Victorian Fantasy Literature
Fairy tales sparked a wave of controversy when they were first introduced into England in the early nineteenth century; they were not immediately welcomed as they had been in Germany and France. Fairy tales were considered to be strictly for children, and children's literature was expected to be didactic and moral—not entertaining. As the notions about children changed during the century, however, so did ideas about literature for children. Fairy tales gradually became more accepted, and eventually a branch of wholly entertaining children's literature began to flourish.
In the early 1800s, children were thought of as imperfectly formed adults, and most literature for them was educational, designed to instruct them in their responsibilities to family and church. The Romantic notion of a child became more popular in the second half of the century. This view encouraged imagination in children and promoted the ideas that children were innocently wise, and that in their naivete they possessed rationales and virtues that were lost to adults. Gradually, writers adhered to this concept of children and began to write stories to entertain. Early fairy tales still promoted Christianity and values of the church, concentrating on the spiritual development of the protagonist. Even so, objections to fantasy came primarily from church organizations, which attacked fairy tales as corrupters of childhood. Some literary critics also renounced fairy tales, equating "fantastic" with "unrealistic" and therefore unsuitable for rational English citizens.
Indeed, critics have shown that even as fantasy gained acceptance as literature for children, it was considered unacceptable for adults to enjoy the genre. It is for this reason, critics suggest, that with very few exceptions fairy tales were written for children, featuring children as heroes. In fact, critics point out that adults are generally absent from fairy tales in spite of numerous hidden sexual references found in most stories; the adults that do appear are tyrannical and cruel. In most fantasy literature, the child protagonist leaves the familiar world run by adults and embarks on a quest in a land of enchantment and magic, free from the laws of nature and facts of science. He typically benefits from a power or energy from nature or the earth, and usually is taught a moral lesson before leaving the fantasy realm and returning home, often forgetting about the adventure altogether.
Before the adventure is over, however, and sometimes before it begins, the hero receives guidance and instruction from a powerful or magical female, usually in the form of a grandmother or fairy grandmother. These female characters were the exception to the characteristically evil adults found elsewhere in the stories—though the women were still secondary figures, leaving the child in the foreground. Critics have pointed out that powerful female characters were commonly found in children's fairy tales before appearing regularly in adult literature. Nearly every fairy tale had such a figure, and critics often refer to works by women fantasy writers, such as Christina Rossetti's narrative poem Goblin Market (1862), as examples of early feminist writing. Critics suggest that because fairy tales were neither suitable for adults nor realistic, women who felt repressed in society and in their homes found in them an acceptable channel for strong female characters.
Male authors also used fairy tales to comment on social conditions in Victorian England. Critics have suggested that many popular authors used fairy tales to comment on the Industrial Revolution, to create ideal alternatives to unsatisfactory conditions of the real world, and to contrast Christianity with the materialism of English society. Critics have also argued that the most celebrated authors of fantasy—Charles Dickens, Charles Kingsley, Lewis Carroll, and George MacDonald—believed that humanity had become too mechanized and serious with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution. These authors wanted to restore enjoyment and recreation to, and inspire compassion for, the working class, and, critics suggest, offer an escape from reality by reversing the known and accepted rules of the real world. Carroll is generally credited with removing all the rules from his tales and writing the first amoral, and therefore totally fantastic fairy tale, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865). In Alice, Carroll offered complete escape from the logical with no definite moral value attached. Some critics claim that Carroll's story is a parody of the critics of children's fantasy literature.
Critics generally agree that Carroll, Kingsley, and MacDonald were the premier fantasy writers of this era. All three were clergymen but each had a distinctly different approach to fairy tales. Critics cite Carroll's fantasies as being filled with sublimated sexual content, but praise his works for offering a complete escape from reality by reversing or altering laws of science to create worlds that are purely fantastic. Kingsley's works, most notably The Water Babies (1863), are, according to critics, filled with moral and allegorical themes regarding spiritual and physical cleansing, and often contain sexual overtones as well. MacDonald is generally noted by critics to offer an escape from reality based on a religious point of view, providing outstanding physical and notable psychological descriptions. Critics typically agree that MacDonald's ability to achieve the best balance between morality and imagination makes him the father of fantasy.
Victorian fantasy literature began as a way to combine education and entertainment for a child, but by the end of the century it had developed into a way to challenge a child's imagination and offer a reprieve from the everyday world of English life. In their quest to capture the world of childhood innocence as paradise, works by fairy tale authors led to the study of the imagination and of dream-worlds, which in turn prompted the study of psychology by such figures as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and served as a precursor to twentieth-century science fiction.
A Christmas Carol (novel) 1843
C. L. Dodgson (Lewis Carroll)
Alice's Adventure in Wonderland (novel) 1865
Through the Looking-Glass (novel) 1871
Mopsa the Fairy (novel) 1869
The Water Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby (novel) 1863
Phantastes (novel) 1858
At the Back of the North Wind (novel) 1871
The Princess and the Goblin (novel) 1872
The Princess and Curdie (novel) 1883
Goblin Market (poetry) 1862
The King of the Golden River (novel) 1840
William Makepeace Thackery
The Rose and the Ring (novel) 1855
Michael C. Kotzin
SOURCE: "The Fairy Tale," in Dickens and the Fairy Tale, Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1972, pp. 7-31
[In the essay below, Kotzin recounts the history of the Victorian fairy tale by examining its origins in folklore and German fairy tales and outlining the growth of fantasy as literature.]
Fairy tales are perhaps more easily recognized than defined. Folklorists group them with other kinds of folktales, such as animal stories, jests, and fables. They are a type of narrative which has traditionally been told aloud by peoples throughout the world, and although some of the fairy tales in oral traditions have literary sources and many literary versions of the tales have been written, the popular, primitive origins of the fairy-tale genre are often thought of as having determined its character.
The tales get their name from their inclusion of "fairy," but that is a word with more than one meaning. Thomas Keightley speculated that the root of the word "fairy" was the Latin fatum. This led to the Latin verb fatare (to enchant) which in French became faer, from which was made the substantive faerie, "illusion, enchantment, the meaning of which was afterwards extended, particularly after it had been adopted into the English language." According to Keightley, then, the first meaning of "faerie" was illusion; the second the land of illusions; the third the inhabitants of that land; and the fourth an individual inhabitant.1 J. R. R. Tolkien insists that the fairy tale gets its name from reference to the second of those meanings. He says: "Fairy-stories are not in normal English usage stories about fairies or elves, but stories about Fairy, that is Faërie, the realm or state in which fairies have their being."2
Particular qualities of the world of "Fairie" include the presence there of magical acts, the animation of nonliving things, the transformation of one thing or person into another, and an unnaturally quick or unnaturally slow passage of time. Fairy tales are recognized by the recurrence in them of this subject matter, and by the recurrence of certain narrative patterns or combinations of them. The typical fairy tale has a central character, usually an isolated, virtuous young man or woman who is often a youngest child. This hero confronts a villain, such as a cruel stepmother or a supernatural figure such as a giant, ogre, or witch. He may receive help from a supernatural being, such as some sort of good fairy. He usually is victorious over his adversary, achieves comfort and happiness, and sometimes gets married.
