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SPOTLIGHT: Snow White

Thursday, February 11, 2016







There are many different versions of ‘Snow-White’- one scholar has counted as many as 400!
The oldest seems to be the medieval Norse saga written by the 12th century poet Snorri Sturluson, which sets the tale in the time of Harald Fairhair in the 9th century. 

The story is called ‘Snow Beauty’, and tells the story of how, one snowy winter’s day, Harald Fairhair fell in love with the most beautiful woman in the world and married her. When Snow-Beauty died, however, her body did not rot and her cheeks were as rosy as they had ever been. The king sat beside her, thinking she would soon come back to life. He sat so for three years, neglecting all his kingly duties, until his wise councillor bade him lift up the dead queen so they could change the bedclothes below her. As soon as she was lifted up, a rank smell of rotting rose with her, the body turned blue, and worms and adders and frogs and toads crawled out. So she was burned, and the king returned to his wits. 

Another tale with similar motifs is ‘The Young Slave’ by the Neapolitan writer Giambattista Basile, written in the early 1600s and published in his ‘Tale of Tales’ collection in 1634. 



A young woman became pregnant after swallowing a rose petal. She sent her daughter, named Lisa, to the fairies to give her good luck charms. However, the last fairy slipped and twisted her foot as she was running to see the child, and uttered a curse against her - when the child was seven, her mother would leave a comb in her hair, from which the child would perish. 

At seven, the child died in this manner. The mother lamented bitterly, and encased the body in seven caskets of crystal, each one within the other, which she put in a distant room and locked, keeping the key in her pocket. When she was dying, she gave the key to her brother, begging him to never open the last room in the house.

The brother was faithful, but when he left on a hunting party, he gave the keys to his wife, telling her not to open the last room. The wife grew suspicious, and opened the forbidden chamber. Lisa had grown into a woman in her sleep, the caskets lengthening with her, and the wife found a beautiful woman hidden in the caskets. Convinced she was her husband's mistress, she opened the caskets and dragged Lisa out by the hair, causing the comb to drop and Lisa to awake. The jealous wife began to beat Lisa, tearing her hair and clothes, giving her bruises all over, and kept her as a slave.

One day the husband was going out of town again, and asked everyone in the household what presents they would like him to bring them, "even the cats." The wife became furious when the husband asked Lisa as well, but the husband insisted it was only courteous to offer Lisa a gift. Lisa demanded a doll, a knife, and a pumice-stone, and added that if the husband forgot them, he would be unable to cross the first river he came to on his return.

The husband did initially forget the gifts, but upon being unable to cross water on his way home, he remembered, and bought the gifts for Lisa. When Lisa had her doll, she began to tell the doll her story, which the husband overheard. Lisa was weeping and sharpening her knife, telling the doll, "Answer me, dolly, or I will kill myself with this knife." The husband, her uncle, kicked down the door and snatched the knife away. He then drove his cruel wife away and gave Lisa a husband of her own choice. 
Of most interest here, in regards to Snow-White, are the poisoned comb and the seven crystal caskets - motifs which later appear in Snow-White. However, this story also shares motifs with Sleeping Beauty (the fairy's curse), Bluebeard (the forbidden room), Cinderella (the girl used as a slave), Beauty and the Beast (requests for gifts) and even the Goose Girl (telling her tale to an inanimate object). 




The tale ‘Little Snow White’ was first recorded by the Grimm brothers in 1808, and sent to a friend in 1810 (the poet Clemens Brentano) (source unknown – but in my novel about the Grimm Brothers - THE WILD GIRL - I give it to the Wild family’s housekeeper Old Marie to tell). 

In this version, there is no huntsman – the Queen takes her daughter into the forest to gather roses and then abandons her there. 

A fuller version of the tale was then collected by the Grimm Brothers from three sisters – Marie, Jeannette and Amalie Hassenpflug - who lived near the brothers in the small town of Cassel. Their version was published in the first edition of tales in 1812. 

The story begins with a queen who sits sewing by the window in winter. She pricks her finger with her needle, causing three drops of blood to fall on to the snow on the black windowsill. Admiring the beauty of the colours, she says to herself, "Oh how I wish that I had a daughter with skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony". 



Illustration by Charles Santore from a gorgeous picture book of Snow White 

Soon after that, the Queen gives birth to a baby girl who is named her 'Snow White' for her rare colouring. As the child grows her beauty makes her mother jealous. When Snow-White is seven years old, the queen orders her huntsman to take her daughter into the forest, murder her, and bring back her lungs and her liver to eat. The huntsman is moved by the child’s beauty and terror, and kills a wild boar instead. Snow-White seeks shelter in the house of seven dwarves.

The queen consults her magic mirror:

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?
The mirror answered once again:
You, my queen, are fair; it is true.
But Little Snow-White is still
a thousand times fairer than you.

The queen makes three attempts to kill her daughter: once with by lacing her bodice too tight, once with a deadly hair comb, and finally with a poisoned apple. 




The dwarves cannot revive her the third time and so they put her in a glass coffin. The prince comes by and falls in love with the dead girl, and insists on taking her everywhere with him. After a long while, one of his servants grows angry and opens the coffin, lifted Snow-White upright, and said, "We are plagued the whole day long, just because of a dead girl," and hit her in the back with his hand. ‘Then the terrible piece of apple that she had bitten off came out of her throat, and Snow-White came back to life.’  


The prince and Snow-White are to be married, and send her mother an invitation to the wedding. 
Wondering who this new princess is, the queen asks: 

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?

