Monday, 5 December 2011

BEAUTIFUL CORPSES

Hi everyone! I hope you all had a good weekend. I, personally, celebrated the release of The Deathly Hallows Part Two by barricading myself in the house with several bags of Doritos and having a non-stop Harry Potter marathon. So I face Monday feeling emotionally drained and borderline dehydrated (salty snacks + constant weeping) but content.

In the midst of this important business I did spare quite a lot of time to think about the discussion that's recently been going on in the YA community with regard to 'dead girl' covers.

For anyone reading this who may have sexual assault triggers (or if you're under sixteen), it might be a good idea to either skip today's post or get someone else that you trust to read it first to make sure you'll be all right with it. I really want to talk about this, but I don't want to hurt or upset anyone. OK? *Virtual Hugs To All*

Dead girl covers are the glamorous images of young women in sexy dresses (girls in trousers, or jeans, or a nice warm jumper, don't really have the same impact) sprawled out (on grass or flowers, in a river or the sea, sometimes floating on a cloud or in darkness) either with their eyes closed or staring vacantly in such a way that you can't work out whether they've just finished having sex, or just died, or both.

There's been a low-level buzz about this for a while, but the real conversation about whether these images were OK started here, on Rachel Stark's rather wonderful blog (where she provides a whole raft of examples). It was taken up by reknowned literary agent Kristin Nelson, here.

I was happy to see this debate taking place, because it's been something that my writing group (several of whom are YA writers) have been feeling queasy about for...years, actually. Supposedly these books are aimed at young women, but the way that the models are dressed and posed smacks strongly of something called The Male Gaze, which is where the cameraman or woman makes the assumption that all (important) viewers are heterosexual males and focuses on portraying what they shoot in a way that appeals strongly to a heterosexual male perspective.

As a result, I feel as if these covers speak less about what young women are interested in, and more about what the world itself is interested in - ie, images of young women in which the women are passive and sexualised.

You just don't see images of young men like this in the mainstream media, with barely any clothes on, airbrushed limbs carelessly sprawled across the ground, hair trailing gently around their faces, and a dreamy/dead look in their eyes. Images of men on covers (and in the general media) are much, much more likely to be active and even heroic. Boys or men will be found standing, leaping, climbing, holding weapons, reaching out. Their faces will be filled with emotion. If they aren't looking directly into camera their eyes will be focused on some distant goal that only they can see, with a look of stern concentration. For some strange reason, we don't really find a man attractive if he looks vacant or possibly dead.

But having read and written a few mini-rants on the topic, my writing group and I moved onto other things. I don't have any dead girl covers as yet myself, and without really thinking about it I can state that there are few to none on my own shelves. Whether that's due to the content of books with these sorts of covers generally not appealing to me, or because I'm unconsciously avoiding books with covers that I find disturbing (and heck, why not?), I don't know. In either case, as worrying as I found this trend, I didn't feel that I had much to add to the conversation that was taking place about it.

Then last week Rachel posted again, talking about how some commentors had defended the fascination with the glamorised, sexy corpses of young women by reminding us that this is a trope that stretches back a long, long way. Back to Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. It's a fairytale archetype, they said - the heroine undergoes a spiritual or even a physical death and arises changed and transformed.

Rachel's response to this is great - she points out that just because the trend for beautiful corpses has been going on for a long time, even back to fairytale time, that doesn't mean it's healthy. It just means it's deep-seated.

But seeing the current deluge of dead girl images related to sleeping princess fairytales made a lightbulb pop up above my head. I think what the people talking about this don't realise is that the sleeping heroines they brought into the discussion are rape victims.

I can practically feel readers sucking in a horrified breath as I type this. I know that's not the common conception of these beloved, Disneyfied princesses. And I know that when parents read Snow White or Sleeping Beauty to their daughters before bedtime, they're imparting what they feel are beautiful stories of true love conquering all. After all, waking a princess from a terrible spell with 'true love's kiss' has become a trope in itself by now.

Unfortunately, that is not what those stories were originally about. If you read the earliest versions of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White - the versions you find in Italo Calvino's Italian Fairytales, the versions which had not yet undergone the benign censoring hand of Grimm and Anderson and the Victorian Era, you find stories in which true love's kiss has nothing to do with the awakening of the poor, unconscious girl lying in the castle or in the crystal case.