Two other forms of narrative, myths and legends, share some of this content, but fairy tales frequently are distinguished from them, as they were by James Frazer. He defined myths as "mistaken explanations of phenomena, whether of human life or of external nature"; legends as "traditions, whether oral or written, which relate the fortunes of real people in the past, or which describe events, not necessarily human, that are said to have occurred at real places"; and he describes folktales as "narratives which, though they profess to describe actual occurrences, are in fact purely imaginary, having no other aim than the entertainment of the hearer and making no real claim on his credulity."3 In other words, the subjects of myths are prehistorical, of legends historical, and of folktales ahistorical.
The lines dividing these categories are faint and overlapping, though, and fairy tales and legends are often particularly difficult to separate, especially in the English narrative tradition. The distinction between fairy tales and myths is easier. It can be made in various ways, one of which Frazer hints at: not only by content, but by function (myths, he says, explain; folktales entertain). A similar contrast of function was discovered by Bronislaw Malinowski among stories told on the Trobriand Islands. The mythology which Malinowski found on the Islands "expresses, enhances, and codifies belief; . . . safeguards and enforces morality; . . . vouches for the efficiency of ritual and contains practical rules for the guidance of man,"4 and can be thought of as duplicating the function of Christian mythology in Victorian England. Similarly, the major function of folktales on the Islands, to provide amusement, was one of the major functions of fairy tales in Victorian England; but there was also another declared function: to have a moral effect. The first of these is perhaps the more "natural" function of fairy tales, but before amusement could be accepted as an official justification for allowing children to read fairy tales in England they had to be seen as fulfilling the second function too, and that did not happen until the nineteenth century. During the previous century the influence of didacticism and rationalism on the printing of children's books had helped bring fairy tales near extinction. But the few native fairy tales which had survived earlier hazards and a considerable supply of imported ones were given a new lease on life when, during the early Victorian period, certain Romantic ideas took hold. This history deserves to be told in some detail.
By the nineteenth century or sooner, most of the native fairy tales once available, and drawn upon by Shakespeare, Spenser, Peele, and Jonson, had become "scarce and fragmentary in England."5 In 1822 Wilhelm Grimm speculated that "it is probable that the greater part of the stories known in Germany are indigenous in Great Britain also," but after citing a few of the types of stories found in both countries, he had to add that "little, however, has as yet been collected or communicated. This department of literature has been filled up by translations from the French." Grimm then summarized and discussed three "characteristic and genuine English stories" which had been printed by Benjamin Tabart earlier in the century: "Jack the Giant-killer," "Tom Thumb," and "Jack and the Beanstalk."6 The truth, as discovered by later folklorists, appears to be that by that time there were few other "characteristic and genuine English stories" to collect—not much more than "Tom Tit Tot" (a kind of "Rumpelstiltskin"—AT 500) and "Dick Whittington and his Cat" (which can just barely be considered a fairy tale—AT 1651). Richard M. Dorson says: "The fact had become painfully evident, by the close of Victoria's reign, that the treasure trove of fairy tales unearthed for nearly every European country, in replica of the Grimms' discovery in Germany, would not be found in England. . . . Why had a blight struck Merry England? No one has yet produced a satisfactory answer."7
One theory is that French and German tales drove out the native ones,8 but it seems to me that the most satisfactory answer to the problem was advanced by Edwin Sidney Hartland, who observed that whereas there are few English fairy tales, there is a considerable body of folktale material of the legend type, such as the Robin Hood tales. Hartland's theory was that Puritanism was responsible: the English Nonconformists of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries objected to the fantastic, obviously untrue stories and killed off much of the earlier native tradition;9 the tales from France would then have been filling a vacuum. Whether or not that was the process, the result was that the imported tales became common. They were resisted for a long time by forces similar to the ones which perhaps had been responsible for a shortage of tales in the first place—by latter-day Puritans, the earnest Evangelicals, who objected to the frivolousness of the stories (despite the self-proclaimed moral intentions of some of them); by the newly-cultured, who objected to their primitiveness; and by the rationalists, who objected to their falseness. However, though the resistance temporarily prevented the tales from becoming accepted as children's literature, it could not prevent them from being translated and published, from appearing in chapbooks, and thence from entering the oral folk corpus.
Among the first fairy tales to be translated into English in the eighteenth century were those found in the Thousand and One Nights, also known as the Arabian Nights Entertainment. First collected in about 1550, the Arabic stories in that volume were translated into French by Antoine Galland in 1704, and from French to English by 1708 (and possibly as early as 170410). In 1707 and 1716 there were separate translations of the courtly, literary Les Contes des Fées of Marie Catherine d'Aulnoy, which had appeared in France in about 1700, and in 1729 Robert Samber translated eight fairy tales which had been published in one volume in France in 1697 with the inscription Contes de ma mère l'Oye. Probably quite close to folk sources but beautifully polished by Charles Perrault or his son, the stories included "Sleeping Beauty," "Little Red-Riding Hood," "Bluebeard," "Puss-in-Boots," and "Cinderella," and in England became ascribed to "Mother Goose."11
All of these collections were reprinted during the eighteenth century, in part or in full, and so were translations of selections from other collections of fairy tales, including the forty-one volume Le Cabinet des Fées (1785-89), which held "Beauty and the Beast." The forces of enlightenment could not keep these stories out of the country. But they could keep them from entering whatever "recommended" lists there might have been for children. When John Newbery, the first publisher of children's books, entered the trade in the mid-'forties, he became known not for imaginative fairy tales, but for moral, instructive tales, which were to be the dominant acceptable children's fare for the rest of the century and the beginning of the next. When the fairy-type stories were printed by the official presses, they usually were made heavily didactic. And Newbery's followers were even more oppressively moral and insistently rational than he had been. He was interested in entertaining the child as well as educating him. (It was he, in fact, who attached the name of Mother Goose to nursery rhymes.) But those who next influenced children's reading had more limited goals. Mostly women, such as Anna Laetitia Barbauld and Sarah Trimmer, they advocated a predominantly didactic and factual literature for children and resisted irrational flights of imagination. In Mrs. Trimmer's aptly-named magazine, The Guardian of Education (1802-06), Mother Bunch's Fairy Tales, a collection of re-told d'Aulnoy stories which Newbery had found suitable enough to publish, was reviewed in this way: "Partial, as we confess ourselves to be, to most of the books of the old school, we cannot approve of those which are only fit to fill the head of children with confused notions of wonderful and supernatural events, brought about by the agency of imaginary beings. Mother Bunch's Tales are of this description." A review of the Mother Goose tales said: "Though we will remember the interest with which, in our childish days, when books of amusement for children were scarce, we read, or listened to the history of 'Little Red Riding Hood,' and 'Blue Beard,' &c. we do not wish to have such sensations awakened in the hearts of our grandchildren, by the same means; for the terrific images, which tales of this nature present to the imagination, usually make deep impressions, and injure the tender minds of children, by exciting unreasonable and groundless fear.
