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Marvels & Tales 17.1 (2003) 166-169
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Madame d'Aulnoy et le rire des fées: essai sur la subversion féerique et le merveilleux comique sous l'Ancien Régime. By Jean Mainil. Paris: Kimé, 2001. 291 pp.
Jean Mainil's study of Madame d'Aulnoy's fairy tales is the first to seriously consider the relation between the frame narratives, often ignored by scholars, and their relation to the inscribed tales. Such considerations lead him to qualify d'Aulnoy's style as "a seditious ironic fairy writing" (30; all translations mine) with respect to both the ideological content of the tales and the genre itself. For Mainil, irony plays itself out in d'Aulnoy's corpus both intratextually, that is, in the tale's relation to the frame narrative in which it is enunciated; and intertextually, in the specific tale's relation to source texts that it parodies or rewrites. Accounting for the function of frame narratives also brings Mainil to examine the responses to the tales by inscribed readers, another source of irony in d'Aulnoy's tale collections. Overall, Mainil emphasizes the complexity and ambiguity of d'Aulnoy's tales in such a way as to problematize any judicious interpretation of them.
In his introductory chapter, Mainil questions the thesis of Raymonde Robert, who maintains the existence of a clear split between the first fairy-tale vogue of the 1690s, which she characterizes as more traditional, and the second post-1715 vogue, whose tales are parodic and subvert the norms of the genre. For Mainil, d'Aulnoy "perverts" the genre from its inception by placing tales in an ironic relation to the frame narrative. For instance, in her first published tale, "L'île de la Félicité" ("The Island of Happiness"), [End Page 166] d'Aulnoy inserts the tale within the narrative of her novel, L'Histoire d'Hypolite, comte de Duglas (Hypolitus Earl of Douglas, 1690). The tale plays a strategic role in relation to the novel. It is related by the hero Hypolite, who disguises himself to gain entry into a convent where his beloved Julie is imprisoned. He must entertain the abbess, who is Julie's keeper, with a tale. In order to please the abbess, who may not respond well to a tale ending in conjugal bliss, Hypolite strategically tells a story that concludes with the death of the tale's hero. Demonstrating tale-telling as a strategy of seduction, Mainil also highlights the irony of the tale's moral (time catches up with everything and there is no perfect felicity), which is contrary to the moral of the novel, ending happily with the union of hero and heroine.
Similarly, "Le Mouton" ("The Sheep") is strategically placed within the frame narrative Don Gabriel Ponce de Leon. The specific context in which the tale is introduced concerns Dona Juana, an austere and devout woman in love with a much younger man, the count of Aguilar, who is disguised as a pilgrim and is in love with Dona Juana's niece. Also disguised as a pilgrim, the count's friend Don Gabriel recounts "The Sheep" to Dona Juana and the count. As Mainil shows, Don Gabriel makes an implicit parallel between the vengeful fairy Ragotte, who punishes a prince by turning him into a sheep, and Dona Juana's ridiculous penchant for the count. Of course, the lesson of the tale is lost to Dona Juana, who ends up locking herself in a convent at the end of the story, while the count happily marries her niece. In this instance, Mainil stresses both the ironic relation of the tale to the frame, and the failure on the part of the inscribed reader to properly integrate the lesson of the tale. In his reading of "Le Serpentin Vert" ("The Green Serpent"), Mainil again emphasizes the reader's failure to properly respond to the tale's message. The heroine Laideronette reads and rereads the story of Cupid and Psyché that her monster-husband...