Friday, February 3, 2012

Fairy tales in English literature

In her introduction to "The Classic Fairy Tales," Maria Tatar highlights authors that have been influenced by fairy tales, which then affects their work. Yet there are two different approaches to doing this, as illustrated by Dickens, verses Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre.

Dickens was enamored with fairy tales, and embraced all the traditional thought values of his time about them. "Like the Grimms, Dickens hailed the 'simplicity,' 'purity,' and 'innocent extravagance' of fairy tales, yet also praised the tales as powerful instruments of constructive socialization: 'It would be hard to estimate the amount of gentleness and mercy that has made its way among us through these slight channels. Forebearance, courtesy, consideration for the poor and the aged, kind treatment of animals, the love of nature, abhorrance of tyranny and brute force-many such good things have been first nourished in the child's heart by this powerful aid.'"

All of the above are wonderful qualities and I'm pretty sure I've been inspired to demonstrate the characteristics listed above because of reading fairy tales-however, fairy tales may also encourage other negative stereotypes Dickens didn't mention but that were prevalent in the Victorian age.

But this is no reason to throw out fairy tales altogether, or let the negative parts in their history take away from the positive. Charlotte Bronte took fairy tale themes, yet altered the outcomes-her character Jane did not react to her situations as the most passive versions of her fairy tale predecessors did.

In the opening of Jane Eyre, she is mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters, mocked and made to do menail tasks-much like Cinderella. Though Jane does go through a stage of self pity, which is only natural, she finds the courage to eventually confront her aunt. Rather than accepting her fate, she "rebels against the social reflexes of her world and writes herself out of the script."

In Rochester's house, Jane finds herself in another fairy tale world-the book references Bluebeard's castle, and the house does contain a secret room with a dark secret (SPOILER ALERT: though not a collection of corpses, it does contain a wife). Though Jane loves Rochester, she cannot marry a man who is already married, even if his first wife is mentally insane. Jane's life is not defined by sitting and waiting for a man to come and save her with his love-she leaves him and starts a new life, unlike fairy tale princesses who marry the first prince who comes their way. As I've pointed out before, Jane Eyre also has some allusions to Beauty and the Beast.

1 comment:

  1. Much like the Bible was an encapsulation of popular media of its' era, I also (even before my passing seem to be quickly fading into mythology)...