What really happens is that a travelling prince, in the course of his adventures, comes across an apparently sleeping young woman who is unable to defend herself, and rapes her. Then he goes on his merry way. About nine months later, the girl gives birth to a child, and this experience (not surprisingly) finally wakes her from her slumber. And then (the part which always makes me feel the most squinky) the girl is so grateful for having finally escaped the curse that she goes after the travelling prince, thanks him very much for his random sexual assault, and ends up getting married to him.

This represents a fairly strong and very dark male fantasy - that of the unresisting victim. A girl who can't fight or struggle because she is incapacitated. A girl who, although unable to offer any kind of consent to sexual activity, of course actually wants it. A girl who will even thank you for it later on. So why not go ahead and, as the original fairytale text puts it 'enjoy [your]self thoroughly'?

Time may have prettified the fairytales, removed the sex and replaced it with a sweet kiss, but it says a lot about all of us that hundreds of years later we're still telling those stories to our daughters. As a folklore enthusiast I can list dozens of fairytales and folk stories which have completely disappeared off the radar and which no child today would recognise. But somehow the image of the sleeping princess - the dead girl - still endures.

Recently there was a rape case in the U.S. where a young women who was out having fun got extremely drunk and called a taxi to take her home. She was unable to get out of the taxi on her own and the driver was worried about her, so he called the police and two officers came and took the girl out of the taxi and got her into her apartment. They then sexually assaulted her. When she woke up and realised what had happened, she reported it. But even though it was shown that the two police officers had lied about their whereabouts during the time they were in her apartment, and that they HAD both had sex with a girl who was so drunk that she was incapable of even getting out of a taxi on her own, they weren't convicted of anything. The jurors apparently believed that any girl who allowed herself to be incapacitated to that extent was 'asking for it'.

When you've thought about that for a little bit, go look at those beautiful images of dead/unconscious girls in thin dresses, with their trailing hair, sprawled limbs and closed or empty eyes, again. Somehow they've stopped being a little disturbing now haven't they?

Instead, they're downright nauseating.

30 comments:

Lauren said...

Oh. Honestly, I don't know what to think about this. I don't want to believe that this is what we're buying into, but... well, I can't argue that it isn't.

I just did a quick check of my own bookshelves. I actually own two books with this kind of cover. Both are US copies - one of a book that isn't published here, and one that's released here with the same cover. However, I can think of at least three of the books on my shelf that have this kind of cover in the US, where the UK versions (which I own) have a more generic inanimate-object kind of image. Is there a possibility that UK publishers just don't buy into this in the same way that US publishers do?

Essjay said...

In all honesty I hadn't really put these two things together - the passivity of the model the perception of women. But I think that we have to make that connection for the sake of the girl who was raped by policemen and for countless, nameless others who have suffered the same thing. Quite often these covers don't reflect a scene from within the book but it's become a phase like face photo covers or backs of dresses. I wonder if the people actually doing the covers have made the connection or whether it's so accepted that, as you say, the connotations behind it have been forgotten.

I'm aware that I'm not really putting this very well but this is a great post, thought provoking for all the right reasons.

Zoë Marriott said...

Lauren: It seems to be a lot more common on the US covers. I've noticed that in general US YA covers are more...adult? The photographs, fonts and colours could often just as easily be applied to an adult romance novel as a YA fantasy. British artwork tends to be less glamorous and less crossover fixated in general. That's not always a good thing. But I do think that maybe that has a lot to do with why we don't see so many dead girls on British books (and where we DO get them, they often come off the original US artwork, rather than being generated by a British art department).

Essjay: No, I think you put it very well. I don't believe for a single moment that anyone working in the art department for a publisher is doing this consciously. It's just that the idea of the sleeping princess - the sexy, alluring, unconscious victim - is so ingrained in us as an ideal that we put it out there without ever considering what it actually MEANS.

CuddleBug said...

Excellent blog post. I completely agree and find these covers so problematic.

Thank you for writing this.

Elly said...

Hi
Fascinating post Zoe.

