Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Seeds of Subversion in Mary De Morgan's "The Seeds of Love"

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Seeds of Subversion in Mary De Morgan's "The Seeds of Love"

Article excerpt

Fairy tale offers a case where the ver)? contempt for women opened an opportunity for them to exercise their wit and communicate their ideas . . where they might set their own seedlings and plant out their flowers

Marina Warner, From the Beast to the Blonde, xxiii

For decades, feminist scholars have investigated the ways in which women have revised and rewritten classic fairy tales. In particular, feminist fairy-tale research has focused on twentieth-century writers such as Angela Carter and Anne Sexton.1 But as Jack Zipes explains in his introduction to Don't Bet on the Prince, "There were feminist precedents set in the literary fairy-tale tradition by the end of the nineteenth century" (13). He cites Mar)? de Morgan, Mary Louisa Molesworth, and Evelyn Sharp as less widely known Victorian authors who "conceived tales with strong heroines who rebel against convention-ridden societies" (13). Yet feminist scholars have only begun to appreciate the Victorian precursors to the feminist fairy tale.

In his essay "Feminist Fairy-Tale Scholarship," Donald Haase cites the "recover)? of neglected fairy-tale texts by women" as a crucial area of future research (29). The work of Mary de Morgan would certainly qualify as neglected. Writing at the end of the nineteenth century, de Morgan published three collections of fairy tales. However, with the exception of five critical essays and one newly released book,2 Mary de Morgan is only fleetingly mentioned by scholars in Victorian fairy-tale anthologies. In such anthologies she is given anywhere from a sentence to a page, and almost all references focus on her tale "A Toy Princess" (1877). Furthermore, even when scholars discuss the feminist aspects of her work, they limit their discussion to her strong female characters rather than explore how her plots and the minute details she provides contribute to a feminist reading.

Zipes acknowledged de Morgan's use of strong female characters in his introduction to Victorian Fairy Tales in 1987.3 However, since then only Alicia Carroll's 2010 article, "The Greening of Mary De Morgan," and Marilyn Pemberton's 2011 article, "The Fairylands of Mary De Morgan," and 2012 book, Out of the Shadows, have in any way addressed de Morgan's proto-feminist treatment of gender, love, and marriage.4 Carroll analyzes "The Seeds of Love" through an ecofeminist lens and concentrates mainly on de Morgan's depiction of greenery and nature in relation to gender and race, whereas Pemberton's analysis in both the article and book focuses mainly on de Morgan's tale "The Hair Tree" as evidence of her New Woman critique of marriage. My analysis takes a different approach, demonstrating how de Morgan subverts the fairytale genre to further explore the problematics of ideal femininity, love, and the "happily ever after" in her tale "The Seeds of Love."

This subversive use of the fairy-tale genre is unsurprising, given Mary de Morgan's life. Born in 1850, Mary Augusta de Morgan was the youngest child of Augustus de Morgan and sister to the artist and novelist William de Morgan. De Morgan's mother, Sophia Elizabeth, was most likely a great influence on her feminist leanings. In 1866 Sophia de Morgan was one of 1,499 women to sign the women's suffrage petition, and she was also the author of the 1870 essay "Our Better Selves," which argued for better education and increased political and professional rights for women (Crawford 717, 756). In 1890, Mary de Morgan followed in her mother's footsteps when she joined the Women's Franchise League, whose stated objectives were "to extend to women, whether married, unmarried, or widowed the right to vote at parliamentary, municipal and local and other elections on the same conditions which qualify men [and] to establish for all women equal civil and political rights with men" (qtd. in Crawford 716). Mary de Morgan never married, although it is unknown whether this was due to personal choice or circumstance. However, she shared her fairy tales with her family and the children of family friends, and it is in her fairy tales that readers can discern her feminist leanings. …

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