Fairy Tales 2010

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Castle of Murder

I must say, that after reading the other Bluebeard stories and discussing them in class, I was disappointed with this story. I do not even know why this is considered a bluebeard story. There are some similarities (forbidden room of death, drop key in blood), but it is still extremely different. The characters are different. The nobleman does not have a blue beard and is not unnatural. The girl is uneasy, but nobody knows why, so we do not know if it is because of the nobleman or something else. It seems very unspecific. Then, the nobleman gives his new wife all the keys to the castle and tells her to explore everything because it is all hers too. He never tells her what is forbidden, and therefore, she is not ruled by curiosity. She just happened to stumble upon a part of the castle that was partially hers anyways, so she had every right to be there. She meets a random old lady who works for the nobleman, knows what he does, but is nice. She is the person that claims that this is forbidden (only after she already entered the room) and she is the one who says that she would have been killed anyway. It did not matter if the girl entered the room or not: she still would have been murdered. There is no sense of punishment here. Then, there is one line in parentheses that adds that the girls two sisters died here as well... that is a bit unsatisfying. It does not give their story, it does not add to anything, and it does not give any explanation. It is as if the writers felt as if they had to mention the two sisters later in the story because they were mentioned in the beginning. And if they had the same fate as this girl, why didn't the old lady help them out as well? Why would the girl go live with this nobleman if he had already been with and killed her other two sisters? It does not make sense. Then, the ending is lame. Nothing happens with the key. The nobleman believes that the girl is dead. He finally gets to hear her tell a tale, and he never really knows it's her. The nobleman is simply stupid and makes it known that the tale she tells is true: she does not need proof. Nothing lived up to my expectations. I do not even know what the main theme would be for this story. For the other stories, it is about curiosity. I feel as if that is a main part of the bluebeard stories, but this story does not really even mention the curiosity of the girl, so I do not know what to make of it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"The Seven Wives of Bluebeard" by Anatole France is a member of its own genre, an offshoot of the fairy tale; that of the role reversal. Midway through this story, I was reminded of "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs." This story, an important part of my childhood, gives the story of the three little pigs from the wolf's perspective, depicting the pigs as rude and blunt, and the wolf as a sensitive, civilized asthmatic in need of some sugar. That story captured my imagination as a child the same way that France's story did. I loved the idea of turning the princesses into lecherous, superficial courtly women, and Bluebeard into a woefully misunderstood protagonist. The decision to tell the whole story as it were the retelling of a history is also interesting. Much in the same vein as "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs" it plays on this idea that what we've read about these characters is fantasy, while in reality there exists a truth far different from popular perception.

Bluebeard doesn't have a horrific dungeon in which he hides the hacked up remains of his past wives, but rather just a cabinet with women painted on the walls. He doesn't want his wife to go into the cabinet out of genuine concern that the images might frighten her. France legitimizes the idea that this is a history with his specific use of names. It reads at times like a genealogy chart. Bluebeard, for example, becomes Bernard de Montragoux, and his series of misguided wives are all also assigned titles of the privileged French. Anatole's repeated use of French titles also seems in itself a bit of a critique. The formalism of the French upper class comes across as fickle and sadist. Bernard becomes a tragic figure, in constant search of happiness but repeatedly exploited by those he tries to love. His wealth, which seems of so little value to him, prevents him from being happy, as it rather than himself is the object of desire for these women. The death at the end is not heroic. The brothers don't ride in at the last moment to save the day. Bernard's death is unearned and unjust. France fittingly ends the piece by reporting that the outcome of the story is identical to that of the fairy tale. The last wife inherits the wealth and honors that were her now deceased husband's and her companions whom helped her vanquish the previous lord become noblemen themselves.
Given the choice of Bluebeard stories to write on, i decided to go with the Grimm's vanilla option. Their Bluebeard is the most streamlined and basic of all the other versions, even if it is lacking in certain fairytale elements. The most interesting part of the story to me is the three different roles of the male characters, the first of which is the father of the soon to be bride. His part, though brief, is very different from the other two. He wants only the best for his daughter, and because of this, he gives her away to Bluebeard, and is completely absolved of responsibility. It is also an interesting dynamic that the daughter approaches the brothers as a means of potential rescue as opposed to the father. The father essentially has no ties left to the daughter after he gives her to Bluebeard. Bluebeard himself is initially seen as a great provider for the wife. The only cruel action he commits is because he following through on his promise. Though it is an over reaction, in a strange sense, it can be perceived as a twisted form of justice. Bluebeard is only seeking to punish his wife for her transgressions. The brothers are the knights in shining armor in the tale. They are the idealized males, in that once the damsel becomes distressed, they immediately charge off to battle and rescue her.

