is an archived string from the
(10/31/00 1:17:16 pm)
This might sound like an odd question--and please keep in mind that I haven't done my preliminary research yet so I may be posting grossly prematurely--but I wonder if anyone knows of any tales that have to do with marital infidelity. I know of a couple of Indian tales, but can't think of the titles...which mainly have to do with punishments meted. But I am interested in more than just the cost.
Also, if not 'infidelity' (and frankly, I despise that term, though of course it has a political and religious function), then, hm, affairs? I suppose some of the false bride tales could relate to this? I'm not looking for examples of multiple wives, but something a bit more covert or, another way to look at it, subversive. I'm interested primarily in 19th century or earlier, but not exclusively; I'd be interested in early 20c. work as well.
I have to write an essay on the topic, with a (help!) January deadline, merely three weeks before my novel revision is due. Needless to say I'm a little panicked. Any help, any leads, would be fantastic. Any thoughts? If I am not being precise enough please let me know. I'm only in the nascent stages of this little troubling project.
(10/31/00 2:22:30 pm)
|A Story And A Song|
This may be one of the Indian tales of which you already know, but it's in a collection called - I think - "A Flowering Tree," gathered and retold by R.K. Ramanujan, and it's wonderful. I'll tell it here as best I can remember (haven't read it in a few years):
It concerns a woman who knew a story and a song, but she never told the story, and she never sang the song. One day the story said, "Bahin [sister], this woman will never let us out. Let's run away." "You're right, Bhai [brother]," replied the resentful song, "but let's do more than that." So late that night, the story and song escaped. The next day, while the woman's husband was away, the story turned itself into a man's jacket, and draped itself near the door. The song turned itself into a pair of men's shoes, and sat partway under the bed. When the man came home that evening, he saw the jacket and the shoes, and accused his wife of unfaithfulness. They fought; she, of course, denied any wrongdoing. Eventually he left the house, storming off to the Monkey King's temple, where he fell asleep on the floor.
When the woman went to bed that night, she blew out the candles in the house. Candle flames, of course, are very social beings, and so the flames from her house immediately flew straight to a meeting of all their cousins. This meeting just happened to be taking place at the temple of Hanuman, the Monkey King. As the gossip began, the husband woke, and observed the strange gathering.
"Ai, it was so terrible! The woman in our house, she had a story she never told, and a song she never sang!"
All the flames shook their fiery heads and made little crackling noises of disapproval.
"So now they have escaped from her and, for revenge, tricked her husband into thinking she is unfaithful!"
The flames crackled again and began to talk about the event, to argue and place blame, but the husband had heard all he needed to hear. He ran out of the temple and back to his home, where he apologized to his wife for doubting her. After that, whenever she had a story, she told it, and whenever she had a song, she sang.
I really like that story. The whole collection's great.
(10/31/00 4:50:46 pm)
One of my all time favorite tales in an a collection of African tales called "Erotic African Nights", translated by Leo Froebonius. The tale is called the "Husband's Revenge." A young trader and his new wife move next door to a muezzin and his wife. The muezzin desires the bride something fiercely...and gets his chance when he hears that the young woman is pregnant and the husband gone off trading. He convinces the bride that her husband has left her too soon and she needs a man to help finish "making" her child. The young woman is grateful...they spend quite a few nights making the eyelashes, the teeth...etc. The trader arrives after the birth of a beautiful child and the young wife scolds him for leaving her in such a dangerous state and tells h im how lucky she was the muezzin was there to help. The trader says nothing, but decides to plan his own revenge.
When the muezzin asks the trader to accompany his wife (who has been home with her family) back to the city the trader graciously agrees. His wife is bringing home family jewels and is concerned for her safety. During the night the trader steals the jewels and when the muezzin's wife discovers it, she is very distraught. The trader suggests that because she has been away from her husband so long, her own body, used to receiving substance from the man, has begun to steal from her. And her jewels are even now cluttering up her insides. Of course the trader would be glad to help. And the following morning after a vigorous night of disciplining those "thieving parts" a jewel reappears. (it takes a while to get home!). Naturally, the muezzin's wife on her arrival tells her husband how grateful she was the trader could rescue the family jewels from her thieving woman's parts. The muezzin says nothing but accepts the return trick as fair play.
