Women subdued: the abjectification and purification of female characters in Perrault's tales.
For Julia Kristeva, the abject is "what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite" (4). At the level of the individual body, the abject is that which simultaneously is and is not the body, such as excrement or bodily fluids, which must be eliminated or purged. The disfigured body also is a form of the abject for, like excrement and bodily fluids, it threatens the integrity, the oneness, the wholeness of the body. In relation to the body politic, the abject similarly regulates norms of sexuality, law, and morality by designating as impure, unholy, criminal, sinful, or loathsome certain practices, objects, or individuals that threaten the hegemonic order of the same, and which must be eliminated or expelled in some way. In Judith Butler's words, "the repudiation of bodies for their sex, sexuality, and/or coloris an 'expulsion' followed by a 'repulsion' that founds and consolidates culturally hegemonic identities along sex/race/sexuality axes of differentiation" (133). In what follows I will argue that for Perrault women indeed incarnate the abject, and in order to alleviate any threat women pose to male authority or the body politic, they must either be expelled from the public sphere or be put through a process of purification that renders them powerless and that reintegrates them as passive vessels into the domestic order of the family, an order guaranteed by a male and implicitly Catholic authority.
Perrault's Parallele des Anciens et des Modernes en ce qui regarde les arts et les sciences (1688), his novella "Griselidis" (1691), and his Apologie des femmes (1694) all ostensibly defend women's role within public discourse and society. In the Parallele, Perrault uses aristocratic women and their tastes to legitimate the modernist cause. "Griselidis" was written in response to the Ancient Jean de La Bruyere's misogynous "Des femmes," and the Apologie des femmes in response to the "Satire X" against women by the spokesman for the Ancients, Nicolas Boileau. In both texts Perrault's defense of women resides in his affirmation that good women indeed exist, but they are often hidden from the public eye, for they inhabit obscure and private spaces where they serve and care for others. (4) In both texts, however, Perrault implicitly pits worldly public women against rather meek women whose sphere of action is limited to the domestic sphere, which seems to contradict the role reserved for women in the Parallele.
La Bruyere's "Des femmes" and Boileau's Satire X depict women--mondain women in particular--as being uncontrollable agents within the public sphere whose influence on men and society is pernicious. Without rejecting their basic premise about women's uncontrollable nature, in "Griselidis" and the Apologie Perrault proposes so many means for domesticating women (and all that this implies) in order to make them suitable for marriage and reproduction, and nothing more. Whereas Boileau rejects women altogether in his satire, in his writings Perrault advises men on how they might manage women, which entails limiting their sphere of action to domestic and not public spaces within society, exposing them to the most vile forms of domestic labor, and most importantly, subjecting them to the will of their husbands. Critics have argued that in these pieces Perrault parodies the misogyny of his ancient colleagues. (5) However, Perrault never puts into question their negative stereotypes of women. Upon close analysis, moreover, it becomes clear that Perrault is drawing from a social and religious discourse that relegates women to subservient, domestic roles in the family and society.
As a story used to "defend" women, the very choice of "Griselidis" is telling. Originally published as "Griselda" in Boccaccio's Decameron, Francesco Petrarca produced a Latin version of the tale entitled "Griseldis." In a letter to Boccaccio, Petrarca remarks: "My object in thus rewriting your tale was not to induce the women of our time to imitate the patience of this wife, which seems to me almost beyond imitation, but to lead my readers to emulate the example of feminine constancy, and to submit themselves to God with the same courage as did this woman to her husband" (186). That a believer's obedience to God is figured in terms of a wife's obedience to her husband is indeed problematic.
Philippe de Mezieres, whose fourteenth-century translation of Petrarca was one of the main translations that served as the basis for the Griselidis tradition in France, moves between considering the story an allegory for the faithful's relation to God and a model for the wife's relation to her husband. In his prologue, Mezieres remarks: "Et quant les dames mariees se seront bien mirees et remirees ou biau miroir de la marquise de Saluce, legierement porront congnoistre ou leurs deffaultes ou leurs bienfais et la condicion de leur mariage" (Golenistcheff-Koutouzoff 155). Mezieres's prologue basically baptizes the story a miroir des dames mariees, the mirror being a moral genre that holds up ideal models of behavior for the reader to consider in relation him- or herself. "Miroir" will appear in the tale's subtitle well into the seventeenth century. (6) At least until the fifteenth century, the story was disseminated in works aimed at newly married women, such as the Livre de la vertu du sacrement de mariage et du reconfort des dames mariees, the Livre du Chevalier de La Tour Landry pour l'enseignement de ses filles, and the Menagier de Paris. (7) Despite Petrarca's statement that he did not intend for women to imitate Griseldis, the publishing history of the story suggests that in fact it was used as a model for wifely obedience.