Anatole France

Since we didn't discuss this version in class (and it was so raved about), I wanted to read it. I was expecting a fictional story of Bluebeard, not a "nonfiction" (in quotes because it is hard to know what is truly nonfiction) tale about the man behind the beard. First of all, by the sheer horror behind the stories, I would have never guessed that they originated from an actual man. Naturally, when I first read about how convinced Anatole France was that Bluebeard/Monsieur de Montragoux was an innocent and kind man, I was hooked through doubt. I have not yet determined my stance on how good or evil Bluebeard (the man) was. I'm torn for a few reasons:
First, I'm skeptical because of the intense terror revealed in the stories. Why Perrault would write a horror story about a man who truly committed no crimes, I'm not sure. I don't know why any writer/transcriber of stories would pick sides so drastically. Perhaps Perrault's version is simply the written version of the much-exaggerated of the truth? Again, I don't think we can truly know. The main reason that I'm skeptical, however, is because of Anatole's "evidence" about Bluebeard's innocence. I'm not doubting that Anatole has done her research; I'm just a bit shocked by some of her claims. She even quotes Bluebeard directly... how that might have happened is a mystery to me. She talks about the "papers in front of [her]" but I wish that she had explained her sources more in depth. That would have strengthened her argument in my eyes. Lastly, it just seems impossible to me that some man could love seven women (with greater intensity each time), and never think that after the first 2 or 3 that the next wives might try and deceive him....
On the other hand, Anatole does bring up quite a few relevant points. If Monsieur de Montragoux did have seven wives, it is no wonder that his story became exaggerated as it was told if no one knew of the wives' whereabouts. Wives don't just disappear, so murder is an obvious choice. Also, I can imagine that the more gruesome/horrific the story, the more it was told. Especially since horror was such a new genre, it's not hard to believe that a story so bizarre would be exaggerated and manipulated in order to better please the audience. Anatole also proves her case a little more as she does account for all of the names and backgrounds of each wife. I would love to know where all of these accounts came from, but it's an interesting point nonetheless. 
I'm happy that we were assigned to read Anatole France's argument about Bluebeard, but I have to say, it left me quite confused...

Bluebeard's Ghost

(edit: ha, forgot to add the title of the story I'm talking about...)
I was pleasantly surprised by this story, and by Thackeray’s ingenuity in using a horrific fairy tale as a springboard for a humorous, entertaining, and complex social drama. It’s clear from the last paragraph (“Psha!”) that the author certainly enjoyed himself while writing this one, and I have to say that his brand of thoughtful playfulness shines through on every page. The story very quickly establishes that it is NOT, like the story it’s based on, a fairy tale—there are nuanced characters that Thackeray slowly characterizes through dialogue and oblique descriptions (Mr. Sly “never drinks anything stronger than tea,” sister Anne is hilariously often referred to as a “minx” or “hussy”). We have not quite left the realm of magic, to be sure, but the otherworldliness here is of the same sort found in, say, Irving’s Sleepy Hollow; the plot veers into a “spookiness” of natural origin, not the uncanny horror of the other Bluebeard stories. Thackeray thrills us rather than terrifying us, for by the time the “ghost” appears we’ve already been conditioned by the multiple foiled suicide attempts not to take even the serious things too seriously. (At times this approach to humor gets a tad too dark: Doctor Sly wonders why his nephew hasn’t tried to commit suicide again after being rejected for the last time.)

The shift in genre also allows the story to offer a different sort of commentary than the very primal/psychological take on male-female relationships in the original Bluebeard fairy tales. The apparent Stockholm Syndrome (this probably isn’t the right term) going on with Mrs. Bluebeard in the beginning of the story is particularly interesting, as there wouldn’t really be any need to venerate the old murderer if all she cares about is money (as hinted by the narrator’s line about throwing a grand funeral for whoever left him a fortune). The scene with Mrs. Bluebeard and her sister going through the former’s late husband is comical, of course, but I wonder if Thackeray is playing her “condition” for more than just laughs. There’s a similar conundrum in the character of Mr. Sly—his morbid attempts to win Lady Bluebeard’s heart are very funny, but there’s also something poignant and pathetic in his efforts to put on false masculinity (both figuratively and literally, with the Bluebeard costume). Even as I laughed, some surprisingly sober thoughts of gender constructions couldn’t help but bubble up in the back of my head.

The Castle of Murder

I must begin by saying, I was already expecting a horrific tale when I read "The Castle of Murder," but surprisingly, I was disappointed. The immediate difference between this story and "Bluebeard" is that there is nothing apparently unnatural about the nobleman. I guess it can make the story more interesting because the girl is easily duped since there is no inclination to suspect something wrong with a "rich gentleman." The nobleman questions if she feels doubtful to which she responds, no and proceeds as usual. The nobleman does have to make a trip and bestows all of the keys to the girl but does not restrict her access throughout the castle. I mean, this guy is careless. He knows that there is something horrifying in his castle but he doesn't even bother to prevent the girl from discovering it. Or maybe he's audacious and merciless and will derive the necessary satisfaction from killing her since her curiosity will drive her to fully inspect the residence.

