Fairy Tales 2010

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bluebeard and Cannibalism

I hope it's okay that I'm a little late on this. I have a big project due today in one of my other classes, and this just slipped my mind.

From this week's readings, I was especially interested in "The Robber's Bridegroom" because it seems the least congruous with other Bluebeard tales, while still maintaining the basic theme of marital anxiety - the horror of marriage. In several ways, "The Robber's Bridegroom" presents a story more in line with the fairy tale than most other Bluebeard tales. It has the horror aspect of the bridegroom repulsing the bride for some uncanny reason and also of the bridegroom rightfully (in the sense that the girl is right to be afraid) presenting danger to the girl. Unlike the other Bluebeard stories, however, in this tale, the girl actually witnesses Bluebeard's horrible acts. It is not his past that is the problem, but the horrifying present situation. He was and certainly still is a threat; rather than wanting her to trust him and forgive/not know of his past, Bluebeard is presently a murderer and cannibal who most likely plans to devour her upon marraige.

"The Robber's Bridegroom" also differs in its notions of feminine curiosity causing trouble. Primarily, she does not want to go to his castle. She does not want to explore parts of her future husband that are hidden from her. She is afraid of him, trusts her initial instincts, and wants to stay away from him. It is only because of his continuous pleading and threatening that she is compelled to explore her bridegroom's dark side. She is not curious, and it is not her curiosity that can potentially cause her destruction, but simply the evil nature of her future husband.

Additionally, fairy tale elements set this tale apart from the others. The old hag in the cellar of the castle aids the girl by protecting and hiding her from the robbers. Cannibalism is also a major theme throughout various fairy tales, and so its inclusion here does not expressly shock us. Yet cannibalism in the context of other Bluebeard tales does become rather transgressive in that it creates another element of horror. She will be consumed, just as the other maiden is chopped up and consumed. So that, relating back to the theme of marital anxiety, this tale can theoretically be seen as purporting that marriage means that the female and her independence is threatened to be consumed and devoured by her husband and his dominant role over her. The evidence of the finger, then, provides the bride with the ability to protect herself from this consumption and avoid marriage and the problems it incurs and signifies.


Sorry this is late...on my computer that's still an hour behind!

In reading Bluebeard, I can easily see why one may not classify the story within the fairy tale genre. I had never read it, nor heard of it by name, before being assigned the reading in this course; yet, the story does not seem at all odd, nor unfamiliar. The idea of curiosity is absolutely a recurring theme in many tales, and so is disobedience. I can even think of another story in which the luring aspect is morbid in a similar manner: Sleeping Beauty. Yet, in this tale (which I now question whether or not it is a fairy tale), Princess Aurora touches the spindle while under the curse of the female villain Maleficent; there is no consideration of her disobedience to her (nonexistent) husband. Sleeping Beauty is surrounded by familial, maternal figures that wish to protect her thus making her draw to the spindle not at all her fault.
What is disturbing about Bluebeard is that the woman may here have agency; she may be seeking to find an answer about her husband’s secret past. Does this, along with he r intuitive knowledge of his unnaturalness, make her somewhat superhuman? One gains the sense that she perhaps has the intention to uncover the mystery of Bluebeard all along; why else would she consent to marriage to someone so uncanny and repulsive? This story seems to have a certain fate written all over it from the very start, suggesting that this female character likely does as well. I can thus see why Melies depicted the story through film as overtly fantastical, dreamlike—the tale itself seems to be much like a vision, perhaps a warning more than a lesson.

Bluebeard on film: Why it doesn't work

The 1905 version of Bluebeard made by Georges Melies is both entertaining and funny, but it lacks a certain something that makes it a real representation of Bluebeard. Bluebeard is a fairytale that one would not necessarily identify as such if it were not in a Grimms collection. This is because Bluebeard is grimly (excuse the play on words) realistic and has many thoroughly frightening dark characteristics that are rarely elements of fairytales. Outside of Bluebeard's ugly blue beard, there is really very little that is meant to make this fairytale magical. This is why it is odd that Melies's film has many magical qualities in the religious and individual realms. For example, Bluebeard gives his bride a key that enlarges and shrinks for some magic purpose. In contrast, though, there is no indication in this black and white film that Blue Beard's beard is actually blue! This is a sad shortcoming in my opinion. In Melies, certain dark creatures force the bride to take certain actions rather than her doing them on her own, representing a tempting force that does not exist in the short story.

Oddly, because of elements like that, where substitutes are put in the place of the maiden genuinely acting on her own, the Grimm version of Bluebeard can almost be interpreted more favorably by modern feminists than the more recent film. This is true in other senses as well. For instance, outside of not being able to save herself, the Grimms Bluebeard is a strong, independent woman. Her curiosity, and not so much one of weakness, shows independence and gets her into trouble. Outside of her mistakes though, she does certain things to save herself, such as warning her brothers that she may cry out, praying when the tides were against her, and fending off the monster and calling her brothers to help before its too late.

