In 1600s Paris, one woman undertook an act of rebellion. Her weapon was fairy tales
Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy — who’d been married off at 15 to an abusive man three decades her elder — slipped messages of resistance into her popular stories, risking jail in the process.
D’Aulnoy lived in a punishing patriarchy: women couldn’t work or inherit money, and were forbidden from marrying for love.
Through her work, she showed an alternative.
“She subversively wrote against some of the cultural norms for women at the time,” says Melissa Ashley, whose book The Bee and the Orange Tree is a fictionalised account of d’Aulnoy’s life.
“She was incredible.”
Going against the grain to write strong women
D’Aulnoy was born in 1650 and grew up to work in the “golden age of fairy tale writing”.
She even coined the term ‘fairy tale’ — ‘conte de fée’.
“We have this idea that fairy tales came from the Grimm Brothers in the 19th century and Hans Christian Andersen,” Ashley says.
But Ashley says it was d’Aulnoy who wrote “the very first fairy tale” — The Isle of Happiness.
It tells the story of a prince who travels to an enchanted island and meets Princess Felicity, who’s never seen a human. She entertains the prince with operas and lavish art, and before he knows it he’s been on the island for 300 years.
It was published in 1690 — seven years before fairy tales took off with the publication of Tales of Mother Goose by Charles Perrault, who also wrote Sleeping Beauty, the Little Glass Slipper and Puss in Boots.
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