and was first published in 1568 in an expanded edition of his Nouvelles Récréations et Joyeux Devis, itself originally published in 1558. While its authorship is debated—the tale was likely not written by Des Périers—its first appearance in print is certain. The tale does not have every element to firmly classify it as an ATU 510B, but the persecuted heroine with her skin cloak, grain sorting task, and animal helpers is certainly recognizable. A new translation of the tale is included in this collection.

This is a little gem of a story and I had fun translating it for the collection. It is a mash-up of some ATU 510B Donkeyskin and ATU 510A Cinderella elements but still a unique version unto itself. Really. I know of no other one quite like this. Essentially, Pernette, a merchant's daughter, falls in love with a neighbor boy, a gentleman's son, and he with her. There's even mention of them talking and exploring their relationship, however brief.

When the son tries to arrange a betrothal, her whole family turns against her. Her mother hates her, "regrets ever carrying her in her womb," and her sisters are jealous of her. Her father is easily persuaded by them all and puts horrible stipulations on the marriage contract, hoping to discourage it.

Among the stipulations, the girl is forced to go naked except for wearing a donkeyskin in hopes she will be demoralized and that her lover will take disgust of her, too. On top of all that, the mother insists that Pernette pick up "from the earth, with her tongue, grain by grain, a full bushel of barley that would be spread for that purpose." Only then will the wedding be allowed.

Does this stop Pernette? Oh no, it doesn't!

Hearing these words, Pernette went to her father and asked him when he wanted her to begin the task. Her father, unable to honorably break his promise, fixed upon the day. She did not fail to arrive. While she gathered the grains of barley, her father and mother watched carefully to see if she’d pick up more than one at a time and thus release them from their promise. But as constancy has its rewards, along came a number of ants, crawling to where the barley was, that diligently helped Pernette (without being seen) until the place was soon empty.

By these means, Pernette was married to her beloved, who caressed and cherished her as she well deserved. It is true, that for as long as she lived, the nickname Peau d’Asne stayed with her.

I love it! That's a spunky Cinderella for you! From 1568! She earned her happily ever after and escaped a horrible family to a marriage where she appears to be valued for herself. That's something a girl in 2013 can appreciate, isn't it?

This is one I hope some artists rediscover and illustrate. It wouldn't make a very great picture book--but then again, I would adore it--with the horrible family scenarios, but it is charming.

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