Fairy Tales for the Disillusioned collects thirty-six tales, many newly translated, by writers associated with the decadent literary movement, which flourished in France in the late nineteenth century
Fairy Tales for the Disillusioned : Enchanted Stories from the French Decadent Tradition, Ed. by Gretchen Schultz and Lewis Seifert, Princeton UP, 2016.
The wolf is tricked by Red Riding Hood into strangling her grandmother and is subsequently arrested. Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella do not live happily ever after. And the fairies are saucy, angry, and capricious. Fairy Tales for the Disillusioned collects thirty-six tales, many newly translated, by writers associated with the decadent literary movement, which flourished in France in the late nineteenth century. Written by such creative luminaries as Charles Baudelaire, Anatole France, and Guillaume Apollinaire, these enchanting yet troubling stories reflect the concerns and fascinations of a time of great political, social, and cultural change. Recasting well-known favorites from classic French fairy tales, as well as Arthurian legends and English and German tales, the updated interpretations in this collection allow for more perverse settings and disillusioned perspectives--a trademark style and ethos of the decadent tradition. In these stories, characters puncture the optimism of the naive, talismans don't work, and the most deserving don't always get the best rewards. The fairies are commonly victims of modern cynicism and technological advancement, but just as often are dangerous creatures corrupted by contemporary society. The collection underlines such decadent themes as the decline of civilization, the degeneration of magic and the unreal, gender confusion, and the incursion of the industrial. The volume editors provide an informative introduction, biographical notes for each author, and explanatory notes throughout. Subverting the conventions of the traditional fairy tale, these old tales made new will entertain and startle even the most disenchanted readers.
"[F]un and intriguing . . . . [E]xcellent windows into a period in history, especially in France, when politics and world strife . . . made it hard to embrace the [happily ever after] of the popular fairy tales."--Heidi Anne Heiner
"[S]ometimes sardonic, sometimes brutal, often blackly funny and possessed of a peculiarly modern sensibility."--Cameron Woodhead
"It’s easy to see why Fairy Tales For the Disillusioned is capturing rave reviews. Our cultural climate is ripe for such a round of stories and, as the series from which it appears states, these are, indeed Oddly Modern Fairy Tales."--Once Upon a Blog
"Fairy Tales for the Disillusioned brings together fairy tales by canonical and noncanonical nineteenth-century French authors. Many of these works have not been anthologized for an English audience--nor a French one--and these translated texts provide a complex view not only of the decadent tale but also of the possibilities of the fairy tale in general."--Anne E. Duggan
"French fairy tales are too often associated only with the emergence of the genre, especially Charles Perrault's influential stories, and then much later with fairy-tale films. Where did all the fairies go in the nineteenth century? Featuring a wide range of translated decadent fairy tales from France, this welcome and entertaining collection fills a large gap in English readers’ access to such texts. It will definitely have a place in my library."--Cristina Bacchilega
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Fairies' Gifts 3
The Fairies of France 6
Dreaming Beauty 11
Isolina / Isolin 17
The Way to Heaven 22
An Unsuitable Guest 27
The Three Good Fairies 31
The Last Fairy 36
The Lucky Find 41
The Wish Granted, Alas! 45
The Suitors of Princess Mimi 48
Liette's Notions 60
On the Margins of Perrault's Fairy Tales: The White Rabbit and the Four-Leaf Clover 68
The Ogresses 72
Fairy Morgane's Tales: Nocturne II 77
Bluebeard's Little Wife 84
The Green She-Devil 88
Fairy Tales for the Disillusioned 101
Henri de Régnier
The Living Door Knocker 108
The Mortis 115
Sleeping Beauty Didn't Wake Up 128
Princess of the Red Lilies 137
Princess Snowflower 142
Mandosiane in Captivity 148
Prince Charming 152
The Story of the Prince of Valandeuse 157
The Pleasant Surprise 165
The Last Fairy 173
