(4/22/02 8:06:04 am)
| mother/daughter themes in fairy tales|
I'm looking for fairy tales to use thematically in a painting/collage I'm doing based on troubled mother/daughter relationships, and thus wondering if folks here would like to discuss the subject.
Snow White is a powerful example, of course -- particularly in the older versions where the queen is the girl's actual mother, not stepmother. Cinderella is interesting in that you have both sides of the mother/daughter bond: the "good" mother giving advice from the grave, the "bad" mother in the form of the step-mother.
What I'd particularly like to find, however, is a story in which the mother isn't so much bad as tragically passive in a situation where the harm comes from a father or step-father. This is *almost* the case in The Girl With No hands, although in that tale *both* parents are passive while the harm comes from the devil.
Any thoughts? I have to have this piece completed for a gallery show in early June, and advice would be welcome!
Edited by: Terri at: 4/22/02 8:07:31 am
(4/22/02 8:58:49 am)
| Mother daugher themes|
Some troubled mother/daughter themed stories include the Three Spinning Ferries - where the mother beats her child when she won't spin and then gives her to the Queen. Of course, there is Rapunzel, whose mother gave her away for a craving. The Raven in which the frustrated Queen curses her child and turns her into a Raven. Gretel, whose mother convinces her poor father to let Hansel and Gretel go in the woods and fend for themselves. Oh, I could go on and on.
The one thing that seems to be a theme in the stories I mentioned is the mother's frustration or pride is the cause of the turmoil, although Hansel and Gretel is perhaps pure desperation.
These stories I believe differ from say the Six Servants where the Queen/witch is merely using her daughter for her own evil plan. There is a certain premediation that exists in that story which is different than the others.
These are just the Grimm tales I could think of off the top of my head. So many stories involve mothers and daughters.
(4/22/02 11:52:59 am)
| some suggestions|
Little Red Riding Hood is one thought - I know it is a stretch. But the mother warns her daughter about the dangers of the wood and Little Red decides to do her own thing anyway (how like real children!).
I seem to remember an Italian folktale where the mother and daughter are both rivals for a man's affection, and the mother tries to remove her daughter from the competition. I cannot remember the name , though I am pretty sure it is in Calvino's collection.
And in "East of the Sun, West of the Moon", the mother thwarts her daughter's happiness by encouraging the daughter to spy on her enchanted husband at night, thereby setting into effect the curse that would separate the two lovers.
I can't think of any stories that feature passive mothers that endanger their daughters. Often, because the mothers are dead or absent that their daughters seem to come into danger. In "Many Fur", the daughter becomes the object of her father's incestual desire because of her mother's pride and vanity. The queen on her deathbed makes her husband swear to marry a woman as beautiful as herself.
Okay, I think I've yammered on enough. Good luck on your work, Terri! It sounds like a fascinating show.
(4/22/02 12:09:58 pm)
| Many fur?|
I am not familiar with "Many fur". Is it another version of the Donkeyskin tale? The beginning at least sounds similar.
More thoughts. You might find different ways to catagorize these stories. Passive mothers; Foolish mothers (i.e. like Rapunzel's mother); Evil mothers; Loving or helpful mother's (thinking of the goose girl's and Snow White-Rose Red's mothers here). Then there are the ghost mothers or dead and dying mothers (like the mother in Donkeyskin who if alive might be a foolish mother). Very convoluted thoughts here, but I would love to hear more from others.
(4/22/02 12:47:12 pm)
| Hey, Terri!!!|
And why (she says with a Large Pout) aren't you looking at my MIRROR MIRROR: 40 folktales for Mothers and Daughters to Share?????
It has the stories set in thematic sections, all ready for you.
(4/22/02 1:33:21 pm)
| goose girl|
What about the goose girl--where the mother continues to help her daughter even though dead through the agency of the white handkerchief with the three drops of blood. There is a lovely, long South African epic where a girl is given a horn of plenty by her dying mother--and when the girl is turned out by her father (shades of Armless Maiden) the horn of plenty becomes an extension of the mother's support and assistence.
