This thesis, a comparative study of published fairy tale collections across three nations and three centuries, argues that fairy tales were, in their time, highly charged ideological interventions in period debates about gender, class, and nation. In this thesis I recover not just the historical context of each collection but also the circumstances of production for their print publication. The variables that form the basis of this comparison include: whether stories in a given volume were collected from informants or invented by a single author; the level of attachment of the collector to nationalist movements; and the layers of editorial mediation between informants/writers and the printed editions made from their work. The primary cases are stories of animal transformation, in which the strict boundaries of human and animal are effaced, and the rules of gender are exaggerated or reimagined.
The collections compared in this thesis come from three nations between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries: the Brothers Grimm in Germany; Laura Gonzenbach, a German in Sicily; and Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy in France. I analyze gender and class themes in the tales, such as the treatment of the female body, the aging of women, the depiction of subaltern creatures, and animal transformations, in light of contemporaneous political and social changes affecting the status of women in Germany, Italy, and France.
By combining paradigms from three fields—fairy tale studies, animal studies, and gender studies—this thesis offers several findings about the relationship between gender and animalism that were previously unknown to the scholarship. First, when the printed tale is substantially edited or polished for print, or when collectors acted to advance nationalist movements, the following properties are more likely to occur: stricter policing of female propriety; greater restrictions on female agency in the narratives; and harsher punishments for transgressive women. Second, when collections are produced by women, relatively free of masculine intervention, we can expect greater freedom of female character action, even when produced in a less female-friendly early period.
Although they originated as politically charged texts, fairy tales today are typically read ahistorically and therefore lose their original moral and political investments that they held in their time. By examining the burden that nationalist agendas put on women by limiting female characters’ agency within fairy tales, I am able to recover the original engagements of published fairy tale collections, offering an argument about the period-specific ideological work done by fairy tales that we do not find in the scholarship.
Matson, Rachel, "Beasts, Brides, and Brutality: The Intersection of Animalism and Gender in European Fairy Tales" (2016). English Honors Papers. 25.
The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.