Now, the old woman, the old crone, what's up with her? Why does she even decide to help the girl when she has clearly seen many females before her go probably without a second thought. As a matter of fact, I'm not even sure why the basin of blood is even necessary because the nobleman gave his wife the autonomy to explore the castle completely. I think he is a serial killer and recruits women to kill for his own sadistic pleasure. The old woman is responsible for telling the girl that only her and the nobleman are allowed to enter this death chamber but it's obviously too late at that point. Through the goodness of the old women, the girl escapes and tells the lord of the castle that she escapes to about the nobleman. The lord of the castle holds a great feast and the nobleman's attendance at that feast seals his fate to be imprisoned. The girl tells her story, the nobleman is taken away by the authorities and she marries the lord of the castle.

What an utterly unsatisfying story. There is motive driving the nobleman's desire to kill girls, the girl escapes without any proof so she could just be lying on the nobleman and to set all things right in the world, she gets married to the lord of the castle and obtains all of the nobleman's treasures. I'm not sure what to consider this story. Something about it is just distasteful to me. It seems like an incomplete fairy tale and one that the title does not easily translate. At least with the Bluebeard stories, there is no intermediary that helps the girl and it seems like she should have listened to the requests of her husband and now she has to suffer since she didn't (although she is exonerated). Here is a tale of a what you see is not what you get and now you'll die, the end. BUT lucky you, the old crone will be nice today and you get to imprison instead of have the psychopathic man killed. Oh, isn't that swell?

Grimms The Robber Bridegroom

The Brothers Grimms’ Blue Beard type story, “The Robber Bridegroom” is the most fairytale-like of all the Blue Beard stories we have read. In class we discussed that Blue Beard stories are generally different from the other stories we have read because it is a horror story that takes fear into reality instead of displacing it with magic. What makes horror so terrifying is that it takes something that is real or within the realm of possibility of the real and turns it from something know-able and safe into something horrible and scary so that what is natural to us becomes unnatural and foreign and therefore disgusting and horrible. This version is a lot like the Mr. Fox Tatar version but still is more fairytale-like.

The miller’s daughter didn’t love him like she should, she shuttered when she saw the bridegroom. In this story we don’t get a blue beard or some outward indicator of evil or unnatural-ness, only a “shutter” to identify the bridegroom as bad. Interestingly we as an audience automatically side with her that since something is off he must be evil. Moreover, his house is in a dark forest which in fairytales is the typical place for evil and challenges. As in Little Red Riding Hood, the bridegroom lures her into the forest, and reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel he spreads ashes for her to follow. She follows the ashes but adds peas and lentils which is again like Hansel and Gretel. Unlike other stories nature comes to the maiden’s aid or tried to as the bird calls out to her that she should turn back. There is a magical response where nature helps heroine as in most fairytales, the peas and lentils grow up and guide her home . She also finds the typical fairytale old crone who warns her. Interestingly she gets out of the danger with evidence of her challenge, the finger with the ring which follows the fairytale motif of a heroine holding a body part of another girl which is excused because there is valuable jewelry attached to it.

Furthermore the maiden gets away without immediate confrontation. And of course as we expect with Grimms tales it reads that “she got safely through with the help of God” as is consistent with Christian morals and Protestant values of the times. She says she had a strange dream but retells fairytale, alike old oral tellers retelling tales to an audience. Key elements are repeated and by doing so at end everyone thinks they’ve heard a tale but the twist is she shows the evidence and proves the fairytale wasn’t a story after which of course the robber bridegroom gets punished and everyone lives happily ever after with order and justice in place.

Perrault's Bluebeard

Perrault's Bluebeard is a story framed around the transgressive desire of the female. Throughout the story there is this clear element of horror that results from the wife opening the forbidden door. It is clear throughout, and made even more clear at the end when he explicitly states the moral, that curiosity in women is a negative trait to have. In the moral, he states, "You can see a thousand examples of it every day. Women succumb, but it's fleeting pleasure." Not only is Perrault saying here that curiosity in women is dangerous and looked down upon, but he states it in a way that makes it seem that women make this "mistake" most frequently.

However, I also found his "Another Moral" that is placed after the moral to be equally interesting. It seems here that he is trying to explain or make right his statement about women curiosity in the first moral. He states that the story, "took place many years ago. No longer are husbands so terrible, demanding and impossible.... It's hard to tell which of the pair is the master." He seems to be making the point that times have changed and that men and women are more equal. Women are not as pushed around by their husbands. There is a completely different tone in this moral than the first one, as men and women are seen more equally, and less negatively.