Do literary tales count? The "Decameron" is full of them! including a famous trial scene where a young wife gets off for the crime of adultery because her husband has been denying her sex so the court deems it her right to enjoy herself with a willing and able man. In fact I think there is a lot of fooling around in Italian renaissance tales. (certainly the commedia dell'arte rather celebrates adultery as a national pastime!)
And I suppose we could look at various Greek tales as acts of adultry (Zeus forever running around in those showers of golden light...and then Europa and her Bull...oy)...
I have one hilarious Tibetan trickster tale of how Uncle Tompa (the trickster) prevents the young men of the village from sleeping with his wife by putting it out that she has a snake up her ass that will bite anyone but him...of course one young wag is curious enough (and the wife lovely enough) to give it a try one night when Uncle Tompa is gone. He has a friend dangle him down through the window on a rope (so in case he calls out an alarm at the snake's appearance, his friend can haul him out of there!) Unfortunately for him, Uncle Tompa has told his young wife that the men of the village have two pricks...so though she is delighted by the young man now dangling over her, she reaches down rather curiously to see if this bit of information is true...the young man feels her fingers thinks it the snake and cries out in alarm. His friend in a hurry jerks him up so fast he breaks the young man's neck against the window jam and kills him. Terrified, the friend bolts out of there leaving the poor corpse dangling out the window...to confirm the worst fears of the other men about Uncle Tompa's wife...
Good lord, what does it say about a married woman like me knowing waaay too many stories about adultry!!
So what are you going to do with this topic?
(10/31/00 5:03:59 pm)
|Such a classic, often overlooked...|
I cannot recommend enough all of the tales in the Arthurian legends! Arthur and his sister, Guenevere and Launcelot (who, according to some tales, was married himself to Elaine), Tristan and Isolde. I'm sure there are many others. (If you aren't familiar with the last couple, let me know and I'll try to find it in my files.)
How about ballads? There's a naughty little one called "The Chandler's Wife"- heard it performed at a dinner theater show. Quite funny when done... properly.
Now, for adultery, are you speaking of married people only or the unmarried as well?
Edited by: Kerrie at: 10/31/00
(11/1/00 12:29:08 am)
Kate, Midori is being too modest. She herself has written two terrific stories on this subject; both of them are modern renditions of traditional folktales: Tattercoats, published in Black Thorn, White Rose (in which a man is unfaithful with his own wife!), and The Reverend's Wife, pubished in Black Swan, White Raven (based on The Muezzin's wife, but set in rural America)
Another tale that comes to mind (because I just wrote an article on 17th century French fairy tales) is Catherine Bernard's version of Riquet of the Tuft. This is an interesting one because Charles Perrault published a version of Riquet of the Tuft around the same time, making this a good example of the different ways male and female writers of the period approached the same folkloric material. Bernard's tale is a darker one, and involves infidelity.
In Charles Perrault's sprightly retelling, a beautiful princess is cursed with stupidity by a malevolent fairy and then encounters Riquet of the Tuft, a courteous but ugly prince who gives her the gift of intelligence in exchange for her promise to marry him in one year's time. During that year, the now-dazzling princess entirely forgets gentle Riquet of the Tuft…until she encounters him once again on the day she had promised to wed him. She attempts to weasel out of the promise, using all her new-found cleverness - until he assures her that it is quite within her power to make him as beautiful as herself, provided she agrees to love him. She does so, Riquet changes shape, and now he's as handsome as he is courteous. Perrault then ends the tale with the suggestion that Riquet may have not changed his shape after all, but merely appeared to be beautiful to the princess once her love was pledged.
