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Fairy Tales for the Disillusioned: Enchanted Stories from the French Decadent Tradition Reviewed By Lois C. Henderson of Bookpleasures.com
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Lois C. Henderson

Reviewer Lois C. Henderson: Lois is a freelance academic editor and back-of-book indexer, who spends most of her free time compiling word search puzzles for tourism and educative purposes. Her puzzles are available HERE and HERE Her Twitter account (@LoisCHenderson) mainly focusses on the toponymy of British place names. Please feel welcome to contact her with any feedback at LoisCourtenayHenderson@gmail.com.





 
By Lois C. Henderson
Published on December 14, 2016
 

Editors and Translators: Gretchen Schultz and Lewis Seifert

Publisher: Princeton University Press

ISBN-13: 9780691161655


Editors and Translators: Gretchen Schultz and Lewis Seifert

Publisher: Princeton University Press

ISBN-13: 9780691161655

This collection of thirty-six fairy tales aimed at adult readers, despite primarily emerging from the French decadent movement (from such authors as Rachilde, Catulle Mendès and Jean Lorrain, not excluding the formative influences of Charles Baudelaire), includes several tales that bear the mark of other traditions, including symbolism (those of Albert Mockel and Henri de Régnier), realism (as exemplified here by Alphonse Daudet), and (pre)surrealism (as seen in the stories of Guillaume Apollinaire, Marcelle Schwob and Claude Cahun), that mainly held sway over artistic output largely towards the end of the nineteenth century.

Despite coming from such diverse backgrounds, they all have, at heart, the upturning and overturning of the traditional fairy tale, with its stereotypical portrayal of socially approved gender roles, the rewarding of the good (very often in materialistic terms), and the trouncing of the bad (often both physically and morally). In the acerbic and biting style of many of the writers concerned, there is scant room for romanticism and escapism from the everyday―instead, theirs is a satirical take on a genre that was originally intended for children, but which, in the hands mentioned, became a weapon for defying societal conventions, and for decrying the industrialization of the environment, as well as the over simplification of the profound in human experience. The corruptive force of the prevailing status quo at the turn of the century, which could be seen to be steadily eroding the intrinsic value of the human soul, gave rise to a desire to portray the depth and darkness of the subconscious psyche in a form that could be appreciated at an aesthetic level.

Such impetuses lie at the base of these tales, which, in many cases, are newly translated here, by acknowledged experts in their field, who are both professors of French studies at Brown University, the private, Ivy League research university based in Providence, Rhode Island―namely, Gretchen Schultz and Lewis Seifert. Their deep concern with the issue of specifically gender identity, as rendered alternative through the medium of fairy tales, can be seen in their previous publications that include, in the case of Schultz, Sapphic Fathers: Discourses of Same-Sex Desire from Nineteenth Century France, and in the case of Seifert, Fairy Tales, Sexuality, and Gender in France, 1690−1715. In their insightful prefatory Translators’ Note and Acknowledgments, they describe how, in their translating and editing, they strove “for fluid translations that captured both the archaic language of fairy tales and the startling incursion of the modern that the authors imposed upon that tradition.”

In addition to their informative introduction to the work, Schultz and Seifert provide a succinct overview of the origins and nature of the “decadent” fairy tale, so that newcomers to the genre can appreciate its nature prior to their incursion into the realm of adult Faerie. The primary focus of each of the authors is also described in short biographical notes, which are supplemented by a useful bibliography of both primary and secondary sources. The fourteen black-and-white illustrations, taken from the works in which the tales originally appeared, range from the dark and portentous landscapes of Gustave Doré to Arthur Rackham’s vivid contrasts and character silhouettes, remindful of complex and finely etched woodcuts.

Fairy Tales for the Disillusioned, as a whole, is a powerful and incisive exemplar of the world of the adult fairy tale, in all its historical relevance, and should serve as a worthy introduction to the very best in the subject. As such, it provides a valuable addition to the series of Oddly Modern Fairy Tales edited by Jack Zipes, which is focused on bringing to the fore “surprising and unexpected tales by well-known writers and artists, and uncanny stories by gifted yet neglected authors.”