Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Issue of the Moral in Bluebeard: Part III

Over the years I've tried to make sense of the disturbing moral Perrault wrote at the end of his version of "Bluebeard" which does not at all condemn the husband for his serial killing, but the wife for her curiosity. In Part I, back in 2010, I was comforted by Marina Warner's calling the whole thing "tongue in cheek"-maybe it was so obviously wrong that it was humorous. But in Part II, written in February, we find from Casie Hermansson's book Bluebeard: A Reader's Guide to the English Tradition that, regardless of Perrault's intentions, later versions of Bluebeard, and consequently the later readers, took the moral very seriously, and for a long time the story was seen as a cautionary tale against the "horrible" sin of women's curiosity.

Maria Tatar shares her valuable insights in her book Secrets beyond the Door: The Story of Bluebeard and His Wives. First of all, "Bluebeard" is not the only fairy tale to have been granted a moral that seems a bit irrelevant to the text. His moral for "Donkeyskin" ends with: "Finally, we must take into account that clear water and brown bread are sufficient nourishment for all young women provided that they have good habits, and that there is not a damsel under the skies who does not imagine herself beautiful."* (Note: this is from the Tatar text. In my Jack Zipes translation of Perrault's "Donkeyskin" the moral is completely different).

By not mentioning the issue of incest, or the daughter's courageous journey, Tatar sees Perrault as dismantling "the notion that the story has any message at all by engaging in self-parody through the proliferation of irrelevant messages." So is Perrault's whole message that it is foolish to try and look for a moral in fairy tales? Ironically, modern fairy tale scholars would agree with him as well, though for years adults sought desperately to try to find morals to make the tales suitable for children.

These morals sometimes become ridiculous when they contradict what actually happens in the story. For all the blame editors and publishers heaped on Bluebeard's wife throughout the years, she always ends up the winner in the end, and Bluebeard's death is justified. If there were no curiosity and no murders, there would be no story.
Harry Clarke

Also, Perrault has a second moral. Tatar says that the reader would expect it to be the counterpart to the condemnation of the wife, and condemn the husband. But the moral does exactly the opposite-it claims that "no longer are husbands so terrible, or insist on having the impossible...He tries to do as he's obliged. And whatever color his beard may be, it's difficult to know who the master be."

So in one moral, Perrault endorses limiting women's power, and the other claims that women are so powerful they have mastery over their husbands. Tatar says these two morals are mutually exclusive, "so symptomatic of how fairy tales send mixed messages that Perrault, perhaps unwittingly, crafted what appear to be two very different readings of his own story." But if you buy into the premise that powerful women are dangerous and dangerous men simply don't exist, it seems logical that Perrault could be warning against women gaining power-I don't see the two morals being mutually exclusive, but being on the surface incredibly and shockingly sexist.

Tatar points out that the color blue had come to represent royalty in France, so the fairy tale could be read as a tale of class tyranny. Interestingly, during his lifetime Perrault switched from opposing King Louis XIV to supporting him.

Perrault was a feminist, for his time. He was active in the literary salons of the popular female fairy tale writers of his time, Mlle. L'Heritier (his neice) and Mme. d'Aulnoy, among others. His works, according to Jack Zipes (in Beauties, Beasts, and Enchantments), "stress the necessity of an enlightened attitude of fairness toward women, but fairness on male terms." Zipes also reminds us that Perrault's tales were intended for adults, who would "understand his humor and the subtle manner in which he transformed folklore superstition to convey his position about the 'modern' development of French civility." So it would be more likely that he didn't mean for his morals to be taken at face value.

So I guess this is an example of the baby steps towards feminism, although it seems pretty unlikely to the modern reader.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Gianni Rodari's Little Green Riding Hood

" "Once upon a time there was a little girl called Little Yellow Riding Hood."
"No! Red Riding Hood!"
"Oh yes, of course, Red Riding Hood. Well, one day her mother called and said: 'Little Green Riding Hood-"
"Sorry! Red. 'Now, my child, go to aunt Mary and take her these potatoes.'"
"No! It doesn't go like that! 'Go to Grandma and take her these cakes.'"

