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Celebration and Repression of Feminine Desire in Mme d’Aulnoy’s Fairy Tale: La Chatte blanche Michèle L. Farrell M me D’AULNOY’S CONTESDES FÉES (1698) can be read as a register of aristocratic feminine desire inscribed against a sober charting of privileged woman’s place in the social order at the end of the 17th Century.1Her “wish-fulfilling narratives” afford an inti­ mate glimpse of woman imaging herself in the veiled security of the mar­ velous and suggest discrete early answers to the more recently formulated question—“what does woman want?” 2Mme d’Aulnoy’s tales take into account the 17th-century female protagonist as heroine of her own life, socially circumscribed by and apparently chafing against the code of pro­ priety governing her role in Louis XIV’sworld. As Gérard Genette, Joan DeJean and Nancy Miller have shown, that code translates textually into constraints of plausibility regulating acceptable possibilities of plot for her as feminine persona in fiction.3 Unlike the historically grounded novel genre through which writers such as Mme de Villedieu and Mme de Lafayette more directly contested a normative masculine version of “reality” (as demonstrated by DeJean, Miller and Arthur Flannigan),4 the fairy tale genre freed the woman writer to challenge those restricted options of plot through the exercise of the right to phantasize contracted in the practice of the fairy tale as genre. The liberative character of the fairy-tale genre allows for the deter­ minative inscription of the feminine psyche into the story. But, at the same time, the ideology endemic to the formal features of the genre limits the resolutions available to its female practitioners, and effectively contains feminine desire as it articulates itself within this mode. Never­ theless, the feminine psyche will out, and will erupt in the self-figurative framed tales within the tales, systematically featuring women narrators shaped by women writers, faithfully representing themselves as they spin their tales and spell out their world of desire.5 Mme d’Aulnoy was one of many women to pass from the activity of telling stories to the act of writing them down at this time.6As Raymonde Robert points out, these women were for the most part aristocrats and their literary activity was viewed as a fashionable salon pastime, a game, responding to a need to occupy leisure time by amusing themselves 52 Fa ll 1989 Farrell and one another. Their stories reflect the collective concerns of a limited circle at a particular historical juncture.7They mirror the shared desires and ideals of a feminine elite, the locus both of their inscribed origina­ tion and of their immediate destination; hence they constitute a class-and gender-inflected genre. The aristocracy, infantilized under the absolutist reign of Louis XIV, appears to at once acknowledge its reduced status through espousal of this genre by its signifying women, and to project that infantilization hierarchically onto the masses from which it claims to borrow the genre. The literary fairy tale occupies a particular socio-cultural niche; on the one hand, as opposed to its folkloric counterpart, it is a written form produced in a setting of privilege, hence enjoying status as a dimension of official culture. On the other, borrowing as it does from popular oral tradition, it shares with folk culture a position of marginality in relation to the institution ofthe official esthetics of the period. The attitude struc­ turing the fairy tale is at once condescending and dependent, reflecting a crucial relationship that binds the aristocracy to the masses at that time— that of the “nourrice”—the servant/mother, herself nurturing and dependent, the very persona who will be identified as the transmitter of tales from the common folk to the nobility.8This pivotal figure, if not necessarily the actual agent, functions symbolically as symptom of the asymmetry of the class relationship obtaining between the aristocracy and the people—the tension between the patronizing paternalistic and the subservient maternalistic. And the feminine elite occupies a con­ flicted position between the two. Aristocratic women, assigned the role of signifying infantalization for a feminized, disempowered class, will entertain themselves and one another with stories supposedly purveyed by women of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 52-64
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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