Neither do the generality of tales of this kind supply any moral instruction level to the infantine capacity."12 An unidentified correspondent, who impressed Mrs. Trimmer as being "so good a judge of what children ought and ought not to read," shows the extreme of the state of affairs which prevailed at the beginning of the century. Referring to the most popular fairy tale in the world, she said that "Cinderella" "is perhaps one of the most exceptionable books that was ever written for children. .. . It paints some of the worst passions that can enter into the human breast, and of which little children should, if possible, be totally ignorant; such as envy, jealousy, a dislike to mothers-in-law and half-sisters, vanity, a love of dress, &c. &c."13
Some fairy tales, meanwhile, had survived in the Arabian Nights, which benefited from the Orientalism it stimulated, and which was imitated in English by the Rev. James Ridley's Tales of the Genii.14 Some which came from France survived in another way. These stories were kept alive primarily thanks to chapbooks and the folk that the chapbooks brought them to. The chapbook, mostly a seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth-century phenomenon, was a cheap, illustrated form of popular entertainment which contained everything from riddles and jokes to Bible stories. An 1847 reviewer of fairy tales recalled "the days of their former popularity; when their fascinations were usually comprised within some half dozen greyish-white pages, displaying a curious combination of large and small type—the proportion varying according as a story of greater or less length had to be compressed within the same inexorable limits; and adorned with woodcuts, which, as some scribes would say, 'may be imagined better than described.'" In this format many sorts of stories with fairy-tale affinities—ones from the Arabian Nights and Perrault, chivalric romances reduced in length, native folktales—came to be associated. Though chapbooks were not printed specially for him, through them the English child as well as the folk could meet such figures as Aladdin, Bluebeard, St. George, Jack the Giant-Killer, and Tom Thumb.15 The chapbook brought the imported, printed stories into the native, oral and sub-literary traditions. Lower-class and country-dwelling children heard the stories from their elders and, if they could, read them in chapbooks. Wealthier and urban children heard them from their lower-class and country nurses and, if they could, also read them in chapbooks. In these ways the stories were available to the Romantics who, applying their beliefs in the primacy of the child and the value of imagination, came to the defense of the tales and attacked the official children's reading.
In a letter to Coleridge dated October 23, 1802, Charles Lamb strongly attacked the anti-fairy tale educators, saying:
I am glad the snuff and Pi-pos's Books please. "Goody Two Shoes" is almost out of print. Mrs. Barbauld's stuff has banished all the old classics of the nursery; and the shopman at Newbery's hardly deigned to reach them off an old exploded corner of a shelf, when Mary asked for them. Mrs. B.'s and Mrs. Trimmer's nonsense lay in piles about. Knowledge insignificant and vapid as Mrs. B.'s books convey, it seems, must come to a child in the shape of knowledge, and his empty noddle must be turned with conceit of his own powers when he has learnt that a Horse is an animal, and Billy is better than a Horse, and such like; instead of that beautiful Interest in wild tales which made the child a man, while all the time he suspected himself to be no bigger than a child. Science has succeeded to Poetry no less in the little walks of children than with men. Is there no possibility of averting this sore evil? Think what you would have been now, if instead of being fed with Tales and old wives' fables in childhood, you had been crammed with geography and natural history?
Damn them!—I mean that cursed Barbauld Crew, those Blights and Blasts of all that is Human in man and child.16
Coleridge himself as a child had passionately read his father's copy of the Arabian Nights, and had read chapbook versions of "Jack the Giant-Killer," The Seven Champions of Christendom, and other stories. Later he had defended fairy tales for children, basing his judgment on his own experiences. On October 16, 1797, he wrote Thomas Poole how
from my early reading of fairy tales and genii, etc., etc., my mind had been habituated to the Vast, and I never regarded my senses in any way as the criteria of my belief. I regulated all my creeds by my conceptions, not by my sight, even at that age. Should children be permitted to read romances, and relations of giants and magicians and genii? I know all that has been said against it; but I have formed my faith in the affirmative. I know no other way of giving the mind a love of the Great and the Whole.17
Wordsworth also read and defended fairy tales. In The Prelude he remembered being "a Child not nine years old," and seeing "the shining streams / Of Fairy land, the Forests of Romance, (Book Five, 11. 474-77), and said that he "had a precious treasure at that time / A little, yellow canvas-cover'd Book, / A slender abstract of the Arabian Tales" (11. 482-84). Earlier in the poem he criticized the current system of education by portraying a knowledgeable product of it (" . .. 'tis a Child, no Child, / But a dwarf Man" -11. 294-95), and then said:
Meanwhile old Grandame Earth is grieved to find
The playthings, which her love design'd for him,
Unthought of: in their woodland beds the flowers
Weep, and the river sides are all forlorn.
Oh! give us once again the Wishing-Cap
Of Fortunatus, and the invisible Coat
Of Jack the Giant-killer, Robin Hood,
And Sabra in the forest with St. George!
The child, whose love is here, at least, doth reap
One precious gain, that he forgets himself.
For Wordsworth, Nature is the best educator; next best, it would seem, or at least better than what was taught in the schools, are fairy tales.
Despite the Romantics (whose writings about the fairy tale frequently were private), children's reading continued to be "enlightened" early in the nineteenth century, and the fairy tale was threatened even in its underground form as folk and chapbook literature. But there were signs of change. The chapbook stories were given a new popular form as they began to be drawn upon for the plots of entertaining pantomimes put on in the theaters at Christmas time;19 and a legitimate book publisher brought out a volume of fairy tales. He was Sir Richard Phillips who, in 1809, under the name of Benjamin Tabart, published some of the stories from Mother Goose, Countess d'Aulnoy, and the Arabian Nights, the three native tales cited by Grimm, and other legends and romances, under the title Popular Fairy Tales; or, a Liliputian [sic] Library. In a preface Phillips claimed that earlier English versions of the stories, presumably chapbook ones in particular, had been "obsolete in their style, . . . gross in their morals, and . . . vulgar in their details." His intention was "to elevate the language and sentiments to a level with the refined manners of the present age": to save the tales from the chapbooks. Though his intention of making the tales respectable in style and content was not based on didactic justification (on the contrary; he believed that he had produced "one of the most entertaining volumes in any language"20), didacticism still plays an obvious part in the versions of the stories he used. "Beauty and the Beast" is presented as an exemplum, and Jack of "Jack and the Beanstalk," his behavior explained by footnotes, is a good boy who is avenging his father's death and recovering stolen property. Still, this volume was a milestone.
