Charles Perrault had competition! Historically, women were the tellers of traditional folktales, and the salon scene in Paris was full of aristocratic women exercising their storytelling. Madame d’Aulnoy (c.1650 – 1705) produced a number of fairy tales around the same time as Charles Perrault. We could just as easily be most familiar with her version of Cinderella instead of his – except for the important detail that Perrault’s male authorship may have given him more perceived authority. This gender difference in authorship is still present today! I actually came across a discussion of this issue in the middle of a Jane Austen panel at Chapman University.
Catherine-Maire d’Aulnoy was a daring thinker, and some of her life remains shrouded in mystery. The Baroness wrote her version of Cinderella, “Finette Cendron”, as part of a large collection of stories that she called her Contes de Fées (Fairy Tales) in 1697. According to fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes, she is the reason we call them “fairy tales” today!
“Finette Cendron” follows the riches-rags-riches plot line, beginning with a King and Queen who have three daughters: Fleur d’Amour, Belle-de-Nuit, and Fine-Oreille (Finette). The name ‘Finette’ refers to cleverness or cunning. While the beginning is similar to “Hansel and Gretel”, the story then takes a turn reminiscent of “Jack the Giant Slayer” – that’s a first! There is even an ogre.
During the “Hansel and Gretel” part, Finette’s fairy godmother tells her to leave her two sisters in the woods. Finette refuses to be so callous, but she regrets that decision for the rest of the story. These sisters aren’t any more pleasant than the typical “evil stepsisters”…
And what of the prince? He finds her fallen, red velvet slipper on the road and promptly starts dying for love of her – without even seeing her first. Luckily, clever Finette is more practical, and draws his parents into negotiations. Madame d’Aulnoy really knew how to create a strong female lead!