French fairy tales
Il etait une fois (fr.) . . . . Once upon a time . . . . Those four words were magic to our ears as children. It meant we were going to be taken to the magical, mysterious, and enchanting fairy tale world of long ago. A parent or grandparent was going to read to us about the world 'over the rainbow' and one we would dream about at night.
Here extraordinary events happened - poor cinder girls as Cinderella turned into Princesses, little girls had validating fears as Little Red Riding Hood did with the big bad wolf, and beautiful young girls in deep slumber were awakened by a kiss from a handsome prince as in Sleeping Beauty.
Once upon a time . . . . meant we knew if it could happen to the characters in all those wonderful stories, it could happen to us. So we dreamed and we played pretend to practice what we would say to our prince when he arrived. (Fortunately, we grew up and faced the reality that a prince might not arrive.)
We kissed frogs, flew in fairy pumpkin carriages, had fairy godmothers, and the tooth fairy too. We danced with our prince. If only those little birdies would fly into our bedroom so that we didn't have to make our own beds in the morning. Where were those birdies when you needed them?
But, all in all, Once upon a time . . . . meant a delightful world of merriment we entered if only for half and hour or so as we eagerly looked at the words and pictures of the big fairy tale book.
This was sometimes our first introduction to reading and we lapped up every word of the strange and mysterious stories. Our fears were realized and validated by the bad and evil characters in the stories but we also learned how to deal with those fears by the clever ways the protagonists got out of their predicaments and got rid of those bad and evil characters.
We learned that we could vanquish our foes, many times without violence, through leaning on our cerebral skills to outwit the villains. And, fairy tales ended happily ever after . . . . our three favorite words at the end of the story so that when we skipped off to bed we were content in the fact that all was right with the fairy world.
Interestingly, some of our favorite fairy tales we remember from childhood, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Bluebeard, Puss 'n Boots, Goldilocks, and The Blue Bird come to us originally from France.
During the 17th century, there were several French writers that were equally important in bringing the fairy tale genre into being. They were the first in Europe to collect and write fairy tales. It is from these writers that the Brothers Grimm collected fairy tales and sometimes rewrote them in their own way during the 19th century.
A Modern Fairy Tale
Charles Perrault 1628 - 1703
Not only is Frenchman Charles Perrault the "father of French fairy tales", but he also created the fairy tale story as a new genre and introduced it throughout Europe. Other fairy tale collectors and tellers such as the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson followed in his footsteps in the 19th century with the genre he began in 1697.
Charles Perrault was born into a wealthy bourgeois family and remained bourgeois throughout his entire life. He was a French author and member of the prestigious Academie francaise and the leading intellectual of his time. He laid the foundations for a new literary genre - the fairy tale - and his stories and works were derived from pre-existing French folk tales.
He was a forerunner for the Age of Enlightenment, and era not always receptive to fairy tales and tales of magic and fairies.
His best known tales are:
Le Petit Chaperon rouge (Little Red Riding Hood)
Le Chat Botte (Puss 'n Boots)
La Belle au bois dormant (The Sleeping Beauty)
La Barbe bleue (Blue Beard)
These stories by Perrault were the ones also collected and re-written by the Brothers Grimm for their fairy tale books.
Perrault was a very influential writer and figure in the 17th century French literary scene. He was a French poet, prose writer and storyteller. Although he initiated literary controversy and was the leader of the Modern faction during the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns, he is best remembered for his fairy tales for children.
He believed the modern French writers, such as Moliere, were far better writers than the ancients from the times of the Greeks and Romans. He wrote prolifically in support of the moderns and King Louis XIV and his enlightened rule. He felt the present age was far superior in every respect to ancient times.
He even went so far to claim that even modern French literature was superior to the works of classic antiquity.
But it was his Les Contes de ma Mere l'Oye, Tales of Mother Goose, published in 1697, that made him suddenly widely known beyond his own circles and salons. Mother Goose was written to amuse his own children and told in a simple style that was free of affectation. He published Mother Goose in the name of his last son, Pierre, because he feared criticism from the "Ancients."
Tales of Mother Goose, when published, only consisted of eight simple stories and was a rather thin book. With the publication of this thin book he was credited as the founder of the modern fairy tale genre.
Most of the fairy tales we read and/or hear today such as Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood are told as Perrault wrote them. He used images around him in his tales. For example, the Chateau Usse is the castle Sleeping Beauty sleeps in and the Marquis of the Chateau d'Oiron is on whom he based his Puss n' Boots character.
His eight fairy tales that became so popular and famous even up to today in Tales of Mother Goose are:
The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood
Little Red Riding Hood
The Master Cat or Puss 'n Boots
Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper
Ricky of the Tuft
However, Perrault was not the creator of the Mother Goose figure or character. Previous French authors had made reference to Mother Goose in their writings and today no one knows exactly who came up with or created Mother Goose. So, the first popular publication to use Mother Goose as a character was the Tales of Mother Goose, and were fairy tales not nursery rhymes.
