may_lily: (Rapunzel's hair)
may_lily ([personal profile] may_lily) wrote2012-12-29 10:36 am

Women writers part 2: Persinette/Rapunzel

From my tumblr.

Continuing from Forgotten women writers of popular fairy tales.

‘Rapunzel’ began as a literary fairy tale called ‘Persinette’ written by Charlotte-Rose de la Force. There are similar fairy tales that existed before ‘Persinette’ was written, exemplified by Giambattista Basile’s ‘Petrosinella’. ‘Petrosinella’ goes like this: a pregnant woman has a strong desire to eat parsley and steals it from the garden of an ogress. The ogress catches her and demands her baby as payment. When the child, named Petrosinella, is seven, the ogress takes her away and keeps her in a high tower with no doors. She enters the tower by climbing up Petrosinella’s long hair.

Eventually a prince discovers the tower and he and Petrosinella fall in love. They decide to flee and steal three magic acorns from the ogress. As they run, the ogress chases them. They throw back the acorns which turn into wild animals, and a wolf eats the ogress.

Certainly Mlle de la Force based her story on this tale or one related to it, since the first half is more or less identical. The second half, however, is entirely her own. The pregnancy, the haircut, the prince’s fall and blindness, the twins, and the magic tears were all her own invention. This is why I will always refer to the story as Persinette/Rapunzel. Mlle de la Force deserves credit for her creation.

‘Persinette’ was translated into German by Friedrich Schulz, who changed parsley into rapunzel and thus gave the heroine a different name. Other than that, it was pretty much the same as what Mlle de la Force wrote. The Grimms evidently took this translation and didn’t recognise its origins (they preferred to avoid fairy tales that came from other countries. They didn’t succeed very well). While the story is still recognisable, they did make some significant alterations.

Admittedly, there are a couple of additions that I do like. First, the rope that Rapunzel tries to gradually make, which makes me think of her as a reverse Penelope, biding her time until she’s ready to enter the world. Secondly, the thorns that blind the prince. In ‘Persinette’, no explanation is given for why the fall results in blindness, though we can assume it’s the fairy’s magic.

There are, however, a number of changes that I don’t like. Most obviously is the removal of the pregnancy, having Rapunzel instead absent-mindedly mentioning the prince to the witch. Oddly, the twins still appear at the end. Of course, in the Grimms’ earliest edition the pregnancy was still there, and it was only after their book became popular with children that they sought to remove references to sex.

The ending is also changed in a couple of ways. In ‘Persinette’, after discovering the pregnancy the fairy send Persinette to a lonely but beautiful spot where she has a house made of trees and is magically given simple food. The fairy continues to care for her even as she punishes her. Rapunzel, however, is sent to a ‘desolate land’ or a ‘wasteland’. The implication is that it’s hard for her to survive and the witch has nothing more to do with her.

In ‘Persinette’, the fairy continues to make trouble after the couple has reunited. She takes away their food and sends horrible creatures to torment them. However, seeing the love that Persinette and the prince have for each other, the fairy finally relents and sends them to the prince’s home. None of this happens in Rapunzel; the witch has simply exited the story.

In my opinion, ‘Persinette’ is a tale of extreme emotions. The mother desires parsley so much that she believes she’ll die without it. The fairy is so angry at the theft that she demands the baby as payment. She’s so protective of Persinette that she hides her in a lonely tower and does not let her meet others.

I believe the fairy’s love for Persinette is a key point. She’s angry with her when she discovers the pregnancy, but she doesn’t abandon her. In essence, she grounds her. Persinette must live a rustic life, without the comforts she had in the tower, but she and her babies still have everything they need. My interpretation of the ending is that the fairy believed that the prince would abandon Persinette and thus was unworthy of her, but on seeing that he was prepared to stay by her side even in the face of terrible danger, she finally accepts him as a suitable match. All of this is lost in the Grimms’ version, and the witch has no clear motivation.

Unfortunately I am not aware of any translation of ‘Persinette’ available online. There are some books that include it: Rapunzel and Other Maiden in the Tower Tales From Around the World by Heidi Anne Heiner, The Great Fairy Tale Tradition by Jack Zipes, and Spells of Enchantment also by Jack Zipes (in which it’s called ‘Parslinette’). I hope that one day Mlle de la Force gets the recognition she deserves.

Next time: Snow White and Rose Red.