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  • Politique du conte. Special Issue of Féeries: Études sur le conte merveilleux XVIIe–XIXe siècle 3
  • Jack Zipes
Politique du conte. Special Issue of Féeries: Études sur le conte merveilleux XVIIe–XIXe siècle 3 (2006). 415 pp.

This special issue consists of thirteen essays that deal with various political aspects of the French literary fairy tale and that cover the period from about 1690 to 1789 or so. Anne Defrance’s introductory article, “La Politique du conte aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles: Pour une lecture oblique” (The Politics of the Fairy Tale in the 17th and 18th Centuries: Toward an Oblique Reading), lays out the parameters for the rest of the essays. Essentially, Defrance argues that Charles Perrault serves as a good starting point for understanding the relationship between politics and the fairy tale. Perrault was constrained by rules of decorum and social codes that prevented free speech so that he had to make it seem that his fairy tales were nothing but delightful bagatelles (trivialities). In actuality, Perrault, who was somewhat disgruntled and perturbed by Louis XIV and his court—as were many of the other fairy-tale writers in the 1790s—incorporated into his tales subtle political and moral critiques of the Sun King and the classical literary standards of Nicolas Boileau and his followers. To make her point, Defrance does an excellent close reading of Perrault’s verse tale “La Marquise de Salusses ou la Patience de Griseldis, nouvelle” (1691). She indicates that there are many veiled references to Louis XIV and the dangers of absolutism. In the end, however, Perrault compromises his critical position by vindicating the king in this tale and not taking a clearer stand for the radicalism of the fairy tale as genre. Though “Griseldis” is not a fairy tale, it served as a model that Perrault used in his fairy tales, in which his political critique of the absolute monarchy is much more apparent. According to Defrance, most of the writers of fairy tales from Perrault up to the French Revolution developed political themes in their works with metaphorical references to politics, and she traces schematically the different phases of the fairy tale (the marvelous, libertine, [End Page 184] oriental, and philosophical) and focuses on the symbolical representation of politics.

All the essays that follow Defrance’s article treat themes and problems that she raises, but they do this in more detail and from different perspectives. Among the more interesting essays are those by Éric Méchoulan, Marie-Agnès Thirard, Jean-Paul Sermain, and Huguette Krief. In Méchoulan’s “Le pouvoir féerique” (Fairy Power) he sheds light on how Louis XIV’s court itself was more like a fairy tale and provided the sociopolitical background for the motifs and topoi in the fairy tales. Thirard’s article, “De l’allée du roi aux sentiers du bon sauvage: Un parcours dans les contes de Madame d’Aulnoy” (From the King’s Alley to the Paths of the Noble Savage: A Trajectory in Madame d’Aulnoy’s Tales), concentrates on the subversive aspects of d’Aulnoy’s tales; Thirard argues that they do not reinforce the social codes and political power of absolutism. On the contrary, she maintains that there is a utopian impulse in Madame d’Aulnoy’s tales that projects an “insula feminarum,” in which women would hold political power. Sermain deals with a later period of the fairy tale in his essay, “Le fantasme de l’absolutisme dans le conte de fees au XVIIIe siècle (Fénelon, Galland, Cré-billon, Diderot, Beckford)” (The Fantasy of Absolutism in the Eighteenth-Century Fairy Tale). In it he analyzes the manner in which the fairy tales involve the reader in questioning authority and the nature of absolutism. Krief’s essay, “Le conte politique et l’ Isegoria à l’aurore de la Révolution Française” (The Political Tale and Isegoria at the Beginning of the French Revolution), demonstrates that despite the skeptical attitude toward the fairy tale and other types of tales by the people who overthrew the monarchy, there were a number of narratives that were published during the period 1789–1793...


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pp. 184-185
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