As in Mezieres, Perrault represents wifely obedience in terms of Griselidis completely renouncing her own will to conform perfectly to that of her husband: "Il faudrait me jurer que vous n'aurez jamais / D'autre volonte que la mienne./--Je le jure" (Contes 71). A learned man such as Perrault would not have ignored the fact that Griselidis traditionally was read both as a model of wifely obedience and as an allegory of the faithful's relation to God. (8) In his Pensees chretiennes, composed between 1694 and his death in 1703, Perrault comments on the sin of Adam as residing precisely in his failure to conform his will to that of God." "Le peche d'Adam consiste principalement en ce qu'il a voulu avoir une volonte autre que celle de Dieu" (18). Given the double meaning of "Griselidis" as a tale of the faithful and of wifely obedience, one might argue that Griselidis represents a positive female counterpart to Perrault's vision of Adam. At the same time, however, this paradigm makes of wifely disobedience a sin on par with that of Adam and Eve's transgression of God's will. Consequently, wifely disobedience is a micro-manifestation of the Fall.
Also discussed in his Pensees chretiennes is the notion that sin produces disorder: "Le peche ne produira et ne peut produire que le desordre" (70). Perrault goes on to reason that the disorder caused by sin has to do with "la partie inferieure," meaning "l'oeuvre de la chair" or "les sens," going against "la superieure," identified with "la raison" (70). In other words, sin occurs when the senses, located in the flesh, go against reason. Reading the Pensees chretiennes against "Griselidis," one can only come to the conclusion, then, that for Perrault, wives (identified with flesh and the senses) must obey their husbands (representing reason) in order for order to reign. Indeed, this is a theme that will repeat itself throughout Perrault's oeuvre. The notion that men should reason as women, or that women could or should reason at all, is questionable within the broader context of Perrault's works.
Both "Griselidis" and the Apologie generate lists of types of women who spread disorder: the devout woman constantly scolds, disrupting marital bliss; the coquette threatens monogamy as she surrounds herself with lovers; and the gambler ruins her family. (9) In his dedication to "Griselidis," Perrault presents his heroine as a "contrepoison" (57) to the model of women who rule over their husbands and more generally over Parisian society as so many "queens." Perrault sets up an opposition between, on the one hand, the feminocentric and implicitly dystopic world of the dedication, and on the other, the patriarchal order of the main text, where men dominate women, and reason rules over the senses. Griselidis is presented as a model of feminine virtue, a virtue synonymous with a feminine submission that grounds the patriarchal order of the tale. Consequently, patriarchal order becomes associated with virtue and reason, while the feminocentric world of the dedication is a world turned upside-down, an implicitly sinful world ruled by women and the senses.
"Les souhaits ridicules" represents another world turned upside-down, where Fanchon, the badmouthing wife, wears the pants in the family. Fanchon advises her husband to be patient about the three wishes he has been granted, but Blaise carelessly requests a length of sausage. When Fanchon scolds him for his stupidity, the henpecked husband wishes for the sausage to hang from her nose, which impedes further verbal abuse on her part. Arguably, the sausage symbolizes the phallic authority that Fanchon has usurped by attempting to correct her husband's failings. She is not allowed to "form" her husband, which is the exclusive right of men. Through his sadistic trials, Griselidis's prince "crowns" (shapes, forms) her virtue, just as a blacksmith forges metal. In fact, he is described in the tale as a forgeron (Contes 79). By virtue of being a woman Fanchon, however, has no authority to correct her husband's careless behavior. His foolishness is brought to an end not by his wife's insistence but when he finally reclaims his position of authority in the family. As the narrator of the Apologie states: "La Femme en son epoux aime a trouver son maistre, / Lorsque par ses vertus il merite de l'estre; / Si l'on la voit souvent resoudre & decider, / C'est que le foible epoux ne scait pas commander" (9).
