Monday, January 25, 2016

Fairy post #17 - Interview with Belinda Calderone


The Australian Fairy Tale Society's third annual conference comes to Melbourne this year on Sunday 26th June in Caulfield, Victoria.

Call For Presentations closes 29th January. 

Theme: "Into the Bush: Its Beauty and Its Terror".


with Australian Fairy Tale Society President, Dr Belinda Calderone


Dr Belinda Calderone became President of The Australian Fairy Tale Society in 2015, having commenced leadership of The Monash Fairy Tale Salon in 2010. She recently submitted her thesis entitled “Mothers, Monsters and Midwives: The Evolution of Motherhood in European Fairy Tales”. We're proud to feature her on this fairy ring page.

Belinda Calderone


L: How did you discover The Australian Fairy Tale Society? When did you meet its founders?

B: One of the AFTS founders, Reilly McCarron, was a presenter at my very first MFTS event in 2012! I remember her saying even then how she’d love to have a fairy tale group in Sydney. We stayed in touch and in 2014 I was so excited to hear that she had joined forces with Jo Henwood and that the plan had come to fruition. I finally met wonderful co-founder Jo Henwood at the very first AFTS conference that year.

L: In AFTS's 2015 conference you were MC. Your technological skills impressed me, e.g. assisting presenters with equipment or software compatibility, as did your talent for public relations - with people from diverse sectors, cultures and generations. You made us all very welcome. Highlights of that day for you?

B: I’m delighted that you were impressed and that you felt welcome! I really enjoyed being MC. The highlight for me was the dynamic between the presenters and the audience on that day. Some conferences can have a bit of a tense and competitive vibe, with presenters being grilled in a very hostile way! But there was such a feeling of warmth, acceptance, and camaraderie in the room.

L: In an adjoining AGM, we voted you in as our new AFTS President. How is it going?

B: Becoming the AFTS President was a bit scary initially. I wasn’t sure if I was up to the job. But now that I’ve been in the role for almost 6 months, I feel very settled in. I have an incredible committee on this journey with me, and I’m honoured to be guiding us through the woods - or the bush, rather!

Bel, the Belle of the Bush & Books
L: What is your wish for the Australian Fairy Tale Society? (It seems that “vision” and its earlier incarnation “mission”, are used a lot now, but “wish” somehow feels more suitable here!)

B: I like the word “wish”. I think what makes the AFTS special is that it brings different kinds of people together – academics, writers, artists, performers, educators, the general public. My wish for the AFTS is for it to expand and really develop into a meeting point for people from different walks of life, a place of inclusion and warmth where anyone with a love of fairy tales is welcome.

Belinda Calderone, presenting at a fairy tale conference

L: It’s great how academics can read 200 articles or books and distill them into a 20 minute conference paper that the rest of us can enjoy. Thank you! For those of us outside academia, can you outline some salient points about fairy tales that we could imbibe? Or misconceptions to clear? E.g. many assume that the Grimm brothers were Europe’s quintessential folklorists, anthologists or collectors of fairy tales. Many famous tales are attributed to them. But there were significant French and Italian fairy tale spinners who inspired this German duo, right? For example, in 1697, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force published Persinette, who became the 1698 Rapunzel of brothers Grimm; and earlier that century, Giambattista Basile’s Il Pentamerone (The Tale of Tales) presented The Healing Tears, with Petrosinella (little parsley), a name of the herb Rapunzel. Comments?

B: Yes, absolutely! When I began my PhD on fairy tales, I had no idea that there were any European fairy tales published prior to those of the Grimms. It was quite a revelation! Sixteenth-century Italian author Giovan Francesco Straparola is acknowledged as the first European fairy tale author – he’s been referred to as the Fairy Godfather, which I quite like. 

Straparola's Puss in Boots illustrated by Gustav Dore

Then comes Giambattista Basile in seventeenth-century Italy.

Below: illustrations for
Giambattista Basile's fairy tales:
Stories from the Pentamerone


The She-Bear



Above: Stories from the Pentamerone, by Basile

Later we have a huge fairy tale boom in late-seventeenth century France. Most people would associate this period with Charles Perrault, but many others published at this time, most notably a group of women known as the conteuses who wrote some amazing stuff (please read them!). 

Cinderella by Charles Perrault

Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault

Persinette by Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force 
Persinette, the French Rapunzel

Then we finally come to the renewed interest in fairy tales brought on by German Romanticism, where we find the Grimms. I must note that there are some under-recognised women from this time as well, such as Benedikte Naubert and Bettina von Arnim. But what was so fun in my thesis was tracing a specific tale through the Italian, French, and German periods, just as you’ve just done with Basile’s “Petrosinella.” It’s amazing to see a tale shift and change as it’s adapted in each new sociohistorical context.

L: Dr Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario and Dr Wiebke Eikholt had already founded The Monash Fairy Tale Salon in 2009 here in Melbourne, before the aforementioned national society emerged. According to your site intro, MFTS is a “literary group of staff and postgraduates at Monash University, Australia, dedicated to the scholarly exploration of classic and contemporary fairy tales”. What are some overlaps between the society and salon?

B: There are definitely overlaps, as the two groups share a love of fairy tales. Also, Dr Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario, Catherine Snell and myself are members of both groups. The key difference is that the MFTS is dedicated to exploring international fairy tales from an academic perspective, while the AFTS is decided to exploring Australian fairy tales and is open to a wider audience. However, at the MFTS we do run an annual symposium that’s open to the public, so there is still that desire to reach out beyond academia.

L: The salon held its first symposium in 2012, with subsequent events in 2013, 2014 and 2015, the latter being a celebration of the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as part of the Glen Eira Storytelling Festival. What might we anticipate for 2016?

B: Actually, you may have heard that the 2016 AFTS conference will be taking place in Melbourne, which means that it’s time for the Melbourne committee members to take on more work next year. Given the member overlap between the MFTS and the AFTS, we are actually teaming up for 2016 and putting all our efforts into the AFTS conference. In fact, it’s being held at a venue that the MFTS has used several times. We can’t wait!

L: Part of the salon's webspace is your Academics and Writers page, which encourages collaboration among these fairy tale practitioners. This strikes me as a significant role that the AFTS can play, too. For example, acclaimed Sydney-based fantasy author Kate Forsyth attained a PhD on Rapunzel, while Tasmanian-based writer Sophie Masson, also highly prolific and popular, launched her novel Hunter's Moon (a brilliant Snow White re-spin) at the AFTS conference. How might such a symbiotic relationship mutually benefit academia and genre fiction?

B: Oh my goodness, I’m so passionate about getting academics and writers together! Given that academics make a career out of analysing the works of writers, it only makes sense for the two groups to be in communication with each other. I truly believe that each group can provide the other with a different perspective – and that is such a gift.

L: How do you communicate your interests to those of us who have not taken an academic path? Whilst there are many paths to wisdom, there is a specific rigour that postgraduate study demands of scholars, which is presumably why fields of research are called “disciplines”. Both you and your supervisor Dr Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario are gifted communicators, relating very well with those of us outside academia. What is your secret?

B: Why, thank you, Louisa! My secret? I despise needless jargon – ha! It’s true though. My philosophy, even in my academic writing, is that anyone should be able to understand what I’m getting at, otherwise I’ve failed to communicate. And isn’t that what we’re all trying to do on this earth? Communicate? So I always aim for simplicity and transparency in my writing and in my verbal communications with others, whether academic or not.

Visit Belinda's blog: The Monash Fairy Tale Salon
Belinda at The Monash Fairy Tale Salon