- Red Riding Hood and the Wolf in Bed: Modernism’s Fairy Tales
Red Riding Hood and the Wolf in Bed argues that fairy tales in modernist texts “signal the interactions that take place between the modernist author and the inherited tradition, as well as between the reader, the writer, the text, and its contexts against the backdrop of a rich and constantly changing history” (12). The multiplicity of fairy tales—the fact that modernist authors likely knew them in various versions, including bowdlerized, didactic Victorian ones and over-the-top pantomime ones—makes these texts ideally suited for authorial negotiations with gender roles, commodity culture, and modernity itself, Ann Martin writes.
Tracing allusions to fairy tales in works of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Djuna Barnes, Martin’s text also looks consistently for authors’ engagement with commodity culture, and finds that fairy tales help explain negotiations with modern capitalism in Ulysses, Mrs. Dalloway, and Nightwood. Martin particularly looks at fairy tales that “explore the individual’s role in a modern urban society” (16). She finds that these tales are “predicated upon the dynamics of consumerism and the subject’s performance of a gendered, classed identity” and suggests that in the works of modernist writers in particular, allusions to fairy tales are not primarily references to escapism or fantasy but rather attempts to understand “social pressures” (16).
In her chapter on Joyce, Martin begins with a discussion of “Scylla and Charybdis,” comparing Joyce’s use of Continental fairy tale to the Celtic Revivalists’ use of mythic Ireland. Joyce deflates nationalist deployments of stereotypical representations when he “suggests how the constructed nature of the images can be used in potentially unscripted ways” (53). But even this practice differs from Joyce’s deployment of fairy tale. Stephen’s small foot, remarked on by Esther Osvalt in Paris, analogizes him to Cinderella (64–65), but he is also linked by thematic elements that operate as formal structures in the fairy tale—his figuration as motherless orphan, the (attempted) intervention of a well-meaning outsider, and the narrative urge to restore [End Page 618] his lost position. Martin argues that “‘Cinderella’ becomes a shifting reference in Ulysses that leads to ambiguity more often than to certainty” (62). Martin is a fan of multiplicity: in a discussion of Buck Mulligan’s relation to Stephen, she labels him Fairy Godmother, Evil Stepmother, and Prince Charming. I do not disagree with her on this point—like most readers of Ulysses, I think Stephen’s attitude toward Buck is highly ambivalent, and for reasons that owe more to Stephen’s psychology than to Buck’s—but I fail to see what she gains from this particular move, because she describes both the Fairy Godmother’s and Prince Charming’s actions as “rescue” (66). This seems like an assertion of ambiguity for its own sake or perhaps an attempt to demonstrate her contemporary gender-politics credentials.
Martin is on firmer ground in her discussion of “Nausicaa.” She notices how fairy tales, especially “Snow White” and “Beauty and the Beast,” are source-texts both Gerty and Bloom use to explain their fantasies and behavior: “Both figures’ sexual fantasies are enabled by their knowledge of and interaction with fairy tales, then: they are modern subjects who capitalize upon the potential of mass culture and consumerism” (71). Fairy tales in Joyce represent “not just the interpellation of subjects” but the ways they engage with their culture (77). Gerty’s interest in her clothing—her acquisition of the “silk to tone” at “Clery’s summer sales, the very it, slightly shopsoiled but you would never notice, seven fingers two and a penny” (U 13.157–58, 159–61)—marks her understanding, gained from fairy tales and the Fairy Godmother-like Vera Verity, that costume is the primary signifier of class. In her ballgown, after all, Cinderella is beautiful and therefore visible to the prince; without it, she is invisible to the courtly world and requires the signifier of the glass...