University of Utah
The 'Diverting Works' of Madame D'Aulnoy Charm the British
By way of thanks I offer this report on my progress during my stay as a Fellow at Cotsen
Children's Library. The research I did at Cotsen will become part of a book project on the
aesthetic principles of the French fairy tale and their relationship to those of other early 18th-
century fashions. One chapter will concern the cultural context of fairy tales and their telling,
and another will treat the popularity of French fairy tales in England. The grant from the
Friends of the Princeton University Library allowed me to pursue research on early British
translations of Madame d'Aulnoy's fairy tales. My working hypothesis was that the tales were
popular in Britain in the first decades of the 18th century precisely because they appealed to a
"frivolous" sensibility that was also manifest in the popular decorative style known as
chinoiserie and in the theatrical preoccupations of early rococco painting.
When I arrived at Princeton, I wanted particularly to look at two of the earliest translations
of d'Aulnoy's work, one of which is also the first illustrated English edition of her fairy tales.
Since my questions had to do with taste and the British interest in the French stories, I
looked at prefaces, editors' notes, tables of contents, advertisements, etc. Later, I would
compare translations with each other and with the original French to get a sense of how the
texts were translated. The very first translation (1707) was quite literal, while the following
1716 edition is an attempt to popularize the tales by shortening them. In 1721, an editor by
the name of Chetwood did a new expanded collection entitled,
A Collection of Novels and Tales,
Written by that Celebrated Wit of France, the Countess d'Anois. He dismissed the earlier translations
and explained that he had produced the definitive edition based on the original French.
Several reprints of the Chetwood edition (of which Cotsen holds two) attest to the
importance of this translation in the 18th century.
Chetwood's preface from 1721 is one of the most illuminating that I have seen. In it, he
mentions the two earlier English translations, which suggests that they were both well
known, and criticizes them both as unrefined and incomplete. His own translation is meant
to be more correct and capture the refinement of what he calls d'Aulnoy's judgment. The
two-volume edition includes one of d'Aulnoy's novels, Le Nouveau gentilhomme bourgeois, which
contains two of her most famous tales, "La Chatte blanche" and "Belle-Belle, ou le chevalier
Fortune". As he points out, Chetwood is the first to publish an English translation of this
story. Finally, he praises Madame d'Aulnoy for her "exuberant Fancy", invoking the very
language that French moralists had used to criticize the fairy tale, and boldly claims that
d'Aulnoy brings greater glory to France than Mazarin and Richelieu.
Comparing the three translations with the original French, I was able to formulate an
argument based on my working hypothesis. The earliest translations sought to capture
d'Aulnoy's "exuberant Fancy" notably in the vernacular lexicon and tropes that they employ.
Now, I hope to examine d'Aulnoy's exuberant fancy in terms of early rococco art. For the
original French, I had occasion to look at the 1711 edition of the Nouveau gentilhomme bourgeois
and a reprint of that text in one of the very first French collections of tales, Le Cabinet des fees
(Amsterdam, 1717). By studying the contents of this collection, I concluded that Chetwood's
translation is likely based on this edition and its appearance likely linked to the publication of
another French edition of d'Aulnoy. Up until this point, the British had indeed published
nearly as many editions of d'Aulnoy as the French.
The last volume I consulted is a very recent acquisition, a 1737 folio edition of Chetwood's
Collection of Novels and Tales. This piece is unique because it appears to be the only folio
edition of d'Aulnoy's work and contains marginalia that could help to trace its provenance. It
may hold a key to the evolution of d'Aulnoy's reception in England and warrants further
study. In my estimation, Cotsen's holdings in early French fairy tales and 18th/19th-century
British translations now rival the holdings of the world's major collections (Bodleian, BNF,
Osborne, Bancroft, UCLA).
The staff of the Rare Book Room truly made working there a joy. Any scholar wishing to
peruse the Cotsen collection will also find an exceptional friend in the curator, Andrea
Immel. I am grateful to her for her time and tireless attention to my inquiries. Thanks again
to the Friends of the Princeton University Library for the opportunity to use Cotsen