Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Aulnoy, Madame D'

The usual appellation given to Marie-Cathérine le Jumel (?1650-1705) who, after her marriage in 1665 to François de la Motte, Baron d'Aulnoy (?1621-1700), became Comtesse d'Aulnoy. It was an unhappy marriage, and ended with the comtesse being imprisoned for plotting against her husband, but she escaped and led an adventurous life around Europe before settling in Paris in 1685. She established a literary salon that became all the rage, where women (and occasionally men) gathered for the discussion or art, science and politics. Often this discussion took the form of stories, using fiction as a form to satirize events at the court of Louis XIV. She herself incorporated elements from old Folktales – some adapted from versions first incorporated into Giovanni Basile's Pentamerone (coll 1634-1636) – into what were ostensibly new stories, updating them so the characters and events related to current circumstances. Unlike her contemporary, Charles Perrault (a frequent visitor to her salons), who only occasionally used his Fairytales for purposes of Satire, she made that her prime motive, with the result that, unlike Perrault's, her tales were composed primarily for adults – and were thus among the first Literary Fairytales.

Her first was "L'île de la Félicité" ["The Isle of Happiness"] (incorporated in L'Histoire d'Hippolyte, comte de Douglas 1690). This contains many of the standard motifs of Fantasy: a prince who is lost in a Forest, but who is conveyed by Zephir to the Island of Paradise where he falls in love with a Fairy. Time passes, and he finally discovers that the three months he has spent there have in fact been three centuries (see Time in Faerie); at last, caught by Father Time, he dies. The story ends with a statement of two morals: "There is no avoiding Father Time; neither is there perfect happiness."

She eventually composed 25 such tales. These appeared in two books, each of four volumes: Les contes de fées ["Tales of the Fairies"] (vols 1-3 coll 1696-1697; vol 4 coll 1698) and Contes nouveaux, ou les fées à la mode ["More Popular Fairy Tales"] (coll 1698). Most stories are set either in a recognizable Middle Ages on which a supernatural world impinges/overlaps (see Crosshatch) or almost wholly in a Secondary World of Faerie. The tales are very strong on Story, with a Twice-Told element of timeless distance.

Although less known now, her stories contain all the basic Plot Devices of Fantasy, and were highly influential in their day. "L'oiseau bleu" (1697; trans anon as "The Blue Bird" 1699) includes a wicked Stepmother and tells of a handsome prince (in the English-language translation this saw the first use of the name "Prince Charming") who is transformed (see Transformations) into a blue bird because of his love for the stepdaughter. "Le naine jaune" (1698; trans anon as "The Yellow Dwarf" 1721) tells of a princess who is betrothed to a hideous Dwarf. Her beloved King of the Golden Mines, with the aid of a magic Sword, undertakes a series of challenges to rescue her. He succeeds, but the dwarf gains the sword and kills the king, whereupon the princess dies of grief. "La chatte blanche" (1698; trans anon as "The White Cat" 1721) concerns a king, fearful he will be deposed by his sons, who sets them a series of tasks; the youngest son is always triumphant. The story involves various Enchantments, including one of Invisibility and the transformation of a princess into the eponymous white Cat. "Finette Cendron" (1698; trans anon as "Finetta the Cinder-Girl" 1721) is MD'A's version of Cinderella.

Her stories are usually much longer narrative constructions than the fairytales by Perrault or the Grimm Brothers, and this fact has made them less memorable, despite their position among the earliest original fantasies. It was, however, with a cut translation of Les contes de fées into English as Tales of the Fairys (coll trans 1699 UK), that the term "fairytales" passed into the language. Further (and more complete) translations include that by James Robinson Planché. [MA]

Madame D' Aulnoy


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.