The mirror answered:

You, my queen, are fair; it is true.
But the young queen
Is a thousand times fairer than you.

The queen was horrified to hear this, unable to believe that Snow-White could still be alive. She goes to the wedding to see for herself, and the prince and princess ‘put a pair of iron shoes into the fire until they glowed, and she had to put them on and dance in them. Her feet were terribly burned, and she could not stop until she had danced herself to death.’ 

The Grimms noted there were a few variations to this version. In one, it is a count who wishes for a girl with this combination of colours, and his love for the child makes his wife jealous. In another tale, it is three ravens who fly over who provide the colour black. 

In the next Grimm brothers’ edition, Snow-White’s mother dies at birth and so it is her step-mother that tries to kill her; and the piece of poisoned apple is dislodged when the prince’s servant stumbles over a root. 

When the story was translated into English by Edgar Taylor, he softened the cruelty and violence of the tale, taking out the queen’s desire to eat her step-daughter’s liver and lungs, and changed the ending so the queen choked in her rage rather than being made to dance in red-hot iron shoes. And although Snow-White (called Snow-drop) is still only seven years old, Edgar Taylor describes her lying in her glass coffin ‘a long, long time’ with the inference, perhaps, that she grows up before the prince comes along. 



Illustration by Charles Santore

In 1912, the story was made into a comic Broadway play called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The dwarves were named for the first time: Blick, Flick, Glick, Snick, Plick, Whick, & Quee (the youngest of the seven, at nearly ninety-nine years old) 

Famously the story was then made into Walt Disney's 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Dwarves’ names changed; Dopey, Grumpy, Doc, Happy, Bashful, Sneezy and Sleepy. 

Instead of her lungs and liver, as written in the original, the huntsman is asked by the queen to bring back Snow White’s heart. Snow White is no longer a little girl (though she is still very young-looking). The evil queen tries to kill Snow White only once (by a poisoned apple). Disney also added the famous awakening by the prince’s kiss, while the queen dies by falling down a cliff, after being hit by lightning.

Interestingly, in 1994 a German scholar Eckhard Sander published Snow White: Is It a Fairy Tale? He wonders whether the story of Snow White was in any way inspired by the life of Margarete von Waldeck (1513-1534), whom he suspected was poisoned by her jealous step-mother.  



Motifs & Meaning Of The Tale

Snow-White is a resurrection tale, and thus in mythological terms her ‘sleeping death’ can be linked to the idea of the coming of spring and the rebirth of life after the dead of winter.  

The use of the three colours is very striking. Snow White has skin white as snow, lips as red as blood and hair as black as ebony.

Each of these colours has significant symbolic implications and represents a time of life. 

White, representing birth, is for purity, virginity, and innocence. 

Red, representing life, symbolizes blood, in the menstrual flow and the breaking of the hymen and childbirth.

Black, symbolizing death, connotes the absolute and eternity. 

In some interpretations, the bodice-laces, the comb, and the apple are all seen as erotic symbols. 

Certainly, the red apple has always had connotations of sin and the loss of innocence, with its links back to Adam & Eve and the fall. 




The mirror can be seen as a projection of the queen’s unconscious. 

Most Freudian interpretations see the story of Snow-White as the playing out of Oedipal conflicts (called the Electra complex by Jung). Both female characters try to gain the father's affection (although he is absent from the tale). The father raises an unconscious conflict between mother and daughter, because the daughter’s beauty makes her more desirable and so arouses the mother's jealousy which makes her wish to get rid of the daughter. This has been called the Snow White complex. 

Feminist readings of the tale also focus on the difficulties of the mother-daughter relationship, with some seeing Snow-White as an image of patriarchy’s ideal female (beautiful, youthful, passive, silent) contrasted against the vigorous, strong-willed, outspoken and vain mother. 

Finally, it can simply be seen as a parable for the dangers of vanity. 
 
Modern Retellings (films)

Snow White (1988). Michael Berz, director.
With Diana Rigg as the Evil Queen and Sarah Patterson as Snow White. 

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012, Rupert Sanders (director), With Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen and Kirsten Stewart as Snow-White. 

Mirror Mirror (also in 2012), stars Julia Roberts as Evil Queen and Lily Collins as Snow White (directed by Tarsem Singh)




Modern Retellings (novels)

Jane Yolen - Snow in Summer: Fairest of Them All. 

Carolyn Turgeon - The Fairest of Them All

Gregory Maguire - Mirror, Mirror

Tanith Lee - White as Snow

Gail Carson Levine - Fairest

Adele Geras - Pictures of the Night



If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my posts on The Little Mermaid and Sleeping Beauty 

You can also listen to me talk about Snow White with Natasha Mitchell on Radio National

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK.  

SPOTLIGHT: Fairy Tales Reimagined with Kate Forsyth and Natasha Mitchell

Thursday, February 11, 2016

I've been chatting about the strange, dark history of well-known fairy tales with Natasha Mitchell on ABC Radio National's LIFE MATTERS show over the last four months. 

Here are the links to all the podcasts for your listening pleasure, plus the round-ups I've been posting on the blog. 

Read on  ... if you dare ....




Edward Burne-Jones, 'Sleeping Beauty'


Sleeping Beauty Podcast



My post on THE LITTLE MERMAID





Snow White Podcast

My post on SNOW WHITE




Aya Kato, 'Rapunzel'

Rapunzel Podcast

My post on RAPUNZEL


And the talkback session with me, Natasha and Jack Zipes from last year! 




