Imagining Girlhood in Seventeenth-Century Female-Authored Fairytales

  • Meghan Kort University of Victoria
Keywords: Fairytales, girlhood, girls, women writers, salon, education


Over two-thirds of the fairytales published in late seventeenth-century France were authored by female conteuses who recount the births of beautiful and virtuous princesses. Although little is known about these authors' personal lives, their portrayals of girlhood reveal glimpses of their individual lives and experiences. Applying Robert Darnton's cultural approach to fairytales, I situate these tales and their tellers within their historical context. In each story, the girls' virtue or vice are not developed over time, but are embedded at birth, demarcated by beauty or ugliness. This entwining of beauty and virtue is typical of late seventeenth-century salon and educational writings. However, the conteuses' girl characters also challenge gendered stereotypes, playing assertive roles and holding authority over older male characters. The conteuses crafted their conceptions of girlhood in dialogue with individual and cultural influences, culminating in a shared conception of noble girls as virtuous, beautiful, and capable individuals.