Russian Fairy Tales (RUSS 047/LITR 047R) -- Spring 2008 -- Swarthmore College

Lecture notes for February 27, 2008

Sibelan Forrester

More on feminist approaches - tales mostly about couples

Thanks for good midterm questions – hand out the test: allow about 20 minutes for the short answer questions, a few minutes to choose and plan the essay answer, and the rest of the hour for the essay.

Reminder: send me the text of your original fairy tale if you don’t mind having it posted on Blackboard. (Esther – yours seemed to be missing everything after the first illustration.)

Seifert’s article on the merveilleux in literary fairy tales. He’s a specialist in 17th century French lit, looking at the way it plays out gender and generic concerns. (A contrast to the German-centered scholarship we’ve already seen.) Whom he cites: Raymonde Robert and the “three basic elements that constitute the écriture féerique (fairy-tale writing) of her corpus)” (cite from p. 133); he mentions how her model excludes the cautionary tales (where “the misdeed is not redressed but left intact at the end”), and “the extent to which the contes de fées contribute to an estrangement of accepted notions of reality.” Vraisemblance and its particular set of meanings: it’s more socialist realism than realism! And may be helpful when we get to the topic of Soviet fairy tales later on. “Ut pictura poesis” – representation should work by analogy etc., be truthful rather than truth. How would that kind of accepted aesthetic system impact one’s reading of fairy tales (aside from the generic prejudices a lot of readers and writers shared at that point)? “Christian marvelous” versus “pagan marvelous” – how do fairy tales fit into that divide, too? Examples? (Boryana’s tale, or “The Armless Maiden”?)

(Does “pagan” meaning really French content, for Seifert here, or Graeco-Roman borrowings mediated by Classical literature and culture? – it’s more complicated than the dvoeverie we’ve talked about in Russia, because of course the literary fairy tales were written by very well-educated and, as Ong would point out, non-oral authors. Jakobson and Bogatyrëv wouldn’t see these tales as folklore at all, though they show up as gesunkenes Kulturgut all over the place.) By middle of 17th century, big literary changes in France – the roman (more medieval, heroic/ideal characters) versus the nouvelle (more stress on common humanity). Texts and bodies: passing through metamorphoses and what that does to one. Propp, Lüthi, Rosemary Jackson (on the links of fantasy to desire).


Anything you wanted to talk about re “Finist the Bright Falcon” from last time? I have a new translation of another version of “Finist,” sort of halfway between the version in our anthology and “The Little Scarlet Flower,” which I’ll put on Blackboard in this week’s folder (6), in case you’re interested.

“The Bad Wife,” pp. 56-57 – her own contrariness: she deserves what she gets. What would be a good wife, by implication? Is a feminist analysis too obvious here?

“The Wise Maiden and the Seven Robbers,” pp. 134-140 – priest’s daughter: various forms of pretense, kinds of evidence to establish the truth. Why doesn’t her father believe her that they’re evil robbers? How would a feminist analysis work on this one?

“The Taming of the Shrew,” pp. 161-162 – Ustinia’s another priest’s daughter; Martynko getting drunk on water. (Remember: vodka means “little water.”)

“The Indiscreet Wife,” pp. 226-227 – she’s so predictable that husband can manipulate her with this trickery.

“Husband and Wife,” pp. 369-370 – soldier helps man “cure” his wife. Not punishing but “correcting” (ideologically)?

“The Goldfish,” pp. 528-532 – famously rendered in verse by Pushkin. Again: she does this to herself out of greed, and in the end is properly punished. Why does she want to be master of the sea? What’s the husband’s fault in this story?

“The Sea King and Vasilisa the Wise,” pp. 427-437 – an actual fairy tale! Anything different from others we’ve seen? How does the magical bride help out her husband. What’s her father like?

Return to the class syllabus

Proceed to the lecture notes for Friday, February 29, 2008.