Fairy Tales in France: History and Origins

Fairy tales are a folklore genre that takes the form of short stories. You most certainly know Little Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, or even Cinderella. These were the first fairy tales that shaped this new literary genre. These 3 tales are signed by Charles Perrault. You will see in what follows that Charles Perrault is not the only creator of this new genre. In addition, you can listen to the audio recordings to hear the article in French.

In this article I will answer the following questions:

fairy tales
Fairy tales

The different types of tales in the 17th century are:

  • les contes borgnes (one-eyed tales): socially obscure character of the tale, as we used to say “one-eyed cabaret” to mean “badly attended”.
  • les contes à dormir debout (tall tales): the story is so implausible that it puts someone to sleep without them having to go to bed.
  • les contes bleus (blue tales): the name comes from the blue library of Troyes, a French city, from the name of the color of the cheap paper used, which distributed so-called “popular” literature.
  • les contes violets (purple tales): implausible and diabolical stories, which could only be seen through dazzling.

Who invented the first fairy tale in France?

Charles Perrault (1628 – 1703) published these first tales Les Contes de ma mère l’Oye (Tales of Mother Goose) in 1695. This first collection contains 8 titles in prose:

  • La Belle au bois dormant (the Sleeping Beauty)
  • Le Petit Chaperon rouge (little Red Riding Wood)
  • La Barbe bleue (Bluebeard)
  • Le Maître chat ou le Chat botté (Puss in Boots)
  • Les Fées (Diamonds ans Toads)
  • Cendrillon ou la Petite Pantoufle de verre (Cinderella)
  • Riquet à la houppe (Riquet with the Tuft)
  • Le Petit Poucet (Hop-o’-My-Thumb’)

But before him, another person had published tales. She was very popular in her time and had as much success as Perrault in her day: Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy.

Who is Madame d’Aulnoy?

In 1690 Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy originated the term with her work “Fairy Tales“. Through her tales, she will critically criticize the court and French society of the 17th century. More particularly l’ile de Félicité (the island of happiness) is the first fairy tale published in France.

You can discover the eventful life of Madame d’Aulnoy by subscribing to the Art and History Club.

Implicitly the two main reasons for the action of the heroes are: 1) the fear of death and 2) the search for love.

Listen to the Audio recording

What are the main elements of a fairy tale?

Fairy tales generally take place in 5 stages:

  • Step 1: Most fairy tales begin with a separation: the death of Snow White‘s mother.
  • Step 2: This initial ordeal is often accompanied by impoverishment or humiliation.
  • Step 3: The moment of temptation that tips the story into drama or causes separation: Bluebeard‘s wife opens the door to a room that is forbidden to her.
  • Step 4: The result is not long in coming: the main character then knows a great threat that he must face.
  • Step 5: Most tales end up rewarding the hero.

Continue to discover the History of France

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