Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

At Home in the Realm of Enchantment: The Queer Enticements of the Grimms' "Frau Holle"

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

At Home in the Realm of Enchantment: The Queer Enticements of the Grimms' "Frau Holle"

Article excerpt

Queemess is a longing that propels us onward, beyond romances of the negative and toiling in the present. Queemess is that thing that lets us feel that this world is not enough, that indeed something is missing. Often we can glimpse the worlds proposed and promised by queemess in the realm of the aesthetic.

José E. Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, 1

Prologue: Reading Queerly

Before we fall down the well that brings us to "Frau Holle," let's spend some time at our local gay bar involved in serious discussion about the merits and limits of queering the fairy tale. We're an eclectic bunch of scholars drinking beer and talking queer. First, we toast our debt to feminism: any queer interpretation further elaborates, even as it departs from, a rethinking of the fairy tale through feminism begun forty years ago. Second, we admit happily our tendencies toward what Bonnie Zimmerman calls the "willful appropriations" of "perverse reading," a mode of lesbian engagement with literature (139). For us perverse reading is an act of desire exciting a meeting between our queer world of difference and the marvelous world of fairy-tale enchantments. By working through intuition and decipherment to draw out homoerotic traces and by finding pleasure in the text by actively listening to and speaking back to it, our perverse reading queers Mikhail Bakhtin's unfinalizable dialogic, expanding networks of expression.

The works of certain colleagues gathered here at Club Shescape tonight adumbrate the queer potential of dialogism for fairy-tale readings. Cristina Bacchilega articulated the feminist recognition of fairy tales "as sites of competing, historically and socially framed desires" (10) that could be especially well understood in intertextual and interdiscursive readings of postmodern tales, exemplified in recent books by Jessica Tiffin and Vanessa Joosen. Pauline Greenhill, in her work on ballads, illuminated sexual scripts in floating verses; and the early work of Donald Haase cleared the path in claiming with some defiance that tales consist of "highly ambiguous symbolic codes" having no "inherent, immutable, and clearly defined meaning" and asserting the value of "diverse responses" reflecting "a recipient's experience, perspective or predisposition" (Reception 235). Haase distinguished but saw a place for both "responsible" sociohistorical-geographic scholarship and "irresponsible" privately controlled reception and interpretation (243).

At the same time (and again in 2004 in Fairy Tales and Feminism), Haase decried the dearth of reception studies, calling for more interview-based studies akin to Kay Stone's "Romantic Heroines" and "Things Walt Disney Never Told Us." Among her discoveries, Haase says, she found that adult women's memory of fairy-tale characters was selective in remaking docile figures into active ones. This "attested ultimately not only to the variability of interpretation but also to a woman's ongoing and potentially liberating engagement with fairy tales over the course of her lifetime" (Haase, Fairy Tales, 26). Few followed in Stone's footsteps, and none, to my knowledge, followed her queerly. We desperately need well-considered queer reception studies, especially in this era of children and teenagers who identify early on as gay or queer. However, with none currently in hand, we can still call on belated interpretive practices. My own experience of reading, and that of a number of my students and colleagues, consciously and inevitably yokes our reception to queer interpretation. We are among the growing legions of Haase's presciently termed "irresponsible" recipients of the fairy tale.

Our concern is not so much with textual history as it is with a story's affecting potentialities, although feminist recovery scholarship rooted in carefully considered, if sometimes anecdotal, archive evidence adds sociohistorical benefits. Shawn Jarvis and Jeannine Blackwell open up our understanding of the German woman's social landscape during the initial reception period of the Grimms' tales. …

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