The Women Who Wrote Fairy Tales


Model of a French salon from the Israel Museum.

Written by Rivka Willick

This is the first in a series of articles about the woman fairy tale writers in the late 17th century French Salons.

I take two long walks everyday in my efforts to stay fit and lose weight.  Each walk is a little over two miles long and lasts about 45 minutes.  During most of these walks I don a set of headphones and listen to podcasts.  Astonishing Legends is one of a dozen series I enjoy and last week I was delighted to see a new topic, “The Pied Piper of Hamlin”.  They began the two-part series extolling the brilliance of the Brother’s Grimm.  I found myself scolding the recorded voices, I must have said something like, “They weren’t the first fairytale collectors-others were doing it for hundreds of years.”  Then I realized I was talking out loud in the park and felt a bit foolish.

Yesterday I did a workshop about the amazing and largely unknown female writers of the French Salon Movement.  Lots of storytellers came to the workshop and most never heard of them.

And that is why I’m starting this new series about these largely unknown folk and fairy tale writers. (You may not  know their names, but you probably know some of their stories.)

Fairy tales in the French Salons

Our story begins not with the writers or collectors, but The Boy King.  King Louis XIV of France was born 1638 and didn’t have very long to be a child when he became king on May 14, 1643.  He ruled for 72 years, longer than any other European monarch. A regency council ruled on his behalf until he came of age. He was close to his mum from whom he learned a love of food, arts and literature as well as a belief in the absolute and divine right of kings.

Nobility vied for power early on in Louis reign, but all their attempts came to an end in March 1661 when the young king took personal control of government and choose to rule without a chief minister. At some point he realized that the nobility had too much control and he had to find a way for them to willingly give it up.  And so…he invented FASHION.

Paris isn’t the Fashion Capital of the world by accident. Louis used clothing, art, music, interior design, and literature to lure nobility into an all-consuming lifestyle. Both men and WOMEN were part of the scene which spread far beyond the palace walls.

And so … The French Salons were created.  These elegant rooms in the nobilities’ mansions were usually hosted by women who curated musical performances, literary readings, and discussions.  Women in France during the 17th and 18th centuries had no rights and often lived on a precarious edge.   Their father’s, brother’s, and husbands controlled all finances and if they lost their virginity, were unfaithful, or raped they often faced poverty, abandonment, or prostitution.

It wasn’t easy for women to access education, but many found ways not only to read but write and speak—or more specifically ‘tell’ marvelous tales. A group of extraordinary women used the salons as a platform to protest this inequality using stories.  In a way the Fairy Tales told in the French Salons might have been the first “Me Too” movement.


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