If I think for awhile, I know there are others similiar--though in heorine narratives, one leaves home--and leaves the mother--which if it were really close and loving would be incredibly hard to do--so it may be partly the reason the distance is there in the narratives to make it even possible for the girl to let go and go forward. Unlike Hero who always returns...
And of course there are hell bent mothers...Persephone and Demeter? Which reminds me..I'll email you a glorious poem about their relationship...I have to hunt for it and don't want to put it over the net....
(4/22/02 3:17:01 pm)
| Re: mother/daughter themes in fairy tales|
The specific criteria that you're looking to fulfill were challengingly unfamiliar enough to leave me scratching my head after reading your post, running through all of the tales that fit one condition but not the other ... most of which have been mentioned by the other posters already. I actually searched through my Aarne-Thompson, _From the Beast to the Blonde_, _Off With Their Heads!_, the collected stories of the Grimms (Zipes translation), the three volume set of Afanasyevs' tales in Russian, and _The Hard Facts of the Grimms Fairy Tales_. Of them all, the latter is most helpful; it contains tantalizing fragments of what you're looking for in versions of the tales (specifically, "The Girl With No Hands" and "The Twelve Swans") which the Grimms ultimately rewrote.
Tatar relates an anecdote, attributed to Lutz Rohrich, concerning how after the first publication of the Grimms _Kinder-und-Hausemarchen_, they came upon a number of variants of "The Girl With No Hands." Their first version (related to them, one assumes, by the middle-class women who provided the bulk of their source material, themselves retelling tales that they had heard from nursemaids in their youth ... who likely softened the material somewhat to spare their charges tender sensibilities, beginning the process of bowdlerization that the Grimms would so happily continue) was the one that we are mostly familiar with today, wherein the miller is the Devil's dupe. That version is unsatisfying to Tatar; she writes, "the miller's pious daughter succeeds in warding off the devil, if at the price of bodily mutilation: the devil forces the father, who has not kept his end of the bargain, [which was to deliver the daughter to the Devil entirely - an unfullfillable action for reason of her faith] ... to chop of his daughter's hands. *For no apparent reason*, the girl packs her severed hands on her back and decides to seek her fortune in the world, despite her father's protestations and his promises to secure her all possible creature comforts at home." (Tatar, Maria, _The Hard Facts of the Grimms Fairy Tales_, Princeton University Press, 1987, pp. 9, emphasis added)
Now, I can see some justification for her flight from home in the Grimms version; the father is craven and untrustworthy, to say the least. But Tatar's doubts concerning the logic of her decision to leave her home appear to have a firm foundation in that no other variant has a heroine leaving voluntarily on the basis of such a principle; Basile's Penta, for example, cuts off her own hands rather than submit to her brother; but *he* is the one who evicts her from her home in his rage at being thwarted. Also, there is no textual support for the theory that the heroine leaves because she disapproves of her father's actions; at the time, she says "Dear Father ... Do what you want with me. I'm your child." And after the fact, her only explanation of her decision is to say, "... I cannot stay here. I'm going away and shall depend on the kindness of people to provide me with whatever I need." She may, for all we can tell, be leaving because she disapproves of the demonic source of the wealth that he would have used to care for her. The Grimms, too, apparently felt some doubts concerning the quality of this tale. As Tatar writes, "[t]he brothers subsequently came upon a number of versions of the story, one of which they declared far superior to all of the others. So impressed were they by it's integrity that they could not resist substituting it for the version printed in the first edition ... Still, the opening paragraph of the new 'superior' version did no quite suit their taste, even though it provided a clear, logical motive for the daughter's departure from home. Instead of leaving home of her own accord and for no particular reason, the daughter flees a father who first demands her hand in marriage, and then has her hands and breasts chopped off for refusing him. There is no mention of devils in this version; the girls father is the sole satanic figure." (Ibid., pp. 9-10) This version differs from Basile's in that the decision to be maimed does not belong to the heroine (unlike Penta, who performs the mutilation as a means of giving her brother what he wants - her hand - without giving in to his desires), and in that there is a continuing threat of violence to the her which can only be averted through flight. The Grimms, however, found this rendering morally unacceptable; they reinstated the illogical bits from the first edition, but replaced the rest of the tale with the new, "superior" version, with no thought for consistancy. In the version that was most widely disseminated by the Grimms, the miller is married; this may well be the case in the more brutal version as well.
