Fairy Tales for the Disillusioned: Enchanted Stories from the French Decadent Tradition (Oddly Modern Fairy Tales) edited by Gretchen Schultz and Lewis Seifert is officially released this week.
So I admit that my studies of French literature have been limited. I have a French minor that didn't go too far beyond Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Moliere, to be quite honest. My own studies and research have focused on original fairy tales texts from the French Salons from Villeneuve to Perrault and many of the French folklore collectors of the 19th century, not so much the literary retellers. We won't get into the argument here that even those collectors were literary retellers--that's for somewhere else, not this book's review.
So I am not very familiar with the French Decadent Tradition. Which is why this book is so much fun and intriguing at the same time! I get to learn about a literary movement and read some more relatively modern interpretations of fairy tales.
The decadent is a moral description--these tales are filled with references to sadomasochism, hedonism, etc. Nothing was overly graphic in the tales I have read so far, the time and place when these were written were usually more subtle in their descriptions and references. Perhaps even more apt is the "disillusioned" moniker. These tales are not hopeful and don't deliver "happily ever afters" but are retellings, new tales, or codas to familiar tales that debunk the HEA. So it may not be a book for reading in one sitting either. The mood created while reading them can be quite grim. Perhaps I shouldn't use grim--how about morose or bleak?
But they make excellent windows into a period in history, especially in France, when politics and world strife--most were written in the decades before and during WWI--made it hard to embrace the HEA of the popular fairy tales, especially those of Perrault. So Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Bluebeard get many morbid treatments here.
Finally, many of the tales in the collection have been translated and published in English for the first time. See the Table of Contents below to see those.
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.
"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, author of Queer Enchantments
"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, author of Fairy Tales Transformed?
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
List of Illustrations xi
Translators' Note and Acknowledgments xiii
TALES [Those marked with * are translated into English for the first time in publication]
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