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Review of Siefert, Lewis C. and Domma C. Stanton (Eds and Transl). Enchanted Eloquence: Fairy Tales by Seventeenth-Century French Women Writers. The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe: The Toronto Series, vol. 9. Toronto: CRRS, 2010. ISBN: 978-07727-2077-

Article Citation: 
XV, 1 (2013): 107–109
Author: 
Charlotte Trinquet du Lys
Article Text: 

The purpose of this volume is to translate a sample of eight seven­teenth-century French fairy tales into English. All the fairy tales included are authored by women, none have previously been made available in English, and all are representative of fairy-tale production during the late 1600s and of the authors’ unique styles. The volume is divided into a comprehensive introduction and five sections for each fairy-tale writer and her tales. It is followed by two sample critical texts of the period, intro­duced briefly, as a way of exemplifying the contemporary debate on the genre. At the end of the book, the reader will find a useful appendix listing the conteuses and their tales (the ones included in the volume are in bold­face), a comprehensive editor’s bibliography, and an index.

In their introduction, the editors start with an accurate background of the production of literary fairy tales in the late seventeenth century, con­textualizing these tales within the long historical and critical contexts of women’s history from ancient Greece to modern feminism. They then retrace the role of women in the production of the literary fairy tale, re­vealing the intertexts of these stories as proof that the fairy tale tradition was created and dominated by women who promoted themselves as indi­viduals within a growing literary field, legitimizing themselves in the process as authors. As the editors reveal, these fairy tales share significant references and motifs not only with Greek and Roman mythology, but also with medieval romances, with the pastoral and heroic novels of the early seventeenth century, and with the short novellas of their Italian predeces­sors, Straparola and Basile. Despite these influences, however, late seventeenth-century French conteuses distinguish their works both by re­fusing the restrictions imposed upon the novel after 1660, and those of the “compact” fairy-tale model of Perrault—rejecting the imposition of veri­similitude and instead relying heavily on the marvelous. As such, the late seventeenth-century conte de fées reveals itself as a predominantly “femi­nine” genre, one whose relationship to “modern” literary aesthetics is predicated on ideas that “natural,” intuitive eloquence is uniquely reserved for women.

The editors also offer a lengthy explanation for how this corpus of late-seventeenth-century French fairy tales has been received from the moment of their production to the present. Between 1690 and the eve of the French Revolution, women authors dominated the conte de fées genre; in addition to being widely read throughout France, England, Germany, and North America, their fairy tales were imitated and parodied in eight­eenth-century chapbooks. But after the late eighteenth-century conteuse Marie-Jeanne Le Prince de Beaumont began to compose fairy tales in acc­ordance with the “compact” Perraultean model, the dominant fairy-tale aesthetic began to shift. As a result, during the nineteenth-century, the long and complicated plots composed by earlier women authors were ex­cluded from the genre until the 1980s and 1990s when North-American feminist critics and literary historians renewed the interest in the forgotten genre, followed later by French scholars.

The editors have chosen samples of tales from each of the five leading conteuses of the 1690s, Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy, Catherine Bernard, Charlotte-Rose Caumont de La Force, Marie-Jeanne L’Héritier de Villan­don and Henriette-Julie de Murat. The tales were selected to be—and are—a representative sample of the most prominent thematic and narrative features of each conteuse, while simultaneously showcasing the variety of approaches each writer adopted with respect to length and tone. The tales are chosen with particular attention to the plots, characters and situations, all of which complicate many stereotypical assumptions about the fairy tale as a genre.

Each section focuses on a particular author, starting with an accurate biography and overview of the individual’s writing strategies. Each tale is carefully annotated in the footnotes, which include clarifications about the specific meanings of certain words, as well as explanations of social, cul­tural, and literary norms and ideals relevant to the time period. The tales’ translation itself is precise, and apart from the repunctuating of long sen­tences and paragraphs, the original text is rendered meticulously.

In conclusion, this book, with its ample introduction and its interesting and relevant choice of tales, is of extreme value not only for scholars and students, but also for any lover of fairy tales wishing to rediscover and understand the origins of the French literary fairy tale tradition. I hope that the editors will consider more translations of this kind in the future.

Charlotte Trinquet du Lys, University of Central Florida

 

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