Catherine Bernard's version of the old folk tale is a considerably darker one, and takes a dimmer view of her heroine's prospects for happiness. The lovely but stupid princess encounters Riquet, an ugly and bossy little gnome, ruler of a wealthy gnome kingdom in a realm deep underground. He gives the girl a spell to chant that will render her intelligent, and then informs her that she has no choice but to marry him in one year's time. The princess soon grows witty and charming, suitors flock to court her, and she loses her heart to a man who is very handsome but has no wealth. Secretly, she ponders the dreadful fate that is awaiting her, and the day finally comes when she must give herself to the horrid gnome. Her deep distaste for the marriage is so obvious that Riquet presents her with a choice: she can marry him of her own free will and retain her new intelligence, or she can return to her father's house as stupid as she was before she met him. Loathe to give up her intelligence, and fearful of losing her handsome lover's regard, she chooses the lesser evil and marries Riquet of the Tuft.
The tale continues after the marriage, in Riquet's kingdom under the ground. Angered by his wife's continued aversion, the gnome avoids her company - and she concocts a plan to bring her lover to the palace. Her plan succeeds, and for a time she revels in stolen happiness…but the sudden bloom in her cheeks awakens her gnome-husband's suspicions. After various machinations, Riquet discovers his wife's secret, and he takes ingenious revenge by turning her beloved into a replica of himself. "Thus," writes Bernard, "she lived with two husbands instead of one and could no longer distinguish between them, living in fear of mistaking the object of her hatred for the object of her love." Whereas Perrault's version ends with a moral ("We find that what we love is wondrous fair."), Bernard's version ends with a warning: "In the long run, lovers turn into husbands anyway."
You can find both versions in "Beauty and the Beast and Other Classic French Fairy Tales" edited by Jack Zipes.
Edited by: Terri at: 11/1/00
(11/1/00 11:05:56 am)
Thank you all so much for these amazingly helpful, generous leads. I can't say how incredibly grateful I am for them. I promise to credit each and every one of you properly in the end. I'm floored.
What follows is a bit chaotic-sounding; I apologize. I am swamped with work today but don't want to lose track of this conversation.
Terri or Midori: First, I will immediately read Midori's story, which sounds fantastic. I don't know how it is I haven't read it yet. Second, where is your article to appear, Terri?
This all reminds me of something in my novel, where an ex-wife begins to quiz the new wife about her identity--thinking she is her own double. In any case, the ex-wife accuses the new wife of being, essentially, two people, and therefore it would follow that the husband is cheating on the new wife. Or so the ex-wife would like her to believe. Which she does, of course.
Second, on the gesture of the husband being unfaithful with his own wife, Midori, which is both hilarious and heartbreaking, does that also happen in the traditional version of Tattercoats? I think I remember something else like this also...from Russian? A wife takes on a disguise, or becomes possessed when drunk? So the husband cheats with her?
Also, has anyone read Kundera's novel IDENTITY, in which a husband begins to send his forlorn wife anonymous love letters, and she falls in love with her admirer, and the husband becomes ragingly jealous (of himself)? Eventually the marriage ends in a dangerous orgy scene. It's a wild book, his most folkloric, I think.
I am so interested in the misconception popular culture has that the 'happily ever after' of fairy tales (which we all know as itself overemphasized) consists of one prince, one princess, wedded in forever bliss.
And last, apologies: I always seem to post such inchoate thoughts, when you all write these graceful and complete responses. Thank you so much for your patience and generosity.
(11/1/00 2:06:39 pm)
Isn't it curious that the entire corpus of THe Arabian NIghts is propelled into motion by female infidelity? Especially if you consider how enamoured many eighteenth and nineteenth century British writers (to encroach upon Midori's promised topic) were of the tales- especially the Romantics... Doesn't this suggest a certain preoccupation? Then there's seventeenth century poetry by the likes of Donne and Marvell- the lady on the pedestal is certainly not the poet's wife... C.S. Lewis wrote that, in a society in which marriage is purely utilitarian, any theory which seeks to idealise love must be a theory of adultery.
Is there not something fundamental here? Is adultery and sexual jealousy the impetus for many of the principal movements of Western literature?
(11/1/00 2:56:28 pm)
|more contemporary, but funny|
Not specifically a tale in the period you're looking for, but INTO THE WOODS points out that there are only so many princes in the tales which are from those times. It shows the 2 princes (Cinderella's and Rapunzel's) finding Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella's also having a fling with the Baker's wife. Makes you wonder, then, if the princes in certain tales were written about real princes and the same names (Prince Charming and Handsome Prince) used to include them discreetly. (Sorry if incoherent)
CP: High in a tower--
Like yours was, but higher--
A beauty asleep.