A Rapunzel poem by Kate Forsyth

Thursday, February 11, 2016

BITTER GREENS, my imaginative retelling of Rapunzel, has won the ALA Award for Best Historical Fiction!

I also studied a Doctorate of Creative arts on the fairy tale, writing a thesis called 'The Rescue of Rapunzel: A Mythic History of the Maiden in the Tower tale,' and a poem, 'In the Tower': 




In the Tower


Walled in my old stone tower
the bitter taste of tears
always in my throat
only a slit to put my eye to
yet how full of change is that sky
I watch the stars wheel past
seasons turning and turning
the one tree on that faraway hill
once more bursts into life
green in the shadows
golden in the light 


Walled in my silent tower
how can I frame the words
to tell my story
my heart is a riddle
green sickness in my soul
loneliness the heaviest burden
how I long to slip free
of this empty shadowed tower
fly on muffled wings like the owl
white against the thorns
black against the moon


Walled in my cold stone tower
I conjure a steed from flame
An invisible cloak from ashes
A frail ladder from cobwebs
I make a dagger from ice
A key from bone and wishes
I spin a song from the silence
One day someone shall sing my refrain
Green in the shadows
Golden in the light


Free of my shadowy tower
We shall bind ourselves together
With tendrils of green
With tresses of gold
We shall build a castle of light and air
And banish silence with song
Together we’ll dance in the forest
White against the thorns
Black against the moon


by Kate Forsyth



SPOTLIGHT - How grim were the Grimms' fairy tales?

Thursday, February 11, 2016



Just how grim are the Grimm tales?

* In the 1812 version of the Grimm’s tale ‘Little Snow-White’, it is the heroine’s own jealous mother that wants her dead. She tells the huntsman to bring back her daughter’s lungs and liver, for her to eat. Wilhelm Grimm later changed the mother to a step-mother.

* The jealous queen was punished by Little Snow-White and her prince by being forced to dance in red-hot iron shoes till she died. 

* In the original (1812) version of ‘The Frog King’, the princess does not kiss the frog to change him into a prince. Instead, she throws him as hard as she can against a wall. 

* In ‘Aschenputtel’, the Grimm’s version of ‘Cinderella’, one wicked stepsister cuts off her toes to try and make the slipper fit and the other cuts off her heel. In the end, they have their eyes pecked out by pigeons.

* In a later edition (1857) of ‘Rumpelstiltskin’, the dwarf tears himself in two when the queen guesses his true name. This detail was added in by Wilhelm, quite possibly because he thought it was funny 

* in one Grimm tale, ‘The Maiden Without Hands,’ a girl’s hands are chopped off by her own father

* The villain of ‘Fitcher’s Bird’ is a sorcerer that travels about the countryside, kidnapping girls and hacking them to pieces in a hidden room. 

* In ‘All-Kinds-of-Fur’, a girl disguises herself in a coat made from the fur flayed from a thousand animals in order to escape the incestuous desires of her father

* in many cases, Wilhelm made the stories more violent – particularly the punishments for witches and evil step-mothers

Nonetheless, nearly all of the tales end happily, with the hero or heroine triumphing because of their courage, goodness, and wit.

My novel THE WILD GIRL tells the astonishing untold story of how the Grimm brothers came to collect their world-famous tales - and the young woman who was their most important source. Its a story of love, war and the redemptive power of storytelling. 

    

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

SPOTLIGHT: Dortchen Wild, fairy tale teller

Thursday, February 11, 2016



To celebrate the US release of THE WILD GIRL, I am running a few vintage posts - enjoy!

       
      

Sometimes an idea hits you like a sizzling bolt of lightning, and you know that you have to write it.

That’s how the first idea for my novel THE WILD GIRL came to me.

I was reading a scholarly book about the Grimm Brothers’ when I discovered that one of the primary oral sources for their fairy tales was a young woman who had grown up next door to the Grimm family. Her name was Dortchen Wild, and she was only eighteen when she began to tell Wilhelm some of the world’s most beloved stories. 

I was fascinated by this, having always imagined the sources of the tales being hunchbacked old peasant women. Then I discovered that Dortchen and Wilhelm had fallen in love and - many years later – married. I knew at once that I had to tell her story! It was absolutely electrifying. I could hardly sleep that night for excitement.

Discovering Dortchen’s story was not at all easy. Very little of her life was known – only her birth, marriage and death dates (and people even argued about those). Of her own writing, there remained only a few letters and a brief autobiographical sketch that she dictated to her daughter on her death-bed. All I had to give me a sense of her inner life was the stories she told – and when she told them. 

Dortchen grew up next door to the Grimm brothers in the small kingdom of Hessen-Kassel. When she was in her teens and Wilhelm was twenty, Napoleon Bonaparte’s army invaded and the Hessian people were forced to live under French occupation for many years. Hessen-Kassel was mashed together with a number of other small countries to become the Kingdom of Westphalia. Napoleon put his dissolute young brother, Jerome, on the throne. He was only 22, and marked his ascension to the throne by playing leapfrog through the empty palace in his underwear. 

It was a dark and difficult time. Unable to find work, the two eldest boys in the Grimm family decided to collect and study the old wonder tales they had always loved so much. They were too poor to travel about and so asked friends and neighbours to tell them any old stories they knew. That was when they discovered - right next door - an absolute treasure-house of tales, all stuffed inside one young woman’s head.

Dortchen told Wilhelm almost one-quarter of all the stories in the first edition of the Grimm brothers’ ‘Children’s and Household Tales’, published in 1812. She told him ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘The Frog King’, ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’, and ‘Rumpelstiltskin’. 