I have found though that many books feature men's naked torsos with no 'action', no 'heroics' and even often no face. eg:

http://www.ebooks.com/740885/the-darkest-surrender/showalter-gena/

I have written about these 'beautiful corpses' not in literature but in advertising here. My take is rather different from yours as you can see:

http://deathatthemall.wordpress.com/2011/12/04/objects-of-desire/

as regards 'rape fantasies' i think they are part of the picture but not necessarily an unhealthy part. and women have rape fantasies as much as men do.

QRG

Rachel Stark said...

Thanks for finding my post, Zoë, and for following it up with a brilliant one of your own. Absolutely chilling (and yet stunningly believable) conclusion, as well. This probably speaks even more to the idea of internalized misogyny than does the conclusion that young women subconsciously desire their own deaths. ::shudder::

Zoë Marriott said...

Cuddlebug: You're very welcome!

Elly: I'm a bit at sea with your argument here. The photos you show portray men as aggressive and active (even the Gena Showalter one) in a way that the dead girl covers certainly do not. And the the 'dead' girls in those photos are posed to be sexy and sexually available in a way that rather proves my point. I think it's disrespectful and derailing to bring women's rape fantasies into a discussion of rape culture. Yes, some ladies like to fantasize about rape - so that makes it all right for our society to glamourise images of dead or violated women? On the covers of books aimed at children and young adults? We may have to agree to disagree.

Rachel: Thank YOU for writing the original post that got my brain cogs whirring. This internalised stuff is never going to go away until we drag it all into the light - the more of us who are talking about it the better.

AmieSalmon said...

This was so interesting to read, glad to be made aware of the subject. Does give those covers (only one or two I liked) a whole new look/meaning. Also happy to say I do not own any books like this.
Definitely a topic I'm going to be keeping an eye out on.

Elly said...

Hi Zoe
I often find that arguments which leave me all at sea are worth considering very seriously. We have to shake things up to get anywhere!

I'm happy to agree to disagree though.

Elly/Quiet Riot Girl

Zoë Marriott said...

Amie: That's what makes it hard to look at this issue clearly, I think. These covers are often very appealing aesthetically! I think a lot of them are quite lovely - they remind me of Pre-Raphaelite paintings by Millais and Rossetti. But that doesn't mean that they're not purveying a very disturbing message as well. It's tough to separate that out.

Elly: That's very true - the problem is that I can't really get my head around what you're trying to tell me here. I mean, why do *you* think these 'dead girl' images, images of brutalised, murdered women, are so prevalent? And are seen as ideal and sexually provocative? You said that you felt men were being objectified as well (I disagree with that, actually, but we'll leave it for now) but that doesn't cancel out the impact of these covers on YA novels, does it? It could be that I'm being thick or it could be that we're coming at the issue from such different sides that we're talking at cross purposes, perhaps.

Elly said...

Hi I think the main stumbling block is that you don't believe men are objectified in our culture.

I am influenced by the work of Mark Simpson who believes it very much is:

http://www.marksimpson.com/metrosexy/

I am not sure how to get past this difference in perspective I will have a think and see if I can offer anything that will help move the conversation forwards.

Thanks

amy_celestia said...

This is a really fascinating blog post! I recently wrote an essay on the representation of women in the horror genre, and I researched the Male Gaze for it. It's interesting, because most mainstream media represents women in this way, but within horror woman are often used as identification points rather than sex objects. This is curious, as the core target audience for horror is male and they don't seem to mind relating to female main protagonists within this genre. However, these 'dead girl' covers seem to be mostly on horror or dark fiction/romance novels, which are generally aimed at women. It's like they're going against typical horror ideals. Are we meant to aspire or relate to them? Are they even relevant to the story, or just there for the sake of it? One dead girl cover looks a lot like the next. They're all rather much of a muchness, which leads me to believe that the stories are too. Which is a shame, because people could be missing out on some awesome stories just because of the off-putting dead girl overload. Personally, I'm sure there are more creative, individual ways to decorate book covers. I agree with you in that they are pretty disturbing.
It's also interesting how you traced the roots back to folklore, of all the things to stand the test of time I wonder why the sleeping princess/dead girl is so iconic? I may have to blog about this myself sometime! :p

Maggie Stiefvater said...