But other publishers did not follow Phillips' lead. They did not yet publish semi-authentic fairy tales for the entertainment of children. When a second printing of the Tabart collection appeared in 1818, it evoked an important article from the pen of Francis Cohen, later Francis Palgrave and the father of Francis Turner Palgrave, which describes the current situation. In the article Cohen claims that nursery stories have changed, that children's literature no longer is imaginative because fanciful stories are considered "too childish." The forces of enlightenment had done their job well. And what is more, Cohen maintains, the core of adult popular reading material has also changed: nurses no longer read fairy tales, so do not know them as well as they used to themselves, and are less able to tell them to children. "Scarcely any of the chap books which were formerly sold to the country people at fairs and markets have been able to maintain their ancient popularity; and we have almost witnessed the extinction of this branch of our national literature": Gothic romances are read instead of legends, newspapers instead of broadside ballads.21
Cohen, who regrets the disappearance of the old nursery stories, defends their value and spends most of his time noting the sharing by many peoples of similar stories. He, like Scott, is an example of the descendants of eighteenth-century antiquarians who accompanied or followed the brothers Grimm (to whom he refers with the highest praise) into the field of folklore. The German Grimms—themselves working in a tradition which had been strongly influenced by English forces, particularly by Ossian and by Percy, who had had a great effect on Herder—had more to do with the fate of the fairy tale in England than did any of their English Romantic contemporaries. Their most influential works were the Kinder-und Hausmärchen, that great collection of folktales recorded by them and published in Germany in 1812 and 1815; a scholarly study of the origins and diffusion of the tales attached in 1822 to an 1819 edition of them; and the Deutsche Mythologie (1835). The Grimms's method of collecting tales was in some ways duplicated by Thomas Crofton Croker for his Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (1825), though, as the title suggests and Richard M. Dorson points out, the content is "not Märchen or fictional fairy tales, but traditional stories about demonic beings."22 Their kind of scholarly approach to tales was followed by Thomas Keightley in The Fairy Mythology (1828). And they were a specific influence on the third volume of Croker's work (1828), on an enlargement of Keightley's (1850), and on many other folklore studies from then on, such as Thomas Wright's Essays on Subjects Connected with the Literature, Popular Superstitions, and History of England in the Middle Ages (1846), and the studies of William John Thorns, coiner of the term "Folk-Lore" in the August 22, 1846, issue of the Athenaeum and founder in 1849 of Notes and Queries.
The Grimms were not only a major influence on folktale scholarship; they were also a major influence on the printing of fairy tales, for children as well as scholars.
Tabart's earlier collection had less of an effect than the Kinder-und Hausmärchen in bringing fairy tales to the child. As Cohen notes in his article, chapbooks were dying out; but the printing of fairy stories was soon to be made respectable. As he also notes, the folk were losing the tales; but children were gaining (or regaining) them.
In 1821, two years after Cohen's article appeared, Edgar Taylor published an article on "German Popular and Traditionary Literature" in which he said:
There exists, at present, a very large and increasing class of readers, for whom the scattered fragments of olden time, as preserved in popular and traditionary tales, possess a powerful attraction. The taste for this species of literature has particularly manifested itself of late; the stories which had gone out of fashion during the prevalence of the prudery and artificial taste of the last century, began, at its close, to re-assert every where their ancient empire over the mind. Our literati had fancied themselves, and persuaded the world to think itself, too wise for such amusements—they considered themselves as come to man's estate, and determined, on a sudden, to put away childish things. The curious mementos of simple and primitive society, the precious glimmerings of historic light, which these invaluable relics have preserved, were rejected as beneath the dignity to which these philosophers aspired; and even children began to be fed with a stronger diet.
A better taste, say the patrons of these blossoms of nature and fancy, is now springing up. Our scholars busy themselves in tracing out the genealogy and mythological connexions of Tom Thumb and Jack the Giant Killer; and surely if the grave and learned embark in these speculations, we are justified in expecting to be able to welcome the aera when our children shall be allowed once more to regale themselves with that mild food which will enliven their imaginations, and tempt them on through the thorny paths of education;—when the gay dreams of fairy innocence shall again hover around them, and scientific compendiums, lisping botanics, and leading-string mechanics, shall be postponed to the Delights of Valentine and Orson, the beautiful Magalona, or Fair Rosamond.23
In 1823, two years after he wrote this article, Taylor presented the first English translation of Grimm, called German Popular Stories and illustrated by George Cruikshank. In his preface Taylor indicated that folklore interests were among the reasons prompting him to publish the stories, but he also thought it important that the tales be made available to English children. Echoing his earlier statement, he said:
The popular tales of England have been too much neglected. They are nearly discarded from the libraries of childhood. Philosophy is made the companion of the nursery: we have lisping chemists and leading-string mathematicians: this is the age of reason, not of imagination; and the loveliest dreams of fairy innocence are considered as vain and frivolous. Much might be urged against this rigid and philosophic (or rather unphilosophic) exclusion of works of fancy and fiction. Our imagination is surely as susceptible of improvement by exercise, as our judgement or our memory; and so long as such fictions only are presented to the young mind as do not interfere with the important department of moral education, a beneficial effect must be produced by the pleasurable employment of a faculty in which so much of our happiness in every period of life consists.24
After Taylor's translation (and greatly because of it), ideas similar to those expressed earlier by the English Romantics began to be voiced more frequently. On January 16, 1823, Sir Walter Scott wrote Taylor a letter to thank him for his translation and to praise it. He said of the tales that "there is .. . a sort of wild fairy interest in them which makes me think them fully better adapted to awaken the imagination and soften the heart of childhood than the good-boy stories which have been in later years composed for them. . . . Our old wild fictions like our own simple music will have more effect in awakening the fancy & elevating the disposition than the colder and more elevated compositions of more clever authors & composers."25 Several of the reviewers of Taylor's edition dealt with its antiquarian folklore qualities, but many also approached the collection as children's literature. A common reaction of a reviewer was that the tales reminded him of those he knew during his childhood, and that he felt it good that they were available to children again. Such was the position of the reviewer in Gentleman 's Magazine, who recommended the book for children and adults, and of the one in London Magazine, who praised the stories as "delightful food for a child's imagination" and said: "It is the vice of parents now-a-days to load their children's minds with useful books. . . . Why should little children have grown-up minds?—Why should the dawning imagination be clouded and destroyed in its first trembling light? Is the imagination a thing given to be destroyed?—Oh no!"26
The response to Taylor's Grimm prompted a second volume in 1826, a time when Englishmen were being exposed to a related product of the German Romantic movement (some examples of which were in this second volume of Grimm), the Kunstmärchen, folk tales transformed into fantasy literature for adults. Johann August Musäus had been adapting folk tales for sophisticated adults as early as 1782, and Goethe used folklore motifs in his complex "Mährchen" of 1795. Then, with "Der blonde Eckbert" of 1797, Ludwig Tieck established the most common form the Kunstmärchen would take, in other stories of his and in works by Wackenroder, Novalis, Brentano, la Motte Fouqué, Chamisso, and E. T. A. Hoffmann. Musäus' collection of tales was translated by William Beckford and published as Popular Tales of the Germans in 1791. But England knew little about these writings until the appearance of Madame de Staël's De l'Allemagne of 1813, and even then, though la Motte Fouqué's Undine was translated in 1818, extensive translation awaited the stimulus of Taylor's translation of Grimm. It was followed by a flood.
Some of the most important translations of this time were: Popular Tales of the Northern Nations (1823—it included the first English translation of Tieck); Chamisso's Peter Schlemihl (1824); Thomas Roscoe's four volume translation The German Novelists (1826); and above all, Thomas Carlyle's four volume German Romance: Specimens of its chief authors, with biographical and critical notes (1827). Publication of such stories continued through the Victorian period, as their popularity increased, so that Tieck, for example, achieved his "banner year" in 1845, a year in which J. A. Froude, Julius Hare, and others translated a collection of his.27
By the 1830's, British writers were imitating the German tales, particularly in the magazines. Peter Schlemihl gave rise to "The Man Without a Shadow. Tale from the German" (Pocket Magazine, 1830) and to James Roscoe's "My After-Dinner Adventures with Peter Schlemihl" (Blackwood's and Mirror of Literature, 1839). Otmar's "Peter Claus" was imitated in "Dorf Juystein" (Eraser's Magazine, 1832). It had earlier been imitated by the American Washington Irving in "Rip Van Winkle" (1820), and Irving also imitated a Musäus story, in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1820). Two other American short story writers, who started out in the 'thirties, Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, have been seen as if not influenced by, at least in the lines of, Hoffmann and Tieck.28 In England the German Romantic fairy tale (especially Goethe's "Mährchen," which he had translated in 1825 and interpreted, as a "phantasmagory," in 1832) was one of the influences on Carlyle's Sartor Resartus in the 1830's and the Germans later inspired George MacDonald to write Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women (1858).29 But the major Victorian novelists were mostly to use fairy tales in more realistic ways, as we shall see.