On one extraordinary day – 10 January 1812 – she told Wilhelm three stories back-to-back, while huddling about the stove in her sister’s summerhouse so her father would not know.

On 9 October 1812 – the day before the fairy tale collection was sent to the printers – Dortchen told Wilhelm another two tales.  The first was about a good sister who is given the gift of spitting gold coins, while her evil sister who is cursed to spit out snakes and toads. The second was ‘All-Kinds-of-Fur’, a dark and haunting tale about a king who falls in love with his own daughter. 

Dortchen’s own father disapproved mightily of Wilhelm Grimm, and prohibited them from seeing each other. She had to tell Wilhelm her tales in secret. Kept apart by war, poverty, and patriarchal domination, the story of their forbidden romance is as full of drama, heartbreak and triumph as any fairy tale she told. 

I do hope that you will all find her story as fascinating as I did. 





Please leave a comment - I love to know what you think.

SPOTLIGHT: A Brief History of Fairy Tales

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A BRIEF HISTORY OF FAIRY TALES

For your enjoyment ...  a brief history of fairy tales!



Myth, Legend & Fairy Tale

The differences between myth, legend, fairy tale & fable can be can simply described as:

Myths: narratives about immortal or supernatural protagonists
Legends: narratives about extraordinary protagonists
Fairy Tales: narratives about ordinary protagonists
Fables: narratives with animal protagonists which convey a moral


History of Fairy Tales

Fairy Tales have their roots in ancient oral storytelling traditions.
 
All cultures have their own myths & legends. Many fairy tales wear ‘the easy doublet’ of myth.
 
A.D. 100-200, Ancient Greece – “Cupid and Psyche” written by Apuleius 

A.D. 850-860, China - The first known version of “Cinderella” is written


C. 1300 – Troubadours and travelling storytellers spread tales throughout medieval Europe 

C. 1500 - One Thousand and One Arabian Nights is first recorded 

1550 & 1553, Italy - Gianfrancesco Straparola publishes The Pleasant Nights - he has been called the 'grandfather of fairy tales'

1600s, Italy - Giambattista Basile writes The Tale of Tales – published posthumously in 1634. This contains 'Petrosinella', the earliest known version of 'Rapunzel' 



1690-1710  - The French Salons invented and played with fairy tales - Marie-Catherine D'Aulnoy invented the term 'conte de fées'

1697 France - Charles Perrault's Mother Goose Tales is published in Paris 

1697 – Charlotte-Rose de la Force publishes her collection which includes the tale we now know of as “Rapunzel”

1740 France - Gabrielle de Villeneuve writes a 362 page version of “Beauty and the Beast”

 1756 France – Jean-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont publishes much shorter version of “Beauty and the Beast” - first tale written specifically for children.



1812 Germany - Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm publish Vol 1 of Childhood and Household Tales

1823 Great Britain - Edgar Taylor publishes the first English translation of the Grimms' tales in German Popular Stories. The book is illustrated by George Cruikshank

1825 Germany – Grimms’ first edition for children - known as The Small Edition - illustrated by Ludwig Grimm

1835 Denmark - Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales Told for Children

1889 England - Andrew Lang publishes The Blue Fairy Book -  the first multicultural fairy tale collection 


1890 Russia - Tchaikovsky's “The Sleeping Beauty” premieres in St Petersburg 

1893 Great Britain - Marian Roalfe Cox publishes her book, Cinderella: Three Hundred and Forty-five Variants of Cinderella, Catskin, and Cap O' Rushes’- the first fairy tale scholarship



1910 Finland - Antti Aarne publishes ‘The Types of the Folktale’. Later, Stith Thompson translates and expands it into English in 1961


1937 United States - Walt Disney's first feature length animated film is released, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs



Now – fairy tales have never been hotter! They dominate our TV and movie screens, and influence advertising, music, and fashion. Plus of course ... fairy tale retellings ...



Fairy Tale Tropes
Pure distillation of plot

Setting is anywhere and nowhere

Traditional sentences & archaic language: Once upon a time ... Long long ago … Once, twice, thrice …. 
‘Abstract style’  - dark forest, brave youth, golden bird

Fairy tale numbers and patterns: the numbers 3 & 7 & 13 i.e. the third sister, the thirteenth fairy

Magic & metamorphosis – talking mirror, prince into frog, girl into bear

Binary oppositions i.e. good & evil, rich & poor, beautiful & ugly, strong & weak

Memorable language i.e. rhythm, rhyme, repetition, alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia 

Motifs & metaphors: ‘the language of the night’

Structure – a series of trials & tribulations (often three)

The Fairy Tale ‘happy ending’ .. 

(Though not all fairy tales end happily. Many of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales are very sad, for example) 



FURTHER READING




BOOK LIST: My Seven Favourite Academic Studies of Fairy & Folk tales

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Here are my Favourite Seven Books on Fairy Tales. 


1. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning & Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim
First published in 1975, this is one of the most important early books on fairy tales. It is stuffed full of ideas, but must be read with a caveat in mind. Bettelheim was a Freudian psychoanalyst which means that some of his interpretations seem very out-of-date nowadays. Also, he was drawing on limited scholarship because he was essentially the man who sparked the later intense academic interest in the subject. His reputation has also been tarnished by his suicide and the accusations of child abuse that followed. Nonetheless, he was a man of vision that helped rescue fairy tales from the dust balls under a child’s bed. He says that fairy tales teach us ‘that a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable … but that if one … steadfastly meets unexpected and often unjust hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious.’ 



