Before Contes Du Temps Passe (1697): Charles Perrault's "Griselidis" (1691), "Souhaits Ridicules" (1693), and "Peau D'asne" (1694)

By Bottigheimer, Ruth | The Romanic Review, May-November 2008 | Go to article overview

Before Contes Du Temps Passe (1697): Charles Perrault's "Griselidis" (1691), "Souhaits Ridicules" (1693), and "Peau D'asne" (1694)


Bottigheimer, Ruth, The Romanic Review


Despite a widespread assumption that Charles Perrault (1628-1703) found popular material among France's folk, that was certainly not the case with his three verse tales. For "Griselidis," "Les souhaits ridicules," and "Peau d'Asne," Perrault turned to published texts as his model, although each was written under and was conditioned by differing sets of circumstances and influences.

Perrault's first piece in a popular vein drew upon the ubiquitous chapbook Griselidis, published for mass consumption throughout France. In composing his own version, Perrault had no greater ambition than to produce a modern novella (Perrault 1695; rpt. 1980 aiiv, 5), that is, a narrative of unusual events that could conceivably have taken place in the real world. The "Griselda" plot fit that requirement: it described a union between a wealthy noble, named only "le Prince," and Griselidis, a pretty and penniless peasant girl. The marriage turned savage when the husband began testing his wife's obedience with increasingly pitiless trials. In Perrault's version the prince tore their daughter from his wife's breast and removed her to a convent, rudely asserting that a peasant-born mother couldn't adequately rear a noble daughter. Fifteen years later he cast Griselidis off, and she--asking pardon for having displeased him and expressing her "regret sincere" and "humble respect" (49)--returned home to her father without a murmur. In a final trial, her husband, pretending to remarry, required her to prepare both his intended "bride" and the bridal bedchamber for his nuptials. In a single departure from her unabating patient acceptance of unremitting affliction, Griselidis requested him to treat his new wife with gentleness, because--she said--a tenderly-reared young princess couldn't survive torments that her own obscure birth had enabled her to accept (55). When the "bride" was revealed to be their daughter and the wedding the daughter's to a nobleman, the prince reinstated Griselidis. The novella ended with praise for wifely patience, for which Griselidis provided "un si parfait modelle" (62).

Perrault did his homework before he began his version of this painful story. He ascertained that Giovanni Boccaccio (1313?-1375) had composed it as the hundredth, and final, story of his Decameron (1353), and he learned that Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374) had subsequently translated it into Latin, although Perrault evidently did not realize that Petrarch had increased the tale's misogyny and that Petrarch's, and not Boccaccio's, version underlay the "Griselidis" story of the French bibliotheque bleue (Leclerc 1991 2). Perrault knew the bibliotheque bleue version in "son papier bleu oU il est depuis tant d'annees" (its blue paper where it has been for so many years, Perrault 1695; rpt. 1980 63), and he had seen such little books in the printshop at the sign of the Golden Capon in Troyes (Bonnefon 39). (1) It fell to later researchers to establish a textual genealogy and to identify the most likely edition that Perrault had himself used.

The language of the Troyes source was simple, rough, and charmless, edited for a dual audience of literate readers and unlettered listeners. In writing Griselidis Perrault shifted to complex rhyming patterns and a rich vocabulary within a simple sentence structure. Also unlike adventure stories that were meant to amuse, rather than to instruct, his chier characters--the prince and Griselidis--represented an ideal: the prince was a generous father to his people, accomplished in war and in the arts (Perrault 1695; rpt. 1980 5); Griselidis was a modest, sage, and industrious young shepherdess (15-18). Later in the narrative Perrault individualised Griselidis in telling detail: not wishing to be but hall a mother, not wishing to be exempt from the service that her baby's cries demanded, she wanted to nurse the child in whom she reposed all her tenderness (33, 38).

Christianity and Christian sentiments were elemental components of Perrault's "Griselidis. …

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