Or not ... I think that there is likely a reason that so few stories meeting these criteria (passive mother, villainous father, abused daughter) exist today. Were they to exist in the first place, such stories would violate the principles of patriarchy in and of themselves. A mother who was anything but passive, who willfully disobeyed her husband's wishes and protected their daughter, would, by medieval or Victorian standards, likely be seen as the one at fault (let's think about that lovely character, that avatar of feminine virtue, who Warner refers to as "the Job of the Western world" - Patient Griselda - who one can easily imagine becoming a passive mother in another tale). Though characters who transgress are seen as being justified in certain cases (i.e., Donkeyskin), they are few and far between. Even the heroine of Bluebeard, whose actions save her own life, is frequently read as being guilty of "the sin of Eve." Somehow, the cases in which there is struggles between generations are more acceptable than those in which there are conflicts between husband and wife.
Which brings me to my second example, which I think may come closer to fitting your requirements. The tale of "The Twelve Brothers" possesses an abusive father, a passive mother, and a victimized daughter. In the version that we know today, she is not directly victimized by her father, but rather, loved by him to the point that he would slay his twelve sons in order to provide her with all of the available wealth. His abuse is almost circumstantial (regarding her, not her siblings, of course). The queen's only action is to warn her sons to flee. They take refuge in the forest, and, vengefully, swear to kill any girl who they happen to come across. When the princess grows up, she notices twelve shirts in the wash, too small to belong to her father; her mother, when questioned, breaks down and tells her everything, sending her into a good deal of danger (from her own brothers, and later from yet others) in order to rectify the damage caused by her husband's controlling nature, and her own ineffectual actions. Her life is endangered because of their respective versions of incidental abuse.
The story is fairly misogynistic in its current form; the original was worse. Tatar relates that the king's initial motivation in threatening the lives of his sons should a sister be born is to avoid any "contamination" to his bastion of masculinity. In that version, the queen is *slightly* less passive; in response to his declaration, we read that "[t]he queen wanted to talk him out of it. But the king would hear nothing more of it." (Ibid., pp. 31) It is difficult to say what other changes the Grimms made to the original tale (unfortunately, Tatar did not include the texts in their entirety for comparison).
In the version that I have (Zipes, Jack, _The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm_, Bantam Books, 1987), the tale resembles "Donkeyskin" in that it almost reads like a tale with a circular structure, with the girl ending up in a kingdom very similar to the one that she was born in. The last lines of the story read, "The evil mother was brought before the court and put into a barrel that was filled with boiling oil and poisonous snakes. Indeed, she died a horrible death." This woman's sin is wondering what's the matter with the girl who won't talk; unlike the wicked mothers-in-law of other tales, she commits no acts of cannibalism, attempts no murder, and frames the princess for no staged deed. It implies at least a little bit of projection onto the other mother.
There is no direct discussion of how the events of her youth cause
the princess to feel towards her mother, and no justification offered
for the queen's passivity, or, for that matter, the king's actions.
But, a little psychoanalysis can go a long way. Wonder of wonders,
Bettelheim managed to resist the temptation to leave his stamp on
this tale; Sheldon Cashdon doesn't offer anything that concerns
it directly, either. I am sure, however, that between all of us,
we'll come up with something.
At any rate - I've gone on for too long, and apologize for boring you - I hope that this helps a bit.
Edited by: Helen at: 4/22/02 3:24:41 pm
(4/22/02 4:12:28 pm)
| Still thinking, but...|
Terri, I was just wondering if you ever did the Sleeping Beauty
virtue images? I still have notes for that if you're still looking
Soft whispers and valley blossoms,
(4/22/02 5:02:49 pm)
| Missed the boat|
Okay, I guess I somehow missed the passive mother request in your first posting, Terri. Query though, there are so many stories in which a strong King/father plays havoc on a daughter's life, and coincidentally, no mother is present in the story. Now it could be that I am unfamiliar with the tales or it could be that father-daughter relationships were more of interest, but perhaps that is why you don't see "tragically passive" mother characters.
