Mother Goose Refigured: A Critical Translation of Charles Perrault's Fairy Tales (Series in Fairy-Tale Studies) by Christine A. Jones was the first book I learned of at ICFA 37 and promptly preordered once I had access to my computer. Jones presented a paper about her work on this book and I was beyond excited.
I don't have time today to parse my notes. But the short version of why this book is important? It is a fresh translation of Perrault in English, something that hasn't really happened ever, since it was first translated hundreds of years ago. I am often asked to recommend a Perrault translation but there aren't really any unique or definitive ones. I have some minor preferences, but I say minor because most of the differences between existing translations are minor.
Based on her presentation, Jones has attempted to approach the text with new eyes which brings new perceptions of the text to the readers. I will pull my notes and share some of the intricacies and challenges she faced. As an amateur translator myself, I was impressed with the thoughtfulness, research and knowledge that she demonstrated. So, yes, I am excited about a new English translation of Perrault that tries to be faithful to the original French text but not beholden to the cliches and expectations created by roughly three hundred years of the first translations.
Charles Perrault published Histoires ou Contes du temps passé ("Stories or Tales of the Past") in France in 1697 during what scholars call the first "vogue" of tales produced by learned French writers. The genre that we now know so well was new and an uncommon kind of literature in the epic world of Louis XIV's court. This inaugural collection of French fairy tales features characters like Sleeping Beauty, Blue Beard, and Puss-in-Boots that over the course of the eighteenth century became icons of social history in France and abroad. Translating the original Histoires ou Contes means grappling not only with the strangeness of seventeenth-century French but also with the ubiquity and familiarity of plots and heroines in their famous English personae.
From its very first translation in 1729, Histoires ou Contes has depended heavily on its English translation for enduring recognition and the genesis of character names. This dependable recognition makes new, innovative translation challenging. For example, can Perrault's invented name "Cendrillon" be retranslated into anything other than "Cinderella"? And what would happen to our understanding of the tale if it were? Is it possible to sidestep the Anglophone tradition and view the seventeenth-century French anew? Why not leave Cinderella alone, as she is deeply ingrained in cultural lore and beloved the way she is? Such questions inspired the translations of these tales in Mother Goose Refigured, which aim to regenerate new critical interest in heroines and heroes that seem frozen in time. The book offers introductory essays on the history of interpretation and translation, before retranslating each of the Histoires ou Contes with the aim to prove that if Perrault's is a classical frame of reference, these tales nonetheless benefit from a modern readership.
Designed for scholars and their classrooms, Mother Goose Refigured promises to inspire new academic interpretations of the Mother Goose tales, particularly among scholars who do not have access to the original French and have relied for their critical inquiries on traditional renderings of the tales.