Reimagining the conte de fées : female fairy tales in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England and their exploration of the world in-between.


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Although the fairy tales by Charles Perrault and the Grimms are widely recognized today, hundreds of fairy tales written by women have been largely forgotten. This dissertation examines the impact of the contes de fées written by Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy, a seventeenth-century French conteuse, on the fairy tales written by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British women. The conte de fées is a unique type of fairy tale, which is more complex, communal and personal than the folk-fairytales associated with Perrault and the Grimms. The contes de fées often focus on the experiences of women and push against social and political restrictions placed on them. The contes by d’Aulnoy, particularly “La Chatte blanche” or “The White Cat,” were incredibly popular in eighteenthand nineteenth-century England, particularly among female readers and writers. In the eighteenth century, Sarah Fielding embedded two original fairy tales in her novel The Governess, drawing from several traditions of the fairy tale, including the conte de fées, to create the moral fairy tale. Sara Coleridge, inspired in part by “The White Cat,” wrote the innovative fairy-tale novel Phantasmion in 1837, anticipating the modern genre of fantasy. During the Victorian era, Anne Thackeray Ritchie removed the fantastic elements from her fairy tales, further blurring the lines between fantasy and reality while highlighting social realties in Victorian England. Examining the fairy tales by these women together reveals three things: First, each of these female authors was aware of the feminine tradition of the conte de fées and intentionally engaged with it. Second, each woman pushed the boundaries of the genre of the fairy tale in distinct ways. Third, each woman used her fairy tales to create an in-between world — a space in-between fantasy and reality. Within this space, these women reflected on their own personal experiences and the social realities women were experiencing within their specific contexts, while refracting them through a fantastic lens. Placing these four authors together draws attention to the forgotten influence of d’Aulnoy, highlights the ways in which Fielding, Coleridge and Ritchie expanded the genre, and opens the door for recovering fairy tales written by other female authors.



Fairy tales. Contes de fées. Female authors. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British women. Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy. Sarah Fielding. Sara Coleridge. Anne Thackeray Ritchie. In-between world.