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The tale of Madame d’Aulnoy

We may see fairy tales now as something from our youth, a story to get a child to sleep, keep them from boredom, or to teach a moral lesson. However, fairy tales haven’t always just been for kids. In late seventeenth-century France the fairy tale became a ‘legitimate’ genre of literature for the educated (adult) classes to read.

Fairy tales were introduced in to literary salons by a group of gifted female writers, including Mme d’Aulnoy, Mme d’Auneuil, Mme de Murat, Mlle Lhéritier, and Mme de La Force. The below video provides a brief introduction to this era of fairy tales and the most famous French writer of fairy tales (after Charles Perrault): Mme d’Aulnoy.

Are you intrigued by this group of women, and want to learn more? Then keep reading for some interesting facts about d’Aulnoy and fairy tales in seventeenth-century France:

  • This group of writers were the first to designate this literary genre as a fairy tale, or contes de fees, with the narratives varying between 10 and 60 pages in length.
  • During the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth century, fairy tales reflected changes happening in King Louis XIV’s court.
  • d’Aulnoy’s Histoire d’Hypolite, comte de Duglas (or the Story of Hypolitus, Count of Douglas) was the first literary fairy tale published in the French language.
  • A number of the fairy tales written by this group of writers grapple with the question of love. In several tales written by d’Auneuil, she provides a critical perspective, rejecting the conventional idea of a happy ending. Whereas Murat treated love from multiple perspectives – for example in Anguillette passionate love overrides temperance, which leads to tragedy.
  • Almost 30% of the French fairy tales that appeared in English between 1691 and 1729 were written by d’Aulnoy.
  • Lhéritier, the niece of Charles Perrault, was the writer of the first literary version of Rumpelstiltskin, originally made famous by the Brothers Grimm, called Ricdin-Ricdon.
  • Strong heroines play a significant role in many of d’Aulnoy’s tales, for example the heroine Finette-Cendron is a resolutely active character, combining the qualities of Thumbelina and Cinderella.

Featured image credit: Photograph by Jovi Waqa. CC0 1.0 Public Domain via Unsplash.

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