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  • Textualité et intertextualité des contes: Perrault, Apulée, La Fontaine, Lhéritier … by Ute Heidmann and Jean-Michel Adam
  • Lewis C. Seifert (bio)
Textualité et intertextualité des contes: Perrault, Apulée, La Fontaine, Lhéritier … By Ute Heidmann and Jean-Michel Adam. Paris: Editions Classiques Garnier, 2010. 400 pp.

In this unusual, often insightful, and sometimes polemical book, Ute Heidmann and Jean-Michel Adam take up many of the problems that have long dogged criticism of Charles Perrault’s fairy tales. Both the sources and interpretation of his Histoires ou contes du temps passé have generated an ever-expanding body of scholarship and with it a number of seemingly intractable questions. Did Perrault base his tales on oral tradition? What were his literary sources, if any? What sort of social critique is performed by his fairy tales? And specifically, is Perrault a (proto-) feminist? These are some of the most prominent questions addressed by Heidmann and Adam, who use the tools of comparative philology, genetic criticism, and discursive analysis to scrutinize the textual fabric of this collection. Through intricate analyses of individual tales and the relationships between them and with other texts, the authors shed new light on this corpus and position themselves against many received notions in Perrault criticism and fairy-tale studies more generally.

The most fundamental notion that Heidmann and Adam question is the possibility of defining what a fairy tale is. As a point of departure, the authors assert, the question of how to define a fairy tale reinforces a universalizing perspective that obscures the textual specificity and variety of the texts we call fairy tales. For Heidmann and Adam, then, it is less productive to ask what fairy tales are and much more productive to ask how they use and dialogue with a range of linguistic and literary discourses. Focusing on the textual workings of Perrault’s prose tales also leads the authors to reject commonplace assertions of a debt to the oral tradition; instead, Heidmann and Adam prefer to analyze the historically contingent intertextual and interdiscursive references that are obscured by the (supposedly) universalizing and thematic approach of folklore studies. Rather than tale types, then, Heidmann and Adam use a limited number [End Page 196] of heretofore mostly neglected literary sources—particularly Apuleius’s Tale of Cupid and Psyche—to illuminate “Sleeping Beauty,” “Blue Beard,” and “Little Red Riding Hood” in particular, with implications for all of the Histoires ou contes du temps passé. Much more than a source study, Textualité et intertextualité des contes shows how Perrault reworks the generic conventions of the intertexts he draws on, thereby creating a newly inflected genre that departs from its antecedents in significant ways. The first part of this book, written by Ute Heidmann, centers on Perrault’s generic “reconfigurations” in some detail. The second part, by Jean-Michel Adam, often refers back to the first part and explores various textual and discursive features that give Perrault’s collection its coherence.

In the first section, “Genres and Texts in Dialogue,” Heidmann studies what she calls Perrault’s “dialogic poetics,” the means by which his prose tales incorporate and rewrite elements from specific intertexts (Apuleius especially, but also Virgil, La Fontaine, Scarron, and Fénelon), creating tales that often invert their storylines and invalidate their overt messages. But Heidmann’s argument in this part of the book goes even further, asserting that it is with these intertextual and interdiscursive dialogues—and not purportedly fictive “folkloric” sources—that Perrault creates the narratives we now know as “Blue Beard” and “Little Red Riding Hood.” Although this claim does not square with a large body of scholarship (none of which is engaged with, it should be noted), the intertextual underpinnings of the Histoires ou contes du temps passé, which are astutely laid out here, shed important new light on Perrault’s stance toward antiquity. It is well-known, of course, that his fairy tales had a strategic place in the ongoing quarrel of the ancients and the moderns, but Heidmann’s analyses make clear that the prose tales actively rewrite ancient sources from a decidedly skeptical posture, highlighting their incompatibility with “modern” (i.e., late seventeenth-century) cultural...


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pp. 196-199
Launched on MUSE
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