While the Apologie makes the point directly, all of these texts suggest that the husband ultimately is the cause of wifely obedience or disobedience. The prince of "Griselidis" knows how to mold his wife to his will and strengthen her virtue, unlike Parisian men who are ruled by their out-of-control wives. Eventually the weak-minded Blaise reclaims his authority and learns how to tame his shrewish wife. This pattern of "the taming of the shrew" (even when she needs no taming) allows us to situate Perrault's tales within the tradition of moralists, from Plutarque to Jacques Chausse, who viewed men as being responsible for their wives' behavior. Their logic: since women are innately the morally weaker sex and men the more "enlightened" one, it is the duty of men to demonstrate good behavior. Bad behavior on the part of the wife, then, is due to the poor model and guidance provided by her husband. (10)
The perception of female disobedience as sin and the consequent need for the husband to dominate his wife cannot be dissociated from early modern conceptions of the Fall. Tertullian in particular must have had a significant impact on Perrault's conception of women and their relation to disobedience and sin. Tertullian's Latin texts were widely translated and published in seventeenth-century France, and Perrault read almost all of his works. (11) Around 1643 Perrault and his friend Beaurain carried out a translation of Tertullian's The Apparel of Women. Tertullian's conception of women is scathing, to say the least. In the opening chapter of The Apparel, Tertullian insists that women must live as perpetual penitents in memory of their role in introducing sin into the world. Women should not wear ostentatious clothing, but rather they should dress "in mourning garments ... acting the part of mourning and repentant Eve in order to expiate more fully by all sorts of penitential garb that which woman derives from Eve--the ignominy, I mean, of original sin and the odium of being the cause of the fall of the human race" (3). He goes on to state: "The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives on even in out times and so it is necessary that the guilt should live on, also. You are the one who opened the door to the Devil, you are the one who first plucked the fruit of the forbidden tree, you are the first who deserted the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the Devil was not strong enough to attack ... And you still think of putting adornments over the skins of animals that cover you?" (3). Tertullian subsequently maintains that fine clothes, colored fabrics, gems, and makeup are all the work of fallen angels, evil teachers whose lust and artifice rivals the pure and natural order of God.
One might argue that Perrault translated Tertullian in his youth, and thus the ideas contained within The Apparel of Women had little impact on the representation of women in his works. However, the modifications Perrault made to the tales he adapted from other writers, like "Griselidis" and "Peau d'ane," are striking when read in light of Tertullian. With respect to "Griselidis," for instance, Perrault's version is the only one in which the Prince regrets "cette pompe etrangere" (Contes 72) adorned by his shepherdess-bride the day of their wedding. This initial regret of Griselidis's original simplicity sows the seeds of suspicion that lead him to test Griselidis's virtue further. In some respects the scene is reminiscent of the Fall, Griselidis being shamed by her "nakedness," having to cover up her nature with royal attire.
Whereas in Boccaccio, Petrarca, Christine de Pizan, and Mezieres the heroine is stripped of all of her finery on the day of her repudiation, Perrault makes of this action among first of Griselidis's ordeals within the sequence of her trials. Just after the birth of their daughter, Perrault's prince decides to test her virtue by taking back his luxurious gifts to her: "Persuade que la Parure / Et le superbe Ajustement / Du sexe que pour plaire a forme la Nature / Est le plus doux enchantement / Il lui demande avec rudesse / Les perles, les rubis, les bagues, les bijoux / Qu'il lui donna pour marque de tendresse, / Lorsque de son Amant il devint Epoux" (Contes 75). This modification of earlier versions suggests that Tertullian indeed was in the back of Perrault's mind when he wrote "Griselidis." Basically the prince denies his wife ostentation, which implies both making oneself into spectacle and being seen, by denying her the attire of a princess and by removing her from court. Griselidis is confined to her chambers, taken out of view, and made to suffer, which she accepts like a true penitent: "'On n'est heureux qu'autant qu'on a souffert'" (Contes 76). Although the most virtuous woman in the realm, Griselidis nevertheless is always already a sinner. "'Il [Dieu] ... s'applique a me corriger'" (Contes 76). Her husband is but the instrument of God's will, who enforces penitence in order to guarantee the authenticity of Griselidis's virtue.
