On Fairy Tales, Their Sensitive Characters, and The Sensible Readers They Create

Christine A. Jones, University of Utah
Vol. 25, No. 1 (Spring 2006), 13-30

Focusing on the work of Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy, this essay explores sensibilité as a theme that evokes active reader responses in the literature and fairy tales of the 1690s. Fairy tales of the 1690s appear to want to elicit active response (as opposed to somnolence) and pleasure (as opposed to moral rectitude) in the reader. One of the ways fairy tales do this is by giving the otherwise fantastical characters an emotional life: embarrassment, nervousness, and joy are commonly felt emotions. These emotions correspond with the narratives of sensibility that were becoming increasingly prevalent in French and English novels during the late seventeenth century, further prompting audience interest and sympathy. The article argues that d’Aulnoy’s use of sensibilité and insensibilité encourages readers to find a fulfilling emotional interiority in fiction, interiority that had been missing from literature up to this point. This essay takes up prefaces, early editions, and the most famous condemnation of the fairy tale genre to show that emotionalism, just as much as the marvelous elements associated with literary fairy tales, gives the genre its characteristic flair and distinguishes it from the folktale.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]