Helen, I did go back a re-read the "Twelve Brothers" and it seems to me that the mother is not particularly passive in this tale. Were it not for her plans and actions, the brothers most surely would have died. Considering her state of pregnancy, I would say she had assumed quite a lot of control under the circumstances.
Midori, I also thought of the "goose girl" and it does seem that she, the mother, hasn't done much to protect the girl, but she is more help dead than many living mothers are.
Then there is the term "tragically". There is a Perrault tale (I cannot remember its name) where the mother bears twins and one is just plain stupid, but beautiful. The mother does nothing to protect this child and she is made the ridicule of the court, but is too stupid to realize it until she is granted intelligence from her Princely suitor. Not really tragic in the classic sense, but certainly not kind. I actually love this tale because the girl realizes that intelligence is far more important than looks, but that is off the thread here.
I will try to keep thinking.
(4/22/02 7:05:54 pm)
| Riquet With the Tuft...|
I suppose that it all depends on how you look at it; compared to tales in which the mother is completely absent, the queen from "The Twelve Brothers" seems quite active. But when I compare the "popular" edited version to the "original," her behavior seems deliberately muted by the authors to conform to a cultural ideal of passivity and inaction.
Your point concerning the father/daughter, mother/son dichotomy is excellent; Bettelheim reads it as a Freudian matter, with the parent of the opposite sex always being the pivotal figure in the life of the child. That could be one reason why there aren't too many stories with two parents to play off of oone another; but there does seem to be a prepondrance of evil mother or stepmother coupled with ineffectual father type stories, as opposed to the inverse. Tatar and Zipes have attributed this to both high death rates among women in childbirth, and prejudice against women (so easy to belief negative things about "them"). What do you guys think? Natural reflection of events as they were or nurtured stereotype?
I think that the story that you are thinking of is "Riquet With the Tuft." There is a similar tale by Catherine Bernardwith the same title. Elizabeth Wanning Harries has a wonderful discussion of both in the first chapter of her _Twice Upon a Time_. Both written around the same time, they present two very different views of love and marriage.
In Perrault's version, Riquet With the Tuft is blessed with an extraordinary intellect and a kind nature to balance out his grotesque appearance at his birth; he's also granted the ability to bestow a similar character upon his love. In a neighboring kingdom, the twins are born, and the more beautiful one is cursed to stupidity by the self-same fairy in order to punish her mother for her pride. Eventually, the two meet, and Riquet, who has fallen in love with her portrait, offers the princess (who is just smart enough to be made miserable by her stupidity) that he will make her brilliant if she will promise to marry him. Stupidly - no surprise here - she agrees. With the insight of her newly gained wits, and the newly gained popularity and happiness that result, however, she regrets the decision, and, in fact, puts her promise out of her mind until Riquet brings it forcefully to her attention when he comes to claim her. She is cheered, however, when he informs her that the fairy who presided at both their births, gave her an ability to match his; she can make the one she loves beautiful. Perrault makes it clear, however, that he becomes beautiful in her eyes alone; to the rest of the world, he is as he always was. I always found it interesting that in order to gain love, the woman had to be both beautiful and clever, whereas the man could depend upon his lover's sentimentality to smooth out any bumps - or tufts, as the case may be.