Mother Goose nursery rhymes did not come until much later and the books we are familiar with were published in the 19th century in England and then in America.
Perrault also published three fairy tales separately:
The Ridiculous Wishes (1693)
Donkey Skin (1694)
Therefore, some of our favorite fairy tales we listened to and read in our childhood were collected by Frenchman Charles Perrault during the 17th century. We not only have the Brothers Grimm to thank, but also Charles Perrault, for the delightful and enchanting fairy worlds and tales that entertained us.
The Cinderella story has been adapted and redone so many times and ways over the centuries. From the film, Pretty Woman, to the BBC version in the video above, we never seem to tire of enjoying Perrault's Cinderella fairy tale.
And, The Sleeping Beauty fairy tale has recently been redone by Disney Studios in its film, Maleficent, although tweaked a bit in the story line, to give the message to young girls that they need not be awakened by only a kiss from a prince.
Therefore, we are still enjoying fairy tales today and they continue to represent our customs and culture and the values we hold dear.
Madame d'Aulnoy 1650 - 1705
Her entire name was Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baroness d'Aulnoy and she was another writer of French fairy tales but hers were for adults only. Her tales were not written for an audience of children and much more attuned to the adult men and women who frequented the salon she founded during the 17th century. She was a contemporary of Charles Perrault and knew of his fairy tale writing.
It was Madame d'Aulouy who termed her works, "contes de fee" or fairy tales and originated the term that is now generally used for this genre of writing. Some of the fairy tales she wrote were:
The White Cat
The Blue Bird
The Golden Branch
The Bee and the Orange Tree
The Good Little Mouse
Madame d'Aulnoy was a much more prolific writer of fairy tales than Charles Perrault, but because her tales were directed to adults, she is less well known today.
Her life is an interesting one. At the age of sixteen her family arranged a marriage for her to a Parisian thirty years her senior, Francois de la Matte, Baron d'Aulnoy.
The baron was quite a free thinker for his times and a known gambler. The couple and three children together and then he was accused of treason. Fortunately, for him the charges proved to be false.
Interestingly, it was Madame l'Aulnoy herself who tried to frame her own husband for treason along with her mother and other men in their circles as she was unhappy in her marriage to this man so much older than she. When Baron d'Aulnoy was able to prove the charges false, Madame d'Aulnoy withdrew from social circles in Paris society.
In the interim she traveled to Spain and England and she had three more children during this time. This is the period when she began writing by starting out to write short stories inspired by her travels.
By 1690, Madame d'Aulnoy returned to Paris and founded her own literary salon which became quite popular and famous and Madame and her salon became the toast of Paris. She entertained those of her salon with her fairy tales.
Over the next thirteen years she published twelve books, two of them fairy tale collections. She also wrote histories and fiction stories.
Her most popular works were her fairy tales and adventure stories as published in Les Contes des Fees (Tales of Fairies). Her tales were written differently than Perrault's because they were directed to adults. She told her stories in a more conversational style as they might be told aloud in a literary salon.
When her tales were translated into English in 1892 in The Fairy Tales of Madame d'Aulnoy, these adaptions were very dissimilar to the originals.
It is believed today that twenty-eight of her tales were written by four other French writers but it has not been determined exactly who they were.
From 1696-1699 she published eight volumes of fairy tales. These are worldly tales that members of her salon found valuable because they contained a surprising realism or a mocking cruelty of the world.
Madame d'Aulnoy will always be remembered for coining the term "fairy tale" which we call these folklore tales today, even if her fairy tales have not been as popular due to their 'adult content.'
It is these fairy tales that teach us as children the important skill and knowledge of how to tell a story, a narrative. DO NOT miss this precious French child below telling her very own fairy tale to us. She is proof of the importance of fairy tales in our western culture, customs, and understanding of the values we hold dear.
Don't miss this! A fairy tale by an adorable French girl
- Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes - not as nonsensical and innocent as you think
Some of our favorite Mother Goose nursery rhymes we learned as children were originally written as secret and subversive messages for their time.
- Russian Fairy Tales
Russian folk and fairy tales were collected by Russian writer Aleksandr Afanasyev in the 19th century, and he is known as the Brother Grimm of Russia.
- Voices of Naples - Best Naples, FL Community Choir
Take time this holiday season or anytime to check out Naples, Florida's premiere choir and chorale for an afternoon or evening of beautiful music.
Beauty and the Beast
Of all the French fairy tales, my favorite one by far is La Belle et la Bete or Beauty and the Beast written by French author Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. This story has enchanted me along with millions of children world wide because of the popular and famous Disney adaption of this fairy tale.
