I discovered Madame d’Aulnoy years ago when I purchased a magnificent collection of folk and fairy tales entitled The Great Fairy Tale Tradition with stories selected and edited by Jack Zipes. The book lays out various versions of stories told over the centuries by different writers with The Brothers Grimm being the most recent of the writers. As I looked at the older versions of many stories, I discovered several female writers from the late 1600’s and 1700’s. Marie-Catherine was an early contributor.
She wrote many stories including ‘The White Cat’, ‘The Bee and the Orange Tree’, ‘The Blue Bird’ and ‘Fair Goldilocks’ but she is best known for coining the phrase Fairy Tale. She was one of the great ladies of the French Salons who used folk and fairy tales to protest many issues specific to women and get away with it. Many other types of literature were censored during this same period.
Marie-Catherine, born Oct 1, 1652 became a Baroness at the tender age of 13 when she married Francois de la Motte, March 8,1666. She gave birth to four children before she turned 18. Now women in Europe during the 1600’s (and then for centuries to come) had little or no rights. Although she came to the marriage with a small fortune, her husband had control over it and squandered a large amount.
M-C wasn’t a dummy. She was smart and sassy. Proof of this wit was recently discovered in the margins of a book given to her in 1666. She wrote…
“It has been almost 200 years since this book was made, and whoever will have this Book should know that it was mine and that it belongs to our house. Written in Normandie near Honfleur. Adieu, Reader, if you have my book and I don’t know you and you don’t appreciate what’s inside, I wish you ringworm, scabies, fever, the plague, measles, and a broken neck. May God assist you against my maledictions.”
When Marie-Catherine turned 19, intrigue and scandal took over. Her husband the Baron d’Aulnoy, a known gambler, was accused of treason and spent three years in the Bastille, but his accusers were eventually executed instead. Our gal Marie-Catherine eluded a warrant for her arrest by climbing out a window. Over the next 20 years she might have been a spy, but returned to Paris in 1685 and opened her own Literary Salon.
She wrote four collections of stories and encouraged other women to tell and write. Some modern readers might find her stories long, but if you remember the time in which she wrote -epics like The Odyssey and classic Greek plays were commonly read. Her story collections were a bit like a Facebook blog in comparison.
The Baroness is beginning to emerge from history’s shadows. Australian author Melissa Ashley wrote a fictional novel about her life. Although, many of her fairy tales are not translated or difficult to find, some translations can be found online.