THE FAIRY TALES OF MADAME D'AULNOY
WILLIAMS, ELIZABETH DETERING
Doctor of Philosophy thesis
Madame d'Aulnoy's Contes des fees and Nouveaux Contes des fees were published in 1697 and in 1698. They were immediately successful and wre reprinted numerous times during the eighteenth century, both inside and outside of France. These fairy tales appeared at the beginning of a period in which the fairy tale itself was very popular in France. The popularity of the fairy tale genre was due to three factors: an existing belief in the merveilleux, popular literary tradition, and a number of historical, economic, and social factors. The success of Madame d'Aulnoy's fairy tales may be traced to her use of a popular genre and themes; to a lively style; and to a structure that embodied the transformation taking place in the French outlook of the beginning of the eighteenth century. Although the genre of Madame d'Aulnoy's fairy tales is formally the conte, these fairy tales are more like the dominant prose fiction genre of the time. This genre combined the brevity and chronological presentation of the nouvelle with the romanesque and love-oriented features of the roman. Love is the most important theme in the Contes des fees, and it is treated there as it was in the nouvelle/roman of the time. Travel and utopias are themes found in these fairy tales which will be more fully developed by the eighteenth century. The presentation of animals recalls the long seventeenth-century debate over the rational capabilities of animals, a debate that continued well into the eighteenth century. Nature is seen as a courtier at Versailles would know it. Magic, enchantment, and metamorphosis is the most common theme and one that is natural to the fairy tale. Madame d'Aulnoy uses a variety of techniques in the contes: characterization through names, descriptions, and some psychology; humor and irony; a rapid and familiar style; and realistic details. The structure of the contes des fees was considered, first, for types of events and the sequences of these events and, second, for meaning. The method of Vladimir Propp showed that Madame d'Aulnoy's fairy tales are complex and that her heroes and heroines are frequently more passive than is usually the case in fairy tales. The approach of Carl Jung revealed that both the heroes and heroines were continually in a process of renewal and transformation. As a minor work, the fairy tale collection of Madame d'Aulnoy offers insights into the period when the seventeenth century became the eighteenth. Style and structure have the dynamic qualities of the eighteenth century. The epic hero of the seventeenth century seems to have become much more passive, but the appearance of hidden resources within him assures the continuance of the process of transformation and renewal which the Contes des fees present.