2. Why Fairy Tales Stick: The Evolution and Relevance of A Genre by Jack Zipes
All of Jack Zipes’s books are eloquent, insightful and cleverly argued, but this is my favourite because it is so accessible to people outside arcane academic circles. He has the ability to communicate clearly and yet with great depth of scholarship. And he is interested in the socio-historical background of the tales as well as what they may mean. He says: ‘As we know, tales do not only speak to us, they inhabit us and become relevant in our struggles to resolve conflicts that endanger our happiness.’
Other books by Zipes that I would thoroughly recommend are The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of A Genre, which builds on Why Fairy Tales Stick; and Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales.


3
. From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and their Tellers by Marina Warner
I cannot tell you how much I love this book. I have read it so many times I know parts of it off by heart. It’s a massive work of scholarship that looks at the history and meaning of fairy tales with a strong feminist and revisionist slant. This is a must-read. She says: ‘The marvels and prodigies, the seven-league boots and enchanted mirrors, the talking animals, the heroes and heroines changed into frogs or bears or cats, the golden eggs and everflowing supplies of porridge, the stars on the brow of the good sister and the donkeytail sprouting on the brow of the bad – all the wonders that create the atmosphere of fairy tale disrupt the apprehensible world in order to open spaces for dreaming alternatives. The verb ‘to wonder communicates the receptive state of marvelling as well as the active desire to know, to inquire, and as such it defines very well at least two characteristics of the traditional fairy tale: pleasure in the fantatsic, curiosity about the real. The dimension of wonder creates a huge theatre of possibility in the stories: anything can happen. This very boundlessness serves the moral purpose of the tales, which is precisely to teach where boundaries lie.’ 


4. The Witch Must Die: The Hidden Meaning of Fairy Tales by Sheldon Cashdan 
This book sets out to explore how fairy tales can help children deal with psychological conflicts by projecting their own internal struggles onto the characters in the stories. In this way, Cashdan is building on Bettelheim’s legacy. He divides the stories based upon vices such as vanity, gluttony, deceit, greed and lust, which is interesting but can sometimes be a little simplistic. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating read. He says: ‘Beyond the chase scenes and lastminute rescues are serious dramas that reflect events taking place in the child’s inner world. Wheareas the initial attraction of a fairy tale  may lie in its ability to enchant and entertain us, its lasting value lies in its power to help children deal with the internal conflicts they face in the course of growing up.’


5. The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar
Murder, mutilation, cannibalism, infanticide and incest: the darker side of the Grimm fairy tales are examined in this fascinating book. She looks at the countless wicked women in a chapter entitled ‘Stepmothers and Other Ogres’ and the beastly men in ‘Bluebeard and Other Monsters’ – it’s a racy, clever, and intriguing read. She says: fairy tales are up close and personal, mixing fact with fiction to tell us about our deepest anxieties and desires. They offer roadmaps pointing the way to romance and riches, power and privilege, and most importantly, a way out of the woods, back to the safety and security of home.’ 


6. Grimms' Bad Girls and Bold Boys: The Moral & Social Vision of the Tales by Ruth B. Bottigheimer
First published in 1987, this is a fascinating and insightful look at the history of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales, and some of the key motifs and story patterns that emerge. She also examines the various different editions and shows how the Grimm brothers had changed the stories over subsequent editions to better suit their devout, middle-class principles. She says: ‘People tell tales: peasants and artisans, lords and ladies, mothers and fathers, priests and preachers, girls and boys. The literate read aloud, the gifted recount. Over and over people tell tales whose contains seem the same but that nonetheless differs in profound ways.’




7. Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales by Valerie Paradiz
It was this book that inspired me to write my novel ‘The Wild Girl’. It tells the story of the forgotten women who were the primary oral source of the stories the Grimm brothers collected. The book is wonderfully accessible, and draws upon the tales themselves in a way which I think worked wonderfully. She says: ‘Few readers know that more than half of the 210 fairy tales included in the Grimm anthologies had a woman’s hand in them.’ 


I hope you find this post insightful! Please leave a comment - I love to know what you think

THE 50/50 PROJECT: Finishing my Doctorate & Publishing my Exegesis

Thursday, February 11, 2016

THE 50/50 PROJECT: Finishing my Doctorate & Publishing my Exegesis

 


My novel BITTER GREENS was written as the creative component of a Doctorate in Creative Arts at the University of Technology, Sydney.


It retells ‘Rapunzel’ in a Renaissance Venice setting, entwining the fairy tale with the dramatic true-life story of the 17th century French noblewoman who wrote the tale as it is best known, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force. She was second cousin to Louis XIV, the Sun King, and a maid-of-honour at the royal court in Versailles. She wrote her story ‘Persinette’ while locked away in an impoverished convent by the king, as punishment for her wild and wicked ways (which included dressing up as a dancing bear to try and rescue her much younger lover). 




BITTER GREENS  took me seven long years to research and write, including the four years that it took complete my doctorate. 

As the theoretical component of the degree, I also wrote a 30,000-word dissertation on the history of the Maiden in the Tower tale, examining why this tale haunted my imagination above all others, and why it has continued to be told and re-told for so many hundreds of years.



I am very glad and proud to announce that my doctoral dissertation is to be published in book form by the wonderful people at FableCroft.


THE REBIRTH OF RAPUNZEL: A MYTHIC BIOGRAPHY OF THE MAIDEN IN THE TOWER will also include a number of essays and articles on fairy tales and folklore. 