Perrault's version of "Peau d'ane" truly is a tale about the apparel of women. When the incestuous king tries to gain his daughter's hand, she demands three extraordinary and exquisite dresses in order to postpone the dreaded wedding day. When this fails, she escapes dressed in a donkey skin, becoming completely undesirable to all. It is when she is alone in her room wearing one of her magical dresses that the local prince falls madly in love with her. Donkey Skin's attire renders her irresistible one moment and repugnant the next. Of central importance to Perrault's version of the tale, the sequence of scenes pertaining to the princess's wish for three dresses is not present in Straparola's "Tebaldo" or Basile's "The Bear." Nor do the Italian heroines don the skin of a dead domestic animal, which makes of their French cousin "Une si sale creature" (Contes 105). Like Griselidis, Donkey Skin is removed from public view, and she is reduced to the status of the lowest domestic servant in a household: une souillon.
Read in light of Tertullian, it would appear that Perrault sends his heroine on a penitential journey much like that of Griselidis. Although she appears innocent at the beginning of the tale, she nevertheless possesses "certains tendres appas" (Contes 100) that fuel her father's incestuous desire. Perrault intimates here that feminine beauty feeds male desire, which ends up disculpating the male subject who acts upon this desire. (This is also a theme in tragic stories by Jean-Pierre Camus.) (12) In Straparola the father is quartered at the end of the tale, and in Basile he plays no role after the heroine's departure. By the end of Perrault's tale, however, the incestuous father is reintegrated into the extended family. He can be recuperated precisely because he is not fully to blame for his actions. Moreover, after her penitential journey, Donkey Skin's charms no longer hold any sway over him. Any threat the princess may have represented, any power she may have exercised over her father have been suppressed. For Tertullian, all women are always already sinners ("you are [each] an Eve" ), and one wonders to what degree Perrault shared this belief.
It should be noted that Perrault composed an "Epistre chrestienne sur la penitence," first published in 1683, which he later appended to his Saint Paulin, Evesque de Nole. Poeme (1685). In the first part of the poem Perrault enumerates the various types of sin for which the generic "homme pecheur" (Saint 93) must repent. He then spends the next half of the poem relating the life of "la sainte Penitente" (Saint 95), or Mary Magdalene, whom the Catholic church of the period considered to be the same Mary as Mary of Bethany, sister of Lazarus.
Perrault makes reference to the tradition that depicts Mary (never named as such in the poem) as a vain and extravagant woman who transforms upon her encounter with Christ, when she washes his feet. After the death of Christ she goes to Marseilles, "Pres des bords ou jadis le Peuple de Phocee / Termina les erreurs de sa flotte lassee" (Saint 95), and lives a solitary life in the caverns upon the cliffs of Sainte-Baume. From her somber abode she "Regarde avec horreur l'insolente fierte, / Que luy donna l'eclat de sa vaine beaute. / Quand elle se souvient que pleins de son image, / Mille coeurs insensez luy rendoient un hommage" (Saint 96). Her sense of guilt is so great that she believes that she personally is responsible for the death of Christ: "Que Jesus a paye l'abus de ses appas; / Et qu'enfin ses pechez ont cause son trepas" (Saint 96). Mary Magdalene basically spends the rest of her life inflicting herself with mortal pain, making herself surfer the most rigorous torments that are her only joy: "Mais plus a la douleur la Sainte s'abandonne, / Plus le plaisir est grand, que sa douleur luy donne" (Saint 97).
The Beautiful Penitent's terrible sin resides in her having exercised power over men, having driven them mad, through the lure of her charms or appas. Perrault's Mary believes she so abused her charms that she personally brought down the son of God. At the same time that Perrault implicitly models his Mary Magdalene on Eve (she brings the Fall of Christ), he also makes of her a Christ-like figure herself, for she takes on all of the sins of the world for which Christ died. It is a bit troubling to think that Jesus paid with his life for the vanity of a single woman. Weren't there worse sins for which Christ could have sacrificed his life?
Griselidis and Donkey Skin both resemble Perrault's Mary Magdalene in their menacing beauty and their readiness to take on the sins of others. Both characters destabilize male subjectivity by threatening, in the case of Griselidis, the supremacy of the husband (the Prince fears she may betray him), and by stirring man to transgressive behavior, as in the case of Donkey Skin's father.
