Regency Fairytales

Old, Old Fairy TalesAre you a fan of fairytales? Do you watch the mash-up Once Upon a Time on TV? Or the more horror-oriented show Grimm? I’ve been working with a writing student whose project is focused on the life of Charles Perrault, so I’ve been thinking about fairytales a lot lately.

This enduring, and endearing, form of storytelling goes back in time well before our Regency period to the late the 17th century. That’s when Perrault published “The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood” as part of his collection, Tales and Stories of Times Past with Morals: Tales of Mother Goose in 1697. (The English translation was published in 1729.) Actually, it goes back much further into the mists of time, depending on how you define fairytale vs folktale. Many of the stories are ancient, and of course there are some very ancient story traditions in the non-western cultures. But did you know that the Brothers Grimm Early ed of grimmpublished their first three German collections of tales in 1812, 1815, and 1822? Their first English edition was published in London in 1824, illustrated by Cruikshank.

Recasting some fairytales into romances has been a popular strategy for some authors within the romance genre. Turning them back into tales for adults is ironic in some cases, as some of the stories started out as strictly adult fare. But in addition to offering us plot ideas and possible story arcs, fairytales can serve in our stories exactly as they are, as part of the cultural background for our characters.

It’s good to know that if you want a character to read fairytales to children in a Regency story, any of those collected by Charles Perrault would be authentic. That includes such favorites as Cinderella, Puss in Boots, and Little Red Riding Hood.200px-Dore_ridinghood However, the late date of the Grimm Brothers’ English edition means some other best-loved stories, such as Snow White or Rumpelstiltskin, were not familiar in most Regency nurseries.

It’s possible, however, that some of the stories Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm had collected up to 1815 could have been retold in England by returned soldiers or statesmen who encountered Jacob Grimm in Paris or particularly in Vienna. That is how Devenham, the rakish hero of my 2nd Regency, The Persistent Earl, knows the story of the frog prince and recounts a cleaned-up version of it to the children in that book. (Some of this blogpost is taken from the Author’s Note I wrote for that book, a time-saving step for which I beg your indulgence!)

Jacob Grimm worked for his government during the closing years of the Napoleonic Wars. Brueder_GrimmIn 1814-15 he served at the Congress of Vienna in addition to making two trips to Paris to recover important German paintings and books stolen by the French army. In Vienna he was the nucleus of a small literary salon whose members entertained each other with the telling and retelling of folk tales and fairytales. wilhelm_grimm_250(Side note: apparently Wilhelm was struggling in the meanwhile back in their homeland. A novel just released in July, The Wild Girl, by Kate Forsyth,  tells the story of the woman who loved Wilhelm and waited ten years to marry him!) Dorchen Wild-349

Many of these stories were not originally intended for children, and were only made suitable after the Grimms modified, edited, and in some cases embellished them for publication. (a Regency precedence for Disney!) Jacob’s store of tales in Vienna would have included those already published in the 1812 German Nursery and Household Tales, plus others like “The Frog Prince” about to make their appearance in the second volume.

Here is an excerpt from TPE where my naughty hero (still recovering from wounds received at Waterloo) explains about the story my heroine, Phoebe, has just overheard him tell:

“I spent a few weeks on furlough in Vienna last winter, and that is where I chanced to hear the story. In fact, if I can remember them, I heard several others I could tell the children besides that one. There was a scholarly fellow there for the Congress, part of the Hessian delegation, who collects these kinds of stories, and he had formed a little group in Vienna who delighted in exchanging them to pass the time.”

Phoebe saw the wicked light that she had learned to recognize so well come into his eyes, and she quickly turned away to fluff his pillows. What could possibly be wicked about fairytales? And where was Mullins? She realized suddenly that both he and the tea tray had disappeared.

“I must add that many of these stories had more than one version,” Devenham continued. “I saw ladies far less reputable than you put to the blush. Some of the French and Italian stories I heard were enough to curl even my hair. Of course, I would never repeat those to children.”

Over time, the Grimm brothers published some 200 tales. However, the edition we know today as Grimms’ Fairytales was not published until 1857.Perrault's Tales -late illustration

What are your favorite fairytales? Have you ever used one in a story? Have you read (or written) any romances based on one? Let me know in the comments!

(P.S. If you were wondering, The Persistent Earl is one of my backlist books that has been reissued as an ebook by Penguin Intermix. The original paperback version is out of print.)