Bernard presents a much more depressing vision of the world. She doesn't provide as much of a back-story - in her version, the princess (Mama) is simply stupid, no curse required, and Riquet is both ugly, and a gnome (in Perrault's version, the connection to the underworld existed, but he was not wholly of another world; here, the gulf between them is deepened). He makes the same deal, and she follows the same pattern of returning to court and impressing those who had previously scorned her. Here, however, we have the introduction of another element ... the lovely, intelligent princess unsurprisingly acquires a suitor, Arada. When Riquet presents himself with the ultimatum - keep your word or return to your former dull state - she marries him for fear of the scorn that her lover would show her were he to know her as she truly was. After a period of discontent, she sneaks her lover into the underworld; being rather sharp himself, Riquet soon discovers him. He deals with the problem by condemning her to be stupid during the day "for whoever [she] chooses," but keeps her smart at night for himself. This only makes her more miserable during the hours when she is able to appreciate it. Eventually, she hits upon a solution, to sneak away at night, after Riquet is asleep ... but eventually, he catches her out at this as well, coming upon the two lovers together. His solution? He touches Arada with his wand, transforming that worthy into an exact replica of himself. And Bernard writes, "Thus she lived with two husbands instead of one, never knowing who she should address her lamentations to for fear of mistaking the object of her hatred for the object of her love. But perhaps she hardly lost anything there. In the long run lovers become husbands anyway." Brrr.
Critics see Perrault's version as being a commentary on the success of the institution of matrimony so long as the woman "compl[ies] with a male code of reasoning." (Zipes) Bernard's version, in turn, is read as a subversive criticism of the position that women were forced into through their lack of a voice in the matrimonial process. I enjoy Perrault's more, subjectively; but I admit that Bernard's bleak view of human nature probably rings truer. Cynics through the ages, unite!
Edited by: Helen at: 4/22/02 7:14:42 pm
(4/22/02 7:28:38 pm)
| "many fur"|
"Many Fur" is indeed a "Donkeyskin" variant - in Grimms' tales, I saw it listed as "Allerleirauh", which, according to my professor translates as Many Fur.
But I am very much an amateur when it comes to folklore - I can see that I have much to learn from everyone on this board!
(4/23/02 9:10:18 am)
Wow! Thanks for the information. Yes, Riquett with the Tuft was the story I was thinking of. Now that you mention the other version, I believe I have read that one as well. The manipulative nature of the suitor is quite disturbing in each of the stories, but even more so in the latter version. In the first, I think it is more a matter of disappointment, the suitor wanting both intelligence and beauty with the ability to select for the beauty feature and grant the intelligence. Wouldn't Darwin like that. The second story with the competing suitor is a much more interesting plot line, and with its pathetic ending for the dumb princess. I could easily start a new thread on this topic alone.
As for Patient Geselda (better known as doormat Geselda in these parts), that story is indeed a troubled mother/daughter story. After all, if Geselda had not been sooo passive, her daughter might not have been stolen from her. Secondly, she humbly prepares her own daughter (if unknowingly) for marriage to her husband - teaching her to be "passive" in the process. What is worse, after the end of the "cruel joke", Geselda remains with the King! What a horrible example she has provided for her daughter. I would have liked to have seen the story end with mother, daughter and daughter's suitor being fed up with manipulative and abusive husband/father. They all leave and wage war on the selfish King's kingdom, then make him dance in red hot shoes until he drops dead. Oops, wrong story. lol
More comments about mother daughters. It seems that regardless of station, there are a lot of mothers who are punished for pride, selfishness or foolishness, and the punishment involves the daughter. You really rarely see this with Kings/Princes (okay, there is always Midas), but you do see it frequently with tradesmen or poor men. Rumplestiltskin comes to mind. One can surmise from this, that pride is somewhat acceptable in male nobility. The exceptions are often cases where a promise has been broken, rather than just punishment for pride.
Hope I make some sense here.
(4/23/02 9:47:26 am)
| mother/daughter - Donkeyskin|
One thought about this story. The more I read this story, the more it seems to me that the father is an extremely controlling person and the mother's dying wish is a final attempt to assert some control in an otherwise hopeless situation. I have been attempting to write a story using Donkeyskin as an outline with this being the overriding theme. I have gotten a little stuck on the dresses analogy, but am very comfortable with the notion that control is indeed the underlying character not of the mother, but of the father. The mother unwittingly subjects her daughter to the very fate (controlling male) that she was trying to help other women, potential wives, avoid.
(4/24/02 5:59:15 am)
| Re: mother/daughter - Donkeyskin|
Thanks, everyone. This is turning into a very interesting thread.