All 'round the tower,
A thicket of briar
A hundred feet deep.
Agony! No frustration more keen,
When the one thing you want
Is a thing that you've not even seen.
RP: I've found a casket
Entirely of glass--
No, it's unbreakable.
Inside--don't ask it--
A maiden, alas,
Just as unwakeable--
Both: What unmistakable agony! Is the way always barred?
RP: She has skin white as snow--
CP: Did you learn her name?
RP: No, there's a dwarf standing guard.
Both: Agony! Such that princes must weep!
Always in thrall most
To anything almost,
Or something asleep.
CP: If it were not for the thicket--
RP: A thicket's no trick. Is it thick?
CP: It's the thickest.
RP: The quickest is pick it apart with a stick--
CP: Yes, but even one prick--
It's my thing about blood.
RP: Well, it's sick!
CP: It's no sicker than your thing with dwarves.
RP: Dwarves are very upsetting.
Both: Not forgetting the tasks unachievable,
If it's conceivable
Both: Not to know what you miss.
CP: While they lie there for years--
RP: And you cry on their biers--
Both: What unbearable bliss!
Agony, that can cut like a knife!
Ah well, back to my wife...
CP: Anything can happen in the woods..
May I kiss you?
Any moment, we could be crushed..
Don't feel rushed. [kisses her]
Wife: This is ridiculous
What am I doing here?
I'm in the wrong story!
Wait, one moment please, sir! We can't do this.. you have a princess.
CP: That's true.
Wife: And I have a.. a baker.
CP: Of course, you're right. How foolish!
Foolishness can happen in the woods..
Once again, please.
Let your hesitations be hushed.
Any moment, big or small
Is a moment after all.
Seize the moment; skies may fall
Any moment. [kisses her, deeply]
Wife: No nononono.. this is not right.
CP: Right and wrong don't matter in the woods,
Let us meet the moment unblushed.
Life is often so unpleasant,
You must know that, as a peasant.
Best to take a moment present
As a present, for the moment.
I must leave you.
CP: The giant..
Wife: Oh, yes, the giant. Will we find each other in the woods again?
CP: This was just a moment in the woods..
Shimmering and lovely and sad.
Leave the moment, just be glad
For the moment that we had.
Every moment is of moment
When you're in the woods..
(11/1/00 4:07:33 pm)
|Sorry about that long one...|
I was just reading through ballet synopses and saw a few that would fit in here. Coppelia, Swan Lake, Giselle, La Bayadere, Ondine.
Also there's The Little Mermaid- the prince marries the wrong girl, and the mermaid kills herself in grief. In Shakespeare, there is Othello.
I'm getting fried and rambling. I'll see what else pops up later.
(11/1/00 8:44:11 pm)
Actually nothing of the sort occurs in the original tale of Tattercoats. My story is about the daughter of the queen (the original Tattercoats), seven years or so into her own marriage. She received the three magic gowns, (the one like stars, the one like the moon, the one like the sun) and the tattercoat as a wedding gift from the Queen. I thought about that happy every after and wondered at the little games we play to stay married. But it was also about the married woman using the tattercoat to find something sexual in herself that she thought lost...
Sometime perhaps the "idea" of adultry is more arousing than the act and it becomes a form of play between two people who know each other's history too well. We learn to rely on it, but feel cornered by the predictibility of each other's response. In the pretense of newness, there is a chance to rediscover or uncover some thing new about oneself (or at least the self one has changed into with maturity.) and one's partner.
(11/2/00 7:04:36 am)
As I'm researching right now for something for Terri, I would throw in that Perrault's "Bluebeard" can be viewed as a cloaked treatise on infidelity, too--specifically, on imagined or perceived infidelity. Bluebeard embodies the ultimate jealous paranoiac. His wives' "betrayals" all involve bloodstains (whatever can that mean?).
(11/2/00 7:06:05 am)
I really must learn to type my name correctly.
