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The Lion and the Unicorn 27.3 (2003) 425-428
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Bettina L. Knapp. French Fairy Tales: A Jungian Approach. Albany: SUNY P, 2003.
Readers of this book are at something of a disadvantage: with the exception of the medieval romance Melusine, Charles Perrault's three tales, Jean Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast," and (perhaps among the initiated) Mme. D'Aulnoy's "Blue-bird," the plots and characters of the fairy tales Bettina Knapp discusses are relatively unfamiliar. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century fairy tales, such as Diderot's "White Bird," Rousseau's "White Queen," Charles Nodler's "The Crumb Fairy," [End Page 425] Théophile Gautier's "Arrica Marcella," George Sand's "Castle of Crooked Peak," and Maeterlinck's "Pelléas and Mélisande" warrant plot summaries, which are unfortunately not to be found here. The same is true in the twentieth century with Andrée Chedid's "Suspended Heart." The inaccessibility of many of the texts discussed undermines Knapp's stated purpose: "to create unconscious connections between the reader and the [fairy tale] characters involved" (9).
Knapp's explicit definition of fairy tales both rests and relies upon Marie-Louise von Franz's description of the genre in Interpretation of Fairy Tales: "the purest and simplest expression of [the] collective unconscious psychic process" that "represent[s] the archetypes in their simplest, barest and most concise form . . . [providing] clues to the understanding of the processes going on in the collective psyche. . . . [I]n fairy tales there is much less specific conscious cultural material [than in myths or legends] and therefore they mirror the basic patterns of the psyche more clearly" (4). Referring to a 1924 commentary that defines fairy tales as "fossil remains of the thoughts and customs of the past" (11), Knapp early on reveals her intellectual indebtedness to research that grew out of nineteenth-century nation-building and folk-affirmation and that are more professions of faith than accurate historical descriptions of fairy tales. Nonetheless, they represent Professor Knapp's point of departure, as well as her framework for a Jungian discussion of French fairy tales.
Knapp's efforts to historicize fairy tales do not foster confidence. Using quotation marks that lend credibility, she tells us that "[e]ven 'the austere Colbert' took pleasure in the relating of fairy tales and the miraculous events associated with them during social gatherings," citing page 13 in Elizabeth Mary Storer's La mode des contes de fées (14). I include the entire quotation because it is important to see clearly that Knapp has made Storer say something that she did not in fact say. True, "l'austère Colbert" appears there, but it is Sandras de Courtilz's Annales de la Cour de Paris, pour les Années 1697-1698 that Storer herself cited. On page 14 we learn that in his leisure hours Colbert had people "l'entretenir de contes qui ressembloient assez à ceux de Peau d'asne." In other words, Colbert liked to hear stories something like "Donkey-Skin." But what were "Donkey-Skin" tales in the context of the seventeenth century? "Donkey-Skin tales," like "contes de ma mère l'oie," meant stories published in the bibliothèque bleue for common readers, and that included smutty narratives (which Perrault's "Three Ridiculous Wishes" was before he cleaned it up), moral tales (like "Griselda," which Boccaccio had invented, which Petrarch's Latin and more misogynist [End Page 426] translation had spread throughout Europe, and which Perrault identified as coming from the cheap press), as well as the "Donkey-Skin" tale itself (which Perrault elevated to courtly status from the pre-existing rough popular version).
Knapp organizes her book chronologically into five parts: the Middle Ages plus four sections, one each devoted to the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. She discusses the early-seventeenth-century Neapolitan Basile, the presence of whose work in France can be inferred but not yet proven, but not the sixteenth-century Venetian Straparola, whose book in French translation provided the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century imagination with its most frequently republished fairy tales...