Their powers must be subdued through penitence, through their abjectification, which neutralizes their influence over the men in question. Moreover, although it is the male characters in these tales who abuse the rather vulnerable heroines, it is the heroines who do the repenting, who surfer for the sins of others.
Clearly Perrault is preoccupied by the relation between women and sin. Images of the Fall hover in the background of his tales and religious works. Perrault's fairy-tale heroines are made to wear the mark of their sin only for it to be purged through a process of abjectification and purification, which in the end renders them powerless. Fanchon's sin is usurping male authority, thus she is made to wear the sausage on her nose, which makes her ugly and undesirable, until she retakes her rightful place below--not above--her husband Blaise. In the case of Griselidis and Donkey Skin, both heroines are like raw gems that must be tailored to perfection by their trials, purging them of any residual "dirt" or "impurities" inherent in their feminine nature. The donkey skin the princess of the tale is forced to wear essentially counteracts the power of her beauty, of her appas that seduced her father. It is as if Perrault is responding to Tertullian's remark: "And you still think of putting adornments over the skins of animals that cover you?" To put it in other words, Perrault's most virtuous heroines are the ones who are dressed the worst. And like the donkey who turns excrement into gold, Perrault puts his inherently sinful, "dirty," abject heroines through a process that similarly turns them into gold--into subdued wives who support an idealized patriarchal order. It is a process that takes powerful and seductive women--beautiful princesses--out of public view, out of the public sphere, and guarantees their submission to male authority.
Perrault and Camus
Questions of male authority and female penance are central to Perrault's tale, "La belle au bois dormant," which can be highlighted when compared to what I believe to be one of its sources, "La princesse jalouse" by the Bishop of Belley, Jean-Pierre Camus. In the first half of the seventeenth century, Camus published several collections of tragic stories, a sub-genre of the novella. In writing stories that dealt with sexual transgression and violence, Camus sought to compete with the worldly genre of the novel and disseminate Catholic Reformation ideology. Though he attracted readers with sensationalist subjects, Camus used these stories to inculcate his readers with fire-and-brimstone messages about the consequences of sin. Included in his collections are reformminded stories about the terrible fate of clerics who take on concubines, parents who prevent their children from embracing a religious vocation, and men who attempt to abduct nuns. (13) Each of his stories contains a moral that upholds the sanctity of marriage and the family, and the rule of father and king.
Perrault expressed his admiration for the bishop in his tribute to him, which appeared in Les hommes illustres qui ont paru en France pendant le XVII siecle (1696-1700). At the end of his portrait of Camus, Perrault states: "Ce fut un des plus dignes Eveques que la France ait jamais eu" (1: 22). Perrault clearly was familiar with Camus's works and lauded the bishop's success at writing edifying stories that "furent comme une espece de contrepoison a la lecture des Romans" (1.21), just as he himself held up Griselidis as a contrepoison to the women of Paris. Given Perrault's familiarity with and admiration for Camus's oeuvre and the parallels between "La princesse jalouse" and "La belle au bois dormant," it seems more than likely that the tragic story indeed was one the sources for the fairy tale. (14) Reading "La belle au bois dormant" against "La princesse jalouse" will moreover bring to the fore the underlying religious concepts of gender and authority that I contend to be part and parcel of the ideological underpinnings of Perrault's own tales.
Camus's story concerns the German prince Amalor, who marries the princess Gorgonia. But Amalor soon falls in love with Villehade, a lady of Gorgonia's suite. As their relationship develops, Villehade becomes insolent before Gorgonia, and behaves "comme une autre Agar" (296). (15) Gorgonia dreams of disfiguring Villehade, whose "visage impudique" (296) destroyed the fidelity of her husband. (Again, beauty becomes the alibi for male transgression.) To avert Gorgonia's wrath, Amalor pretends to tire of Villehade and sends his pregnant mistress to relatives. Amalor spreads the rumor that Villehade died in childbirth, and he has her effigy buried at one of his country estates. Amalor pretends to mourn his loss by hunting at his chateau, when in reality he is living with Villehade "en ce palais d'Armide, en ce Chateau enchante" (298), where Villehade gives birth to two children. After two years Gorgonia learns the truth. When the prince has to leave due to political problems in Germany, Gorgonia goes to the chateau and digs up the effigy. She then strangles the two children before their mother, ties Villehade's hands and feet with the same rope used to strangle the children, and buries Villehade alive along with her dead children in the same grave in which the effigy had been buried. When the prince returns and discovers what has happened, he threatens the same punishment for Gorgonia, who retires to live with relatives. The moral of the story: this is the punishment for an insolent adulteress, and there is nothing more furious than a jealous woman.