During the same decade which saw the beginnings of extensive translation from and some imitations of German folktales, the English were putting native, French, and Arabian Nights tales to greater use as the bases of gay Christmas-time pantomimes. On December 26, 1825, according to the Times of that date, the child and his parents who sat through an ordinary play could then have seen Harlequin and the Magic Rose; or, Beauty and the Beast at Covent Garden, and at the Adelphi something called The Three Golden Lamps; or, Harlequin and the Wizard Dwarf. A decade later he could have seen Whittington and his Cat at Drury Lane, Harlequin Jack and his Eleven Brothers at the Victoria, and at the Adelphi both The Elfin Queen and The Battle of the Fairies. By the end of the 'thirties J. R. Planché had established himself as the master at this sort of thing, writing almost annually a clever extravaganza, full of horseplay, puns, and clever rhymes, and usually based on a story from Madam d'Aulnoy.
Finally, with fairy tales recognized as the subject of serious study by scholars, appreciated as the source of some popular adult literature, and enjoyed as holiday entertainment, in the late 1830's and the 1840's, the Romantic ideas about fairy tales were accorded a public acceptance, and the tales were widely praised as good children's literature, worth publishing. In two articles in 1842 and 1844 Elizabeth Eastlake pointed out that a recognition of the need for children's books had not necessarily resulted in appropriate books for children. She said that although children now had libraries, which their greatgrandmothers did not have, the books provided for them in those libraries are not necessarily better than the "fairy tales and marvellous histories" and "little tales of a moral tendency" which the ancestors had been able to obtain. Books today, she argued, do not separate entertainment and instruction, and fail to achieve either purpose. She reviewed those books which she considered bad, and she then listed examples of the kinds of books she considered good, including "Beauty and the Beast," "Jack and the Beanstalk," Grimm, and the Arabian Nights among those works which are good for entertainment.30 The kinds of books she wanted were being published increasingly frequently even as she wrote. From that time on, English bookshelves were filled more and more with translations of foreign folktales, with new collections of the few native stories that could be found, which early reviewers of Taylor's Grimm had called for, and even with newly-composed fairy stories. The battle of the children's books continued, but fairy tales at last gained a recognition and availability they had lacked before.
The increased publication included new translations of Grimm in 1839, 1846, 1853, 1855, and frequently thereafter. There also were many reprintings, and a reviewer of one of the later editions of Edgar Taylor's translation of Grimm indicates the popularity the tales had reached by 1847. He says that Taylor's earlier claim that the tales were "out of fashion" is no longer true: "the more elegant guise in which our old friends present themselves, radiant in their gay bindings, and red and black title pages, would rather intimate that they are becoming very much the fashion."31
The new taste was encouraged by Robert Southey, who held an interest in folklore and included in The doctor, &c. (1837) as a chapter "for the nursery" a version of a popular tale, "The Story of the Three Bears."32 The new fashion was also notably marked by translations of older collections of stories, such as the Arabian Nights in 1839-40 (by Edwin Lane) and Basile's Pentamerone of 1634-36 in 1848, and by the publication of anthologies which contained versions of stories from such standards as Mother Goose, Madame d'Aulnoy, and the Grimms, from other foreign sources, and from the native stock. These collections include Felix Summerly's (Henry Cole's) Home Treasury, 1841-49 (in one volume of which, Beauty and the Beast, the editor objected to other "modern English versions" which "are filled with moralizings on education, marriage, &c, futile attempts to grind everything as much as possible into dull logical probability. . . . I have thought it no sin . . . to attempt to re-write the legend more as a fairy tale than a lecture"); Ambrose Merton's (William John Thoms's) The Old Story Books of England, 1845, reprinted in 1846 as Gammer Gurton's Pleasant Stories and Gammer Gurion 's Famous Histories (whose introductions said: "Their design is to cultivate the heart, to enrich the fancy, to stir up kindly feelings, to encourage a taste for the BEAUTIFUL, and to accomplish this by taking advantage of the youthful longing for amusement"); and Anthony Montalba's Fairy Tales from All Nations, 1849 (the preface of which declared that England had "cast off that pedantic folly" of condemning fairy tales "as merely idle things, or as pernicious occupations for faculties that should be always directed to serious and profitable concerns").33 And there also was C. B. Burkhardt's Fairy Tales and Legends of Many Nations, 1849, J. R. Planché's translation of Four and Twenty [French] Fairy Tales, 1858, and Dinah Maria Mulock Craik's The Fairy Book, 1863.
Writers did not limit themselves to revising and reprinting old stories: they also began to write original ones which used fairytale motifs and patterns. Though such stories usually had moral implications, their authors also usually showed respect for their sources and acceptance of, even delight in, fantasy. The earliest was Catherine Sinclair's humorous "Uncle David's Nonsensical Story about Giants and Fairies" (in Holiday House, 1839). Then in 1841 John Ruskin wrote The King of the Golden River, more like a folktale and, as he said, "a fairly good imitation of Grimm and Dickens, mixed with a little true Alpine feeling of my own,"34 which was not published until 1850. Another type of fairy tale was written by F. E. Paget in The Hope of the Katzekopfs (1844). This book begins as a burlesque of Court fairy tales which open with christenings and uninvited guests (e.g., AT 410), then becomes a serious version of the type, full of magic. But the full development of original fairy tales for children in England awaited another leader, and once again an influence came from abroad. This time it was the Danish Hans Christian Andersen, whose first collection of fairy stories appeared in 1835, and who was first translated into English in 1846. F. J. H. Darton says: "The fairytale had at last come into its own. The story of its struggle without the aid of originality like Andersen's had culminated in such versions as Tabart's and in the immediate success of Grimm. But now there was added the recognition that it was lawful, and even praiseworthy, to invent and release fantasy, and to circulate folk-lore itself."35
Among the many original children's fairy tales which followed until 1870, the year of Dickens' death, there was the rare Alice Learmont (1852) by Mrs. Craik, a sensitive, serious book which, like Ruskin's, seems especially close to the folk traditions. But more of the stories of the period followed Catherine Sinclair's in seeming to be presented for the entertainment of modern children (not as being true folktales), sometimes followed Paget's (and French ones) in adapting Court motifs, sometimes followed both in portraying visits to Fairyland—and often followed both, and Anderson's stories, in being freely fantastic. These stories included Thackeray's The Rose and the Ring (1854); Frances Browne's Granny's Wonderful Chair and its Tales of Fairy Times (1856); Harriet Parr's Legends from Fairy Land (1860) and its sequels; Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby (1863); Annie Keary's rather condescending Little Wanderlin and other Fairy Tales (1865); George MacDonald's several more serious works, with their debts to the Germans—"The Fairy Fleet: an English Mährchen" (1866), Dealings with the Fairies (1867, though parts of it appeared in 1864), and At the Back of the North Wind (serialized 1868-70); Jean Ingelow's Mopsa the Fairy (1869); and "Amelia and the Dwarfs" in Juliana Horatia Ewing's The Brownies and other Tales (1870).
