Thursday, June 30, 2011

I wish I could say more about this ...

In 1697, Charles Perrault published a small volume of folktales polished into fine literary form.

The frontespiece featured an illustration of an old woman sitting in front of a roaring fire with her distaff and spindle telling a story to a man, woman and child. On the wall above her, a plaque reads: "Contes de ma Mere L'oye" (Tales of my Mother Goose).

Andrew Lang (Famous for his 'Color' series of fairy tale books) translated Perrault's tales into English, and they were published in 1888. In his biographical introduction, he claims that the figure of Mother Goose was first mentioned in verse in 1650, and that that's what Perrault's frontespiece refers to (Here is his footnote on the subject, via Project Gutenberg's etext: footnote 14).

And ever since then, perhaps, people have been around trying to attatch the name, somehow, to an historical woman.

The most intriguing candidate, at least, in context of this blog, is: "Queen Bertha, of France."

In an article published on the Web (Dated July, 1997): The History of Nursery Rhymes & Mother Goose, Vikki Harris (Waterloo University, Ontario, Canada) wrote:

The first possibility is the French Queen Bertha, wife of Pepin. She was "known as ‘Queen Goose-foot’ or ‘Goose-footed Bertha’, possibly because of the size and shape of her foot which was said to be both large and webbed…The other was Queen Bertha, wife of Robert II, also of France… It was rumoured that the close blood-tie [with her husband] had caused her to give birth to a child with the head of a goose" (Delamar, 3). In each case the Queen has been represented, and is often depicted by the image of a child’s storyteller.

Both of these "Queen Berthas" are thus linked with the "monstrosity" of disability -- one, through herself, and the other through the son she supposedly bore.

Ever since I've come across this paragraph, I've been trying to find out more about either of these legendary figures. But all I find are these same tidbits of "information," along with the sober reminder that none of it is historically accurate. But I don't care about historical accuracy.

What intriques me is the link, in the social imagination, between the figure of the storyteller and disability, especially since Aesop was also pictured as deformed (Dwarfish, with a severe hunchback, and ugly face); I'm starting to wonder if this is A Thing; A Motif.

So I'm putting this out there, in case any of my readers may know more of the story, or has an idea where to look.

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