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Spencer Research Library Acquires Contes des fées

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Spencer Research Library has just acquired a very rare first edition of Madame de Murat's Contes des fées (Paris: Claude Barbin, 1698). There are around only 10 surviving copies in the world and 5 others held in libraries in the USA.

Gillian Weatherley with Contes des feesThe first time in Western history that the oral tradition of the fairy tale gave rise to written versions occurred in France towards the end of the seventeenth century. No one is quite sure why, but the fairy tale was a literary vogue from 1690 to 1715 and in the middle of the eighteenth century. Women accounted for a total of 74 of the 112 tales published during the trend. As Lewis Seifert, in his groundbreaking study notes, this prominence of women as initiators and writers of fairy tales occurs during “a period when their role in the cultural sphere was a hotly debated issue” (Fairy Tales, Sexuality, and Gender in France, 1690-1715): Nostalgic Utopias (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 8).

Henriette-Julie de Castelnau de Murat (1670-1716), commonly known as Madame de Murat, authored tales which are an important contribution to the French literary canon.  She wrote a significant number of tales, fourteen of which were examined in the PhD dissertation of Gillian Weatherley (University of Kansas, 2014), who is the Second-Year French Language Coordinator in the Department of French & Italian. Madame de Murat’s tales are rooted in reality; there is not a chocolate-box feel to her tales, and she is unafraid to have an unhappy ending, in which love is not requited, or have her princes/princesses make hasty decisions which have unhappy consequences. One particular aspect of her writing which Dr. Weatherley explored was the discovery that she used the same sources as another significant fairy-tale writer Madame d’Aulnoy (tales by Straparola in particular) but treated them in a very different way. Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy (1650-1705) is another one of the seven female fairy-tale writers and the Spencer Research Library has a copy of the first edition of one of her anthologies published in 1700 (O’Hegarty A284).



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