03.09.29, Knapp, French Fairy Tales: A Jungian Approach

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Elizabeth Emery

The Medieval Review baj9928.0309.029


Knapp, Bettina L.. French Fairy Tales: A Jungian Approach. Series: SUNY Series in Psychoanalysis and Culture. Albany: SUNY Press, 2002. Pp. 393. ISBN: 0-7914-5470-3.

Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Emery

Bettina L. Knapp's French Fairy Tales: A Jungian Approach provides archetypal readings of a number of stories from the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries. Readers familiar with her previous works, such as A Jungian Approach to Literature (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois Press, 1984) or Women in Twentieth-Century Literature: A Jungian View (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press), will recognize the methodology used to evaluate the fourteen tales examined in this volume. Relying on the analytical technique and vocabulary of C. G. Jung, Knapp explores the primordial images-the great mother and the spiritual father, for example-that are manifestations of archetypes contained in the collective unconscious.

This technique, as Knapp notes, "lifts the literary work-in this case the fairy tale-out of its individual and conventional context and relates it to humankind in general." As a result, the book, though presenting each tale in chronological order, focuses less on authorial intent, historical context, or reception, than on revealing the archetypal elements shared by tales composed at different times and in different social contexts. Influenced by the works of Marie-Louise von Franz, whose definition of the fairy tale she uses, Knapp examines the feelings, inclination, or ideologies of the protagonists of the tales examined. She thus relies less on the genetic, anthropological, or historical methods of specialists of the fairy tale such as Propp, Seifert, or Zipes.

The book is organized in four parts, corresponding to the five "centuries" examined: "The Middle Ages: Feudalism and 'La Société Courtoise,'" "The Seventeenth Century: 'Le Grand Siècle,'" The Eighteenth Century: 'L'Esprit Philosophique,'" "The Nineteenth Century: 'Le Romantisme'-Esthetic and Utilitarian," "The Twentieth Century: Slaughter/Science/Spirituality." Within these sections are chapters dedicated to each author and his or her works. Borrowing Franz's definition of the fairy tale as "the purest and simplest expression of [the] collective unconscious psychic process" allows her the freedom to consider works of various genres that have not always traditionally been considered fairy tales. Accordingly, we find readings of Jean d'Arras' "Mélusine;" Charles Perrault's "Donkey Skin," "Sleeping Beauty,"and "Bluebeard;" Mme d'Aulnoy's "The Bluebird;" Denis Diderot's "The White Bird;" Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "The Fantastic Queen;" "Charles Nodier's "The Crumb Fairy;" Théophile Gautier's "Arria Marcella;'" Countess Sophie de Ségur's "Rosette;" George Sand's "The Castle of Crooked Peak;" Maurice Maeterlinck's play Pelléas et Mélisande; Jean Cocteau's film Beauty and the Beast; and Andrée Chédid's tale "The Suspended Heart."

Each section begins with a brief overview of the historical context against which the tale was written. Such synopses may prove helpful for classes using this book as an anthology, but they are also quite brief, providing more of a "who's who" of each period than material directly pertaining to the stories analyzed. Each chapter also includes an "ectypal analysis," a short biographical sketch of the author and the setting of the tale. While helpful background information for a reader unfamiliar with the author or time period, these sections tend to create an uncomfortable fit between historical and archetypal readings. Do the characters in fairy tales really belong to the time period in which their authors lived? Or are fairy tales marked by "timelessness," as Knapp claims at other moments? Examples of the awkward conflation of historical and mythological time occur in the discussion of "Mélusine," where the protagonist is described as a character "living in the Middle Ages," as a Mason, and as an archetypal myth, a new incarnation of Sophia/Wisdom. Similarly, the princess in "Donkey Skin" is both a timeless fairy tale princess and a saint resembling seventeenth-century mystic Margaret Mary Alacoque. In the case of Rousseau and Diderot, the archetypal reading seems to be overshadowed by history or biography: Diderot's "The White Bird" is read as a response to social and political issues (as a parody of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception), while Rousseau's "Fantastic Queen" becomes a reflection of his tormented psyche, an outlet that will allow him to compensate for his longing for a mother figure. Such moments where the "ectypal analysis" overlaps with the "archetypal analysis" raise questions about the historicity of characters in fairy tales. If a date is not specified, can one assume that characters belong to the time period of their authors? And if so, what is the relationship between historical contingency and the "timelessness" of fairy tales?

French Fairy Tales: A Jungian Approach provides delicate and original new readings of these tales, using the Jungian approach to great benefit in order to show how protagonists face difficult psychological problems and resolve them. Knapp does not justify her rather eclectic choice of stories, leaving it to the reader to "grasp the broader perspectives," yet the selection is valuable for the attention it brings to a number of tales, such as those by Diderot, Rousseau, Gautier, Sand, and Chédid, which have rarely been examined in the English-speaking world. Indeed, this is one of the greatest benefits of the book: Knapp's lucid and elegant summaries and her probing analysis of the psychological forces at work in each story will draw readers to these unjustly forgotten fairy tales. One of the stated goals of Knapp's book is to help modern readers identify with people of past eras who shared problems similar to their own; her delightful and engaging attention to the fourteen tales covered in this book will surely produce the desired effect.

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Elizabeth Emery