Margaret Evans Price
It's an interesting theory but I hadn't thought too much about it before, because I'm wary of the psychoanalytic tendency to see everything in fairy tales as phallic. But a recent rereading of the tale of the Frog Prince left me feeling that the Princess is disturbingly young to be getting married at the end.
The only thing we know about her at the beginning is that her favorite plaything is a golden ball-so she's still young enough to have toys and enjoy playing catch more than anything else. Her actions seem to indicate the immaturity of a child-when confronted with the unwanted frog, she slams the door in his face and goes back to eating, or throws the frog against a wall. Critics have called her selfish, but really she's acting like any child would when basically tricked into making an unwanted promise-she offered the frog her dresses, jewels, and crown for her ball, but he didn't want them. Clearly she values her toy more than beautifying herself, which would be more associated with a maturing woman.
Margaret Evans Price
Throughout the whole tale, everything about her is little. The frog wants to eat from her "little plate" and drink from her "little cup," and after he knocks on the door he calls for the "Princess, little princess" to let him in. If she's small enough to be eating off of a differently sized plate she would be way too young to marry. It seems reminiscent of Snow White, who, according to the Grimm version, is only seven years old at the beginning of the story; but in that story it's ambiguous as to how much time passes while she's with the dwarves (in some versions she ages as she sleeps). Also, in E.T.A. Hoffman's original "Nutcracker" story, Marie starts the story at seven and is married in a year to the Nutcracker Prince.
Why do these fairy tales feature princesses getting married at such young ages? Was there actually any society in which children really would marry?
Margaret Evans Price
According to wikipedia, although some cultures would marry off children as soon as they went through puberty, even then it seems that they were all at least 12 (although that still seems disturbingly young). But in many cultures, even in Medieval times, it was common for couples to marry around the age of 20-slightly younger if diseases like the Plague made life expectancy much shorter.
Still, there are always exceptions: "In the 12th century the jurist Gratian, an influential founder of Canon law in medieval Europe, accepted age of puberty for marriage to be between 12 and 14 but acknowledged consent to be meaningful if the children were older than 7. There were authorities with a claim that consent could take place earlier. Marriage would then be valid as long as neither of the two parties annulled the marital agreement before reaching puberty, or if they had already consummated the marriage. It should be noted that Judges honored marriages based on mutual consent at ages younger than 7, in spite of what Gratian had said; there are recorded marriages of 2 and 3 year olds."
Even in these cases it seems like the term "marriage" was more or less a betrothal. Yet Heidi Anne Heiner, in her annotations for Snow White, tells us that in past centuries, the age of seven was actually considered the transition from child to adult.
Given that many young girls would be married off at ages that we today would consider them to be children, was Frog Prince meant to disturb the listeners by showing them how wrong a practice that was? Or would it have been so commonplace in some cultures that they wouldn't even think anything of it? Do other versions of these tales have similarly childlike heroines? It makes perfect sense that, to a young girl, the idea of sex with an older man would seem as disgusting as sharing a plate and bed with a frog-practices that, Maria Tatar reminds us, indicate the intimacies of marriage more so than mere companionship.
Do any of you know more about the history of marrying ages? And what the young ages in fairy tales might mean?
(I love all the hidden details in Crane's illustrations-on the bench on which the Princess is seated is a picture of a man handing a woman a ball, indicating the true nature of what is happening)