IT is somewhat strange that Giovanni Francesco Straparola, the author of "Piacevoli Notti," who in his own day was one of the most popular of the Italian novelists, should have been so long neglected. In the first twenty years of its existence the "Notti" was sixteen times reprinted. Of the excellent French translation by Louveau and la Rivey, the first part of which appeared in 1560, nine editions were issued before the end of the century. The distinguishing feature of Straparola is the great variety of subjects treated in the fables. He is well known to every folklorist, seeing that he is regarded as the principal distributor of Oriental legends to the later fabulists and story-tellers of Northern and Western Europe.
One of the chief claims of the" Notti" on the consideration of later times lies in the fact that Straparola was the first writer who gathered together into one collection the stray fairy tales, for the most part brought from the East, which had been made known in the Italian cities - and in Venice more especially- by the mouth of the itinerant story teller. These tales, incorporated in the "Notti" with others of a widely different character, were without doubt the principal source of the numerous French "Contes des Fees" published in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Perrault, Madame D'Aulnoy, and Gueulette took from them many of their best fables; and these, having spread in various forms, helped to tinge with a hue of Orientalism the popular tales of all countries - tales which had hitherto been largely the evolution of local myths and traditions.
Straparola turns towards the cheerful side of things, and the lives of the men and women he deals with seem to be less oppressed with the tedium vitae than are the creatures of the Florentine and Sienese and Neapolitan novel-writers.
In the pictures he draws, Straparola illustrates life with a touch of pathos, as in the prologue to the second Night, when he tells of the laughter of the blithe company, ringing so loud and so hearty that it seemed to him as if the sound of their merriment yet lingered in his ears. There was, therefore, good reason why Straparola's imaginary exiles from the turbulent court of Milan should have sought at Murano, under the sheltering wings of St. Mark's Lion, that ease and gaiety which they would have looked for in vain at home; there were also reasons, equally valid, why he should make the genius of the place inspire, with its jocund spirit, the stories, with which the gentle company gathered around the Princess Lucretia wiled away the nights of carnival.
In the fables of adventure, and in every other case where such treatment is possible, Straparola deals largely with the supernatural. All the western versions, except Straparola's, of the story best known to us as "Gilletta of Narbonne" and as "All's Well that Ends Well," are worked out without calling in auxiliaries of any unearthly character.
The interest of the reader is kept alive, by accounts of the trials and dangers-a trifle ludicrous now and again-which heroes and heroines are called to undergo, the taste of the age preferring apparently this stimulant to the intense dramatic power exhibited in the story of Malgherita, and demanding that the ending should be a happy one, for the pair of lovers nearly always marry in the end, and live long and blissful years.
Straparola, Giovanni Francesco. The Facetious Nights by Straparola. W. G. Waters, translator. Jules Garnier and E. R. Hughes, illustrators. London: Privately Printed for Members of the Society of Bibliophiles, 1901. 4 volumes.