Thursday, January 28, 2010
Darnton would argue not to weigh the details of an individual story too heavily in a discussion of broad archetypal forms, but it is interesting that in this one particular example, the link between external beauty and virtue gets manipulated in this way. In the "typical" Cinderella story, the heroine finds her escape from the evil mother by making herself beautiful, while in "The She-Bear" she makes herself ugly.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
I agree with Tatar’s argument that the stories should be read together largely because I like the contrast in the stories of the agency given to the lead female roles and I think it is interesting to see how different cultures adopted these different stories seemingly according to social and gender norms. As Tatar writes of Jane Yolen, “she asserts that the shrewd, resourceful heroine of folktales from earlier centuries has been supplanted by a “passive princess” waiting for Prince Charming to rescue her”(102). I like that when you read both the Cinderella stories and the Donkeyskin stories you get a more dynamic interpretation of the character of this lead female character. I also think it is really intresting to see how, as Tatar argues, society tends to choose the Cinderella stories with horrible stepmothers and poor girls with little ability and self-determination versus the strong-willed and able girls being chased by incestuous fathers.
Another interesting point is how these stories interpret virtue and apply it to the different stories. In both stories piety, chastity and beauty are upheld but also in Donkeyskin ingenuity, daring, and manipulation in a way are also seen as virtues. For example, in All-Kinds-of-Fur on the Ashliman site it says of the daughter, “The princess was horrified at his godless intentions, but because she was clever, she told the king that he should first get her three dresses…” and later she takes initiative and runs away. However in other Cinderella stories like “Doralice” on the Ashliman site the daughter Doralice escapes her father by hiding in a trunk because her servant told her to and then she is literally sold into her next husband. In that story she has no agency, I think reading stories like these next to each other help establish the daughter in these stories as a more well developed character.
Though I still believe the above points have some validity, other considerations shifted my viewpoint much closer to Tatar’s. Perhaps the most important realization was that the enormous differences I saw between the two tale types (i.e., incest vs. wicked stepmother) resided in elements that the narratives themselves didn’t always focus on. The idea of incest immediately jumps out to a modern reader, but is quickly abandoned in stories like Fair Maria Wood—the only mention of the princess’s early tribulations lies in a throwaway line about the wedding company “staying to hear her story.” Similarly, Perrault’s Donkeyskin only reintroduces the heroine’s father in one conciliatory paragraph at the very end of the story. Rather than dominating the plot, the King’s/father’s advances really only enable it; considering how variable the fates of Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters are (as Tatar notes in the beginning of her Introduction), it seems a small jump to claim that they are also only catalysts in the Cinderella stories, not the substance of them. Meanwhile, the resulting “bulks” of both types of stories seem perfectly homologous, most notably in the repeated “ball” scenarios of anonymous beauty (the “ball” is not always an actual ball, of course—in Fair Maria Wood, the prince only spies on the heroine in her house) and in the “perfect fit” investigations that Tatar mentions only briefly. I still have some resistance to her idea of the Cinderella and Donkeyskin traditions as two sides of the oedipal coin (perhaps because I don’t see those sections as crucial to the story, or perhaps because psychoanalysis isn’t very romantic), but Tatar’s insistence on reading the story types together is spot on.