So begins the (very) short story Little Green Riding Hood by Gianni Rodari (1974). A fun little tale told by a grandfather, who we can assume is tired of telling the same story over and over again and messing with his granddaughter. Available in Jack Zipes' the Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood

Illustration by Gari Melchers

Monday, August 19, 2013

Villeneuve's Epilogue to Beauty and the Beast, part I

I am extremely excited to share this post with you! If you recall, back in March my fiancĂ© and I did a little researching in the Library of Congress to read the French text of Madame de Villeneuve's Beauty and the Beast. There was something else I had discovered but was waiting for someone who is more fluent in French to be able to translate it for me. In the back of the book was an Epilogue section, which included what appeared to be letters between Beauty and the Beast, after the events of the story had already taken place. I don't recall ever reading about these existing, but no other author was credited, so I'm  assuming they were written by Madame de Villeneuve herself. As always, if anyone happens to know otherwise, let me know in the comments!

So first of all, I want to thank Richard Jacobs, the father of a friend of mine, who lived in the Ivory Coast for part of his life and accepted the task of translating the letters. Note that he is not a French scholar or historian, he did it out of the goodness of his heart. He mentioned it was more difficult than anticipated because the language was very difficult than the vocabulary he had used when speaking French-it is, after all, a 300 year old somewhat abstract love note. So without further ado, the first letter, "A Letter from Beauty to the Beast."

My original plan was to share the text in its entirety here, but it occurred to me that that would probably be breaking copyright, so I'll be sharing portions that I found the most interesting.

After a random and kind of confusing introduction about Beauty wanting to retire to a land with fish ponds, she turns to contemplating the nature of the Beast himself. First she remembers what it was like when he came to her as a Beast:

 "You would come with the night, when the hour was never yet at the remaking of the day, but rather at the regret of its light.  The beasts, as dreams and fog, belong first of all to obscurity, to the experience of that which undresses and undresses itself again.  Well in advance of my seeing you, the memory of these recitals that came from elsewhere of the story of the marriage of the blood of the monster with the most beautiful of the beauties brought me to fear.  I thought of you as being born of murder and a curse when actually you had only conquered your horrendous face as a reflection of your beauty in the mirror of your mother.  For a long time, you remained for me one by whom mourning came.  One who gave also to the sun a taste of wormwood." (all emphasis mine)

You'll notice Villeneuve doesn't shy away from hinting at what Beauty and the Beast do in secret, and those commenting on her version usually note that it is more sexual.

Beauty goes on, and it appears that by the time of the writing of these letters, their story has already become legendary, and she refers to it as a fable-

"You had no other name than that of Beast.  It is the same for me who always carries only that of Beauty.  Is it only, as certain ones pretend it to be, that there are no genealogies?  No one precedes us in the legends, except it be in the days so ancient that I am not able to remember.  Children found in other memories, we would have unheaped some sense under the fullness and the untying of our names.  Or do you belong to the denseness of night en of secrets as I belong, me, of the morning and of white linen that I spread out in the yard?  The names of men are more uncertain than those of things.  To call yourself Beast, was to clothe yourself of everything that beasts are after the Fall and thus it was easy for you to make yourself the heinous, the most monstrous, the terror of death; and to call me Beauty, I brought all the women to like me, the fondness of their womb and their patient endurance, but also their beauty that, at times, to disguise the guile.  Despite you and despite me, the fable wanted to make us models.  It wanted that, when we would have ceased to live, because a person cannot live for ever, some one would remember you, my Beast, and another would remember me, your Beauty.  Thus, the lovers, who will come after us, will forget that I was a young girl who loved the roses and who mistakenly judged the forest with the musty odor of bear; they will forget also that you were the unknown one, handsome as one paints Love, who appeared to me in a dream along the canal and, at the same time, this sad prince, a victim of the indecent passion of an old hag.  We will thus remain Beauty and Beast, in accordance with what we ourselves wished, the fable that lasts forever."

A couple parts of this letter seem almost creepily prophetic, and makes me wonder if it was really the invention of Villeneuve herself. Beauty talks of future generations forgetting their stories, and while the fairy tale itself is alive and well in common knowledge, the details of Villeneuve's version are, indeed, almost forgotten. Very few people know of the Unknown Beauty speaks of-which is when the Beast would appear as his true, Princely self, to Beauty in her dreams.  (Some people might recall this from the children's book version by Marianna and Mercer Mayer, which includes this plot element). Also, the modern reader might remember the old hag of the Disney version, but in fact Beauty is referencing the evil fairy who cursed the Beast (read more about the Beast's backstory in my archives).