(11/2/00 8:22:53 am)
|Snow White variant|
Terri, wasn't there mention in your Snow White article about a prince who had a sleeping maiden in a tower room, his wife told not to open it, who then did, thinking he was unfaithful? (Am I remembering this right?)
(11/2/00 10:38:08 am)
|The Games We Play|
Yes, I have long had that reading of Bluebeard in mind as well. And Bluebeard obviously wants to flaunt his 'other women' to the wife. The threats to me contain commands, in fact. In any case the whole relationship, as it were, relies on the presence of these Others, real and imagined--which involves all kinds of temptation, suspicion, discovery and punishment. Sort of the tropes of infidelity as commonly dealt with. Personally I reject these models, but that is neither here nor there (and is related, Midori, to your idea of the 'games we play to stay married'). Another conversation, perhaps!
Again, this is all helping so much.
Kerrie, I am interested very much if the tale you think you remember reading about exists, too.
(11/2/00 4:15:32 pm)
|Re: The Games We Play|
Kate, here is the link to Terri's article where I first read it:
I also think in THE ROSE AND THE BEAST, there were hints that the man who rescues Snow White was lover to the queen, who then becomes jealous of her beauty once more.
(11/3/00 12:48:56 am)
Kerrie, the tale you're thinking of is an early Italian variant of Snow White, called The Young Slave.
In this version, Snow White's crystal coffin (she's actually called Lisa in this story) is kept locked safely away by her uncle, who is acting on the death-bed request of his sister, Lisa's mother. In a Bluebeard-esque moment, his wife opens the locked room, finds the girl, accidently brings her back to life, abuses her dreadfully and turns her into a slave, thinking Lisa is her husband's mistress.
Kate, the link Kerrie gave you will take you to my article on Snow White (posted on the Endicott site), and I believe Heidi has a link to the full text of The Young Slave through the Snow White links on her SurLaLune page.
(11/3/00 7:13:03 am)
|The Strange Wages of Infidelity|
Good morning, Kate (and list):
You know, I'd never really thought of infidelity as a rich topic until your query got me thinking about the folktales. A few came immediately to mind:
There's a Japaense story about the wastrel son of a samuarai family who's married off to a young virtuous woman. The marriage goes forward primarily at the urging of the young woman's mother, who wants the prestige of being connected to a samurai family, so much so that she ignores the results of the pre-marriage divination. [Water was boiled in a cauldron; if the boiling water made a loud noise, "like the mooing of a cow," it was considered a good omen; no noise, bad.] In this case, "the sound of the boiling cauldron proved to be no louderthan the chirping of tiny insects in the autumn fields." The marriage goes forth anyway, and the young man's dissolute ways continue. Despite his young wife's most loving and solicitious attentions, he keeps a prostitute named Sode as a concubine and stays with her most of the time. Things get worse. His parents, appalled by his behavior, lock him in a room. But his sympathetic wife takes pity on him and when he tells her that he needs money to send Sode back to her home, she sells her own kimonos to raise the money for him. Of course, he takes the money and flees with Sode and the young wife, realizing how horribly she's been betrayed, falls gravely ill.
(11/3/00 7:30:48 am)
Sorry about that! I was just trying to start a new paragraph for the 2nd half of the story and somehow the message posted itself. Perhaps the board is trying to tell me to keep it short....so in that spirit:
The story then follows the young man and Sode as they set up a home next to her cousin's house. Sode soon sickens most mysteriously and dies. The young man mourns her and in the cemetary meets the maid of another mourner, who is setting out flowers on her mistress's behalf. The maid lets it drop that her mistress is very beautiful, and so the young man pays a condolence call--only to find himself in a funeral hut with the wraith of his dead wife. The rest of the story is then about how his wife's now demonic spirit haunts him. You can find this story, "Prophecy," in *Tales of Moonlight and Rain: Japanese Gothic Tales* by Uyeda Akinari, trans. by Kengi Hamada.
