Fairy Tales, Myth, and Psychoanalytic Theory: Feminism and Retelling the Tale

By Harline, Geneva | Marvels & Tales, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Fairy Tales, Myth, and Psychoanalytic Theory: Feminism and Retelling the Tale


Harline, Geneva, Marvels & Tales


Fairy Tales, Myth, and Psychoanalytic Theory: Feminism and Retelling the Tale. By Veronica L. Schanoes. Surrey, England: Ashgate, 2014. 143 pp.

In Fairy Tales, Myth, and Psychoanalytic Theory Veronica Schanoes uses her experience with fairy tales and feminist psychoanalytic theory to "draw out and analyz[e] the connections between the two genres" (3). Schanoes explains the need for a fresh psychoanalytic examination of fairy tales because the 1970s and 1990s "were a time in which both artists and psychoanalytic theorists were concerned with issues of how a woman's sense of self is constructed and how it develops; only by examining these texts in light of one another can we fully understand the answers they arrived at" (5). In her examination, Schanoes demonstrates what can be learned by applying feminist psychoanalytic theory to fairy tales and presents interesting correlations among the tropes of mother-daughter dyads, revisions, and mirrors in the tales.

Schanoes begins with the trope of mother-daughter relationships and explains how the daughter is often a younger version of the mother. In the first chapter Schanoes explains that in many tales the daughter goes through the same trials as the mother, but in the case of the mother, the trials are generally implicit rather than explicit. Schanoes applies feminist psychoanalytic theory to a wide selection of examples of revised tales from the 1970s and 1990s to cover mothers and stepmothers who are good, bad, and dead in order to show how many of these depict the child as a re-creation of the mother. Schanoes is quite clear that she is basing her ideas relating to stepmothers on the psychoanalytic theory that "stepmothers are the result of children's natural 'splitting' of their image of the mother into 'good' and 'bad' in order to maintain the feelings of security, safety, and love they feel regarding the mother in the face of the mother's anger and disapproval" (17). Schanoes lays out her argument first by covering the requirement for the protagonists to take on characteristics of their mothers in "The Bloody Chamber" and "Wolf-Alice" by Angela Carter (1979); then she transitions into the idea of "blurred identities" between mothers and daughters, using examples from "The Root of the Matter" by Gregory Frost (1993), White as Snow by Tanith Lee (2000), and Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987). In the examples of blurred identities, the mothers' inability to distinguish between themselves and their daughters creates danger for the daughters, leading to the abuse and even murder of the children.

The next link in the chain Schanoes creates is how the mother-daughter trope is connected to revision, asking if we can "conceive of revision itself, as enacted and reflected upon by [feminist revisions of fairy tales], as participating in mother-daughter relationships" (33). Schanoes uses examples from narratives (revisiting Beloved and White as Snow and bringing in Kathryn Davis's The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf [1993] and Angela Carter's The Magic Toyshop [1967]) to show how a revision is the "daughter" of the "traditional" tale and that "revision makes new and extends the life of older stories" (62). …

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