Saturday, July 18, 2015

Voice of the Narrator

"D'Aulnoy's most popular tales often featured enterprising, clever girls whose lives were tyrannized by wicked kings and fathers-very different from the stories of the better-known Charles Perrault, whose heroines are marked by their modesty, obedience, and reliance on the ingenuity of a prince to save them from the spell of a wicked stepmother or witch." -Susan Bordo* (emphasis mine)

Hmm...what do you think of this quote? I admit I'm not as familiar with Madame D'Aulnoy's fairy tales as a whole, but I do love tales of hers like "Green Snake" which is an unusual example of an ugly heroine desired by a Prince-a tale you probably wouldn't find being invented and told by a man. For while we know that Perrault was part of a feminist group of writers, we can't forget that he was still a man and had a different voice.

As for Perrault-tales of his like "Bluebeard" fit Bordo's claim. Even if you don't take the moral seriously, Perrault took a folk tale in which the heroine cleverly rescues herself (and sometimes her sisters), and turned her into a helpless heroine who had to wait to be rescued and served as a later cautionary tale against the evils of female curiosity.

And yet...although people generally interpret the heroine marrying a Prince at the end as sexist (meaning she needs a man to rescue her), I don't necessarily view marrying a Prince that way. Fairy tale endings generally satisfy human cravings for companionship (marriage) and stability (wealth), which often means marrying a beautiful royal, regardless of which gender the main character is. And if you look at tales like Perrault's "Cinderella," the Prince isn't the agent of change, but the prize. Cinderella's rescue is engineered by her (female) fairy godmother (and in other versions, the spirit of her dead mother). And, if you compare Perrault's "Cinderella" to D'Aulnoy's "Finette Cindron," if anything Perrault's character is more clever for letting her shoe drop on purpose, and Finette's Prince is creepier for having a small shoe fetish.

Also, in Perrault's "Donkey Skin," that heroine really saves herself-she leaves a horrible situation, alone (very brave, especially for a woman to be travelling alone at the time), again with the help of her godmother. She then puts herself in a position to be discovered by the Prince, rather cleverly dropping her ring in his cake.

And yet, there's still the fact that Perrault chose to rewrite "Griselda," an already well-known tale (published by Boccaccio and later included in Canterbury Tales) about how women must endure all kinds of abuse from the men in their lives all for the ultimate ideal of being loving and obedient. Even if you read it as a satire/parody, it's still pretty upsetting and I wonder why he chose that tale out of all the stories he could have chosen...

*Source-The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo

Antique copy of D'Aulnoy's tales
Russian Children's Book
Donkeyskin by Nadezhda Illarionova


  1. I didn't know Perrault had done Griselda. Ugh! I imagine the young ladies of the court were not amused by that one! It was not my favourite of the Canterbury Tales, but then, Chaucer had the Wife of Bath to counterbalance that one. ;-)

    1. I know, it's so hard to know what the story would have meant to people back then. I can't imagine any woman not being upset by it, but then again, common attitudes and even laws regarding women and their rights were incredibly misogynist back then, so who knows?

  2. Unfortunately, Griselda does not age well out of context like Perrault's other tales. The descriptions of Griselda and her husband mirror some of the same descriptives of Louis XIV and his wife. And in that period, you did NOT want to outright write a satire on Louis. That got you exiled or imprisoned. Anyone at court would have gotten the joke most likely, but as an old tale Perrault could feign innocence, "No, Sire, I totally was not commenting on your long- suffering wife and your string of mistresses. I just stole the story from these other guys, see?"

    1. That actually makes a lot of sense. It's so odd to me that fairy tale scholars keep leaping to Perrault's defense for the things he wrote that seem pretty blatantly sexist, and calling them satires just didn't sit right with me, they're completely different than how I understand and react to satires. But I like the idea of it being a more private satire, that makes more sense to me than other explanations I've heard/read, and now I want to look into Louis XIV and his relationships more to compare them.