Charles Perrault is my favorite teller of fairytales. Whenever I read his versions of “Cinderella” or “The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood” I am convinced that the world of enchantment is real. There is a quality to the narrative that resonates with my need to imagine a world where the good and beautiful overcome all adversaries and difficulties.
One of my favorite translations of Perrault’s fairytales contains illustrations by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. This particular volume contains the essence of the world of beauty that my Mother and I would converse about during our afternoon teas. These tea times were an escape from the present and gave us a chance to enter a realm apart from the mundane concerns of housework, bargain shopping and current events. For an hour or so we could discuss how we felt when seeing the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies from “The Nutcracker Suite” and from there imagine what kind of a story Perrault would have created from characters inspired by the Sugar Plum Fairies and how Quiller-Couch would depict them. These tea times not only provided my Mom with relief from her anxieties but were very stimulating to my own creative projects.
From early childhood I also absorbed my Mother’s preference for the atmosphere and qualities that come across in French literature as well. Although neither of us read French, there is a distinctive quality that comes through a good translation. In my early teens I was already reading “Madame Bovary” and “The Lady with the Camellias”.
We also shared an interest in the world of the Parisian demi-monde and the salons of influential women of the 18th century. Our other shared interest was the world of Classical Mythology. We’d love to discuss the similarities and differences between the Greek and Roman versions of a myth as well as their deities.
For all that, though, I never once had an interest in Italian or Sicilian folklore or fairytales. There was nothing to deter me from exploring it if I wanted to, it’s just that I delved deeply into what was already available to me at home.