About Gail Eastwood

Gail Eastwood is the author of seven Regencies that were originally published by Signet/Penguin. After taking ten years off for family matters, she has wobbled between contemporary romantic suspense and more Regency stories, wondering what century she’s really in and trying to work the rust off her writing skills. Her backlist is gradually coming out in ebook format, and some are now available in new print editions as well. She is working on the start of a Regency-set series and other new projects. Stay tuned!

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10 Responses to Regency Fairytales

  1. Mali says:

    Great post! I love fairy tales, folktales, and even Shakespeare retold in modern or Regency settings. I have to admit, I’m a sucker for the Beauty and the Beast trope, myself.

    • Mali, thanks for stopping in! Beauty & the Beast is one of my favs, also. As a trope, it has lent itself to lots of retellings, although I can’t name any specific ones right this minute.

  2. Bliss Bennet says:

    Thanks, Gail, for the interesting post. As you note, Perrault’s French fairy tales first appeared in English in 1729, translated as Histories, or Tales of Past Times. Told by Mother Goose. John Newbery (the 18th century children’s book publisher) and his followers issued popular versions of the tales for children. But until 1772, such editions included both the French and the English, printed side by side, suggesting that earlier versions served as much as a lesson book than as a form of entertainment…

    I wanted to use a reference to the Rumplestiltskin story in my forthcoming novel, A MAN WITHOUT A MISTRESS, which is set in 1822. So I had to make sure that my hero & heroine had read the German version, since the English translation, as you note, wasn’t published until 1823.

    • Bliss, that’s so interesting about the French/English lesson books –I didn’t know that! A nice detail to file away for future use. 🙂 I’m glad you found a work-around for your story so you could still do what you wanted. Like you, I like to keep things as accurate as possible, but it can be darned inconvenient sometimes! (And of course I still make mistakes.)

  3. Sandra Schwab says:

    Gail, Wilhelm had to wait so long before he could marry because the Grimms’ father had died when they were still relatively young and they felt responsible for tbeir younger siblings. (And there were quite a number of younger siblings, so Wilhelm had to wait until he could financially afford to marry.)

    It was Wilhelm who did the editing of the tales from the second edition onward; for Jacob, by contrast, the tales were very much part of his scholarly work and in his opinion, the folk literature ought to be preserved in its purest form possible. However, he was very much alone with that opinion at that time.

    When Taylor first translated a selection of the tales into English, he also heavily edited the material, as did his cousin who translated the selection of the tales included in The Fairy Ring from the 1840s. And some of the edits are *really* strange. 🙂

    Well, as you can probably guess from this ginormously long reply: I love fairy tales. 🙂 In my second novel, which is a Beauty & the Beast story, I included various references to “Little Red Riding Hood” as well as to a number of German literary fairy tales.

    • Sandy, thanks for adding more details about Wilhelm Grimm’s side of things –most of the research I had done focused on Jacob, so it’s interesting to learn more about how Wilhelm was “holding the fort” back at home! I think now I’d like to read Kate Forsyth’s novel, even though it’s a fictionalized imagining of Miss Wild’s life. I don’t think I’ve read your 2nd novel, either –I’d better put that on my list, since I love Beauty & the Beast and the tropes modeled on it. I’ll have to recommend it to Mali, too, who left the first comment! 🙂

  4. ki pha says:

    How fascinating. I’ve read many romance themed fairytales and quite enjoyed them. There isn’t exactly one that I like the most but I have always wanted to read the adult versions in Grimms Fairytale. From what I heard Snow White and Rose Red was a good story. I personally like The Little Mermaid, which isn’t part of the Grumm’s fairytales but yeah, I should definitely get a Grimm book then.

    • Sandra Schwab says:

      ki pha, Jack Zipes did a good translation of the 1857 edition (his edition also includes brief notes about each tale, where the Grimms got it from, etc.). And I believe there has recently been a new English translation of the first edition from 1812/15.

    • ki pha, The Little Mermaid was a Danish folktale, so the German Grimm brothers wouldn’t have been as likely to run across it. I think Hans Christian Anderson was the one who published it, and his collections of fairytales were later than the Regency. There’s a famous statue of the mermaid in Copenhagen (if I’m remembering right this late at night!!)

  5. diane says:

    My favorite fairy tale is Cinderella. But I have a great fondness for the movie version of Disney’s Snow White. It was the first movie I ever took my daughter to. She was 3 years old and we had to make a trip to the bathroom every time the evil queen showed up! luckily we were on the aisle in the last row! That Halloween my mother made her a Snow White costume and a couple of years ago she wore a Snow White costume to a Halloween party.

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