Major "adult" authors were not only trying their hands at writing these children's stories, but also joined the ranks of their defenders. Thackeray, who showed his appreciation of fairy tales in two reviews, wrote the following in one of the brief interpolated essays in Vanity Fair (1847-48):
Some time after this interview, it happened that Mr. Cuff, on a sunshiny afternoon, was in the neighbourhood of poor William Dobbin, who was lying under a tree in the play-ground, spelling over a favourite copy of the Arabian Nights which he had—apart from the rest of the school, who were persuing their various sports—quite lonely, and almost happy. If people would but leave children to themselves; if teachers would cease to bully them; if parents would not insist upon directing their thoughts, and dominating their feelings—those feelings and thoughts which are a mystery to all (for how much do you and I know of each other, of our children, of our fathers, of our neighbour, and how far more beautiful and sacred are the thoughts of the poor lad or girl whom you govern likely to be, than those of the dull and world-corrupted person who rules him?)—if, I say, parents and masters would leave their children alone a little more,—small harm would accrue, although a less quantity of as in prœsenti might be acquired (ch. 5).36
During the 1850's Dickens' journal Household Words presented articles which defended fairy tales more specifically and extensively than Thackeray's statement did, including ones by the poet and essayist R. H. Home and the educator and literary scholar Henry Morley, who later was to publish several collections of original fairy tales.
Home's article, "A Witch in the Nursery," objected to stories which contain excessive descriptions of death and violence, calling them immoral, but it defended as an alternative not directly didactic stories but others, ones such as Andersen's, which "indirectly" ("through the heart and the imagination") instill "the purest moral principles."37 Morley's article, "The School of the Fairies," is a review of J. R. Planché's translation of Countess d'Aulnoy. It says that fairy tales have educational values: they teach children about different nationalities and they provide them with moral values such as sympathy for others. Morley says: "The mind has its own natural way of growing, as the body has, and at each stage of growth it asks for its own class of food. We injure minds or bodies by denying either. . . . Fairy tales . . . make the mind active, and indisposed for other work that does not give it enough exercise." He looks at d'Aulnoy's French tales, and sees what their traits are, and what values they can teach. And then he says that he
would have them . . . set in their places among others, read in their turn with the legends gathered by the brothers Grimm, with choice tales from Musæus, and such more spiritual freaks of fancy as the fairy tales of Tieck and Goethe furnish; with the wild stories of Hoffmann; of course, with our own Red Riding Hood, and others of its class; with the Irish fairy legends; the story of King Arthur and his Round Table; with the Seven Champions of Christendom, and all the legends of the days of chivalry;—farther back still, with all the good fables ever written, up to Æsop, and up farther, to Pilpay; with the Arabian Nights; Greek and Roman legends; with choice gold of the fancy coined of old in Persia, China, Hindostan. The ways through which a happy child to guide, "in this delightful land of Faery,"
Are so exceeding spacious and wide, And sprinkled with such sweet variety, that we desire to claim for children right of way through all of them, with privilege to pick the flowers on all sides.38
In 1850 The Prelude was published, making public the ideas of the recently-deceased poet laureate. And at this time, while their ideas were being accepted, other Romantics were being cited. In 1853 the Athenaeum's reviewer of a new translation of Grimm preceded a citation of Scott's 1823 letter to Edgar Taylor by saying:
We are also inclined to think, that a considerable per contra to any aspect of triviality is to be found in the superior moral tendency (as it appears to us) of these tales to that of professedly moral fictions. The former are less selfish and worldly-wise than the latter,—more truly good, and more spontaneous in their goodness. The one class aims at making us "respectable members of society,"—the other seeks to mould us into thoroughly kind, just, and considerate human beings.39
In 1860 the anonymous author of a London Quarterly Review article on "Children's Literature" quoted Coleridge on the fairy tale, agreed with him, and went on to say: "After all, it is a great point in education to awaken the curiosity, and feed the fancy, because we thus give a child a sense of the greatness of the universe in which he has come to live." Later, echoing Dickens' image in Hard Times of the children in M'Choakumchild's school being vessels waiting to be filled with facts, and anticipating "progressive" modern educators, he said:
On the whole, we may conclude that the great purpose of children's books is not so much to impart instruction, as to promote growth. We must not think of a child's mind as of a vessel, which it is for us to fill, but as a wonderfully organized instrument, which it is for us to develop and to set in motion. He will be well or ill educated, not according to the accuracy with which he retains the notions which have been impressed upon him from without, but according to the power which he puts forth from within, and to the activity and regularity with which the several feelers or tentacula of his nature lay hold on all that is to be seen and thought and known around him.
The writer suggests that the following question should be asked of good children's literature: "Above all, does it make the eye glisten and the cheek glow, and the limbs of the little one move with delight?" Of fairy tales he answers, yes.40
A mid-Victorian culmination in the acceptance of the fairy tale occurred in 1868, when the Edgar Taylor translation of Grimm was reprinted in one volume, complete with the Cruikshank illustrations, and with a new introduction by no less a figure than John Ruskin.
Ruskin, asserting that fairy tales are the best kind of literature for children, described the well-raised, well-educated child and said:
Children so trained have no need of moral fairy tales; but they will find in the apparently vain and fitful courses of any tradition of old time, honestly delivered to them, a teaching for which no other can be substituted, and of which the power cannot be measured; animating for them the material world with inextinguishable life, fortifying them against the glacial cold of selfish science, and preparing them submissively, and with no bitterness of astonishment, to behold, in later years, the mystery—divinely appointed to remain such to all human thought—of the fates that happen alike to the evil and the good.41
The cause for which the Romantics spoke came to have greater urgency as the conditions which provoked them to defend the fairy tale intensified during the Victorian period. Earnest, artless, middle-class Evangelicalism increased its influence; the educational theories of the Enlightenment were succeeded by those of its even less imaginative descendant. Utilitarianism; and the age of the city, industrialism, and science came fully into being. These conditions of England were objected to by Carlyle and by such followers and admirers of his as Ruskin and Kingsley. In discussing the fairy tale these men followed the Romantics by stressing its imaginative value in the new world. But they also reverted a bit to the position of the enemy: the educational values they pointed to in the tales, while not usually as simply and exclusively instructional as those the Enlightenment advocated, are more conventionally moral than those which had been defended by Wordsworth and Coleridge. With their statements in defense of the fairy tale (made more publicly than those of the Romantics had been), the Victorian men of letters probably contributed to its new status. In those statements and elsewhere, they reveal the synthesis of appreciation of the imagination and moral posture which characterizes the Victorian acceptance of the fairy tale.