The Seven Wives of Bluebeard 183
The Story of the Duchess of Cicogne and of Monsieur de Boulingrin 210
The 28-Kilometer Boots 226
Cinderella Arrives by Automobile 233
Cinderella Continued, or the Rat and the Six Lizards 238
Cinderella, the Humble and Haughty Child 243
Biographical Notes 251
review by Richard Marshall excerpt:
Pierre Veber’s ‘The Last Fairy’ includes an advert: ‘Get eternal youth with Z cream…’ It’s a version of our impassible contemporary world, all its freights, crew and cargo, where even champagne feels like prison water. A sensibility that grew out of the 19th century and the chaos of France: its perpetual revolution, regime change, two empires, two monarchies, three republics – these are this time’s fairy stories, and so ours too in a certain mood. Decadent fairy stories were popular between 1870 and 1914 and have been told ever after, versions of ourselves as ‘… diminished and more unhappy than before, because they have understood that mankind has succeeded in conquering supreme magic, and that there is no longer a place for fairies in the modern world.’ This is a beautiful book that features a wide range of decadent fairy tales from France that fills a large gap in English readers’ access to such texts. Gretchen Schultz and Lewis Seifert have done a wonderful job in bringing these together in what is increasingly becoming essential, the great Jack Zipes’ ‘Oddly Modern Fairy Tales’ series.
The conte de fees appeared from the late 17th century to the Revolution and were aimed at adult readers. New versions of the familiar fairy stories appeared via writers such as George Sand, translations of the Grimms and Anderson, opera adaptions by Offenbach and Dukas, the films of Melies and so forth. A burgeoning children’s literature made Puss N Boots, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood etc ubiquitous and so distortion, perversion and deliberate tinkering with them became an effective vehicle for agendas political, social and aesthetic. So, for example, Charles Perrault’s ‘ Stories or Tales of Yesteryear’ of 1697, became mistranslated deliberately so that ‘spectre de la rose’ became ‘ spectrum of rose’ on wet nights, and the mood and atmosphere changes just like that. The innocence and enchantments of flowers were translated into something much more wild, sexual and violent in these writings. In Rachilde’s ‘The Mortis’ everyone becomes ‘… larval men wrapped in filthy rags, creatures struck with vertigo who spun faintly before dropping to the ground. Roses repopulated the deserted city. They came to life tumultuously, rushing forward with heads knocking together like troops of children in love with ruins for the disorder they provide. They were no longer bouquets, but rather gangs…’
What drove this was a refined, desperate, reactionary and anti-modern, usually religious sensibility that asked in all seriousness sequences such as: ‘Who hasn’t dreamt of dying gloriously at the Battle of the Dunes casting dice upon a drum, smithereened by a cannonball? Of receiving inheritances from cousins of Outarde? Gazed on towers ruined on orders from Richelieu, pale and quaking, as if a dream without rain would not be anything less than an absolutist craving for rain as charm?’You get the gist. Here gravity is of the order of ‘an ogleful of tears’, a crooked homage to the gulf between the here and the light of an aristocratic beam of eternity, a hungered nice little whimper of the mystic strange and exalted death of a wronged Bluebeard by treacherous Pierre and Cosme, those two with him a syzygetic threesome who ‘… ran their swords through his body from behind and continued to strike at him long after he had breathed his last.’ It’s an imagination that tends towards a truncated and perverted version of what has been lost.So here the version of Bluebeard takes this infamous character from a different perspective where everything points to something else and gestures beyond itself to something which stands in its place not in allegorical glory but as a form of post truth realism. It’s a cavalier attempt that criminalises the wives, working like the uncanny feeling Freud’s wolfman feels witnessing the beating of horses, the same guy who asks Ninya whether God has an arse. It is the conquest of intellectual modernity filtered through some wild supreme magic and the queasy yellow of lost absolutism.