FableCroft said, in their press release: “This unique collection will include Kate’s research on the Rapunzel story that underpinned her stunning, award-winning novel, BITTER GREENS … The book is not your usual reference work, but an wonderful exploration of the subject matter, written in Kate’s clever and engaging style.” 


FableCroft plan to release both a hardcover print edition as well as an accessible ebook version, with cover art by Kathleen Jennings, and aim to launch at the Natcon, Contact, in Brisbane over the Easter long weekend.


A SKETCH OF KATE FORSYTH BY KATHLEEN JENNINGS


Once the book is available, I will put up all the details on my website – and I do hope that many of you will find the book a fascinating companion book to BITTER GREENS



FURTHER READING:

MY HAND-WRITTEN NOTEBOOKS FOR BITTER GREENS 

THE 50/50 PROJECT: Winning the ALA Award for Best Historical Fiction

BITTER GREENS: The story behind my fascination with 'Rapunzel'

BITTER GREENS: The facts Behind the Fiction of the Sun King & his Court 

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SEVEN FASCINATING THINGS about the Grimm Brothers

Thursday, February 11, 2016





To celebrate THE WILD GIRL being released in the US, I'm going to share some vintage Wild Girl posts this week - I hope you enjoy!






Seven Fascinating Facts about the Grimms & their Fairy Tales

1. the last witch executed in Europe died only three years before Jakob Grimm was born 

2. Although the Brothers Grimm are famous for their collection of old tales, it was actually the younger brother, Wilhelm, who did most of the work, particularly after the first edition was published in 1812. 

3. The brothers transcribed all their stories with a quill dipped in ink. Paper was scarce during the Napoleonic Wars, and so they wrote on both sides of the paper and then turned it sideways to write crossways across the page.

4. In 1810, they sent a copy of their manuscript to a poet friend, Clemens Brentano, who had promised to help them find a publisher. Brentano lost the manuscript, which was not found until the early 1920s. Wilhelm had to rewrite the whole collection by hand.

5. Their youngest brother Ludwig was a talented artist who illustrated the first Children’s Edition of their tales, published in 1825. It was this book which became an international bestseller.

6. The Grimm brothers published many other books apart from fairy tales, including writings on linguistics, folklore, and the beginning of the first detailed German dictionary. This was not finished until 120 years after their deaths.

7. the Grimm brothers were rebels who were eventually fired from their jobs at the University of Gottingen for protesting the abolition of the constitution by the King of Hanover.

The story of how the Grimm brothers came to discover their world-famous fairy tales - and the beautiful young woman who told them many of the tales - inspired my novel THE WILD GIRL.

      


Please leave a comment - I love to know what you think!

BEAUTY IN THORNS: The Mystery of Lizzie Siddal's illness

Sunday, February 07, 2016


I am writing a novel at the moment which tells the story of the passions, scandals and tragedies behind the famous painting 'The Legend of Briar Rose' by the Pre-Raphaelite artist, Edward Burne-Jones. He was obsessed with the 'Sleeping Beauty' fairy tale, and painted a number of versions of it over a thirty year period. The story is told through the eyes of the women who helped inspire him, among them his wife Georgie, Lizzie Siddal, the wife of his friend and mentor Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Jane Morris, the wife of his friend, William Morris, who had an affair with Rossetti after Lizzie's death. 



I have spent the last few years researching and reading, and am now working on the first draft.

The biggest problem for a novelist working on a piece of fiction inspired by the lives of real people is deciding whose story to believe. A historian can say 'it is possible ...' or 'it was rumoured  ...' or 'one can infer ...', but a novelist must choose what scenes to bring to life on the page, what point of view to favour, what drives and motivates a character to act in the way that they do. it is not enough to simply decide what will make the most interesting or suspenseful story (though that must be considered too). It is more about trying to find the psychological truth of the character.

At the moment, I am working on the scenes told from the point of view of Lizzie Siddal Rossetti.  There was a rumour that Lizzie fell pregnant early in her relationship with Gabriel, then either had an abortion or a miscarriage. I have to decide if there is any truth in this rumour and whether to include it as part of my novel. I thought I would beg all you Pre-Raphaelite lovers out there for your insights! 

Here is the basic outline of her story: 

Lizzie Siddall was the daughter of an ironmonger who had wasted years and a great deal of money pursuing a legal claim to a property in Derbyshire. The family was poor but respectable. They lived in Southwark, and Lizzie at the age of twenty was working either as a dressmaker's apprentice or a milliner's apprentice.

Lizzie had always loved to draw and write poetry, and she dreamed of a better life. According to her version of events (recounted in her obituary by a family friend), she took the bold step of trying to show her sketches to a man named Mr Deverell, who was secretary of the School of Design in London. His son Walter Deverell had been a student at the Royal Academy of Art and now worked at the School of Design also. He met with Lizzie and - struck by her unusual beauty and vivid red hair - asked her to model for him.


An early drawing of Lizzie Siddal by Dante Gabriel Rosetti

Lizzie agreed, even though in those days modelling for artists was considered not all respectful. In fact, for many mid-Victorian prudes, it was considered little better than prostitution. She met many of Walter's friends and modelled for them also - William Holman Hunt, Ford Madox Brown, John Everett Millais, and most significantly, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (who was called Gabriel by his friends). 

