This Fairy Tale Friday, I drink to her.
I should probably admit before I start that I’m just a little bit in love with this woman. Okay, I’m a lotta bit in love with her, and I’ve only just scratched the surface of her life and her work.
Her life was, at times, like the plot of a suspense novel. She was married at age 15 to the Baron D’Aulnoy. Three years later, the baron was accused of treason but somehow managed not only to prove accusations false (whether they actually were or not, I’m not sure), but to have the two accusers executed. Then, Marie-Catherine’s good friend tried to kill her husband and was beheaded.
By all accounts, the woman was lively and spirited. She was afraid of ghosts, but not much else. She was rumored to have been a spy in England and to have born one to three illegitimate children.
She hosted some of the most popular “salons” in Paris, where the French elite would come and discuss ideas and literature. At these parties, one of the major activities was “spontaneously” creating fairy tales (many had been committed to memory beforehand, of course, they just acted as if they were making them up on the spot).
I’m struck with the feeling, not for the first time in my life, that I was born in the wrong century. How do you think that would go over at a dinner party now?
Okay, just one more thing and I’ll get to “The White Cat” which is an AWESOME STORY: Madame D’Aulnoy was the first to actually call these stories fairy tales (Contes de Fées)! She directly inspired Perrault, and yet he gets all the cred for his Mother Goose Tales. So, she made up some stuff in her more serious writings Since when is history actual fact?
Okay. I’m done.
Now, “The White Cat” is my favorite fairy tale of the week. It’s got a little something for everyone. A prince (three, actually), a queen, a maiden trapped in a tower, a curse, a happy ending. The happiest ending that could be. It’s a little like Beauty and the Beast in a way, a little like Rapunzel in another. With a touch of Snow White.
This story feels a little less sparse than the Grimm stories — and Madame D’Aulnoy’s humor often seeps in. Here are some of my favorite quotes:
- “A day scarcely passed that he did not buy dogs–big, little, greyhounds, bull-dogs, boar-hounds, harriers, spaniels, poodles, lap-dogs; as soon as he had a very fine one, he found one still finer, and therefore let the first go and kept the other; for it would have been impossible to take about with him, quite alone, thirty or forty thousand dogs, and he did not wish to have gentlemen-in-waiting, valets or pages in his suite.” SMA – Thiry or forty THOUSAND dogs. hahaha.
- “White Cat was going hunting and wished the prince to join her. The helpful hands gave him a wooden horse, which galloped at full speed, and stepped grandly. He made some difficulty about mounting, saving that he was far from being a knight errant like Don Quixote; but his resistance was of no avail, and he was
put on the wooden horse. It had housings and saddle of gold and diamond embroidery. White Cat was mounted on the handsomest and finest monkey ever seen. She did not wear her long veil, but a dragoon hat, which lent her such a determined expression that all the mice of the neighbourhood were in terror.” SMA – bolding mine. The cat rode a MONKEY.
- “I took a turquoise ring from my finger and hastily threw it him, signing him to go away quickly because I heard the Fairy Violent mounting her dragon to bring me my breakfast. The first words she said on entering the room were: ‘I smell the voice of a man here; search for him, dragons. Imagine my feelings. I was paralysed with fear lest he should go out by the other window and follow the knight in whom I was already greatly interested. ‘My dear mamma’ (for it was thus the old fairy liked me to call her), ‘you are joking when you say you smell a man’s voice; has a voice any smell?”
The story is busting with funny little quirks like these, and I totally recommend it for your Friday night reading pleasure. It’s like a sweet bite of cake. Read the full translated text here.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, Madame D’Aulnoy is waiting.