Also the story of Mexico's La Llorona, the "Weeping Woman" usually starts with a young hidalgo falling in love with a lowly girl, and her bearing him several children. But then his parents insist he marry someone of his own class to give them grandchildren. He tells his young mistress, whom he genuinely loves, that he must marry another but will continue to care for her and their children. Enraged, she drives him away though, veiled in a shawl, she stands in the church to witness their wedding. Insane with grief, she then returns home, kills the children (shades of Medea?), throwing them into a nearby body of water and drowns herself. After that, of course, she haunts waterways, crying for her children, and often snatching others in their place.
And Kate, since you've done so much research on Jewish folktales, I'm assuming you have Howard Schwartz's *Lilith's Cave.* I remember at least two tales of infidelity in that one, "The Charm in the Dress," and "The Cellar" -- a truly wonderful one in which a goldsmith keeps his demon mistress and their offspring in rather fantastical digs in his cellar.
Well, I never quite meant this to be so long but hope it helps.
(11/5/00 11:21:50 am)
|Riquet of the Tuft|
Kate: Sorry, I forgot to answer your question about the French fairy tales article. It was published in Realms of Fantasy, an embarrassingly lowbrow fantasy magazine which I would definitely not recommend seeking out! (Unless you're secretly into swords and barbarians.... <g>) There's a copy of it posted on the Endicott site: www.endicott-studio.com/forconte.html.
(11/11/00 12:26:11 pm)
|Infidelity Stories: Bluebeard|
Someone else mentioned Bluebeard as an infidelity story; that interpretation is Bruno Bettelheim's. Many folklorists, including myself, take serious issue with Bettelheim's readings of fairy tales; he displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the genre, a willful ignorance of the great number of tales that cannot be made to support an orthodox Freudian reading, and an ill-concealed misogyny. Whew! That said, in the case of Perrault's "Bluebeard," Bettelheim does have a point; Perrault emphasizes the wife's curiosity and disobedience, rather than Bluebeard's monstrosity. This can be read as a case of sexual infidelity. However, other "Bluebeard"-like stories, especially the AT 311 type, valorize the woman's curiosity as beneficial and (literally) life-giving. Therefore, the "Bluebeard"-as-infidelity-tale interpretation only works for specific versions, not for the tale as a whole.
(11/11/00 2:00:44 pm)
There was a long thread on Bettelheim a while back in which a lot of usl voiced our irritation with the man and his Freudian scholarship. You won't find many fans on the board. But Bettelheim is so problematic in part because he's so ubiquitious. He is often used in courses for undergraduates because he seems like such an easy point in which to enter the practice of critical study of narratives. (and as often those are psych. undergaduate classes, or Myth 101 classes...) Two professors I know introduce him just so they can get over him as soon as possible and move on to other more productive critical methods.
Your tale type numbers--whose system are you using? (a version of Stith Thompson and A. Arne? Is that the AT?) I have always used the motif index as a short hand (to find variants mostly!)...but there are critics who regard it as a flawed system and very limited tool for critical theory when applied to the narratives. It's been argued that Thompson's privileging of some images over others in the narratives has made incorrect judgements about their types. I'll admit I haven't been following the argument for a while, but perhaps you are familiar with it?
(11/11/00 7:32:27 pm)
and good ol' Bruno :)
"AT" does stand for "Aarne-Thompson." You're absolutely right that many folklorists do take issue with that index; not just with specific classifications, but with the system as a whole. However, as no one has yet come up with a system that is as comprehensive, the AT index is still used and respected, albeit with an awareness of its limitations, one of which is that it doesn't really deal adequately with gendered motifs, among other things.
Ahh, Bettelheim...Here at the Folklore Center at Ohio State, a good way to rile up everyone is to whisper "Bettelheim..." The most positive response is likely to be, "Well, some of his insights are interesting, but he really doesn't understand the genre." The less diplomatic among us (including myself), will mutter profanely and subject the unfortunate interloper to a long learned refutation of BB.
Ironically enough, BB was my first exposure to fairy tale scholarship -- I knew I didn't like him, but it thrilled me that people could actually study fairy tales for a living! So I guess he really started me on my career path...
You're also right about professors using BB to get him out of the way; otherwise, someone is sure to bring him up. I do it too with my freshmen; I want them to see what it is that Jack Zipes and Maria Tatar are arguing against. When they claim that Zipes and Tatar are "reading too much into this stuff," I just grin and hand them some BB. They're usually appalled, and look very relieved when I tell them that most folklorists consider it nonsense!
