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Fables and Fairy Tales. 0031: Charles Perrault, Mother Goose's Tales

Author: Perrault, Charles
Title: Mother Goose's Tales, or pleasing story teller; containing 1. Blue Beard, 2. Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, 3. Little Thumb, 4. Cinderilla, or the Little Glass Slipper, 5. Riquet with the Tuft, 6. Finetta, or the Discreet Princess
Cat. Number: 0031
Date: No date but c.1808-1825
1st Edition: Perrault first published Histoires ou contes du temps passé in 1697; it was first translated into English, as Histories, or tales of past times, in 1729
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: T. Sabine and Son, 81 Shoe Lane, Fleet Street
Price: 6d
Pages: 1 vol., 100pp.
Size: 17 x 9.5 cm
Illustrations: Frontispiece plus 5 further cuts
Note: 'Money mades the Mare to go: being A Dialogue between Neighbour Tumbleturf and Neighbour Chopstick' is appended to the collection.

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Page 003 of item 0031

Introductory essay

In this early nineteenth-century collection of fairy tales, six of Charles Perrault's 'Tales of Mother Goose' are faithfully reprinted a hundred years after they were first translated into English. They had first appeared as Histoires, ou contes du temps passé in 1697. The first English translation had been published in 1729 as Histories, or tales of past times. But the tales soon had Mother Goose's name attached to them because she was their nominal narrator. This edition omits three of the tales which formed Perrault's original collection, the popular Little Red Riding Hood and The master cat, or Puss in Boots , and the less enduring The Fairy. These are replaced by a short dialogue called 'Money makes the Mare to go' which has no apparent connection to Perrault or fairy tales in general, although its moral - that everyone acts only out of self-interest - is as banal, and perhaps adult-orientated, as any used by Perrault. Presumably the dialogue was added simply to fill out the volume, or to give buyers a sense that they were getting value for money. Its inclusion, though, could be taken to suggest that T. Sabine and Son were hoping for a readership not necessarily limited to children.

Those fairy tales selected for inclusion by Sabine combine tales as popular as any written by Perrault - Sleeping Beauty in the Wood (the title only began to be abbreviated in the later nineteenth century) and Cinderella (here, Cinderilla, as in Perrault) - and some of the least successful of the original collection - Riquet with the Tuft, for instance, and Finetta, which was seldom thought worthy of republication. Riquet with the Tuft has perhaps dropped from the list of classic fairy tales because it does not possess a particularly neat narrative. One of the three central characters is left unaccounted for at the end of the tale. Finetta, or the Discreet Princess might have suffered because of its brutality, although the fate which is to be meted out to its heroine - that she be put in barrel with an array of knives and razors and rolled downhill - is hardly worse than that which Sleeping Beauty's mother-in-law plans for our heroine: death in a tub full of poisonous toads, vipers, snakes and serpents (p.26). Finetta is not merely brutal but also seems to be aimed at a more sophisticated readership than its sister fairy stories. There are classical and other literary references in the text - to Regulus and Abelard and Thibaud of Champagne (p.93). And there is also much ribaldry throughout - to a villainous man, Rich-Craft, who tricks his way into the tower inhabited by the three virginal princesses and who will be as dangerous 'as count Ory was in the nunnery' (p.69). The reference is now obscure, relating to a folk tale figure who gains admission to a convent by disguising himself as an abbess, but in any case the point is quickly made clear when Rich-Craft persuades Finetta's two sisters in short succession to 'marry' him, causing each to bear a son. Continuing the bawdy tone, Finetta punishes him by arranging for him to be jettisoned from the tower straight into the dung-heap, something which she achieves by a combination of threatening him with an axe and feigning a willingness to marry him. In her bravery and cunning, Finetta is very much a female Jack the Giant Killer, save that she fights with libertines rather than giants. She even uses one of Jack's tricks at the end of the tale when Rich-Craft's brother, bent on revenge, stabs a straw effigy Finetta has placed in her bed.

By the nineteenth century it had become normal to change aspects of Perrault's texts, both for the sake of concision and to suit contemporary sensibilities. This edition remains remarkably true to Perrault, even repeating such minor details as the name of the sauce - 'sauce Robert' - with which Sleeping Beauty's children are to be spiced when eaten by her mother-in-law, the ogre. This post-wedding sequel to Sleeping Beauty was in itself often entirely excised (c.f. 0041), but is reproduced here in all its horror. Only the morals which Perrault appended to his tales have been altered. Some, but not all, appear - one of two is missing from Cinderella, for instance, as is also the case after Blue Beard where one verse warns about the dangers of curiosity, but gone is the more misogynistic of Perrault's two morals which lamented that it is now wives who dominate their husbands, not vice versa.

It seems likely that this collection was published between 1808 and 1825. This was when the imprint 'Thomas Sabine and son' and the address '81 Shoe Lane, Fleet Street', as appears on this book, was used. Thomas Sabine snr., however, had been operating at the same address right through from 1785. (Todd 1972, 168, and Maxted 1977, 197.)

For a more detailed description of the origins and development of these tales see Opie 1980.

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Todd, William B., A Directory of Printers and others in Allied Trades, London and vicinity, 1800-1840, London: Historical Society printing, 1972

Maxted, Ian, The London Book Trades 1775-1800. A Preliminary Checklist of Members, Old Woking, Surrey, 1977

Opie, Peter and Iona, The Classic Fairy Tales, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974, rpt. London, 1980