Research Stream


Bronwyn Reddan
Deakin University

Love, Power and Gender in Seventeenth-Century French Fairy Tales

The idealisation of fairy tale love is a powerful cultural myth that continues to shape our ideas about gender and marriage. This project examines the multifaceted representation of love in the fairy tales written by seventeenth-century French women as a challenge to ahistorical definitions of fairy tale love as a timeless or universal emotion.

Love me, love me not: Performing emotion in early modern contes de fées

Love is a key ingredient in the stereotypical fairy tale ending in which everyone lives happily ever after. It is associated with heroic deeds, miraculous transformations and the celebration of a perfect union between a beautiful princess and a handsome prince. The powerful symbolism of the marriage closure continues to influence our understanding of the fairy tale genre but modern idealisation of love as the ultimate happy ending ignores the dark side of love as an emotion with a history that reflects the power struggles and anxieties of the time in which it is felt. In the fairy tales written by French women between 1690 and 1709, love is a complex emotion with social, political and gendered effects. Bronwyn Reddan’s research analyses the scripts for love developed by these authors as sources providing insight into debates about gender and marriage in seventeenth-century France. The scripts for love created by authors such as Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy, Marie-Jeanne Lhéritier, Catherine Bernard and Henriette-Julie de Murat provide evidence of the formation of a literary emotional community engaged in a conversation that questioned the patriarchal structure of courtship and marriage. By examining a corpus of fairy tales that present a range of different perspectives on the relationship between love, gender and power in early modern France, this interdisciplinary project contributes to literary history, gender studies and French studies, as well as folklore and fairy tale studies and histories of emotion.

Image: The Carte de Tendre or Carte du Pays de Tendre, François Chauveau c.1654. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.