Forbidden Journeys: Fairy Tales and Fantasies by Victorian Women Writers edited by Nina Auerbach and U.C. Knoepflmacher (review)
- Victorian Review
- Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada
- Volume 19, Number 1, Summer 1993
- pp. 64-67
- View Citation
- Additional Information
64Victorian Review "deification of mere opinion and habit" (35). The content of education is a secondary concern, to be finalized by the experts of a given age. Indeed, Mill may praise liberalism as the only truly dynamic and progressive ideology only because it de-centres ideology altogether. Its idea-content is constantly under examination for its usefulness by agents of the people. There is something strangely unsatisfactory about this assertion. Not because it is not true, but because it fails to travel outside the goals it sets for itself. It does not even allow communication with itself without prior acceptance of its game rules. This deficiency of the liberal ideology clings to the present book. HENRIETTE T. DONNER York University Nina Auerbach and U.C. Knoepflmacher, eds. Forbidden Journeys: Fairy Tales and Fantasies by Victorian Women Writers. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1992. 373. $27.50 U.S. (cloth). The association of fairy tales with women writers and storytellers is an old and well-accepted one; through this collection of stories and their extensive editorial commentary Auerbach and Knoepflmacher attempt to show how Victorian women writers used the form to express subversiveness, frustration and even rage, albeit through "ironic indirection." The intriguing title of this anthology promises a little more than it delivers, since the journeys undertaken in it are full of lively humor and humane moralism but relatively little really subversive or lurid material; what's more, it seems that, rather than being forbidden, Victorian women writers were positively encouraged to explore the genre of fairy tale and fantasy writing, associated as it was with children and the domestic scene. The subversive possibilities of fairy tale had already been indicated by Jack Zipes (in, among others, The Revolt of the Fairies and Elves). Nonetheless, the intent of this collection — to bring together many of the best fantasy stories and fairy tale adaptations by leading Victorian women writers such as Anne Thackeray Ritchie, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Juliana Ewing, Jean Ingelow and Christina Rossetti — is admirable, and the collection provides a valuable supplement to Michael Patrick Hearn's The Victorian Fairy Tale Book (1988), which had reprinted stories by Dinah Maria Muloch Craik, Edith Nesbit and Mary de Morgan. The inclusion of two more Nesbit stories in Forbidden Journeys disrupts Reviews65 one organizational principle of the volume, since the stories by the other seven authors were published within a twelve-year span, from 1867 to 1879, while the Nesbit stories didn't appear until 1901 (rather more than "slightly later" as the editors claim); their facetious tone and the topical, satirical references in "Fortunatus Rex" also seem rather out of keeping with the more serious magic of the mid-Victorian stories. This apart, it is a thoughtfully selected and arranged collection. The editors, notable scholars, are generous with their introductory essays to the various sections, as well as providing biographical sketches and lengthy lists of further reading in both primary and secondary sources. One of the chief values of Forbidden Journeys, in addition to simply making these stories readily available for the general reader, is in its grouping of the stories to suggest relationships and comparisons. The collection begins with the Anne Ritchie stories, in which familiar fairy tales are retold in a contemporary context and their timeless relevance to human behavior thus affirmed, and Mrs. Ewing's delightful retelling of "Amelia and the Dwarfs" with its thoroughly naughty but resourceful heroine. These refashioned fairy tales are followed by a set of stories grouped together as "Subversions," since all implicitly criticize some aspect of social behavior or values. Among these are Ewing's "Christmas Crackers," about revealing and unsettling dreams, and Burnett's strange fantasy "Behind the White Brick" in which Jem journeys up the chimney to encounter an articulate Baby who lectures her in "severe" and "acid" tones about the disadvantages of being six months old, and Mr. Claus or S.C. who urges her to "Believe in things just as long as you can, my dear." The one hundred page Mopsa the Fairy by Jean Ingelow is included in its entirety, and the anthology concludes with the three nightmarish stories of Christina Rossetti's Speaking Likenesses, which...