While Perrault clearly based much of his story on Basile's "Sun, Moon, and Thalia," the similarities between "La princesse jalouse" and "La belle au bois dormant" are nevertheless striking. In all three stories, the young prince or king conceals his relationship and pretends to be hunting, while the jealous wife/ ogress mother is suspicious of why he spends so much time away. In all three stories, the beloved experiences a feigned death of some sort, and they and their children are threatened by a powerful and monstrous woman, which initiates a series of substitutions. Perrault specifically draws from Camus regarding the prince regularly visiting his princess for a period of two years in an "enchanted palace," where they have two children. Like Camus, who explicitly signals the jealous wife's monstrosity by calling her "Gorgonia," Perrault also unambiguously makes his queen into an ogress. Most importantly, Perrault has his ogress unleash her wrath only when the prince of the story must take leave of the mother of his children due to political problems in the kingdom, just as Gorgonia takes her revenge only when Amalor is called away, like the prince, to war.
As it seems quite evident that Perrault drew from Camus's tragic story to write "La belle au bois dormant," the modifications Perrault made to the story are most informative and even suggest new interpretations of the tale. First, whereas Villehade is an adulteress and bears explicit guilt in Camus's story, Sleeping Beauty, arguably, is implicitly guilty. Sleeping Beauty could be viewed as bearing the traces of her model's (not to mention Eve's) sensual guilt of which she is purged through her one hundred year "trial" that renders her completely passive. It is her active curiosity that leads her to the spinning wheel, where she pricks her finger (suggesting blood, the stain of sin) and falls to her "death." (16) While Donkey Skin is "abjectified" (rendered vile, repugnant, undesirable, excremental) by the animal skin, Sleeping Beauty transforms into an "abject" (neither subject nor object) by "dying." (17) Upon her awakening, she has become a fully passive vessel at the disposal of her prince, serving as the receptacle for the two children she bears him. (And notably, she is dressed completely out of fashion.) Perrault recrafts the role of Villehade, taking away her albeit negative agency to provide his readers with yet another virtuous, purified, and completely passive heroine, following here the model provided by Basile.
Second, Perrault turns a triangular rivalry into an oedipal one. In fact, Gorgonia as the jealous and scorned wife is a much more sympathetic character than Perrault's queen-mother, and her actions, however terrible they might be, are understandable. In adapting Camus's story, Perrault creates a stark opposition between good and evil by making Sleeping Beauty totally innocent (through her "death") and by depicting the queen-mother as excessively evil: her only apparent motive for attempting to kill her daughter-in-law and her two grandchildren is her ogress-desire to devour them. However, one could also view the tale as a differently gendered version of "Peau d'ane," whereby the queen-mother desires her son and is jealous of her rival daughter-in-law, whose children she wishes to kill along with her rival. Given the likely source for the tale, an oedipal reading is not so far fetched. (18) The ogress-mother is a transposition of Gorgonia, Amalor's jealous wife. Precisely because of the connection with Gorgonia and their shared monster heritage, the queen-mother's transgressive desire to eat human flesh could be read as a displacement of her transgressive incestuous desire for her son. In other words, the ogress-mother's wish to devour her grandchildren (she only later wishes to devour Sleeping Beauty) could be read as a displacement of her desire to sexually "devour" her son.
Interestingly, in the end Camus's Amalor does hOt act on the threat he made to his wife to condemn her to the same fate she reserved for his mistress and children. Perrault, however, does have his ogress-queen killed in the same fashion in which she was about to murder Sleeping Beauty and her progeny, in the tradition of Basile. If we take "La belle au bois dormant" to implicitly be a story about incestuous mothers, this ending contrasts with the reintegration of the incestuous father in "Peau d'ane." What does this suggest? Whereas the power of female beauty serves as the alibi for transgressive male desire, which can be controlled once its cause is subdued, female desire is monstrous in and of itself. The queen-mother is irredeemable, untamable, and must be completely expelled from the body politic.
