May 30, 2014

Madame d'Aulnoy: La dame des contes des fees, By Christina Ruth Johnson, Vintage Fairy Tale Sleuth

We hear so much about the famous male authors of fairy tales such as the Grimm brothers, Andrew Lang, Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Perrault, etc., that we might sometimes forget the female authors who helped just as much to define the genre as we know it today. In fact, it was a female author who first coined the phrase “fairy tales” -- “contes des fées” in the original French.

Madame d'Aulnoy

Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baronne d'Aulnoy, better known as simply Madame d’Aulnoy, was born in either 1650 or 1651. We know she married Francois de la Motte, Baron d’Aulnoy at the tender age of 16 in 1666. The Baron was thirty years her senior at the time.

Madame d’Aulnoy’s early years of marriage were marked by scandal and intrigue worthy of HBO. Her husband, often in dire financial straits, was accused of lese-majesty (a crime against the reigning authority, usually considered high treason) in 1669, a claim soon proved false. His two primary accusers were the Marquis de Courboyer and his lover the Marquise de Gudanes. The former was executed, and the latter was exiled to Spain, where she apparently took on the role of royal spy until her death in 1702. Madame d’Aulnoy’s mother was involved in the accusations against her daughter’s husband as well, and she fled France for Spain soon after the verdict. The exact nature of the involvement of Madame d’Aulnoy herself remains a mystery. Never accused by her husband as complicit in the plot, she nevertheless was ostensibly imprisoned for a short time in December of 1669 (immediately following the birth of her fourth child) before gaining her freedom.

The exact events of the next twenty years of Madame d’Aulnoy’s life are also a mystery. She almost certainly traveled quite a bit, first to Flanders and England, with a brief return to France in 1676 (where she gave birth to a potentially illegitimate daughter); then she likely traveled to Spain to see her mother before again going to England. Back in France by 1685, she returned rather forcefully to the French social scene in 1690, overseeing her own salon, which was frequented by aristocrats from both France and England.
Marie-Catherine, Baroness d’Aulnoy was a prolific writer. Her contes des fées were only a minor part of her overall repertoire. “As a skillful polygraph, she had tried various genres: two works of piety, four volumes of historical memoirs, three novels, and one collection of gallant short stories, in addition to the eight volumes of tales published in 1697 and 1698 for which she is now best know” (Raynard 64).

Based on firsthand accounts from this time, we know that Madame d’Aulnoy met Catherine Bernard, Charlotte Rose de la Force, and Henriette-Julie de Murat, all fellow female writers of fairy tales.
Heidi Ann Heider, editor of Sur La Lune Fairy Tales, writes, “In the late 1600s, the French Salons were filled with fairy tale writing, primarily by women writers. Many of the tales were influenced by oral traditions, but most did not end up influencing oral tradition directly.”

The eight volumes of fairy tales written by Madame d’Aulnoy were published in two parts: Contes des fees in 1697 followed by Contes nouveau ou les fees a la mode in 1698. These tales would have been read aloud at her salons years before their physical publication. Her stories include “The White Cat,” “The Yellow Dwarf,” “The Golden Branch” (one of my personal favorites), and “The Hind in the Wood.” A translation of all of her stories may be found online at Project Gutenberg, while a small selection--including the ones I’ve mentioned--is also available on Sur La Lune.

Which of Madame d'Aulnoy's tales is your favorite? Join Enchanted Conversation and let us know!

References:Sophie Raynard, ed. The Teller’s Tale: Lives of the Classic Fairy Tale Writers. SUNY Press, 2012.Heidi Ann Heider. “Marie-Catherine Baronne d’Aulnoy.” Sur La Lune Fairy Tales. http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/authors/daulnoy.html.

*Read all of Madame d’Aulnoy’s stories online at Project Gutenberg:Tome I: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/18367Tome II: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/18368*Or a select few at Sur La Lune:http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/authors/daulnoy.html

Christina Ruth Johnson recently received her Masters in Art History with a focus on the ancient Mediterranean and a side interest in the 18th and 19th centuries. Her other great love is fantasy literature from ancient times to present day.

Update: Here are English translations--
The Gutenberg links are to the original French stories (which is only awesome if you read French). If you have a JSTOR account, you can read Buczkowski's translation here:http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/41388901?uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21104251099353
Or you can "purchase" the free ebook of an 1892 translation here:http://books.google.com/books/about/The_Fairy_Tales_of_Madame_D_Aulnoy_Newly.html?id=5qKQAAAAIAAJ
There are also a bunch of Andrew Lang's publications, which include some of her stories, on Project Gutenberg:http://www.gutenberg.org/files/30580/30580-h/30580-h.htm.

Hope this helps! 

5 comments

  1. In all honesty, it's a bit difficult to read the translated prose, but what I liked best out of the three tales I've read is "Fair Goldilocks" because it has impossible tasks, a likable male lead, and a princess who actually has good reasons for not wanting to wed.
    Madame d'Aulnoy's tales seem to reflect her time in jail, the unreliable men in her life, and the nebulous French politics. Reading about princesses and princes who lose favor and find themselves at the whims of others surely rings ironic after what happened to Marie Antoinette during the French revolution, and to Mary Stuart who came from France to rule Scotland. Madame d'Aulnoy reminds me of the female Romantic poets from the 1800s, who sold their works to keep their families out of debtors' prison; I hope she managed to find peace after opening her French salon.

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  2. I've been reading Lang's Blue Fairy Book and have come across some of her works. I believe that in addition to coining "fairy tales", she also coined the name "Prince Charming". In the story of "Pretty Goldilocks", the male lead is named "Charming" and winds up a prince by marrying Princess Goldilocks.

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  3. "A translation of all of her stories may be found online at Project Gutenberg, while a small selection--including the ones I’ve mentioned--is also available on Sur La Lune."

    The Gutenberg links are to the French, Gutenberg does not appear to have them in English, (except those via Lang.) However, the Sur La Lune ones seem to be in my own barbaric tongue.

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  4. Thanks for catching my typo! Yes, the Gutenberg links are to the original French stories (which is only awesome if you read French). If you have a JSTOR account, you can read Buczkowski's translation here: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/41388901?uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21104251099353.
    Or you can "purchase" the free ebook of an 1892 translation here: http://books.google.com/books/about/The_Fairy_Tales_of_Madame_D_Aulnoy_Newly.html?id=5qKQAAAAIAAJ.
    There are also a bunch of Andrew Lang's publications, which include some of her stories, on Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/30580/30580-h/30580-h.htm.

    Hope this helps!

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  5. I have enjoyed reading her stories and regret that I don't read French. My favorite has been 'The White Cat.' I had one child who insisted on hearing only 'cat' stories and so I was always searching for such fairy and folktales.

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