Frontlist | Madame d’Aulnoy back in print after centuries

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A story by Madame d’Aulnoy, the 17th-century French writer who coined the term “fairytales”, is to be published in English for the first time in more than 300 years, telling of a woman whose beauty is so great it slays her lovers by the hundreds.

Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, known as Madame or Countess d’Aulnoy, invented the term “conte de fée” or fairytale, when she published her major collection of them in 1697-98. Unlike her contemporary Charles Perrault, or later authors such as Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm, today her work rarely appears outside anthologies.

Now Princeton University Press will release a new collection of her work in March, The Island of Happiness, featuring illustrations and an essay by the artist Natalie Frank. It also contains the first English translation of The Tale of Mira, one of D’Aulnoy’s earlier works, which sees the beautiful Mira kill scores of men – “Anyone who saw her fell desperately in love with her. However, her pride and indifference made all of her lovers die” – until she falls for a man who is indifferent to her.

Frank called it a “feminist ghost story for the ages” which is “laced with dark comicality”.

“A traditional fairytale warns of the dangers of unrequited love; this one warns of the violence that occurs out of unreciprocated lust, poking fun at the seriousness of a tragic fairytale story,” she writes in her introduction.

Other stories in the book include Finette Cendron, in which a king and queen lose their kingdom because of their decadence, and abandon their children in the forest; and Belle-Belle, in which a cross-dressing countess helps a king who has lost his kingdom.

“Ask anyone familiar with fairytales or any scholar about the best classical fairytales, they will generally only name men – Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Andersen,” said the academic Jack Zipes, who introduces and translates the collection. “Nobody would ever mention the mysterious Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, who was actually the most intriguing pioneer of the literary fairytale in the 17th century and is still relevant today.”

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