We know today that Villeneuve was unhappily married to a military officer and was left impoverished after his death. She turned to writing to earn extra money writing specifically historical and sentimental stories.
She became acquainted with Crebillon fils, another French fairy tale writer, and they eventually co-habitated together. Many at the time were quick to dismiss Villeneuve as a 'governess or mistress' to Crebillon when in truth she was his intellectual equal and companion and continued to write on her own. She was influenced by him to write fairy tales and it is this one fairy tale for which she is best remembered.
Beauty and the Beast is the tale of the beautiful Belle, bookworm that she is because she values education, knowledge, and intelligence above all and who refuses to marry the handsome Gascon because of his rough, unkempt, uneducated silly ways.
In trying to help her father, Belle stumbles onto the castle of the Beast, huge, angry, ugly, and bitter. Through her sweet and loving ways Belle 'tames the beast.' The Beast was originally a handsome prince turned into a monstrous beast by the spell of an evil and unjust fairy turned sorceress.
Villeneuve was influenced in her writing of fairy tales by Madame d'Aulnoy, Charles Perrault and various other French writers. Her version of Beauty and the Beast is the oldest known variant of the fairy tale.
It is over one hundred pages long containing many subplots involving a genuinely savage Beast and not merely a change of appearance as the tale we are used to.
Villeneuve's fairy tale was originally published in La Jeune Americaine et les contes marins in 1740 in France. This publication contained two of her fairy tales, but it was Beauty and the Beast that was Villeneuve's fairy tale that is remembered today and for which she became famous.
The best known written version of her story was an abridged version of her work published in 1756 by Jeane-Mare le Prince de Beaumont. This is the version we are familiar with and the one that Disney used in its adaption of the story, and the one explained above.
Beaumont's version of the story was published in Magasin de efants, ou dialogues entre une sage gouvernante et plusieurs de sies eleves, in France. An English translation then appeared in 1757.
Villeneuve's original verson of Beauty and the Beast differs from Beaumont's in its eroticism and insistence on the Beast's monstrosity. She makes explicit the transgressive sexual union at the heart of this type of tale. The Beast repeatedly askes Belle to sleep with him, not marry him, as in Beaumont's version. But virtuous Belle refuses his request because she dreams of being courted by a handsome prince.
Villeneuve's original fairy tale includes several elements that Beaumont omitted in his version of the story. The backstory of both Belle and the Beast is given.
The Beast was a prince who lost his father at a young age and whose mother had to wage war to defend his kingdom. The Queen left him in the care of an evil fairy who tried to seduce him when he became an adult; when he refused, she transformed him into a beast.
Belle's story reveals that she is not really a merchant's daughter but the offspring of a king and a good fairy. The wicked fairy had tried to murder Belle so she could marry Belle's father, the king.
Because of this, Belle had been put in the place of a merchant's dead daughter to protect her from the evil fairy by hiding her in plain sight.
Villeneuve also gave the castle elaborate magic which obscured the more vital pieces of it. Beaumont simplified the tale by paring down the cast of characters.
The urban opening of this fairy tale is unusual to the rest of fairy tales being written at the time. Most openings take place in dark forests, single cottages, or castles. Also unusual for this fairy tale is the social class of the character. Belle is neither royal (to her knowledge) nor a peasant and except for the Beast/prince, the characters are of the middle or merchant class.
It is believed Villeneuve wrote her fairy tale this way to reflect the social changes occurring at the time of its first writing. Her most important contributions through Beauty and the Beast and her other fairy tales was the attention she paid to women's plight in marriage, their financial constraints and ultimately their difficult quest for happiness.
This fairy tale has become so popular that it has been turned into opera, ballet, stage, film and TV series several times.
I recently helped direct the music for a 'junior musical play' of this enchanting fairy tale put on by children in the Naples/Bonita Springs are in Florida. It was a joy to direct and the children were fantastic. We had a lovely sixteen year old girl play Belle, who had some prior acting experience and she was wonderful.
The rest of the cast was a delight also and for some of the children it was the first time ever acting in a play/theater. I cannot fully express how much fun this was to direct and the voices of the children were great.
To have been able to help direct Beauty and the Beast, my favorite French fairy tale, was a fairy tale come true for me. Because of my singing with the Voices of Naples, a community choir in Naples, FL, I was chosen to help direct this play.
We never know what twists or turns our journey in life will take us, but I can assure you this particular avenue was one of the happiest I have experienced in working with children. I will never forget those angelic faces and voices and character interpretations sometimes even better than adults can do. It was an amazing experience. I have been so fortunate in my life to have had such wonderful experiences like this one.
Sometimes fairy tales can come true!
Note: I wish I could share the photos of the Naples/Bonita Springs children putting on this play, but because they are underage, unfortunately, I cannot share them with you at this time.
www.surlalunefairytales.com/authors/perrault. (d'Aulnoy, Villeneuve).html