(11/11/00 8:02:06 pm)
and a question
(By the way, this conversation on Bettelheim (I missed the first) is useful to me. I'm teaching college seniors right now and they are truly panicked when they read him--and I don't assign him except secondarily. But to be honest, my students across the board seem freaked out by all the material we encounter in class. Sometime I would love to have a conversation here about teaching in general. I've probably missed several of those. I teach lit at a great art college right now and am having the students do art projects related to folklore--their proposals are fantastic.)
But back to Bluebeard for one second...if no one is sick of it yet. The wife's curiosity working in the tale as a life-giving force doesn't necessarily contradict infidelity motifs, does it? Or do you mean, Catja, that there are no elements of plot or detail in those types vaguely associated with infidelity at all? Can you give me a specific story to look at for AT 311? (I don't have an index at my office here.) Sorry if this is an irritatingly stupid series of questions.
I doubt my essay will center on Bluebeard, to be honest, but I am still looking for the 'perfect tale' to center the piece on. By the way, all of your postings have been enormously helpful, and I plan to pursue a lot of them further. Have I said that enough? This essay is driving me nuts--it's for a very commercial anthology, not up my alley at all.
In any case, I am looking for variants that do not only punish and threaten when infidelities occur, but tales in which infidelity is perhaps subtley condoned, if not outright suggested.
(11/12/00 11:36:33 pm)
First, your questions are not at all stupid! All of those issues happen to be at the forefront of my mind, as I'm in the middle of an article on the topic -- I've been eating, sleeping, and breathing "Bluebeard" for a month now. And that is definitely an unsettling place to be!
Second, your idea for a teaching thread is a great one! Next quarter, I'm going to teach all fairy tales to my freshmen, and my issue is one of an embarassment of riches -- how on earth do I choose among so much great stuff? I'm sure that you, and everyone else on this board, will have lots of great suggestions. As a matter of fact, after this, I will set up that thread, under the heading "Teaching fairy Tales."
Your questions: Bettelheim's reading of "Bluebeard" as a tale of sexual infidelity is, in my opinion, a real stretch, predicated primarily upon BB's need to condemn the woman and exonerate the man. His justification is that the only crime for which a husband would be justified in killing his wife would be her infidelity, therefore, she cheated. He bases this on the "house party" that is in progress when she opens the chamber; never mind that Perrault's French clearly states that this was a group of women only, not a male or mixed group. That's not to say that infidelity is absolutely NOT an element of this, or any other "Bluebeard" tales; after all, the focus in many of these stories is the wife's disobedience, and her infidelity would the most obvious and humiliating example. Check out the Grimms' "Mrs. Fox's Wedding," which I think has something in common with the English "Bluebeard" story, "Mr. Fox." I just happen to believe that disobedience and curiosity don't have to always be sexual in nature (though sexuality might be at the root of it), and, in the case of Perrault, sexual infidelity is rather unlikely as a motivating factor to the tale. Also, this interpretation is, as in BB's case, a blatant attempt to fasten guilt upon the wife, ignoring her husband's murderous history. Perrault does condemn his heroine for her curiosity, but his telling lacks any implication of sexual infidelity.
Type 311 stories are known either as "The Hare's Bride," or, more descriptively, "Rescue by the Sister" -- I've seen both titles used. "Fitcher's Bird" (Grimm) is a 311, as is "How the Devil Married Three Sisters" (Italy), "The Hare's Bride" (Germany), and "Your Hen is in the Mountain" (Norway). D.L. Ashliman has a link to "'How the Devil Married Three Sisters' and other type 311 tales" on his _Brothers Grimm Home Page_ (I think I've got the name right). These tales are very closely related to "Bluebeard" (312), but they tend to focus more on the heroine's ingenuity, rather than her victimhood.