Jess, I like your take on Donkeyskin -- that the king's issue is
control, not madness, lust, or greed as is so often implied or portrayed.
(Have you seen Helen's article on Donkeyskin, by the way, posted
on the Endicott site? (www.endicott-studio.com/fordnky.html)
What a terrible irony it is then for the queen to attempt to impose
controls of her own, only to have it backfire so badly. We see some
of this in Jane's version of the story, Allerleirauh, though her
king is both controlling and profoundly out of control.
Donkeyskin is the fairy tale I will probably use for the core of my project, since one can interpret the dead mother as an absence -- mentally absent, checked out, if not physically dead and gone. But I wanted some other tales and symbols to use also, and this discussion is helping. It is interesting that there are so many, many tales of evil stepmothers, and no evil stepfathers. Marina Warner would attribute this to the high mortality rate in childbirth -- but surely widows with children did sometimes marry. Look at Cinderella -- the stepmother has children of her own. Yet she's still portrayed as the wicked one. We have no glimpse of the relationship between her daughters and their new father -- other than noting that he's providing them with party clothes and turning a blind eye when they mistreat his natural daughter.
Edited by: Terri at: 4/24/02 6:04:50 am
(4/24/02 9:01:46 am)
Yes, I have seen Helen's posting, but right now I am trying to avoid
doing any reading of other's works right now so that I can focus
on my interpretation without inadvertantly borrowing. You have inspired
me to do some more work on it too.
One of the things I found most interesting about the daughter in Donkeyskin is that while she is beautiful like the mother, she has the father's control characteristic - which is why I think she succeeds where the mother fails. You can see this in her ability to put her father at a stand off (in my story it is an aunt rather than a fairy that is her ally). Understanding her father's controlling nature she gives him a nearly impossible task knowing that he will attempt to achieve it rather than just throw his hands up and rape her - isn't rape all about power and control.
Then she takes away his prize possession and uses it to her advantage in its altered form. She also chooses how others are to percieve her while maintaining her own identity to herself (i.e. putting the dresses on in the closet). Finally, she decides when and how she will reveal herself to the prince's family; ironically, controlling the prince in the process.
Love this story.
(4/27/02 5:45:18 am)
| mother/daughter themes|
Lewis Seifert also discusses the rarity of evil fathers in his book on the French conteuses, Fairy Tales, Sexuality and Gender. He points out that fathers are rarely split into 'good' and 'bad' characters as mothers almost always are (good mother vs. evil stepmother/fairy godmother vs. evil fairy) -- and that even bad fathers usually are made to 'come around' in the end (as in Donkeyskin). The father's evil double is thought to be embodied by the ogre or some other non-human monster so that the threat comes from *outside* the household, as opposed to the female threat which often comes from within -- this to show that fatherhood does not pose a threat to the integrity of the family and hence the integrity of patriarchal society in general (a point I believe Helen made as well).
The Irish tale, Deirdre of the Sorrows is another one with a passive/powerless mother. And although the threat doesn't come from her father it does come from the king who is often synonymous with the father figure (and in this case, probably old enough to be the heroine's father). Deirdre's mother is present at the beginning of the tale just as Deirdre is being born, and to hear the prophesy that her daughter's beauty will be the envy of queens and the desire of kings, and will cause horrible violence and destruction. When the king's warriors insist that the baby be killed the mother is noticeably silent -- and then when the king says instead that he will give Deirdre to foster parents and marry her when she is old enough, again the mother says nothing. Then she entirely disappears from the story, although she doesn't die -- as if her only purpose in life was to birth the child and nothing more...which was probably often the case. The other motherly woman in Deirdre's life, Levercham, the poet whose anger it was said the king feared, also does nothing to help Deirdre when she needs it (although I think this changes in different versions of the tale... my favorite is Marie Heaney's in Over Nine Waves). So, Deirdre always kills herself in the end, after her lover dies, knowing that she will be forced to marry the king.
Anyway, I'm not sure this story really fits your needs, but thought I'd throw it out there anyway.