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2002-2003 Visiting Fellows

Christine Jones
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 Children's Library.


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