- Red Riding Hood and the Wolf in Bed: Modernism’s Fairy Tales
Red Riding Hood and the Wolf in Bed: Modernism’s Fairy Tales examines the ways in which allusions to fairy tales in modernist works necessitate reader participation and thereby “reflect the instability and the variability [End Page 171] that is the experience of modernity” (p. 12). Focusing on the interaction between sexual and consumer relationships, Ann Martin offers close readings of fairy-tale allusions in the works of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Djuna Barnes. Martin argues, “Sexual fantasies are enabled by their [characters’] knowledge of and interaction with fairy tales . . . they are modern subjects who capitalize upon the potential of mass culture and consumerism” (p. 71). Within this context of gendered, classed, and consumer relationships, the complex, and often intertextual, meanings evoked by fairy-tale allusions become the interpretive responsibility of the individual; the significance of a particular fairy-tale reference depends on the personal experience of the reader to inform the text, rather than relying on historical context or authorial intent (p. 7).
In each of her four chapters, Martin layers her argument in order to complicate the reader’s understanding of the relationship between modernist texts and fairy tales. She introduces the reader to modernity through T. S. Eliot’s lament of lost childhood innocence but does not explicitly link Eliot to the other fairy tales that serve as models throughout the book. Eliot does, however, allow Martin to conceptualize the alienation of the period and its expression though modernist novels. The first chapter provides historical background on fairy tales and how they intersect with consumption in a modern world. Chapter two places Joyce within the context of the Celtic Renaissance and Irish Nationalism of the 1890s and examines the ways in which Ulysses’s Stephen Dedalus and Gerty MacDowell initially embody the fairy-tale ideal before ultimately revolting against the conventions of that narrative and rewriting the story to suit their own needs. “Virginia Woolf: A Slipper of One’s Own,” the third chapter, focuses on To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway to detail the sexual negotiations that rewriting one’s own tale requires. Martin later expands this by linking the sexual ambiguity of Orlando to Woolf’s reversal of the expected behavioral patterns of fairy-tale princes and princesses. Her final chapter, “Djuna Barnes: Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing,” explores how Barnes’s Nightwood and Ladies Almanack present male and female bodies that are at once both male and female as objects of consumption, thereby blurring sexual boundaries and taboos.
Examining fairy-tale allusions in this manner allows Martin to demonstrate the ways in which consumption and gender interact and how that exchange is complicated by each successive use of the source tale, which fragments both the original and its adaptation. Although Martin’s argument is clear throughout, there are moments when her discussion strays into tangential material. The biographical sections on Woolf and Barnes, for example, seem to indicate that the authors’ lives themselves were fairy tales gone awry but do not directly advance Martin’s thesis as to how allusions to fairy tales undermine gender or class roles within modernist texts. [End Page 172] Despite this shortcoming, her argument is sharp and concise each time she juxtaposes specific episodes from modernist literary works with their fairytale antecedents. For example, her explanation of the subtextual connections between Gerty MacDowell and the tales of “Cinderella” and “Snow White” shows how Gerty employs these stories to write and adapt her own narrative even as she steps outside of prescribed gender boundaries.
Although they are often dismissed as insignificant, fairy tales have, particularly since the late nineteenth century, reflected social patterns and values, and their manifestation in fiction speaks to their continued cultural value into the twentieth century and beyond. Ultimately, Martin provides an innovative approach to canonical authors such as Woolf and Barnes and offers a new perspective that emphasizes the importance of fairy tales in modernist literature and their impact on the study...