A thought provoking post, but unfortunately, I have a huge problem with it. Because of this:

"Unfortunately, that is not what those stories were originally about."

As someone who has read and written retellings of fairy tales her entire life, I think that in this case, the pedigree is irrelevant. See, this is what is beautiful about folklore. The stories shift and change along with the culture telling them, removing the parts they find distasteful or irrelevant and replacing them with components and tropes important to the storyteller.

It does not MATTER that originally Prince Charming was a rapist. It matters hugely in that original story. It matters in all versions of the story that still bear shades of that. But in a story that is completely divorced from the issues of rape, it is irrelevant — the pedigree doesn't matter when it is deceased.

This is like saying that you don't like the name Vanessa because you don't care for Jonathan Swift, who invented it. There is nothing inherently Swift-like in the name Vanessa; it can be utterly divorced.

To condemn a folktale because of a now-extinct cultural beginning is to murder most of our mythic beginnings.

I think your argument for recumbent girls in media is more compelling, but I have bigger pet peeves about girls in media/ on covers. Headless sexuality comes to mind.

Elise Stephens said...

Zoe,
Thank you for this thought- provoking post. The passivity in these dead girl poses, when drawn to the ultimate conclusion, as you have shown in the real version of the Snow White fairy tale, is horrifying, and it should make all of us to a double-take on what these covers are really communicating.

Zoë Marriott said...

Elly: That looks really interesting - I'll read it and see if it makes me reevaluate.

Maggie: Well, that's why I said 'originally'. Sleeping Beauty or Snow White as they are now may not be my favourite fairytales (I prefer ones with a more active heroine) but they're still beautiful stories. The Prince Charming I learned about as a little girl would be incapable of raping a Sleeping Beauty because he's *Prince Charming*. But those early princes were not - and those early princes are the ones who are relevant to this discussion. The idea of defending the current trend for dead girl YA covers by stating that they echo fairytales, as if fairytales were always sweet, innocent and safe is inherantly flawed. OUR fairytales are like that, we've made them into sweet, innocent, safe things for our children now. But the archetypes that give them their power and endless fascination come from a much darker place - which is where the original sleeping princess archetype comes from. The sweet, innocent true love's kiss between Snow White and her handsome prince could never have existed if there hadn't been a more more terrible encounter between an earlier, brutal prince and his victim - and the dead girl covers of today wouldn't hold such sway over the market place if some part of our current society wasn't affected, still, by that archetype.

Elise: It really does make you double-take, doesn't it? I mean, walking down the book aisle in my supermarket is going to be a ticklish exercise from now on. *Sigh*

NicoleL said...

Hi Zoe,

Once again you said exactly what I was thinking after I read that blog post! I even went looking for the original versions of the Snow White/Sleeping Beauty fairy tales to confirm that they were both raped. I was able to find Sleeping Beauty before I got bogged down in other things, but I started thinking that I had imagined it in Snow White. So thanks for this really clear post and for confirming that it's true for both of them.

Kelly said...

Hmm, it's an interesting connection, but I'm not completely sold - mostly because just because a story said X at one point doesn't meant that which is deep-seated is related to X.

That is, just because these fairy tales are deep-seated, it doesn't mean that the rape fairy tale/warning/morality play is the particular thing that is deep-seated. I think it's difficult to argue that, actually; while that might be the origin of the story, it's transmorphed so much that most people wouldn't recognize the original (or be so horrified by it that they wouldn't tell it to their kids, as opposed to the Disney/sanitized versions).

Cats are a very good, and much less controversial, example of this idea. If you look at the genealogy of cat stories (an idea Darnton beautifully covers in "The Great Cat Massacre", and also covered in a more abstract way by Foucault when talking about genealogies in general), the story we culturally tell about cats has changed dramatically, and several times, from worship in Egypt to finding it hilarious to hang and otherwise abuse cats in France to domestic pets/friends/owners (depending on whose perspective you take, the cat or the human). Cuddling with my cat today doesn't directly relate back to Egyptian cat worship or French cat massacres - but there are still tendrils of those stories in our modern view of cats (cats are really in charge, black cats are evil, etc).

