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French Fairy Tales

A Jungian Approach

Bettina L. Knapp

Publication Year: 2003

Bettina L. Knapp explores the universal and eternal nature of fourteen French fairy tales, including the medieval Romance of Mélusine, Charles Perrault’s seventeenth-century versions of Sleeping Beauty and Bluebeard, and Jean Cocteau’s film version of Beauty and the Beast. She demonstrates the relevance of these fairy tales for modern readers, both for the psychological problems they address and for the positive resolutions they offer. Through her careful examination of these tales, Knapp shows that people in past eras suffered from such supposedly “modern” problems as alienation and identity crises and went through harrowing ordeals before experiencing some sort of fulfillment. By imparting the age-old wisdom embedded in these works, French Fairy Tales triggers new insights into psychological problems and offers helpful ways of dealing with them.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in Psychoanalysis and Culture

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-17

THE WORLD OF FAIRY TALES opened its fantasies to me when I was four years old—in 1930. My parents, my brother, Daniel, and I were living in Paris at the time. It was spring and we were scheduled to leave for the south of France. Prior to taking the train, we had planned to greet Yvette Guilbert, the French diseuse, who would be returning from...

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pp. 19-21

THE MIDDLE AGES, A PERIOD WHICH EXTENDED from about 400 to 1500, was breathtaking in its intellectual, scientific, political, social, commercial, and artistic achievements. Feudal leaders, having actively extended and consolidated their power in surrounding domains, brought fiefdoms into existence. They contracted with farmers...

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Chapter 1. Melusine: “The Beauty of Things is Fleet and Swift”

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pp. 23-59

Variations of the story line and theme of Jean d’Arras’s deeply moving The Romance of Mélusine (1392 or 1393) date back to ancient times. Associations have been made between the French protagonist, Mélusine, and the Vedic heroine Urvasi, a beautiful and voluptuous Apsara, or heavenly nymph; the Japanese Shinto Toyo-tama, daughter...

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pp. 61-64

THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY—“le grand siècle”—began quite inauspisciously. The period was rife with political instability and religious wars—Catholics killing Protestants. Wisdom prevailed somewhat only after the the peace-loving Henry IV (1553–1610) was named king. A Protestant by birth and by conviction, he converted to Catholicism...

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Chapter 2. Charles Perrault’s Multi-Veined Donkey Skin, Sleeping Beauty, and Bluebeard

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pp. 65-105

That Charles Perrault had a mind of his own was made evident when, at the age of fifteen, following an altercation with one of his teachers, he left school, greatly disappointing his father, an attorney at the Parlement of Paris. Henceforth, the largely self-taught Perrault studied not only the required curriculum, but the Bible, La Serre’s History of France, and Latin authors, such...

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Chapter 3. Mme d’Aulnoy’s The Bluebird—Metamorphosis, an Unconscious Readjustment

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pp. 107-132

FAR FROM UNEVENTFUL, the daily existence of Mme d’Aulnoy (l650[1]–1705) was interwoven with drama and mystery. Her pulsating psyche led her to penetrate both the light and shadow sides of human nature. So sensitive was her understanding of a person’s capacity for suffering, loving, and hating, and so perceptive was she of hidden jealousies,...

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pp. 133-135

SINCE LOUIS XV WAS ONLY FIVE YEARS OLD at the death, in 1715, of his great-grandfather, Louis XIV, Philip d’Orléans was named regent of France. A fine historian, painter, and musician, he was also known for his dissolute amusements. When reprimanded by his mother for his debaucheries, he allegedly answered: “I work every day from six in the morning...

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Chapter 4. Denis Diderot’s The White Bird—As Holy Ghost/Holy Spirit

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pp. 137-156

AT FIRST GLANCE ONE WOULD NEVER ASSOCIATE Diderot, man of the Enlightenment, with the fairy tale genre. Nonetheless, The White Bird (1749), includes all of its earmarks: a fairy, miracles, transformations, evil geni, and supernatural events. Author of such ground-breaking works as Philosophical Thoughts, Letter on the Blind, D’Alembert’s Dream, Rameau’s...

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Chapter 5. Was Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Fantastic Queen Merely a Tongue-in-Cheek Fairy Tale?

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pp. 157-177

COMPOSED IN 1754, SEEMINGLY FOR THE HABITUÉS of Mlle Quinault’s salon, The Fantastic Queen remained unpublished until 1758. A year later, after one of Rousseau’s protectresses, Mme Dupin, expressed the wish to read the fairy tale, he acquiesced to her request, but downgraded its import. “It’s a five-or-six page folly, which, having been written in a...

