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  • French Fairy Tales: A Jungian Approach
  • Ruth Carver Capasso (bio)
French Fairy Tales: A Jungian Approach. By Bettina L. Knapp. Albany: SUNY P, 2003

In this recent volume from the SUNY Series in Psychoanalysis and Culture, Bettina L. Knapp employs a Jungian approach to the reading of fourteen French fairy tales. Her purpose is more than the customary understanding of a canon or a literary history; her readings are designed "to enlarge the views of readers, to develop their potential, and perhaps, to encourage personal confrontation" (3). Although Knapp does not approach the tales as literature for children, the analyses may be of interest to scholars of children's literature, particularly those engaged in teaching or practicing the application of psychological theory to literary works.

The study opens with an introduction that addresses the aims and approaches of Jungian psychology and gives an overview of the development of the French fairy tale and some criticism surrounding it. Analyses of individual tales are divided into five parts, following a chronological division from the Middle Ages through the twentieth century. Within these divisions, each chapter focuses on an individual writer and a representative tale (or three tales, in the case of Charles Perrault). The selection represents the most famous names in the canon of the fairy tale and fantastic, including the medieval tale of Mélusine and works by Perrault, Mme D'Aulnoy, Nodier, Maeterlinck and Cocteau. Professor Knapp does her readers a service by including works less frequently analyzed, such as stories by Diderot, Rousseau, Gautier, Ségur, George Sand, and Chedid.

After introductory passages that give an overview of the century, each work is situated briefly in the context of the author's life, works, and historical moment, a grounding that Knapp calls an "ectypal" analysis. While these historical summaries offer nothing new to a specialist in French literature, they could be helpful to a general reader or one coming from a different area of specialization. In all honesty, however, the historical context plays a limited role in the author's archetypal interpretations stressing the universality of psychic experiences and the translation of such experiences into story. Knapp intends the explanation of historical periods to aid in the understanding of "the spiritual and philosophical yearnings" reflected in the works, yet her studies focus less on the illumination of a past period's Zeitgeist or of an individual intellectual or spiritual biography than on the use of the tales as an opening for the contemporary reader's growth: "I felt that the probing of fairy tales, like an anamnesis, could open readers to new and pertinent information applicable to their own lives" (3). (The term, anamnesis, is defined later, on page 104 and, with [End Page 127] a slightly different focus, on page 220; in each case the emphasis is on a recollection of past events. One challenge for the reader of this study is the use of a rich vocabulary that sometimes shifts meanings and sometimes, as in the above example, is not immediately explained. While this may frustrate a reader looking for specific information, it does foster the exploratory process of reading and reflection that the author aims to provoke.)

The heart of the book lies in the individual readings of the tales, and here the author excels. Imaginative responses to the stories are deepened by an impressive grasp of myth, religious imagery, alchemy, and Jungian psychology, to name but a few of the intellectual domains referenced. The stories are well chosen for this method of analysis; although they are all French, they could be read by anyone interested in the human imagination or the use of symbol. Most readings stand well on their own and could be read in isolation or in any order, lending themselves to inclusion in courses on criticism.

The study is supplemented by a rich and up-to-date bibliography spanning conventional works of literary history and criticism, psychological studies, dictionaries of alchemy and psychology, and reflective works on art and religion. The index helps the reader navigate the multiple references to imagery and psychological or arcane terms.

Only one outright error jarred in the factual presentation: in the ectypal analysis of...


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pp. 127-128
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