"When you were the beast, you ask questions and you never respond.  You were sown tied up into silence, and ordered a people statues and of maliciousness, who are only the semblance of men.  From parrots also, (come) many colored echoes of our words.  Were you not, at this strange season, similar to this lord who causes the body of this young wife to be taken under stony the on-looking of uncountable monsters?  Someone caused me to know that he went to the point of giving to his dreadful watchmen traces of seduction that his sadness loaned to the prisoner.  But, you, you have only to fear that my reflections in the deserted mirrors of your living rooms: left in the evening shadows that sleep brings on and that wakening obliterates, I was girded through absence and offered my arm only with a bracelet."

I think that the above bold section is referencing what many BATB scholars think was the "message" of the fairy tale from this period: to expose the cruelty of arranged marriages, especially when the husbands in question were older, perhaps uglier, and not necessarily trustworthy, yet being promised very young wives by their fathers. I'll admit I find many parts of this letter very confusing.

"Because, before becoming weak, you were, to be sure, incredible.  Or, to speak otherwise, your face could only be considered insignificant so long as it carried the promise of being other things.  I imagined you, at times, as a stranger to yourself, et to be so unreasonable and illusive, I wanted to unclothe you.  Since I knew that you, by love, had removed your savage clothing, to change yourself into a man I rendered dead." 

Again, references to sex, even when he was still a Beast.

"But nonetheless, I knew that you knew, from the terrible knowledge of the plants, you who were, perhaps, a rose before being a monster.  You never ignored that you were neither a beast lost among men, nor a man lost among beasts.  Not being one or the other, you were one and the other and you belonged to the list of revolved eras where humans had the necessity to live among all that lived under the sun, victims of the original desire of the gods.  From other fables, more knowledgeable than ours, they would say, perhaps, that man is not far from the beast or that one and the other are taking turns and in our eyes are surfacing through the waves of the immense sea where we were fish.  They will say this surprising thing that the destiny of  man and the destiny of the beast was tied together because the hunter and the prey change places often and that I also was myself a beast before being a woman.  Our obscure mouth, it seems, bristle up teeth to devour your happiness and it is possible that one day someone will write the history of the woman changed into a fox.  I assure you today that it has entered my mind to wish you to be animal more than person, though the inaccurate is more unprecedented than the accidental."

This is the other passage that strikes me as being suspiciously modern. What does she mean by saying she was a beast before becoming a woman? And the last two sentences accurately portray the current trend in BATB retellings, which is to celebrate the animal in the Beast, even sometimes turning Beauty herself into a Beast.

" You taught me how to un-mix what seemed to be that which disguised all things.  I knew that the image deceives, and our senses and our hearts.  You taught me also to never consult my eyes. "    

"You left me as soon as I refused to share my bed, I who never understood that you were the path to myself.  Surprised by your docility, I believed you to be a stranger to conquering.  Consequently, you left me to the world of images.  Being absent from your human body, you presented yourself to the will of pictures and dreams so that I reap scattered images.  Prisoner of your palace and its lazy courtyard of an inorganic sleep, I ruled, unknown to me, your life, because I retained the pieces scattered in one place or another on the mirror that only my love could piece together in a meaningful way.  Never did I lose awareness that you were, in reality, my prisoner.  Was it to have ascertained it that I finished by finding some pleasure being in your presence?  And this pain, that takes hold of me when I see you as dead in the den that lightened my monkeys.  Did I dream that or is it again a trick of the fable that wanted, according to its principles, that I abandon you before taking you as husband?  I ignore this thought.  The confusion of the dream is sweeter than that of reality.  My tears on your inanimate body teach me that love is a toy that the child never possesses before he loses it."

So many interesting things to consider and ponder, I won't talk about these sections here, just highlight what I found most interesting.

The letter ends:

"Thus, your ring no longer has use to me.  It suffices me to find you in the inner being of myself.
I will sleep with you again tonight.  Something tells me that the hours will be more extravagant than all those that we have known.  Do we not need to, in effect, go down together the steps of time? 
That the night be good to us, Beast!"
Isn't this fascinating?!?

Part II, Beast's reply to Beauty, coming soon!

Illustrations by Eleanor Vere Boyle

Monday, August 12, 2013

Fairy Tale Entertainment: Chicago

I've thought about doing a post like this before, but decided against it, since I think most of you don't live in the Chicago area and this wouldn't be of special interest to you.

