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Perrault, Charles (1628–1703)

PERRAULT, CHARLES (16281703)

PERRAULT, CHARLES (16281703), French poet, literary theoretician, and fairy tale writer. Charles Perrault belonged to a family of middle-class government functionaries, among whom was his brother Claude, an architect best remembered for his remodeled columns on the Louvre. Charles began his literary career by writing satiric verse ("The Burlesque Aeneid," 1648) and gallant poetry while he was studying law. He developed his work under the patronage of Jean Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin, and wrote a forgettable Christian epic entitled "Saint Paulin." Perrault's shorter poetry was more noteworthy, and his poems praising the young Louis XIV (16381715) were well received at court. Nonetheless, at the time his influence on culture derived less from his verse than his position in the royal administration in the 1660s, where he served under the protection of Jean-Baptiste Colbert (16191683). As general comptroller of buildings, Perrault sought to centralize efforts from the various academies, including the French Academy, of which he became a member and the secretary in 1671. With the death of Colbert, however, his influence at court declined, and he found himself in bitter literary arguments with Jean Racine (16391699) and Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (16361711), historiographers of the king and staunch proponents of the "ancients." Boileau even mocked Charles' brother Claude.

Perrault's poem "Le Siècle de Louis le Grand" (The century of Louis the great), which he read aloud to his assembled fellow academicians in 1687 was both a panegyric to the king and a manifesto of the modernist position. While comparing Louis with Alexander the Great, he proclaimed that the French king's exploits surpassed those of Alexander and that progress was possible not only in politics, but in science, and even in the arts. The ideas and terms of the dispute were not new, but Perrault's poem synthesized them eloquently and launched an intense quarrel that lasted seven years (and indeed, in various forms, into the following century). He developed his position at length in the prose Parallèles des anciens et des modernes (16881697; Parallels of the ancients and moderns, 4 vols.).

As this phase in the quarrel subsided, he published three verse fairy tales (including "Donkey Skin") in 1694, which were soon followed in 1697 by eight prose tales in Histoires ou contes de temps passé: Contes de ma mère l'oye (Stories or tales from olden days: Tales of my Mother Goose). The concisely written stories became an immediate and huge success and established Perrault's literary reputation. Tales such as "Cinderella," "Puss 'n Boots," "Tom Thumb," and "Bluebeard" had been staples in the oral folk tradition for centuries, and they now became written texts to be circulated and enjoyed among the bourgeoisie and nobility, both old and young alike. Fairy tales were a genre that had been popular in women's salons since the mid-1680s, practiced by such writers as Mme Catherine d'Aulnoy (c. 16501705), Mlle Catherine Bernard (16621712), and Perrault's niece, Mlle Marie-Jeanne L'Héritier (c. 16641734). Perrault used the tales' popularity to present stories that exemplified his own literary theories and taste. By their origin the tales are not part of the Greco-Roman tradition, and their subject matter of fairies, ogres, and magical objects removes them from the mythology of classical antiquity. Although he refused the canon of acceptable textual models, Perrault's approach followed many of the tenets of French classicism in that he did not invent his material (with the exception of "Little Red Riding Hood"), and he expressed himself with an economy of language and stylistic devices. The role of magic in the tales is often minimal, and greater emphasis is placed on human nature and social conduct, both good and bad.

The tales exhibit a didactic intent, both within the stories themselves and in the explicit, verse "morals." And even though the events are set "once upon a time" in a fictive land where animals talk and fairy godmothers wave magic wands, the tales are filled with references to seventeenth-century life and satiric commentaries on contemporary society. Perrault retained enough elements of archaic language, repetition, dialogue and dramatic tension to convey a sense of the oral tradition in his sparse, simplified narration. The tales appear as a synthesis, therefore, of both the oral and the literary, of classicism and an anticlassical verve. These competing forces give dynamism to these modern versions of old stories.

Readers today, who are more familiar with the versions of the fairy tales retold by the brothers Grimm, may find some striking, and brutal, points of contrast with the Perrault stories: Little Red Riding Hood is not saved in the end, and Sleeping Beauty marries her prince only to discover he has an ogress for a mother. The decorum demanded in the classical aesthetic did not extend to this new genre with its extremes of fanciful whimsy and cruel violence.

See also Academies, Learned ; Ancients and Moderns ; Boileau-Despréaux, Nicolas ; Classicism ; Colbert, Jean-Baptiste ; Folk Tales and Fairy Tales ; French Literature and Language .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Barchilon, Jacques. Perrault's Tales of Mother Goose. 2 vols. New York, 1956.

Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York, 1976.

Lewis, Philip. Seeing Through the Mother Goose Tales: Visual Turns in the Writings of Charles Perrault. Stanford, 1996.

Marin, Louis. Food for Thought. Translated by Mette Hjort. Baltimore, 1989.

Morgan, Jeanne. Perrault's Morals for Moderns. New York, 1985.

Allen G. Wood

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"Perrault, Charles (1628–1703)." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Perrault, Charles

Charles Perrault (shärl pĕrō´), 1628–1703, French poet. His collections of eight fairy tales, Histoires ou contes du temps passé [stories or tales of olden times] (1697) gave classic form to the traditional stories of Bluebeard, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Puss in Boots, Little Red Ridinghood, and Hop-o'-My-Thumb. In the frontispiece of the collection appears the expression "Contes de ma mère Loye" [tales of Mother Goose]. Perrault also published three tales in verse (1694). He is also famous for the stormy literary quarrel that he aroused with a poem (1687) comparing ancient authors unfavorably with modern writers. Boileau, the chief defender of the ancients, bandied insults with Perrault until 1694. This "quarrel of the ancients and the moderns" is considered a harbinger of the 18th-century Enlightenment.

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Perrault, Charles

Perrault, Charles (1628–1703) French poet and prose writer. A leading member of the Académie Française from 1671, he is best remembered for Tales of Mother Goose (1697).

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