Carlyle represents the two aspects of the position: he spoke for the powers of the imagination and helped bring the Kunstmarchen to England, and he was intensely moralistic. In his essay, Ruskin calls for the reading of authentic, fanciful fairy tales; but he also points to the moral values of such tales, and he used his own imaginative fairy tale to teach a moral lesson—how sympathy for a dog is rewarded, and how an "inheritance, which had been lost by cruelty, was regained by love."42 Kingsley's fanciful Water Babies, in which there is playful defense of the existence of fairies and support of the fairy tale itself, is even more pointedly moral. To "little books" about "little people" the hero prefers "a jolly good fairy tale, about Jack the Giant-killer or Beauty and the Beast, which taught him something that he didn't know already" (ch. 8). From his experiences this hero learns about kindness, cleanliness, and self-sacrifice, among other things, and a "Moral" follows the "parable" to drive some of the lessons home for readers.43 Even Thackeray, who could not write his fairy tale without making it in part a mock-fairy tale and who rejected the simple morality of virtue rewarded, imbued The Rose and the Ring with both delightful fantasy and the moral that "misfortune" is a useful and perhaps necessary condition for the molding of character.
Children's writers were even more inclined to reflect the view that fantasy is good for the child, and to conceive of moral purposes for their fantasies. Many followed the technique of Catherine Sinclair and made their fairy tales allegories. Hers is about Master No-book, the fairy Do-nothing who lives in Castle Needless, the fairy Teach-all, and so on. F. E. Paget's is about a child named "Eigenwilling," which he translates for us, and its ending resembles Pilgrim's Progress; his purpose in writing it was to see whether children's "hearts can be moved to noble and chivalrous feelings, and to shake off the hard, cold, calculating, worldly, selfish temper of the times, by being brought into more immediate contact with the ideal, the imaginary, and the romantic, than has been the fashion of late years."44 Even in the stories which seem closest to folktales, such as Alice Learmont and some of the stories in Granny's Wonderful Chair, there usually is an unobtrusive moral thrust, one which, as Katharine M. Briggs says of Miss Browne's and some other stories, resembles the morality of many folktales, in which "generosity and a merry heart are the prime virtues."45
One should not think that all versions of fairy tales had only a tempered morality. There still were many original tales like Margaret Gatty's "The Fairy Godmother" (1851), not much of a fairy tale but heavily moral, and there still could be versions of traditional tales like the four presented by George Cruikshank in a Fairy Library (1853-54, 1864), stories insistently instructive, primarily in the virtues of temperance (in them giants and ogres are repeatedly overcome because they are drunk). The association of fairy tales with morality was so strong that a writer like Lewis Carroll, a man far from committed to didacticism, when writing about fairies ended up teaching a lesson (of the need to work before playing—"Bruno's Revenge," 1867). And George MacDonald, despite his flights of fantasy and his ability to usually keep the preacher in him under control, could burden At the Back of the North Wind with an ever-present didacticism. Still, the period saw, alongside of its morality, a real appreciation of fairy tales and of the kind of imagination which can create and respond to them.
The Victorian pater-familias, who was only recently persuaded of the Romantic claim that children were special and deserved special literature,46 found that fairy tales filled the requirement best. Accepting their claimed morality and approving of their playfulness, he let them in to his child's nursery. He must have been reassured by their rather domestic nature (even the Grimms ascribe them to the nursery and the home), and their portrayal of love and marriage without sex. And he might have been attracted to them himself, for these reasons, for their sympathetic renderings of children, and for other reasons as well.
Beset by a changing world, the Victorian could find stability in the ordered, formulary structure of fairy tales. He could be called from his time and place to a soothing other world by the faintly blowing horns of Elfland. He could be taken from the corruptions of adulthood back to the innocence of childhood; from the ugly, competitive city to beautiful, sympathetic nature; from complex morality to the simple issue of good versus evil; from a difficult reality to a comforting world of imagination. The author of an 1855 article on "German Story-Books" says that he pleads "guilty to a very childlike love of story-books. . . . Although the days of our childhood are over and gone, we are by no means insensible to the charms of Cinderella." He admires the German appreciation of fairy tales, and goes on to say: "The Volksmährchen form the wonder-land, ever bright, and beautiful, and grand, into which the popular mind escapes from the dull and dusty paths of a toil-worn existence."47 His speculation on the value of fairy tales for German peasants is suggestively appropriate for Victorian Englishmen, and the attraction was not only for the "popular mind."
The 1853 Athenaeum reviewer of Grimm, discussing this attraction of the tales, said:
Another reason for the pleasure which imaginative men find in an occasional visit to infantine fairyland, is probably to be found in the complete contrast which that land presents to the realities of life. . . . One of the great charms of a child's fairy tale is, in the utter absence of all reference to passion. . . . We hear, it is true, of love, and hate, and revenge; but in forms so different from those of the actual world, that our own feelings are untouched, and we are not tossed into the conflict of sympathy and antipathy. We behold all things as we beheld them in childhood—through the transparent medium of simple faith. Our intellect is not harassed, as we read, by being obliged to combat for or against any set of principles. We are no longer in the lists fighting for a dogma or a system. We have ceased for the nonce to be politicians, or sectarians, or casuists. The gates are shut upon the outer world,—shut even against ourselves, as we ordinarily appear. The fight of existence is excluded, and, for a little space, disbelieved in. We only know that there is the earth all around us, and the conscious Heavens everywhere above us,—and noble, undiscovered regions in the distance, which we feel to be full of wonder, and magnificence, and mystery, and adventures without end.48
The youthful Tennyson, associating fairy tales with beauty, enchantment, stillness, and sleep, expressed their escapist attraction in such early poems of his as "Recollections of the Arabian Nights" (1830) and "The Sleeping Beauty" (1830). In a final enlargement of the latter poem ("The Day-Dream," 1842), he indicates another function for fairy tales. This version of the poem presents a daydreaming lover who imagines the fairy-tale prince achieving something which is denied to himself in his own waking life: the fulfillment of love (he says his beloved "sleeps a dreamless sleep to me; / A sleep by kisses undissolved"49). In other ways other Victorians, through identification of themselves with the heroes of fairy tales, could achieve a fulfillment of wishes, often of ones denied to them in their own lives. They could imagine themselves having their true worth recognized and attaining material wealth and happiness, with or without effort. And they could fulfill wishes they were less consciously aware of.