However, after hearing ads for two fairy tale-inspired events in one set of commercials while listening to the radio this morning, I thought it might be interesting just to see how much of our art is influenced by fairy tales, in just one season of one city's entertainment. This is not even an extensively researched list, a few of these I had heard of and I went through the CSO schedule and listed those titles which included fairy tale subjects (this doesn't include programs where only one piece may be fairy tale inspired).

Description: "This ancient and beloved Chinese fable chronicles the tale of a gentle serpent spirit who transforms herself into a beautiful young woman to find love in the human world. Funny, moving, and stunningly staged, The White Snake is a ravishing theatrical spectacle that will enchant and delight."
(So this appears to be unrelated to the Grimm's tale of the same name)

  • Chicago Symphony Orchestra:
Once Upon a Symphony: Stone Soup October-November
Mother Goose and More November
Program includes:
Tchaikovsky Waltz from Sleeping Beauty
  • Mussorgsky Tuileries from Pictures from an Exhibition
  • McBurney Nursery Rhymes
  • Ravel Selections from Mother Goose Suite
  • Prokofiev Midnight from Cinderella
  • Humperdinck Selections from Hansel and Gretel
  • Pictures From an Exhibition in December (Includes Baba Yaga's Hut)
    Once Upon a Symphony: Three Little Pigs in March-April
    Adventures with Aladdin in May-This is really just Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherezade, I find it interesting they used the more familiar fairy tale character to advertise the concert

    • Ballet Preljocaj Blanche Neige (Snow White), at the Harris Theater May 2-4

    *InkGypsy at Once Upon a Blog covered this ballet back in 2012
    I'm sure there's much more happening this year-especially in theater, which I don't follow as much as I do classical music/ballet. If I find more I'll try to remember to update this list, or feel free to send links my way in the comments!

    Monday, August 5, 2013

    Princess culture

    There was an article in the Chicago Tribune this weekend, "Tooth Fairy doesn't need a website or magic letters" by Heidi Stevens, which apparantly you need a subscription to see, but if you're willing to pay/already have a subscription, you can click through the link. But after discussing a new website that tries to use the Tooth Fairy to sell products to little girls, the author references the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein, which I have not read but have seen referenced on other fairy tale blogs.

    Stevens quotes an instance from an event with Orenstein, in which a woman tells of a kindergaten-aged girl goes to school dressed up like a Princess for career day. The woman tells the room she is addressing that she told that little girl to change, and that "Princess isn't a career," and the room burst into applause. The author of the article wonders if the reaction would have been the same if a little boy had been dressed up as Buzz Lightyear, and guesses we wouldn't have cared. (My response is-for Heaven's sake, this is kindergarten, let the little girl dress up).

    Stevens wonders if, in the cultural backlash against Princess Culture, we don't give our boys too much credit, assuming they're immune to the product placement and messages aimed towards them, and if we give too little credit to daughters, assuming they fall prey to every marketing scheme and negative female stereotype. To quote from the article: "When my daughter plays with Barbie, I worry she's going to grow up hating her thighs. When my son plays with Ken, I figure he'll toss his aside with nary a glance toward his pecs. When my daughter watches London Tipton play stupid for laughs on "Suite Life on Deck," I worry she'll equate ditsy with loveable. When my son watches Special Agent Oso bumble a job, I figure he'll learn from Oso's errors. Am I giving my daughter enough credit? Am I giving my son enough though?"

    I would be interested to read the book, but as someone who was raised on all the classic Princess movies and was Belle for almost every Halloween, I think I turned out fine. In fifth grade I first read Robin McKinley's Beauty, which along with my love of Disney's Beauty and the Beast spawned my interest in the history of fairy tales. I'm not even sure if I would have been drawn to the book initially if it weren't for my interest in the Disney version. I think I would have-but you never know. Certainly the Disney movie played a huge part in my reason for research, and it's possible that this blog would not exist without the Disney Princess culture.

    Obviously it's not the same for everyone, but personally, my initial love of Princesses turned me on to an aspect of literature, history, and anthropology that has become an important hobby to me. To say I've learned a lot would be an understatement. I know there are negative aspects to the commercialization, but I don't think I could ever get too upset with Princess culture. I'm more concerned about things like beauty pageant culture...which I'm sure is connected but still distinct. That's a whole other conversation I won't go into at the moment.
    I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who's read the Orenstein book-what does it say, and what did you think? Also, anyone who has specific examples of young girls and how they interact with princesses/princess culture. I've shared some of my babysitting/teaching adventures on the blog before, but of course there are many more stories to be shared-