Likewise, I think that tho there are tendrils of early morality plays/fairy tales still present now, it's missing something to try to tie the rape of Sleeping Beauty together with the kiss of true love today - it's missing all the intervening years of changing stories as they adapt to time and culture. Just because they started as rape victims doesn't mean the modern incarnations are, and I don't think we should ignore the changes that created those differences.

Which is not to say that I disagree with the basic premise that something odd is going on here - but I think Rachel probably hit it more precisely on the head when she talked about the absolutely tragic and overdramatic nature of teen girls in general, tied together with a resurgence of goth/romantic imagery in general.

I think there's also something to the point that death represents transformation - both from Joseph Campbell's hero's journey, but also the heroine's journey that Kate Noble points out in "The Sound of the Silver Horn" - especially in light of the renaissance, water-based paintings (water clearly being representational of rebirth and change).

Anyhow, while I agree that the rape morality origins of fairy tales is important, I think it's equally important to not let that overshadow other iconography and genealogy strands that inform how we interpret that imagery today.

(Note: much of the conversation moved past this, and addressed some of it - right as I hit enter, my work internet gave out. I still wanted to toss the notion of genealogies and archtypes into the conversation, so just ignore the redundant parts..)

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Zoe, I still disagree. I don't think that's where those images are drawing their origin from - I agree with Kelly & with Rachel, that it is a different death imagery entirely. An adolescent fascination with death (played out with boys more often in their music) and an association with death/ transformation. If anything, I think that feminism comes into play because death as a transformation is considered a more appropriate female goal because it is passive, and that is a message that is still very, very prevalent to women today. We are the passive, spiritual sex.

The other connection I think is just too faint. Certainly it isn't obvious enough to be NAUSEATED by these covers.

Kish Swanson said...

I actually do agree that these covers might well be rooted in fairy tale archetypes, but I find them nauseating* whether they're the original princesses or the mellowed Disney versions.

Consider: we're not talking about real true-love-based kisses here. In the Disney versions, the princesses met their eventual "saviors" exactly once before they woke up. So physical attraction apparently equals love in these fairy tale worlds, which is already problematic. The women then become literally as passive as they can possibly be; they're put into magical comas, specifically by powerful women who are supposed to represent the exact opposite of the princesses.

So according to the Disney versions, strong women are evil, clever, and active. Passive women are good, and slightly stupid, or just easily manipulated. The only actions taken by the princesses end with their untimely semi-deaths, whether through taking a bite from a poisoned apple or touching a spinning wheel. (To be fair, Sleeping Beauty was enchanted at that point, but again there's the strong evil woman who's destined for failure steering the plot.)

Enter Prince Charming, who's both active and good, and acts upon the princesses rather than giving them any agency. This doesn't sound like true love to me, and while it's not sexual assault, it's borderline. It's a silent, helpless female being acted upon by a male, often one who's battled through certain obstacles and "won" her. (Again, to be fair, I think Snow White's prince just showed up after the dwarfs took care of the queen.)

The images of Briar Rose and Sleeping Beauty in repose absolutely are some of the first female images we see in movies. And do these "dead girl" book covers spring from them? I would say definitely yes. A lot. In that second picture I linked, the dwarfs look like they're worshiping at the Holy Altar of Dead Girl.

I just can't believe that we would take fairy tales based on rape and complete female passivity and repackage them for little girls. And now apparently we're seguing right into marketing them for teens, too. Ick.

*Disclaimer: I love fairy tales and folk tales, but I think it's problematic to ignore the deep-seated issues within them.

Zoë Marriott said...

Nicole: Nope, you weren't imagining it :)

Kelly: Thanks for such a thoughtful comment! I really enjoyed reading it. I think the difference here is that the fairytales I'm talking about are *directly* related to those earlier stories. We're not talking about a mishmash of different cultural mores coming into play to create a complex, contradictory narrative, as with our attitude to cats. We're talking about European fairytales which are basically identical now to what they were three hundred years ago, with the small difference that, by common consensus, rape was edited out and replaced with kissing. The link is there. It's direct. We can even point our fingers at the point where the change took place and the people who made it. If you or I came across a story now where a rape was shown as a positive thing, we wouldn't feel tempted to change that to a kiss and then tell the story to children. We'd be repulsed and we'd refuse to pass the story on. The fact that Sleeping Beauty and Snow White were merely toned down and repackaged argues that there's a deeper symbolism to the idea of a male hero figure acting upon an unconscious of incapacitated female than might be evident from watching Disney's versions, I think.