In both Camus and Perrault, it is when male authority is suspended that uncontrollable female desire is unleashed. One might cite the example of Racine's Phedre here as well. It is when Thesee is believed to be dead, marking a suspension of the law (against incest) that Phedre confesses her love to Hippolyte. Likewise, when Amalor must leave for war, Gorgonia is left to her own devices and is able to take vengeance on her former lady-in-waiting. She executes her desire for revenge, which was put into check as long as Amalor was present. Perrault's prince also must attend to political exigencies and absents himself, leaving his mother in charge, who perversely abuses her power. In effect, the prince manages to curb his mother's desire for chair fraiche, but in his absence--in the absence of the law--she can no longer restrain herself. The message is simple: women are unsuitable for positions of power. Incapable of governing themselves, they most certainly cannot govern others. The rule of men keeps monstrous female desire in check, thus maintaining social and political order.
"La princesse jalouse" and "La belle au bois dormant" both focus on the dangers of female desire and the importance of a patriarchal law to keep these desires from wreaking havoc on the body politic. Male desire, on the other hand, is permissible. Tragedy ensued hOt because Amalor had an affair with Villehade, but because Villehade became insolent towards her mistress whom she was betraying. While Amalor bears some of the blame for the dissolution of the marriage, it was Gorgonia's brutal murder of his mistress and children that brought their final separation. In the case of "La belle au bois dormant," the prince actually engages in transgressive behavior for which he could have been severely punished according to seventeenth-century French law. At the time it was illegal to marry without parental consent. However, it was hOt the prince's desire for Sleeping Beauty that brought about trouble, but the queen-mother's desire for chair fraiche. We might view Sleeping Beauty's hundred-year sleep as another supreme example of female patience (she waits a hundred years for a husband), which could also be read in terms of the erasure of all desire. (19) To wait a hundred years is practically not to desire at all. Purged of all desire as such through her forced sleep, the princess presents no threat whatsoever to the patriarchal rule that is reestablished by the end of the tale. The queen-mother, on the other hand, is untamable, undomesticated, and cannot submit to the will of male authority. She is therefore expelled altogether from the body politic in order to reestablish a utopic patriarchal order founded on female submission.
Perrault's tales undoubtedly were marked by the influence of Catholic thought, notably Tertullian and Camus, two writers whose works he knew well and admired. Tertullian in particular seems to have shaped Perrault's conception of women and their relation to sin, especially with respect to the Fall and their need to live a life built on penance. Griselidis, Donkey Skin, and Sleeping Beauty all pass through a penitential process of abjectification and purification that expiates their inherent sin and renders them powerless and completely subordinate to male power and authority. Especially evident in Sleeping Beauty's hundred-year postponement for a husband, part of the point of the process is to completely pacify or suppress female desire. This is made all the more apparent in the contrast Perrault establishes between the ever-so-patient sleeping princess (so desireless she appears dead) and her monstrous mother-in-law, whose aberrant desire takes on grotesque dimensions. Given the ways in which Griselidis and Donkey Skin are made to surfer for the sins of others, they resemble Perrault's Mary Magdalene as depicted in his "Epistre chrestienne sur la penitence," who takes personal responsibility for the death of Christ, and duly pays.
In the end, female desire is put into check by a male and implicitly Catholic authority that manages to purify, tame, and subdue female characters, or completely expel them from the body politic. Female beauty and desire, capable of seducing or dominating "vulnerable" men or of driving them mad, undermine notions of self-mastery, reason, and morality that uphold Catholic notions of male subjectivity. Female characters are "abject" precisely because they threaten male identity and hegemony, and they must be rejected or repelled then subdued before being reintegrated into the body politic as passive (reproductive) vessels in order to neutralize the threat they represent. The legacy of Eve constantly looms in the background of Perrault's oeuvre.
