Friday, April 8, 2011

Dickens and the use of Fairy Tales

I'm a fan of Dickens. Girls are all supposed to be in love with Jane Austen; I don't mind her books but would rather be reading Dickens or the Bronte sisters. Jane Austen has nice romances-the latter authors set out to expose problems in society, like lack of rights for children/the poor (Dickens) or women (Brontes). Dickens clearly loved fairy tales-he loved them as a child and his books are full of references to them. I did a little online research to see if I could learn more about this connection. There is a book on the subject-"Social Dreaming: Dickens and the Use of Fairy Tales," by Elaine Ostry. The publisher's review: "Dickens was known for his incredible imagination and fiery social protest. In "Social Dreaming," Elaine Ostry examines how these two qualities are linked through Dickens's use of the fairy tale, a genre that infuses his work. To many Victorians, the fairy tale was not childish: it promoted the imagination and fancy in a materialistic, utilitarian world. It was a way of criticizing society so that everyone could understand. Like Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, Dickens used the fairy tale to promote his ideology. In this first book length study of Dickens's use of the fairy tale as a social tool, Elaine Ostry applies exciting new criticism by Jack Zipes and Maria Tatar, among others, that examines the fairy tale in a socio-historical light to Dickens's major works but also his periodicals-the most popular middle-class publications in Victorian times." Unfortunately this book isn't available in my local libraries, so I don't know when or if I'll get the chance to read it. But one of my favorite fairy tale blogs, LitScribbles, has an interesting post on the "friendship" between Dickens and Hans Christian Andersen. Basically, Andersen was annoying and insecure and overstayed his welcome once with Dickens. And, to close with, this quote from wikipedia's fairy tale page: " The moralizing strain in the Victorian era altered the classical tales to teach lessons, as when George Cruikshank rewrote Cinderella in 1854 to contain temperance themes. His acquaintance Charles Dickens protested, "In an utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales should be respected." I'm reading "David Copperfield" right now. In addition to the obvious references to certain fairy tales, the whole issue of Oedipal relationships jumped out at me. In fairy tales, it is very rare to find positive same-sex familial relationships, but it's common to find positive brother/sister or father/daughter relationships. David Copperfield has a dead, good father, a good but passive mother, and an evil stepfather-like a gender-reversed (Grimm version of) Cinderella. He later lives with his aunt, who could be seen as a fairy godmother figure, and gets along really well with his (female) nurse. The main female characters in the book so far (Dora and Agnes) live with their fathers but not their mothers, and one of Agnes' best features is that she is devoted to her father (much like Beauty). Uriah Heep lives with his mother, and they get along pretty well. I wonder how much of this was influenced by the fairy tales Dickens grew up with (or how much is me reading into things too much). This is really opening up a whole other can of worms to start talking about Freudian relationships found in all of literature, not just fairy tales-a subject on which I am much less qualified to discuss. If anyone knows of any good online articles about the connection between Dickens and fairy tales, I'd love a link! Image from here

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