These features are gone from Melies. All of the maidens help comes from a sort of Deus Ex Machina, as outside forces come to her aid without her doing much to call for them. Her brother's come with out her asking, for example, and God helps revive the dead maidens without a scene of the maiden taking her own initiative in prayer. A petty Bourgeois ending is presented too, where many women are married off to men in a conformist fashion, as little reason for these bonds are explained unlike in Grimms fairytales. This replaces the more satisfying Grimm ending where true family bonds are emphasized as the brothers and sister come together after her rescue.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Questionable Morals...

At the end of Perrault's Bluebeard story, two morals are presented. One basically says that curious women always end up in trouble if they try to satisfy their curiosity. The other is a little more ambiguous, but seems to be saying that husbands are no longer unreasonable and jealous, and that women rule the relationship. The first moral is contradictory to the second. In the first, women are shown to be weak and "succumb" to their curiosity all the time. Clearly, this is a bad thing because we all know women should stay out of men's business and not go looking into locked rooms that aren't the kitchen or the nursery. Perrault uses this "moral" to show his view of women's place in the world and the consequences they will face if they step out of it. The second moral contradicts this by implying that women rule in relationships and make their husbands "toe the line". The only reason I can think of for Perrault to provide two very different morals at the end of the story is to make fun of the "curiosity killed the women" message in the story. The first moral is perhaps an ironic acknowledgment of the apparent misogynistic message of the story. Many people would look at the story and only see the moral as, when women go where men tell them not to, bad things will happen. Perrault added the second moral to show that this is a simplistic view of the story and an old fashioned way of thought. The first line of the second moral is "if you just take a sensible point of view". He is showing that a sensible person would see beyond that initial moral and understand that "this tale is one that took place many years ago". In "modern" or Perrault's time, women can be curious and question their husbands without fear of death. So the second moral is the one that Perrault really believes.

Women in the Bluebeard Tales

There seem to be a lot of stories throughout history that involve a woman’s inability to quell her curiosity, such as the story of Adam and Eve and Pandora’s Box, among others. These stories paint the female characters as easily tricked and lacking self-control. In the Brothers Grimm version of “Bluebeard”, though the maiden is forbidden from entering the one room, she is unable to resist her desire to see what’s inside. It is interesting that when her groom threatens to kill her and leaves her alone to pray, attempting to defend herself(something sharp, a blunt object perhaps?) or hide or run away aren’t even presented as an option in the story. She must instead rely on men (her brothers) to come save her.

In “The Robber Bridegroom”, the maiden is once again almost killed by her curiosity. She arrives at this house which she is afraid of because it is “so dark and dreary” yet still goes inside. A bird immediately warns her repeatedly that the house belongs to murderers who will kill her once they arrive home…yet she continues looking through the rooms. She is eventually helped by a woman BUT she is very old and therefore wise (though she was in possession of a sleeping potion and had apparently never tried to use it before to escape...). In each, the women are portrayed as somewhat naive and helpless.

Bluebeard....encroaching on reality?

What makes the Bluebeard stories so frightening is that the serial killing is very real, there are men like Bluebeard in the real world who have a habit of killing.
In the Grimms' Bluebeard there is the scene of horror that greets the young bride's eyes of all the previous wives hanging from the walls, a pool of blood underneath which means that the killing is fresh. Another creepy part to the Bluebeard stories is that he is not recognized as a monster, but maintains a regular appearance as a nobleman (usually) who is married. In contrast to the Beauty and the Beast stories, the Beast's physical appearance is threatening, but he is able to fall in love, and he has a gentle soul. Bluebeard, however, looks like a man, but on the inside is a monster, unable to feel or respond to any kind of love.
In Georges Melies film we watched in class Wed. March 17, the film seems innocent enough with lively music, and the characters never actually speak, but I found the image of the hanging women disturbing. While the entire movie seemed to be very surreal, the dead women seemed very real in contrast to the rest of the movie, as if something out of a horror movie today.
Perhaps all the gruesome stuff that has happened in other stories doesn't seem so horrible because I can't see it happening today, but Bluebeard is probably one of the fairytales that doesn't exactly fit the category.

Bluebeard Stories

There is an interesting difference in attitude towards women between Perrault's Bluebeard and the Grimm's Robber Bridegroom. Perrault uses the story to teach the moral that curiosity is a bad trait in women and that they will inevitably be faced with negative consequences if they allow the temptations of curiosity to overcome them. This portrays women as weak and mischievous. Perrault is sure to point out that this story took place long ago, and that while husbands are no longer so terrible, it is still clear that they are in charge of the women - "it is not hard to tell which of the pair is master."

The Robber Bridegroom has a more positive view of women. The girl quietly hinds behind the barrel when the robbers arrive at the cottage and cleverly keeps the cut-off finger as proof for when she tells her story to everyone. She also used the peas and lentils on the way to the bridegroom's house, not unlike Hansel and Gretel, so that she could find her way back. Here, the girl is portrayed as clever, thoughtful, not easily distressed, etc. She is able to handle herself (and get herself out of) stressful situations. The bridegroom has no power over her, as does Bluebeard in Perrault's version. In fact, she is able to have the band of robbers executed for their deeds. She is a strong, independent woman, unlike the one portrayed in Bluebeard, who is at the mercy of her husband.