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Smith and Richardson, Editors, Try to Edit Boccaccio

Smith and Richardson, Editors

RICHARDSON: And that brings us to the 10th story of the 3rd day.

SMITH: Right. Great. What do we have to do for that one?

RICHARDSON: You don’t remember this one?

SMITH: Refresh me. Is it a heart eating one? We’ve got at least two of those.

RICHARDSON: Nope. This is the one we have to decide what to do about.

SMITH: What to do about? Why we translate and publish it, that’s what to do about it! Like we did for every other story in this thing.

RICHARDSON: Are you sure about that?

SMITH: Sure? Of course I’m sure! We’re publishing one of the great works of Italian literature why we do any differently?

RICHARDSON: Well, some publishers have simply left this story out.

SMITH: Left it out?

RICHARDSON: Or just replaced it with “omitted.”


RICHARDSON: You haven’t read it.

SMITH: Read it. Of course I read it. I read the whole Decameron. I didn’t just omit one of the stories.

RICHARDSON: No — but maybe you read a translation that did omit it.

SMITH: I suppose that’s possible. So, I’ll bite, what’s the problem with the 10th story of the 3rd day.

RICHARDSON: Well to start — there the resurrection of the flesh.

SMITH: Like a Jesus thing? That’s fine.

RICHARDSON: No, it’s not. I mean it is. I mean — it’s a double entendre. It’s the resurrection of the flesh and the res(erection) of the flesh.

SMITH: Does Boccaccio say resurrection of the flesh?

RICHARDSON: No. He says “venne la resurrezion della carne.”

SMITH: Which translates to?

RICHARDSON: Then comes the resurrection of the meat. Or flesh.

SMITH: But it’s just a reference to religion.

RICHARDSON: Not at all.

SMITH: Fine. Fine. Take me through it.

RICHARDSON: I’m going to have to back up and tell you the whole thing to give you the context.

SMITH: Fine. Yes. Please. What is the story?

RICHARDSON: This is the one where a young woman of means treks into the hills in search of religion.

SMITH: Okay.

RICHARDSON: She is turned away by several solitary monks who fear that she will be too much of a temptation for them, as she is quite beautiful.

SMITH: As they always are in stories.

RICHARDSON: Quite. Finally she finds one who takes her in and starts to give her religious instruction but at a certain point, he just gives up and decides to yield to desire. But he’s a clever religious hermit so he’s crafty about it.

SMITH: What does he do?

RICHARDSON: He tells his young student to do as he does and then he takes off all his clothes.

SMITH: And she follows suit?

RICHARDSON: Yes. Hang on. So — we have a naked monk and a naked girl and that’s where the resurrection of the flesh occurs.


RICHARDSON: And the girl notices something happening. So she asks him about it and he tells her that that’s his devil and that the devil is tormenting him something awful. And of course she’s very sympathetic and asks if there’s anything she can do to help him. He tells her that, as it happens, she has, instead of a devil, a hell and the best way to ease his torment is to put the devil back in hell.

SMITH: I see where the cleverness comes in now. Does she go for it?

RICHARDSON: Does she ever. After the first couple of times, she becomes a devil enthusiast. She wants to put the devil in hell all the time. She wears that clever monk right out with her demands for doing her religious service. He tries to beg off but she declares that while the devil may be tamed, hell is now in need of the devil, that hell demands the devil’s penance.

SMITH: I’m starting to see why this story was omitted.

RICHARDSON: Indeed. And it continues. She exhausts this religious hermit who, you know, isn’t the most vigorous to begin with, due to his mostly eating roots and berries and such.

SMITH: Goodness.

RICHARDSON: Then — down in the village the girl’s entire family is burned up in a house fire.

SMITH: Bad luck.

RICHARDSON: She stands to inherit a great deal of money and property if she can claim it on time — but she has no idea, since she’s up in the hills, doing her religious duty, as it were.

SMITH: As it were.

RICHARDSON: Along comes Neebal.

SMITH: Neebal?

RICHARDSON: Not your standard Italian name, for sure. But Neebal goes up into the hills to find her and while she doesn’t want to leave her religious service, somehow she is convinced to go down the hill, marry Neebal and collect all her money.

SMITH: Somehow convinced.

RICHARDSON: And before her wedding she complains to the women of her village how sad she was to never be able to put the devil in hell again. The women ask her what the activity actually was and the girl explains, whether with words or gestures, and the women laugh so much that Boccaccio says they are laughing still.

SMITH: I imagine they might be. So what happens to the girl?

RICHARDSON: Well, the women assure her that Neebal will be able to help her in her religious practice and I believe they all live happily ever after.

SMITH: Gosh.


SMITH: And how did the guys at Flamingo handle this?

RICHARDSON: They omitted.

SMITH: Flamingo? My god. I thought they were fearless over there.

RICHARDSON: I guess not.

SMITH: But this is the 20s! We can publish what we want! It’s a free world!

RICHARDSON: Tell that to D.H. Lawrence.

SMITH: But this is a classic!

RICHARDSON: About a young woman who thoroughly enjoys sexual intercourse.

SMITH: Damn it.

RICHARDSON: I just don’t see how we do it.

SMITH: This book is many hundreds of years old, how can we not publish it but Boccaccio could in the 1300s?

RICHARDSON: Different times.

SMITH: Can we obscure it a little? Make it vaguer? Like — somehow make it actual religious instruction?

RICHARDSON: We could try but the language is already obscured and is, in its obscurity, absolutely clear.

SMITH: Sure. Damn it. It’s just…well, there’s other sex in this book — I think it’s just that she enjoys it so much that’s the problem.

RICHARDSON: Right. If she was just raped, it would be fine for the censor.

SMITH: That’s kind of screwed up.

RICHARDSON: It kind of is.

SMITH: If he enjoys it, it’s fine but if she does, it’s dirty.

RICHARDSON: I’m starting to understand why my wife’s always banging on about her rights and such.

SMITH: Got a suffragette at home, do you?

RICHARDSON: Do I ever. I mean, you’d have thought it would be done once they got the vote. But nope. It just keeps going.

SMITH: I guess I can understand with things like this medieval literature problem.

RICHARDSON: It is a problem.

SMITH: It is a big problem. What are we going to do?

RICHARDSON: I was hoping you’d have an answer.

SMITH: Huh. Well. If everyone’s omitting, maybe we should too.

RICHARDSON: Maybe we should.

SMITH: Maybe we should.

RICHARDSON: But I feel like my wife might never forgive me if we didn’t include the story that opened my eyes to what she’s fighting for.

SMITH: We could put it in untranslated. Just — ooops! We didn’t translate this one. Good luck to you. Better go learn Italian if you want to read it.

RICHARDSON: Interesting.

SMITH: Or! We could print the translation in entirety with the exception of the particularly troublesome phrases. That way you only have to learn a handful of phrases to get a sense of it.

RICHARDSON: I’m interested.

SMITH: Maybe it could work. I mean, I haven’t read it.


SMITH: But if we just obscure all we can, maybe we’ll start a trend of Italian scholarship. Young people round this great nation of ours will be rushing to sign up for Italian courses.

RICHARDSON: With words like “devil” and “hell” they’ll work it out fast enough.

SMITH: Good. Good.

RICHARDSON: I’ll have our translator work up a mock up for us.

SMITH: Good, good.

RICHARDSON: So now all we have to do is figure out what to do about the story in which the mute gardener has sex with the whole convent.

SMITH: Is this Boccaccio trying to kill us?

RICHARDSON: Could be. Could be.

SMITH: He can go to hell.

RICHARDSON: That’s what she said.

Image courtesy of the NYPL Digital Collection



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