She is probably most famous for having modelled for Ophelia, Millais's haunting painting of a drowning girl. Famously, she lay in a bath of water for hours while he painted her. The lamps that had been placed under the bath all blew out, and the water slowly turned icy-cold. Lizzie did not complain and ended up being very sick. Millais's son wrote in his memoirs that she caught a 'heavy cold', but it is more likely to have been something like pneumonia since her family called a doctor (not something that was usual for people of their class and situation) and her doctor's bills were large. Lizzie's father threatened to sue Millais for loss of income, which indicated Lizzie may have been sick for some length of time, but in the end he settled for payment of the medical bills.



A detail of Millais' painting of Ophelia

The doctor most likely prescribed Lizzie laudanum at this time, and she became increasingly addicted to it as the years passed. It also seems possible that she suffered from some type of eating disorder, perhaps triggered by the laudanum addiction which suppresses appetite. She is described in the diaries and letters of friends as being 'the slenderest creature', 'thinner than ever' and at one point, according to a letter by Gabriel, does not eat at all for two weeks. The idea that Lizzie Siddal suffered from anorexia nervosa was first put forward by Elaine Shefer in a 1985 article, and I must admit it does seem to explain many of her symptoms. 

Lizzie also suffered increasingly from melancholy, most intensely expressed in her poems. She and Gabriel have a tumultuous relationship, strained by both her constant bouts of illness and depression, and by his affairs and failure to marry her.  She becomes so ill, everyone fears she will die, and Gabriel promises to marry her if only she recovers. She does recover, although she needs to be carried to the church. For a while, they seem happy but the birth of a still-born daughter tips Lizzie over into deep depression, and eventually she dies from a laudanum overdose that may or not be suicide (there were even rumours that Gabriel murdered her! These rumours are both a novelist's dream and a novelist's nightmare.)



All I have to build Lizzie's story are fragments of letters, diaries, the report from the inquest into her death, and rumours.

Now, the gossip about Lizzie having a miscarriage or an abortion comes from Diana Holman Hunt, the granddaughter of one of the founding fathers of the Pre-Raphaelites and one of Rossetti's closest friends during this period. 

I need to try and decide if it is true. And this is where I need your help.

Let me lay out the evidence for you.

Diana Holman Hunt was born after her grandfather's death, but spent a great deal of time with her grandmother Edith who told her many stories about the Pre-Raphaelites. Diana grew up to write several books about her upbringing and her grandfather's life, and was a respected art critic and biographer. The research she did into the Pre-Raphaelites uncovered much that had not been known, and has since been corroborated. So, although she is repeating gossip, she is not doing so with scurrilous intent.

So I need to consider the possibility that Lizzie had an abortion or a miscarriage during the early years of her relationship with Rossetti. I usually try and find at least two or three pieces of corroborating evidence before deciding to include such a scene into any narrative.

Here is a timeline of her early illnesses:

March 1852 - Lizzie lies in an icy-cold bath for five hours, being painted as Ophelia. She suffers some kind of respiratory tract infection as a result, most probably pneumonia. She is treated by a doctor who is very likely to have given her laudanum which was commonly prescribed at that time.

August 1852 - Lizzie is sick again and goes to Hastings to convalesce. This may be a sign that she has not fully recovered from pneumonia, or it might be caused by her laudanum addiction, or it might be caused by an eating disorder, which could involve fasting and/or purging. Whatever the cause, Lizzie appears noticeably thinner in drawing and paintings of her made at this time. 


   

Early drawings of Lizzie by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, done 1850-1852

  

Later drawings 1855-58 


August 1853 - Rossetti writes to a friend saying Lizzie 'has been very ill lately.' Cause unknown; it could be any of the above. Note many people mention her 'consumptive' look, which usually means very thin, with pale skin and fever-hollowed eyes.



Lizzie's self-portrait was painted in late 1853

February 1854 - Lizzie is sick again. Some biographers conjecture that she is upset by the death of Walter Deverell, the man who supposedly 'discovered' her, earlier that month. Her main symptoms seem to be nausea, vomiting, weight loss, dizziness. 

March 1854 - she is taken to see Dr Wilkinson, a Swedenborgian physician. According to Violet Hunt, a biographer generally thought to be unreliable, the doctor did not touch Lizzie or ask her to remove her clothes. He diagnosed a 'curvature of the spine'. Many biographers are puzzled by this diagnosis, as Lizzie was usually complimented on her ladylike posture. Lucinda Hawksley notes that some 19th century commentators have observed a stooped posture
is a side-effect of laudanum - however, I have not been able to corroborate this. 

However, pregnancy does cause curvature of the spine. So it may be possible that Lizzie was pregnant at this time. If she was suffering "hyperemesis gravidarum' or severe morning sickness, she may have lost weight, which could explain why the doctor did not suspect pregnancy as the cause of her illness. The spine does not begin to change shape in pregnancy until at least 12-14 weeks, which means that she must have fallen pregnant in late 1853/early 1854 ... (I wondered if the incidence of her being sick in August 1853 could have been the beginning of her pregnancy, but that would make her seven months along,  which would have been difficult to conceal. Though again it must be noted Lizzie wore loose unstructured dresses, without a corset or crinoline hoop, which would have disguised her figure much more than the usual fashion of the day.) 

So the curved spine diagnosis may support the possibility of Lizzie being pregnant at this time, but its not by any means conclusive.


In mid-April 1854, Lizzie goes to Hastings on her own, though supported by the same friends who took her to see the doctor. They are convinced that she is dying of consumption. One of the most well-known symptoms of tuberculosis is the rapid wasting away of the body, which also occurs in anorexia. At this time, anorexia had not yet been diagnosed. It would not be identified for quite a few years after Lizzie's death.

