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

By Jennifer Schacker | Go to book overview

and significance but also choices made in the formal and stylistic presentation of the tales—from the selection and editing of stories, to the representation of narrative voice.

The following case studies aim at both close attention to text—written and sometimes pictorial—and exploration of the context in which the tale collections were created, published, and read. From a twenty-first-century standpoint these writers can appear naive, even foolish in their attempts to represent complex tale traditions as neatly segregated, stylistically homogeneous narrative units, sometimes featuring such English-sounding heroes as Tom or Boots, making sweeping cultural generalizations in their editorial commentaries, digressing horrendously in annotation. Close attention to the various prefaces, introductory essays, popular tales, annotations, and illustrations of the books themselves reveals how contextual factors ramify on the page; it also illuminates the imaginative and intellectual appeal of traditional and editorial narratives. As popular reading material for an expanding audience, tale collections offered opportunities for reflection on the oral Other, but also on the modern self, on the transformation of popular culture, on the nature of “Englishness” in the midst of rapid social, cultural, and technological change.

Popular English editions of foreign popular tales contain a form of reflexivity, of modernity constructing and reflecting on itself in print while presenting and representing oral narratives.47 As we watch these writers experiment with modes of textual presentation and interpretive frameworks, we can catch glimpses of the images they drew of themselves and of their projected readership. Against a background of orality, superstition, and rustic simplicity emerges a portrait of modern, literate, cosmopolitan Englishness. This portrait is as imaginative, as powerful, and as enticing as any fairy tale.

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