Avatars of Gendered Societal Constructs in Seventeenth-Century Contes de fées
Weatherley, Gillian Avril
University of Kansas
French & Italian
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This dissertation considers the contes de fées written towards the end of the seventeenth century. These tales have been the focus of research and interest for the last thirty years, but much of the research has been concentrated on the work on Madame d'&rsquo Aulnoy. By widening the selection of works considered, the writer argues that the attitudes expressed about the roles assigned to women and men find an echo in many other fairy tales written during this period. By using close textual analysis, the study considers the depiction of women and their lives in a patriarchal society. It further shows that the tales'&rsquo challenge to the hierarchical society was broader, and a concern not only of women writers, but also of the males. The world that the authors depict is sumptuous, a regal world in which aristocrats rule and govern. However, although the stories usually end in a &rsquo `happy ever after&rsquothe princes and princesses, and their parents, often go through life-changing experiences. The authors use metamorphosis and cross-dressing, to move their heroes and heroines into situations that challenge them. Shape-shifting becomes a didactic tool, and the story-tellers use an amazing variety of symbols to reflect the changes and discoveries that were being made at the end of the century. The adoption of the persona of the opposite gender, a trope in seventeenth-century literature, questions the assumptions of what gender implies in society. The depiction of women who can fight and be brave is unsurprising, particularly since there is the historical example of the frondeuses, but women are often shown as being necessary for the functioning of good government and are not confined to the purely domestic sphere. Man dressed as woman sets different parameters. Such disguise may be used as a means to access a woman in her private space and attempt seduction or suggest emasculation, or a desire for egalitarianism. Both male and female authors contend that equal status provides better governance, and argue for freedom from a paternalistic and authoritarian society.
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