Fairy Tales and Feminism: New Approaches

By Mortensen, Camilla H. | Marvels & Tales, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Fairy Tales and Feminism: New Approaches


Mortensen, Camilla H., Marvels & Tales


Fairy Tales and Feminism: New Approaches. Edited by Donald Haase, Series in Fairy-Tale Studies. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2004. 268 pp.

"As I have sketched it, the agenda for feminist fairy-tale scholarship parallels in large measure the agenda for fairy-tale studies itself (31). With this statement, editor Donald Haase closes his excellent survey of feminist fairytale scholarship, the first essay in this volume. Haase's statement is telling in that while Fairy Tales and Feminism brings together a reevaluation of the feminist critique of fairy tales, it simultaneously attempts to lay a path for what has been, and will be, the contemporary study of the fairy tale. Simultaneously restricted and enhanced by its feminist focus, Haase's collection, stemming originally from an issue of Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies (14.1 [2000]), is an excellent representation of the current status of fairy-tale studies as well as a review of the scholarship of fairy tales and feminism since discourse in this area came to critical notice in the 1970s.

This volume uses the umbrella of feminism to bring together a wide range of critical approaches and to cross national and textual boundaries. Ruth B. Bottigheimer's essay provides a historical dimension to the fictional and critical stereotype of the fairy-tale heroine in its investigation into the effects of the historical changes in women's control over their fertility in Europe. Lewis C. Seifert too engages the European tale in his work on seventeenth-century French literary tales by women. Like Bottigheimer, as well as Jeanine Blackwell, who examines the literary tales of German writers, Seifert moves beyond the simple examination of women's tale telling as subversive and asks scholars to delve into the ambiguities and contradictions contained in these texts. Having grounded the volume where fairy-tale studies have long been contained-in Europe and in historical studies-Haase then allows the work to move intertextually and internationally beyond where studies of classic European tales (e.g., those of Bruno Bettelheim, Bengt Holbek, Maria Tatar, and even Bottigheimer herself) have so usefully taken fairy-tale scholarship.

At this point however, I must note that any reference to Holbek's work is in large part missing from the volume, including the otherwise admirably extensive bibliography of citations used in the essays and "women-centered fairy-tale scholarship published since 1970" that is included at the end of the collection (213). While Holbek may not have written a "women-centered" work, I would argue that his psychoanalytic approach as well as his useful (if debatable) schema of feminine active versus masculine active tales warrant inclusion in such a bibliography. This exclusion points to the fact that despite the best efforts of Haase and the authors included in the volume, any centered approach (feminist, psychoanalytic, etc.) may attempt to resist "one-dimensional" views (x-xi) but can never fully move beyond them once so centered.

Regardless of what may have been left out, it is of course Fairy Tales and Feminism's feminist locus that gives it its power and usefulness not only in fairytale studies but in feminist and literary studies as well. While still Euro- and Anglo-American centered, Elizabeth Wanning Harness essay "Women's Autobiography and Fairy Tales" and Kay Stone's "Fire and Water" mark the transition in the volume from a European locus and premodern focus to contemporary versions of tales and an international scope. Harries, like Blackwell, asks the reader to examine female responses to fairy tales. In fact, one might argue that as a whole, this volume is less concerned with fairy tales themselves and far more focused on female and feminist responses to them.

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