Wayne State University
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(1.) Lewis Seifert, however, remarks: "Ultimately, however, women's 'innate' qualities were appropriated by men to enhance their own position in the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns as well as the polite society of the salons. Indeed, concerned above all to answer Boileau's vendetta, Perrault, in L'Apologie des femmes, lauds above all the ideals of feminine domesticity and subservience" (94). For a discussion on the other authors who participated in the quarrel following the publication of the "Satire X," see Duggan 137-39.
(2.) Pages 1-7 of this piece largely summarize the arguments taken from my book, Salonnieres, Furies, and Fairies: the Politics of Gender and Cultural Change in Absolutist France (see Duggan 139-55). I would like to thank University of Delaware Press for permission to reproduce this material here.
(3.) See Duggan Chapter 4 "Boileau and Perrault: The Public Sphere and Female Folly," especially pp. 139-55.
(4.) The prince finds Griselidis after crossing through the forest and moving further away from "civilization." In the Apologie, the father exhorts his son to look for a good woman not in places of pleasure, but hidden away in hospitals where their "humble piete" conceals them (6).
(5.) In his preface to the Contes Jean-Pierre Collinet argues that Perrault was parodying La Bruyere's "Des femmes" in the prince's speech on women (13). Yvette Saupe suggests that "Griselidis" is an ironic or parodical tale and as such we must not take his depiction of Griselidis to represent his ideal for women (120-30).
(6.) Editions of Le Miroir des dames, ou la patience de Griseldis were published as late as 1660 (Limoges) and 1690 (Troyes).
(7.) On the history of the diffusion of the tale in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, see Golenistcheff-Koutouzoff 34-42 and 87-97.
(8.) On the religious reading of the Griselda tale, see Cottino-Jones.
(9.) See Perrault, "Griselidis" 62; Apologie 261-62.
(10.) Plutarque affirmed in his "Preceptes de mariage," translated by Jacques Amyot in 1572, that just as virtuous kings make for virtuous subjects, so the husband's example influences that of his wife (38). In 1686 Jacques Chausse, whose Traite de l'Excelence du mariage anticipates Perrault's Apologie in its pro-marriage stance, maintains that men are more responsible for vice than women since men are more noble and enlightened, but they often provide bad examples for women, who are "des creatures infirmes et pecheresses" (186). Perrault clearly is writing from within this moralist tradition.
(11.) Jean-Pierre Collinet notes that Perrault read "presque tout Tertullien" around 1643-44 (Contes 261). See also Perrault's Memoires de ma vie 21.
(12.) In fact many tragic stories lay the blame of rape or attempted tape on the beauty of the victim. In "La belle mort d'une beaute," Camus recounts the death and disaster caused by the beauty of Helen of Troy. He then relates the story of a beautiful woman who destroys her beauty to prevent her lord from violating her. See Camus 344-46.
(13.) On clerics and concubines, see "Le puant concubinaire" (Amphitheatre 237-43); on parents who refuse their children a religious vocation, see "La sanglante chastete" and "Les injustes parents" (Amphitheatre 192-99 and 200-5); on attempted abduction of a nun, see "L'amant desesperee" (Amphitheatre 269-73).
(14.) Of course, Giambattista Basile's "Sun, Moon, and Thalia" is the main source for the tale. However, I will focus here on the influence of Camus.
(15.) The idea that this is another version of the story of Hagar and Sara is emphasized by the fact that Gorgonia is childless, whereas Villehade will bear Arnalor two children.
(16.) Patricia Hannon notes that "the spinning wheel purs an end to the heroine's wandering as she circulates about the palace, too far from her assigned place" (50).
(17.) Kristeva associates the abject with that which is not "I" yet that which could have been part of "I." Thus corpses, excrement, vomit are all similar examples of "abjects" that put into question the integrity, the borders of the subject. The abject is not an object, for it is rejected, it is in fact hot desired. See Kristeva (1-7).
(18.) It should be noted that in Basile the monstrous woman, as in Camus, is the wife, and not the mother.
(19.) In his moralite Perrault frames the tale as one about waiting for a husband: "Attendre quelque temps pour avoir un Epoux ... La chose est assez naturelle, / Mais l'attendre cent ans, et toujours en dormant, / On ne trouve plus de femelle, / Qui dormit si tranquillement" (Contes 140).
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|Title Annotation:||Charles Perrault|
|Author:||Duggan, Anne E.|
|Publication:||The Romanic Review|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||May 1, 2008|
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