The author of the remarkable 1860 London Quarterly Review article on "Children's Literature" said: "Pictures and gay colors and romances do not give us literal truth, nor indeed truth in an objective sense at all; but they are true subjectively. They interpret our dreams and fancies to ourselves, and keep the imaginative power in healthy exercise, by employing it upon some object of external interest, when otherwise it would brood painfully and unhealthily upon itself."50 Modern psychoanalysts have elaborated on some of these insights. Ernest Kris says that fairy tales enable children to work out their psychic fantasies vicariously, in a harmless way approved by society. As Kate Friedlaender puts it: "One reason, therefore, for the child's love of the fairy-tale is that he finds in it his own instinctual situation and meets again his own fantasies which explains the pleasure in reading or listening to fairy-stories [sic]; moreover, the fairytale's particular solutions for these conflicts appear to be a means for alleviating anxiety in the child."51
It is not only children who can find their psychic fantasies in fairy tales: adults can too, and that, psychoanalysts say, is because fairy tales seem to share a set of symbols with dreams, and therefore can function like them. C. G. Jung claims that "in myths and fairytales, as in dreams, the psyche tells its own story, and the interplay of the archetypes is revealed in its natural setting as 'formation, transformation / the eternal Mind's eternal recreation.'"52 For Jung, in fairy tales as in dreams the archetypes are confronted in a concrete form and enable man to gain a particular insight into the world and himself. Freud, who is more concerned than Jung with the fulfillment of wishes through particular symbols, says: "This symbolism is not peculiar to dreams, but is characteristic of unconscious ideation, in particular among the people, and is to be found in folklore, and in popular myths, legends, linguistic idioms, proverbial wisdom and current jokes, to a more complete extent than in dreams."53 Without going in to the sometimes forced, sometimes contradictory interpretations that followers of these men have given specific tales, we can agree with them that fairy tales often seem dream-like and that they have a symbolic texture (which was also responded to by nineteenth-century solar mythologists, who interpreted the tales as describing the conflict between the sun and night);54 and we can observe that the Victorians are notorious for having repressed certain basic urges, including ones which are acted out in fairy tales. These include the expression of violent impulses (the good as well as the evil in the tales have few inhibitions on this count) and of revolt against authority. Thus, while coming to him in the guise of innocent children's stories which he might have felt did not affect his feelings, fairy tales could on the one hand provide the troubled Victorian with an escape into a happy, ordered world, and on the other help him work out an urge for violent self-assertion against people he unknowingly felt aggressive towards, including his social betters.
And, finally, the fairy tale was not only moral entertainment, escape, and wish fulfillment. Psychoanalysts claim that the fairy tale is a symbolically realistic image of the urges of the psyche, and it in other ways too returned to the Victorian an image of himself. Its optimism was duplicated in an age in which fortunes were made and men flew up the ladder of success, and in which progress was speeded magically by "the fairy tales of science."55 And it reflected reality in its darker parts, too. For fairy tales, before they reach their happy endings, have the nature not only of day-dream but of nightmare too. In that age of anxiety, even when trying to escape, the Victorian might confront the nature of his own existence. There was no escape if, unlike the Athenaeum reviewer quoted above, one emotionally submitted himself to the tales. And no one submitted himself more thoroughly than Charles Dickens, for whom fairy tales were not just an occasional attraction, but a lifelong fascination.
[In the text, AT precedes type numbers, listed in Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson, The Types of the Folktale (Helsinki, 1961).]
1The Fairy Mythology (London, 1850), pp. 5-10. The OED entry for "fairy" is more or less similar. Katharine M. Briggs defines the term as the "late, though general, name for the whole race. Originally Fay, from Fatae, the Fates. Faërie was first used for enchantment." The Fairies in Tradition and Literature (London, 1967), p. 217.
2 "On Fairy Stories," Tree and Leaf in The Tolkien Reader (New York, 1966), p. 9. As Tolkien points out (p. 4), the OED Supplement omits this meaning from its definitions of "fairy tale."
3Apollodorus: The Library (London, 1921), I, xxvii-xxix.
4 "Myth in Primitive Psychology," Magic, Science and Religion (Garden City, N. Y., 1954), p. 101.
5 Katharine M. Briggs, Introduction, Folktales of England, ed. Briggs and Ruth L. Tongue (London, 1965), pp. xxiii-xxvi. And see her "English Fairy Tales," Internationaler Kongress der Volkserzählungsforscher in Kiel und Kopenhagen, ed. Kurt Ranke (Berlin, 1961), pp. 38-43.
6 Notes, Grimm's Household Tales, trans. and ed. Margaret Hunt (London, 1884), II, 501.
7 Foreword, Folktales of England, ed. Briggs, p. vi.
8 See Joseph Jacobs, English Fairy Tales (London, 1898), p. 229.
9English Fairy and Other Folktales (London, ), pp. xii-xxi.
10 See "Notes on Sales," Times Literary Supplement, April 10, 1930, 324. The periodical will hereafter be called TLS.
11 On the controversy over authorship and for bibliographical information see: Andrew Lang, Introduction, Perrault's Popular Tales, ed. Lang (Oxford, 1888), pp. xxiv-xxxii; Percy Muir, English Children's Books, 1600-1900 (London, 1954), pp. 45-51; Geoffrey Brereton, Introduction, The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault (Harmondsworth, 1957), pp. xvii-xxii; and Marc Soriano, Les Contes de Perrault (Paris, 1968).
12The Guardian of Education, II (1803), 185-86.
14 This popular collection of stories, frequently reprinted, was presented by Ridley in 1764 under the name of Sir Charles Morell, who supposedly heard them from their Eastern author, called Horam. Both the "Editor" and Horam claim moral purposes for the tales—but Horam ironically admits that the prince he made them up for actually became vicious. By 1808, the publishers made the claim of didacticism even stronger; they added a preface which identified Ridley as the author and praised his "manner of inculcating morality." Tales of the Genii (London, 1808), p. x.
On the book (and Dickens' connections with it) see Jane W. Stedman, "Good Spirits: Dickens's Childhood Reading," Dickensian, LXI (1965), 150-54.
15 The quotation is from a review in the British Quarterly Review, VI (1847), 189.
The affinities of courtly romance and fairy tale are discussed by Erich Auerbach in ch. 6 of Mimesis (New York, 1957). They can be seen in such English romances as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Faerie Queene. Edgar Osborne mentions the chap-book versions of romances as reposits of fairy-tale material in "Children's Books to 1800," Junior Bookshelf, IV (1939), 18-19. And see Florence V. Barry, A Century of Children's Books (London, 1922), pp. 14-16.On the chapbook see John Ashton, Chapbooks of the Eighteenth Century (London, 1882), and F. J. Harvey Darton, Children's Book
(The entire section is 37863 words.)
C. N. Manlove
SOURCE: "George MacDonald (1824-1905)," in Modern Fantasy: Five Studies, Cambridge University Press, 1975, pp. 55-98.
[George MacDonald is considered by many to have been the greatest fantasy writer of the nineteenth century. In the following essay, Manlove argues that although MacDonald's scientific background and rigorous religious beliefs interfered with his ability to write a purely imaginative fantasy story free of intellectual explanations, MacDonald's stories still contain the feature of "myth," which MacDonald considered an important aspect of fairy tales. (Explanations for title abbreviations may be found at the end of the essay, preceding the...
(The entire section is 64592 words.)
Edith Lazaros Honig
SOURCE: "Magical Women: The Positive Force of Woman Power," in Breaking the Angelic Image: Woman Power in Victorian Children's Fantasy, Greenwood Press, 1988, pp. 111-32.
[In the following essay, Honig explores the role of the magical female figure in Victorian children's fantasies, noting that it was in children's literature, rather than in adult fiction, that powerful, vibrant female characters were first portrayed.]
In The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Bruno Bettelheim tells us that the powerful witch, the magical woman who appears most prominently in classical fairy tales,...
(The entire section is 13467 words.)
Alderson, Brian. "Tracts, Rewards and Fairies: The Victorian Contribution to Children's Literature." In Essays in the History of Publishing in the Celebration of the 250th Anniversary of the House of Longman 1724-1974, edited by Asa Briggs, pp. 245-82. London: Longman Group Ltd., 1974.
Chronicles the development of children's literature both as a genre and a business.
Apter, T. E. Fantasy Literature: An Approach to Reality. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982, 161 p.
Describes how psychoanalysis can be used to examine fantasy literature....
(The entire section is 587 words.)