D'Aulnoy's Histoire d'Hypolite, Comte De Duglas (1690): A Fairy-Tale Manifesto

By Stedman, Allison | Marvels & Tales, January 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

D'Aulnoy's Histoire d'Hypolite, Comte De Duglas (1690): A Fairy-Tale Manifesto


Stedman, Allison, Marvels & Tales


Although many people credit Charles Perrault with the innovation and early development of the French literary fairy tale, Marie-Catherine le Jumel de Barneville, comtesse d'Aulnoy, a Norman aristocrat who had a Parisian salon on the Rue St. Benoît, actually published the first French fairy tale in 1690, anticipating Perrault by at least four years.1 D'Aulnoy's tale Ole de la félicité" ("The Island of Happiness") was interpolated into her first novel, a nouvelle historique with a romanesque plot entitled Histoire d'Hypolite, comte de Duglas (The Story of Hippolytus, Earl of Douglas). The fairy tale, which tells the story of Adolphe, a Russian prince who gets taken by the wind to the enchanted Island of Happiness and lives there in paradise with Princess Félicité for three hundred years, has often puzzled critics because of its atypical ending. Adolphe and Félicité never marry. Instead, the prince returns to Russia to earn a glorious reputation in battle and is murdered en route by Father Time. Félicité, upon learning that Adolphe is dead, closes up her palace forever, and the Island of Happiness becomes a harbor of eternal grief and despair.

In recent decades, feminist scholars have taken special interest in "Lîle de la félicité," not only because it was written by a woman and because it lacks the usual "happily ever after" conclusion, but also because a feminist sociopolitical agenda seems to inform the tale. When situated in the French tradition of seventeenth-century women writers, for example, Princess Félicités Island of Happiness seems to represent a feminist Utopia reminiscent of Madeleine de Scudéry's "Land of the Sauromates" in "Histoire de Sapho" ("The Story of Sappho") (Artamène ou le grand Cyrus [1649-53; Artamenes, or The Grand Cyrus], vol. 10), where salon conversation is foregrounded and social institutions that affected women intellectually, such as marriage, are revised.2 But in debating the extent to which "Lîle de la félicité" should be related to the social concerns and literary agendas of seventeenth-century French women writers, critics have generally overlooked an important fact: when d'Aulnoy first introduced the fairy tale to her salon contemporaries, she did not intend the tale to be read as an independent story. Rather, she situated it in a very specific exterior "reality"-that of its framing novel, Histoire d'Hypolite.3

As we shall see, the interpolation of 'Lîle de la félicité" into Histoire d'Hypolite constituted a highly premeditated authorial strategy-one that allowed d'Aulnoy to introduce the fairy tale as a literary rather than an oral genre (by literally interpolating the tale into the French literary tradition), while also asserting control over how her salon contemporaries would receive, interpret, and eventually reproduce the fairy tale as the latest mondain (worldly) generic innovation.4 First, the interaction between "Elle de la félicité" and the novel that frames it established certain assumptions about the relationship between teller and tale. Specifically, Histoire d'Hypolite allowed the extradiegetic reader to become acquainted with the personality, social situation, and personal dilemmas of Hypolite, the novel's main protagonist and intradiegetic "author" of the interpolated story. Second, the presence of the framing novel enabled members of d'Aulnoy's salon public to see a relationship between the tale and the literary context from which it emerged. In this case, the novel provided a kind of exterior reality, which the fairy tale was shown to mirror and to revise. D'Aulnoy's interpolation strategy thus infused the first French literary fairy tale with an aesthetic of production and an aesthetic of reception that endeavored to build what Stanley Fish has described as an "interpretive community of readers" (1-17). In this case, d'Aulnoy taught an intimate circle of salon authors to recognize the interpolated fairy tale's capacity to comment on contemporary reality and encouraged them to further mondain interests by creating their own novel/fairy-tale combinations in the decades to come. …

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