Zoë Marriott said...

Maggie: To me, it seems very plausible that our enduring fascination with images of beautiful girls who appear as dead, unconscious or incapacitated probably relates to our enduring fascination with the sleeping/dead princess trope (showing up in Hamlet and The Lady of Shalott and in various other mythic wellsprings) which in turn originally sprung from a dark place in the human psyche. And if you let yourself think about those original, brutalised princesses much, or *any* girl who has been brutalised while unconscious or incapacitated, it's hard to look at dead girl covers (no matter how pretty) without feeling a bit queasy. That's just my take on it. Frankly, prettified images of girls who appear to be dead already made me feel unhappy anyway. Now that my brain has wandered in this direction, that feeling is simply amplified.

Zoë Marriott said...

Kish: Well put! That's just how I feel - loving different incarnations of folk and fairytales without having to ignore the internalised misogyny that informs them.

That dichotomy between the Dark Queen, who is active and powerful and who forcefully takes agency within the story, and the White Princess, who is powerless, passive and only acted upon - that's another thing which shows up in fairytales which seems to be symptomatic of a much deeper impulse in the way that humans relate to each other. It shows up within our culture so often that it's less of a trope or cliche and more of an unacknowleged, universal truth. You can find this exact same light woman/dark woman thing going on in half the bestselling romance novels on sale to today, not to mention the romcoms and sitcoms.

To me, the archetypes which show up in fairytales, folklore, epic poetry - in our earliest myths and legends - are like the ripples on the water of collective human experience which signpost sea serpants writhing beneath. There is something there, under the surface. But we'll never understand what unless we dive in there and drag it out into the light.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

showing up in Hamlet and The Lady of Shalott and in various other mythic wellsprings

I think this is why I'm going to have to agree to disagree. I just cannot think of the meditations on death in Hamlet and The Lady of Shalott as at all related to the sleeping/ dead princess trope. Not after spending most of my adult life studying mythology and folklore. Not all contemplation of death is a negative thing — it's a mortal thing, something which reminds us of the value of life — and the dead girls in Hamlet and The Lady of Shalott are balanced in the first by dead boys and in the second by heavy, heavy, heavy metaphor.

I just find this entire argument over-simplified, and the demonizing of a (fairly small) class of covers and indeed, an entire canon of evolved fairy tales, seems more harmful than helpful. To me, it feels like grasping at straws and making Da Vinci Code-esque connections, and I'm a sympathetic, feminist audience, one of the people most likely to see these connections. To someone who is skeptical about the insidious messages being given to girls today? — an argument like this is too easy to dismiss.

To me the disturbing thing is that all of those dead girls are size 0 with great hair and curvy bodies and symmetrical, made up faces. That, to me, is the harmful message that YA covers and all media sends to teens out there.

I think the fact that the original fairy tales are incredibly anti-women is a straw man in this case. It's also worth pointing out that those first Disney retellings of them are from 1937 and 1959. I should certainly hope that we can see a difference in the way that those fairy tales are told from the 30s and 50s to today (which is why Disney's Beauty & the Beast is not part of this conversation, I suspect).

Zoë Marriott said...

Maggie: Well, that's all right! I always feel like agreeing to disagree on a topic like this is the equivalent of two fencers fighting to a draw and parting as friends - even if you can't achieve 'victory' by changing each other's minds, you've stretched your (mental) muscles a bit.

As a matter of fact, I agree with you that the homogeny of cover girls is worrying. I'm very lucky to have had publishers that were willing to put more diverse models on my covers (and yours are beautifully illustrated) but I wonder how many of these dead girl/girl in a ballgown covers really represent anything that's actually inside the book? The thing is that those covers are *so darn pretty*. Almost like magazine covers, now that I come to think on it. They represent a very specific, very narrow idea of feminine beauty - something that's not challenging at all and which is easy and comfortable to buy into. Which is why they're so popular, I suppose. *Sigh*

Robin said...

