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Charles Perrault

Charles Perrault (January 12, 1628 - May 16, 1703) was a French author.

Charles Perrault was born in Paris, France to a wealthy bourgeois family. He attended the best schools and studied law before embarking on a career in government service. He took part in the creation of the Academy of Sciences as well as the restoration of the Academy of Painting. When the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres was founded in 1663, Perrault was made secretary for life.

He took part in the French Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns (querelle des Anciens et des Modernes), which pitted supporters of the literature of Antiquity (the "Ancients") against supporters of the literature from the century of Louis XIV (the "Moderns"). He was on the side of the Moderns and wrote Le Siècle de Louis le Grand (The Century of Louis the Great, 1687) and Parallèle des Anciens et des Modernes (Parallel between Ancients and Moderns, 1688-1692).

Then, at the age of 55 published Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals, with the subtitle: Tales of Mother Goose. Its publication (slyly over the name of his 17-year-old son) made him suddenly widely-known beyond his own circles and marked the beginnings of a new literary genre, the fairy tale. He used images from around him, such as the Chateau Ussé for Sleeping Beauty and in Puss-in-Boots, the Marquis of the Chateau d'Oiron, and contrasted his folktale subject matter, with details and asides and subtext drawn from the world of fashion.

Perrault's most famous stories are still in print today and have been made into operas, plays, movies and animated motion pictures by Disney Studios. Some of Perrault's best known stories are:

Perrault's tales were mostly adapted from earlier folk tales (for example by Giambattista Basile) in the milieu of stylish literary salons in the 1690s, as a recreation from the more strenuous energy expended in the Battle of the Ancients and Moderns or the struggles of Jansenism. For amusement, one would take some simple traditional tale, such as an old peasant woman might tell in the kitchens, and recast it, "moralized" and translated into a succinct and witty tale that was purged of all coarseness, for the kind of audience that was also still reading the high-flown sentiments of La Princesse de Cleves ("The Princess of Cleves'), and could appreciate the structure of a perfect, well-turned sermon, if not too long. Mythologist Jack Zipes has emphasized that these tales served the interests of the educated ruling classes. There was also a slightly subversive bite to the game as Perrault played it, a slight sense of an underlying, dry criticism of the same aristocratic approach. Instead of wily peasants, as in "Jack and the Beanstalk" (not a Perrault tale), there are princesses, even if the subtext of Perrault's "Puss-in-Boots" is that the right clothes and a fine castle can make a "Marquis of Carabas" out of a miller's son.

Some of the droll fun of Perrault is in the mock-heroic contrast between the folktale context and fashionable life. In "Sleeping Beauty," once the Princess has fallen asleep, the good fairy arrives to set things to rights:

"on la vit au bout d'une heure arriver dans un chariot tout de feu, traîné par des dragons. Le roi lui alla présenter la main à la descente du chariot." ("She was to be seen in an hour's time, arriving in a fiery chariot drawn by dragons. The King went to hand her down from the chariot...")

In etiquette, the importance of a visitor was assessed by the distance the host proceeded from his private apartments to receive her. To hand her out of her carriage was a signal courtesy. But in the 1690s in French a "coach" (coche) had become a lumbering public conveyance, and those who knew better followed the example of the Precieuses , and always called a private carriage a "chariot". The contrast between the fiery dragon-drawn goddess-like arrival and the courtly yet familiar gesture of handing her down, caused a ripple of entertainment to pass through Perrault's assembled listeners, too refined to laugh out loud.

Sometimes the skeptical undertone can be quite wicked.

Charles Perrault died in Paris.

A collection was published after his death, in 1781, with the title Contes (Tales). It is made of les Contes de ma mère l'Oie and of three tales in verse:

  • Grisédélis
  • Les Souhaits ridicules
  • Peau d'âne (Donkey Skin )

His brother, Claude Perrault, is remembered as the architect of the severe east range of the Louvre, built in 1665 - 1680.

See also

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