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pp. 179-181

THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, having put the Ancien Régime to rest, catalyzed in its place short-lived political panaceas: the Convention (1792); Robespierre’s rule of Terror (1793–1794); the First Republic (1795), the Directory (1795–1799), the Consulate (1799) and the advent of Bonaparte, the future Emperor, Napoleon I (1804–1815), whose grandiose visions...

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Chapter 6. Charles Nodier’s The Crumb Fairy—A Sacred Marriage of Sun and Moon

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pp. 183-201

Nodier’s unappeased thirst for fairy tales induced his monumental dream-reverie, The Crumb Fairy (1832). The fantastic adventures of the author’s protagonists, the young Michel, incapable of adapting to society, and his beloved Crumb Fairy, are narrated mainly in flashbacks within the framework of a “lunatic” asylum in Glasgow (Scotland). Studies...

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Chapter 7. Théophile Gautier’s Parapsychological Hetaera/Fairy: Arria Marcella

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pp. 203-223

HAD A REAL MUSE/FAIRY triggered the parapsychological experience that allowed Théophile Gautier’s protagonist, Octavius, to reenter the past and resurrect a Pompeian beauty? Or was his exploit the result of an opium induced dream? Or had it simply been a normal dream? Whether or not Arria Marcella, the love figure in Gautier’s short story, was a...

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Chapter 8. Countess Sophie De Ségur’s Rosette—A Manichean Merry-Go-Round

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pp. 225-244

SOPHIE DE SÉGUR, born Rostopchine (1799–1874), was one of the best-known and most popular writers of fairy tales and of children’s literature of her day and ours. Whereas the protagonists in the fairy tales of Perrault, Mme d’Aulnoy, and Georges Sand, among others, were figures who evolved in thought and understanding during their adventures, Mme de...

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Chapter 9. George Sand’s The Castle Of Crooked Peak— The Topography of Memory Manipulation

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pp. 245-281

GEORGE SAND’S MOTHER referred to her daughter’s earliest “literary attempts” as the outpourings of a highly emotional child “whose passion for inventing tales seemed endless and dull.” Not in the least mortified, Sand simply assured her mother that her future writings would not be “pedantic,” but would convey her feelings in the simplest of ways (Sand,...

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Chapter 10. Maurice Maeterlinck’s Pelléas and Mélisande— The Dying Complex

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pp. 283-301

OF METAPHYSICAL DIMENSION, Maeterlinck’s fairy tale, Pelléas and Mélisande (1893), dramatizes the birth and burgeoning of the passion of love and its ultimate destruction of the protagonists. As a theater piece based essentially on what psychologists have labeled the “dying complex,” the personages appear within a framework of signs and sensations, of...

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pp. 303-305

THE THIRD REPUBLIC, which came into being on September 4, 1870, was unable to survive France’s defeat by the Germans in June 1940, but was fortunate to have had men of integrity in its ranks. One of these was the eloquent and passionate fighter for justice Georges Clemenceau— referred to as “The Tiger.” A radical leftist early in his career, by 19l7 he had...

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Chapter 11. Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast—“The Plucking of a Rose”

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pp. 307-333

Eschewing vagueness and nebulosity, Cocteau searched for exactitude, for sharpness of image, for precision in the story line, for acting, costuming, and use and placement of accessories—techniques that paradoxically would cause the world of enchantment and make-believe to dominate in the psyches...

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Chapter 12. Andrée Chedid’s The Suspended Heart—The Mystery of Being

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pp. 335-356

ANDRÉE CHEDID’S FAIRY TALE, The Suspended Heart (Le Coeur suspendu, [1981]), incites readers to penetrate the magical lands of her multiple heritage—Egypt, Lebanon, and France, her adopted country. Glimpsed in her verbal distillations are secreted images, mysteries, and paradigms of both the plenitude and scantiness of the human heart. Shorn of...

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pp. 357-359

We have come a long way in our journey through French fairy tales. Our probing of a variety of psychological types, from medieval to modern times, in addition to our excursuses into religious beliefs, customs, and philosophical and artistic processes, have unveiled many fairy-tale figures in modern dress. Because fairy tales link readers and/or listeners to a past, they...


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pp. 361-365


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pp. 367-379


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pp. 381-393

E-ISBN-13: 9780791488096
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791454695
Print-ISBN-10: 079145469X

Page Count: 403
Publication Year: 2003

Series Title: SUNY series in Psychoanalysis and Culture

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Jung, C. G. (Carl Gustav), 1875-1961.
  • Symbolism in fairy tales -- France.
  • Psychoanalysis and fairy tales -- France.
  • Fairy tales -- France.
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