More infidelity tales: Have you, perhaps, looked at _The Canterbury Tales_ yet? Someone else mentioned Boccaccio, a primary source for Chaucer, but I forget if anyone actually brought up Chaucer himself. In any case, there are lots of great infidelity stories here, as well as an enormous body of critical literature. Check out "The Miller's Tale" (my personal favorite), "The Reeve's Tale," "The Merchant's Tale" (very cynical and funny), "The Franklin's Tale," and "The Wife of Bath's Prologue." These last three, in fact, are part of the so-called "marriage group" of the Tales; all are meditations on various elements of the state and institution of marriage. Also, "The Miller's Tale" is interesting because Alison, the erring wife, suffers absolutely no ill-effects of her infidelity: her husband breaks his arm and is made a laughing-stock, her lover gets a red-hot poker across the arse, and her wannabe lover gets farted upon. But she gets off scot-free! Adultery, in this tale, seems to be condoned -- it's a trope of the genre of the fabliau (of which "The Miller's Tale" is the greatest example) that states that old men have no business marrying young wives, because they can't satisfy them sexually; the women are always perfectly justified in looking elsewhere. Gender is an issue, but the major theme is the triumph of youth over age.
(11/13/00 8:54:05 am)
You might want to get a copy of the current issue of "Skeptical Inquirer" as there is an article, the first of two, by Martin Gardner on Bettelheim that pretty much takes him off at the knees.
Also, I'm currently working on a retelling of Bluebeard, so the debate over it is very valuable to me. I agree it's not an infidelity tale, at least not directly, since you have to ignore too much of the story in order to shoehorn it into that shape. Something else is going on here as I read it--something to do with control and power and manipulation.
(11/13/00 10:07:59 am)
An Infidelity song, of sorts...
In an earlier post you mentioned a Russian folktale in which a wife disguises herself. Although I don't know that particular story, it reminded me of a song by Kate Bush from her album titled "Never Forever". Perhaps it is based on the same story.
I don't know if you are familiar with her music, but I found the lyrics to the song on one of her fan pages and thought they might interest you...
"She wanted to test her husband.
She knew exactly what to do;
A psyedonym to fool him.
She couldn't have made a worse move.
She sent him scented letters.
And he received then with a strange delight.
Just like his wife
But how she was before the tears,
And how she was before the years flew by,
And how she was when she was beautiful.
She signed the letter
Babooshka, Babooshka, Babooshka, Ya Ya!'
She wanted to take it further,
So she arranged a place to go.
To see if he
Would fall for her incognito.
And when he laid eyes on her,
He got the feeling they had met before.
Uncanny how she
Reminds him of his little lady,
Capacity to give him all he needs,
Just like his wife before she freezed on him,
Just like his wife when she was beautiful.
He shouted out, 'Im
Babooshka, Babooshka, Babooshka, Ya ya!'
The song ends with the chorus repeated to fade and if I remember correctly, the sound of breaking glass.
I know it's not exactly what you are looking for, but it is a great song...
(11/13/00 5:51:10 pm)
In light of all this recent talk of Bettelheim, I was wondering if anyone was familiar with a book by Wolfgang Lederer called The Kiss of the Snow Queen: Hans Christian Andersen and Man's Redemption by Woman (Goddess help us!). The argument is very similiar to Bettelheim's- fairy tale as chart of healthy psychosexual development. Lederer methodically analyses each section of the story, detailing all the various dangers which threaten Gerda's "healthy" sexuality along the way. My favourite is the Robber Girl stage- Gerda narrowly escapes taking "refuge from anxieties about eventual heterosexual involvement, but this time by means of a detour into homosexuality". Is the name of Lederer murmured with something approaching reverrence?
(11/13/00 7:52:55 pm)
I don't know that book, Karen, but I've seen excerpts from--and deeply critical references to--Lederer's other book, Fear of Woman (which in part argues that a fear of women--or rather, men's fear of women--is at the core of many myths as well as war). Think what you want of that.
The poet Adrienne Rich has argued against his theories of sexuality, which, you might imagine, are not too kind to any gender.
Thanks to all who cleared up my questions about the Bluebeard/infidelity association (or misassociation). I appreciated all the input. Also thanks for the mention of The Canterbury Tales. "The Wife of Bath" has long been one of my favorites, and I'm glad to be reminded of it for this project.
And yes, I do know that Kate Bush song. It may prove useful!
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