19th-century illustration for The Blue Bird by Madame d'Aulnoy
Il était une fois… Once upon a time, fairy tales were not the short, simple children’s stories we all know. Instead, they often carried subtle messages or warnings, or ridiculed powerful figures. These subversive stories were created in 17th-century Paris literary salons, safe forums for aristocrats—mostly women—to gather and share tales about, for example, giant green wyrms, noble white cats in boots, and even a woman who dressed as a man in order to save her family.
Through the coded language of fairy tales, in these salons women (and some men) were free to criticize society’s wrongs and to ask questions no one dared ask at court before the king. Writers spun tales that addressed everything from love in marriage and the importance of education to the enormous social inequalities women faced at the time.
Join folklorists Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman for a journey into the past to explore the tales of authors such as Madame d'Aulnoy (who coined the term fairy tale), Madame de Murat, and, yes, Charles Perrault. Learn how their fairy tales shared subversive messages, and why they were mostly forgotten while Perrault's more conventional stories remained popular.
Cleto and Warman also take a deep dive into several tales to find their deeper layers of meaning—and perhaps break the spell that has kept most salon fairy tales obscure for so long.
Cleto and Warman are former instructors of folklore and literature at The Ohio State University and co-founders of the Carterhaugh School of Folklore and the Fantastic.
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