Great, very interesting post. I've always been uneasy when I see these covers, but you delved farther into the psychology than I ever had (great history lesson on the fairy tales, too).

Taymalin said...

Am I too late to weigh in on the topic? Well, I'm going to anyway :)

First I think both sides to this are very well articulated and have great points, and I'm really on the fence about the dead girl imagery.

I'm more interested in the topic of fairy tales. I think it's incredibly important to read them in context. When one reads them with the idea that they're mostly about sex and finding a husband during a time when women didn't have much agency, they make a lot more sense. Reading them with modern sensibilities automatically makes them something offensive and to use the technical term: icky.

Little red riding hood: if you read being devoured by the wolf as a metaphor for social death due to giving in to a man (the wolf) sexually, before marriage, it makes sense.

Cinderella is all about being rewarded for living up to the virtues of being passive and obedient.

Beauty and the Beast is about not judging a man based on looks--count your blessings if your ugly husband treats you well. (But hopefully you're still beautiful, modest, and obedient)

Bluebeard-don't marry just for wealth, your husband might just be an evil bugger.

The modern retellings don't really lose these morals, with or without rape scenes, which is why I find them problematic. I did like one retelling of Little Red Riding Hood where she gave into the wolf and had a great time. I can't remember who wrote it, but it was fantastic.

As for Ophelia's death in Hamlet, I read it as a criticism of a woman's lack of agency, and found it very sympathetic to the role of women at the time. Ophelia was driven mad by the fact that she couldn't choose for herself, and the limitations placed on her sexuality both by her family, and the person she loved. Even though her death was passive, I never read it as an argument for the passiveness of women, unlike many fairy tales.

Well, I don't think I added anything to the discussion, but it was great to read. Thanks all :)

spritl said...

The original versions of Snow White have her being restored by the apple being dislodged from her throat via her coffin being broken in transit or deliberately smashed by the fed up servant whose job was to hoist it around after the Prince. It's Disney that introduces the 'true love's kiss' element.

The original version also had the Evil Queen as Snow White's mother... But no one ever complains about that being changed.

Zoë Marriott said...

Spirtl: I'd be very interested to see what version of Snow White you're talking about! I've never seen any variety of that ending; it would be a tad anticlimatic to have the apple dislodged that way, I must say. I very much doubt that is the 'original' version - it may be a later amendment. However, since I have books of fairytales pre-dating Disney's version which show the 'true love's kiss' ending I'd say that this is more likely to be down to the Victorians than the Mouse. This article isn't concerned with Mother/Daughter relationships, which is why I haven't brought up that change (or, indeed, the many other changes the Victorians made to the stories) but I'm well aware that in many earlier versions of fairytales 'wicked stepmother' is simply 'mother'. I'm certainly interested in that change, just as I'm interested in the change from rape to kiss...but I wasn't aware I was complaining about these changes. I just find them interesting.

spritl said...

Every version in any Grimm's fairy tale book that is out there? It's public domain and there are lots of sources on the Internet:

http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~spok/grimmtmp/042.txt

http://www.familymanagement.com/literacy/grimms/grimms42.html

The wikipedia article - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_White - specifically states in "later adaptations of the tale, the Prince kisses Snow White"


It becomes anticlimatic compared to the Disney true love kiss. However, in the original story of Snow White, the witch attempts to kill her three times and each time, Snow White is brought to life via a rather mundane "fix": the witch tightens her laces and the dwarves loosen them; the witch leaves a magical/poisoned comb in her hair and the dwarves remove the comb; finally, the witch gives Snow White an apple, the dwarves cannot find anything external to "fix".



It doesn't seem in character for the Victorians to change the rather non-sexual, "children, don't open the door to strangers" fairy tale to include kisses of any nature. I would be very interested in these versions that you have in your possession.

I mentioned the Mother->Stepmother change because it was a direct change by Grimm themselves. The original version they compiled was just a record of folk stories. When they realized that their record book had a market for children and their parents, they "sanitized" it by changing the wicked queen from a mother to a stepmother.

spritl said...

Finally, you definitely need to read this

http://www.endicott-studio.com/rdrm/forsga.html

It narrates the history of the tale, pre-dating the Grimm's version and describes just about every European folk story that has the "sleeping princess" motif.

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