The Tuscan Tales of Emma Perodi
Storia Talks with Translator Lori Hetherington
Lori Hetherington is an American translator who’s lived in Italy for more than 30 years. Storia is proud to count her among our clients. We first worked together on a historical fiction title Lori translated in 2016, and most recently, on her translation of Emma Perodi’s fairy tales.
Lori’s translation of Perodi’s tales entitled The Tuscan Tales of Emma Perodi is a landmark accomplishment, as it’s the first-ever book-length English translation of Perodi’s stories, one that has met with great success. Lori’s manuscript has been accepted by Paris agent Gregory Messina, and the first chapter of her translation is slated to appear in the esteemed Journal of Italian Translation. Storia is proud to have played a small part in the book’s creation.
Editing Lori’s manuscript was such a joy. The tales infused the Storia studio with magic and folklore and turned editing into an adventure. One day we were on a castle turret trying to catch a magical hat, on another we were in a meadow negotiating with talking skeletons, and on yet another, we were kissed to death underground by a mob of old witches. How exciting! I’ve never edited magical hats or witch kisses before!
It’s unbelievable that these fables aren’t as well known in the English-speaking world as Andersen’s tales or those of the Brothers Grimm. In fact, in her time, Perodi’s fables were published in the same journal that published the early serialized version of Pinocchio! Thankfully Lori is a staunch supporter of this trailblazing feminist writer and has dedicated herself to giving Perodi’s writing its due in the English language.
Storia applauds Lori’s success and looks forward to working together again in the future!
Would you tell us a little bit about Emma Perodi?
Emma Perodi was born in Tuscany in 1850 and dedicated her life to writing. She wrote journalistically; she authored textbooks for children; she translated from German, English, and French; she contributed to many of the most important juvenile periodicals of the time; she was even the editor of the journal that originally published Pinocchio in serialized form. Her most famous work is the one I’ve translated, Le novelle della nonna. Fiabe fantastiche, which I’ve entitled The Tuscan Tales of Emma Perodi.
Why is she considered a feminist trailblazer?
Emma was a hard-working, determined woman who made her way in a masculine society. I imagine her cleverly letting the men think as they wished, but privately promising herself that she would reach her goals despite the obstacles. And she did. In addition, she was an unwed mother and raised her daughter alone at a time when it simply was not something a proper woman did.
What is magical realism, and why is it so effective in Perodi’s tales?
Magic realism is defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica as “matter-of-fact inclusion of fantastic or mythical elements into seemingly realistic fiction.” This genre is often thought of in terms of Latin American fiction (think Gabriel Garcìa Màrquez). While the tales themselves aren’t necessarily examples of magical realism, the fact that they are juxtaposed with a realistic “frame story” definitely gives them a magical realist feel, as though they might just be true.
In the frame story, a typical peasant grandmother (nonna Regina) tells her family tales by the hearth. In the frame story, Perodi creates a narrative about this farming family’s daily joys and struggles, which offsets the magic and otherworldliness of the grandmother’s tales. In addition, religious characters figure prominently in the stories and religion is full of miracles, apparitions, and otherworldly events.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when translating the fables?
I would say that there were actually two important challenges. The first one I had to face was deciding which of the forty-five novellas to translate. The original text is nearly five hundred pages long and I knew that modern English language readers would have a hard time sticking with such a seemingly endless collection.
At first, I considered choosing a cross-section of novellas, maybe grouping them according to theme; for example, stories about ghosts or women. But I quickly realized that by doing so, I would lose the charm of the framed story; that is the vicissitudes of the Marcucci family. and their storytelling grandmother. I think my decision to translate the first ten novellas, which was Part One of the original book, to write my own summarizing chapter about events in the life of the family presented in Parts Two, Three and Four, and to conclude with a translation of Emma Perodi’s epilogue, “The fate of the Marcucci family,” is a satisfying solution.
In this way, the modern reader can follow the frame story with its beginning, middle and end and at the same time get the flavor of the fantastical world of the fairy tales.
The other important challenge I had to face has to do with the language of the original. Emma wrote in a pedagogical style typical of her times and also used words and expressions that came straight from 19th-century Tuscan country life. In my effort to make the translated work accessible for modern readers, I frequently struggled to retain the charm of the original work and balance it with a slightly more up-to-date narration. And in fact, this is one aspect where your editing, Jalina, was so important!
(Thank you, Lori!)
You recently signed with agent Gregory Messina. Congratulations! Many writers feel that signing with an agent is a fairy tale in itself. Will you share your experience?
I’m pleased to have Gregory Messina of the Linwood Messina Literary Agency represent me. He and I were introduced through another agent who felt we might be a good match. Greg, who has an impressive background in the American publishing and talent industries, works out of Paris and often deals with translation rights for his clients. The fact that he has connections with publishers who are used to working with translations is, I believe, a real plus for me. The world of publishing is very unpredictable and I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
There is an important centenary celebration of Perodi’s work in Florence this month. Can you tell us a little bit about the events, and your contribution?
To mark the centenary of Emma Perodi’s death, an initial series of events—readings, theatrical presentations, panel discussions, special exhibitions—was organized in Florence and Tuscany to call attention to her rich body of work. I was honored to be invited to read the opening pages of my translation of Emma Perodi’s most famous work during the inaugural event, held at the amazing Oblate Library in the historic center of Florence. There are plans to take the events to Rome and Palermo before the end of the year, as Emma spent important periods of her life in those two cities as well. In the official guide to the celebrations in Florence there’s even a map of the places in Tuscany mentioned in her tales.
Last but not least, which is your favorite fable and why?
I would have to say that the story of “Befana’s Stocking” was perhaps the most fun to translate. When I first came to Italy more than 30 years ago, I had no idea who or what Befana was, but I soon learned that traditionally children throughout Italy wait for her on the night before Epiphany (January 6th), when she flies through the sky on a broomstick and leaves gifts for good children and lumps of coal for the bad. Emma’s vivid images of this imaginary character captured the child in me. I feel that I know Befana in a more personal way now.
Thank you, Lori! We wish you much-continued success!
Lori Hetherington is an American translator who’s lived in Italy for more than 30 years. For the first two decades of her career, she translated technical and scientific texts on innovative research that was, alas, at times somewhat boring. She yearned for adjectives! Her primary focus is now Italian to English translation of fiction, with literary, women’s and historical fiction her favorite genres. She is an active member of the European Writing Women Association (EWWA) and an obstinate writer’s group attendee.
Learn more about Lori here.
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