(Sir William Gull, the Queen's physician, first spoke about the condition in 1868, when he delivered an address to the British Medical Association, talking about "peculiar form of disease occurring mostly in young women, and characterised by extreme emaciation." initially, he called this condition Apepsia hysterica, but subsequently amended this to Anorexia hysterica and then to Anorexia nervosa.)


 
One of Dr William Gull's drawings of an anorexic patient of his, before and after treatment

Lizzie's friends tried to persuade her to go to the hospital, but she refuses. This is interesting, because it seems to show that Lizzie knows her illness is not caused by tuberculosis, which was one of the most common causes of death at the time. Her own brother had died of the disease in late 1851, and it was well-known to decimate families.  Lizzie seems intent on not seeing doctors, which could indicate she was trying to hide a pregnancy, or could be due to the secretive nature of anorectics, who often go to great lengths to hide their eating disorder. 

In April, Rossetti's father dies. It seems that Rossetti's family disapproved of his relationship with Lizzie, because of her lower social status to some degree, but most probably due to her past as an artist's model. It is possible that she and Rossetti had decided to hide her pregnancy until after his death - he had been dangerously ill since February.

On May 1st, Lizzie's friends write to Rossetti saying she is 'dangerously ill' and he must come. Rossetti leaves as soon as his father's funeral is over, then - after seeing Lizzie - writes the following letter:

'I have known her for several years, and always in a state hardly less variable than now; and I can understand that those who have not had so long a knowledge of her will naturally be more liable to alarm on her account that I am. Nevertheless I am quite aware that she is in a most delicate state.'   



'A delicate condition' was a widely used euphemism for pregnancy.  Is this how Rossetti meant it? Or did he simply mean that she was fragile, weak, vulnerable? It seems more likely that he meant it in the latter way, because of the comment that she had been 'delicate' for several years. However, it could be seen interpreted the other way too.   

Lizzie's health seemed to improve once Rossetti was with her, and they went for long walks on the Downs and went out to tea. Rossetti drew many exquisite drawings of her at this time, many showing her filled with lassitude. It has been noted by Lucinda Hawksley that long energetic walks was often a method Victorian women used if they wished to trigger a miscarriage of an unwanted child, and I have found corroboration of this elsewhere. However, I must say I do not think Lizzie was trying to abort a baby with her long walks with Rossetti - partly because of this beautiful and tender painting of the two of them walking in Hastings:



On May 12, she again took a turn for the worse. Rossetti had planned to return to London to celebrate his birthday with his family, but stayed by her side instead. On May 23, Rossetti wrote to one of his best friends: 'Lizzy ... is looking lovelier than ever, but is very weak, thought not as much as one might expect.'  

Could this refer to a miscarriage? Or is it simply referring to continued bouts of nausea, vomiting, and dizziness (which may have been caused by an eating disorder). 

One side-effect of laudanum is the inability to carry children to term; Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a contemporary of Lizzie's who also suffered from laudanum addiction and had a series of miscarriages.

If Lizzie did have a miscarriage at this time, she would have been at least 19 weeks along. She would have experienced some kind of labour, and her foetus would have been recognisably a child. It would have been a horrible, painful, messy event, and rather difficult to keep secret. If a doctor or midwife had been called, the child would have been baptised and buried, and some kind of record kept. However, if the miscarriage happened in private, without any assistance, then Lizzie would have had to dispose of her dead foetus in secret. This was not an uncommon occurrence at all. One of the scandals of the time were the number of tiny corpses found in fields and rivers, which eventually led to the 'Committee to Amend the Law in Points wherein it is Injurious to Woman', a riposte to the infamous Bastardy Law of the 1830s.  



It has also been claimed (by the somewhat unreliable Violet Hunt) that Rossetti proposed to Lizzie whilst with her in Hastings. However, the marriage did not eventuate, and after their return to London in July, their relationship eventually began to deteriorate with arguments, accusations of infidelity, and other problems. Rossetti at this time was in mourning for his father, and it was unusual (but not unknown) to hold a wedding during the mourning period. But it also could be possible that he proposed marriage to her whilst she was pregnant, then - after a miscarriage - felt there was no longer any need to make an honest woman of her. It's very thin evidence, though, and there are other occasions during their relationship when he promised marriage then let her down.

It was soon after this trip to Hastings that Ford Madox Brown famously wrote: "Called on Dante Rossetti. Saw Miss Siddal, looking thinner and more deathlike and more beautiful and more ragged than ever." So her thinness continued after the long stay in Hastings, suggesting that it has other causes than severe morning sickness (i.e. an eating disorder).   



The only other evidence that I have of a possible pregnancy and miscarriage at this time is in Lizzie's own poems. They are intense, unhappy, filled with images of death and loss. Unfortunately most are not dates, and so its impossible to know when they were written, but a few of them are suggestive:

Lord, may I come today?
My outward life feels sad and still,
Like lilies in a frozen rill.
I am gazing upwards to the sun,
Lord, Lord, remembering my lost one.

(an extract from "Lord, May I Come?"

And love was born to an early death
And is so seldom true.

(An extract from "Dead Love")

Some biographers wonder if her 'lost one' is Walter Deverell; others think she is referring to Gabriel after their break-up. I have wondered if she was referring to a lost child (the poems are rather suggestive) but its impossible to know for sure.


So what do you think?     
  
Lizzie suffering a miscarriage would make a really gripping and heart-wrenching scene ... but it is likely to have really happened?

Tell me what you think & help me decide ...



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