This is the imagination of the decadent movement in France reacting to the Third Republic (1870- 1940), the flames of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) and the Paris Commune of 1871. Devastating losses to Prussia, rapidly evolving class powers, the entrance of women to the workforce were all seen as the start of the last events of last times. Decadent fairy stories were squibs of savage irony in the face of fierce modernist mortality. Labour movements, women’s rights, education for girls and marriage, all these reforms were threats and forced the aristocratic imagination to go backhanded against the shift. Anticlerical ressentement pressed a right royal ‘auf dem Tisch’ ie show your hand, commit yourself to the way back to the ancient forests. Republican secularism led to a secular state by 1905 and Auguste Compte and positivism. Science and progress. Darwin and evolution, modernity, railroads, automation, electricity, medicine and Louis Pasteur’s germ theory, photography, x rays, transatlantic ocean travel, automobiles, the telegraph, these all contributed to an episode of personal engulfment for the ancient regime that lay nakedly exposed, doomed and confined without sanctuary before the influx. The crisis was a very real thing, though cast in terms of a very particular social setting, that of an Absolutist French Enlightenment in contrast to the Scottish Enlightenment across the channel which, sans Absolutism, responded differently. But Aristocrats and Positivists both were aware of the link between knowing and being, and the vernacular of life resists translation into any sacred new modern language of truth. The question for Positivism was what had humanism of any kind got to offer in terms of truth and for the Absolutist they too saw how Positivism eroded a link that sanctified their powers and privileges. Both saw that no matter how we live and what we seem to need to do so, nothing of that linked with science and what was actually true. How the world really is and how we dwell in it were rightly seen by both Positivists and Aristocrats as irrevocably irreconcilable. The enchantments we live by are condemned as false by science and the disenchantment leaves us as exiles. This cognitive and sociological exile is the modern predicament and is the predicament shaping these fairy stories of the disillusioned.
The writers of these stories were serious and faced up to the crisis in their stories, posing the issue in terms of the end of fairies and fantasy worlds, but knowing that a whole new social order was being built out of the ruins of enchantments. So Ernest Renan recognized that ‘ … the richness of the marvelous endures up until the incontrovertible advent of the scientific age’ and Goyau wrote that ‘railways… put fairies to flight.’ Naturalism, hyperrealism, scientific approaches to literature championed by Zola required no irrationality, no talking animals, no naivety and wondrous didacticism. Science fiction such as that developed by Jules Verne worked with the acknowledgement that; ‘The good fairies of yesteryear are no longer among us… There is only one remaining today: the fairy Electricity, whose godson Jules Verne might well have been.’ Jean Lorrain wrote that the ‘… children of this generation read Jules Verne rather than Perrault,’ and as we noted at the start, Pierre Veber’s ‘The Last Fairy’ showed that any real fairies were now outperformed by technology.
The Decadence movement literally was a move to ‘to fall away’ from this. It was politically conservative, harking back to the lost Absolutism of an Aristocratic Ancien Regime but was nevertheless aesthetically radical. Philippe Jullian wrote that decadence ‘… responds to the profound need for a change of scene; their magic wand is a protest against Edison’s discoveries.’ These decadent writers looked back to classic fairy tales. The stories are more perversions than revisions where villains relate their version of tales against the original victims. They challenge the seriousness and authority of Perrault using mocking ironical voices. They also, as might be expected from their politically reactionary standpoint, ignored the women writers who dominated 17th century vogue for fairy stories. All the writers collected here are men. They also referenced other traditions beyond Perrault such as Arthurian legend and fantastic literature. The fantastic according to Tzvetan Todorov ‘is predicated on a narrative hesitation about the reality of seemingly supernatural events’ and this reminds me of Beckett’s letter to Axel Kaun on Beethoven’s seventh symphony being a ‘ sound surface torn by enormous pauses.’ Decadent writers used this hesitation to realign and reset their tales, tearing holes in the original stories as if rending them strictly to their shattered other side, jazzier and mirrored.