National Dreams: The Remaking of Fairy Tales in Nineteenth-Century England

Article excerpt

National Dreams: The Remaking of Fairy Tales in Nineteenth-Century England. By Jennifer Schacker. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 2003. 198 pp.

Folklorists commonly agree that, in the nineteenth century, Englandcontrary to both Scotland and Wales-did not sport a living tradition of folk and fairy tales. Whatever the reasons for this development might have been, it appears as a matter of course that towards the beginning of the nineteenth century the growing reading public in England had to look for other than local traditions to satisfy their curiosity in terms of popular reading matter. Wherever those other traditions would be found-in European or nonEuropean countries-they were bound to be adapted to the contemporary English world view in order to prove appealing and, hence, commercially successful. This general situation constitutes the theoretical grounding for Schacker s journey through the "national dreams" of the day.

As a point of start, Schacker follows the evaluation of one "of the earliest systematic observer's of folktale publication in England" (8), Charlotte Yonge (see also 44-45, 47), who in her 1869 essay on "Children's Literature of the Last Century" evaluated three publications of the early nineteenth century as "real good fairy books': Edgar Taylor's translation of the brothers Grimms Kinder- und Hausmdrchen, published under the title of German Popular Stories (1823), Thomas Crofton Crokers Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (1825), and George Webbe Dasent's Popular Tales from the Norse (1859), from whose introduction Schacker takes her title (see 134). To this trinity, Schacker has added another highly influential publication of the time, Edward William Lane's translation of the Arabian Nights (1838-40), the first ever English-language translation rendering a more or less complete text as prepared directly from the Arabic. Besides being welcomed by the public as popular reading matter, these four collections share another criterion, easily recognizable from their respective titles: all of them present popular tales from regions other than England-Germany, Ireland, Norway, and the Arab world. In the light of present day considerations about the marketing of specific products and the ways to meet the expectations of readers, Schacker's study promises fascinating reading, and indeed it is.

Schacker's study is clearly structured and in its four main chapters presents the four collections considered: Taylor (13-45), Croker (46-77), Lane (78-116), and Dasent (117-137). The main chapters are bracketed by an introduction (1-12) and a conclusion (138-150), and followed by notes (151-178), a bibliography (179-188), and an index (189-195). Within the main chapters, the author develops detailed discussions of the background and contemporary English reception of the respective works. The discussions as a rule comprise a standard set of arguments dealing with the translated publication in its original context, the biography of its translator (and editor), the translator's theoretical considerations in choosing and adapting the tales, and the collections story of success, together with a discussion of the publishers and their editorial strategies; except for Dasent's work, illustrations are also considered as an important constituent in the transmission of (mental) images. Of the four collections discussed, two are particularly noteworthy for their ensuing repercussions: Taylor's reductive presentation of a German peasant world, convincingly visualized in George Cruikshank's illustrations, proved so successful as to instigate the original collection's authors to prepare a similar selection in German; and Lane's narrative image of the Arab world, accompanied by a wealth of annotation and illustration both relying on firsthand experience by its readers was soon taken as an ethnographic guide mirroring contemporary reality.

Schacker's writing is dense and convincing, and the impressive multitude of her detailed arguments is difficult to summarize. …