Revitalizing a Genre: Beauties, Beasts, and Women Writers in the Western Tradition of the Literary Fairy Tale

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Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature


Jessica Harkins, English


The purpose of my research is to respond to M.M. Bakhtin's assertions in "Epic and Novel" that the novel is the only continually evolving literary genre by applying his criteria to the genre of the literary fairy tale. The basis for this discussion requires a brief examination of the fairy tale as a written rather than oral genre, for such distinction is vital to understanding how the genre continues to evolve. This paper follows the role of women writers of fairy tales, and in particular the writing of the 17th century conteuses and 20th century feminist writers Angela Carter, Tanith Lee, and Emma Donoghue. Their stories often defy the traditional idea of the fairy tale: one that begins with "Once upon a time" and ends with "Happily ever after." Though current women writers may approach the role of their female characters and the tales themselves in a variety of ways, they continue to create stories which provide meaning for female readers. I examine versions of "Beauty and the Beast" by Carter, Lee, and Donoghue, and demonstrate how each writer's unique version highlights her specific concerns and pushes the reader to view the story from a new perspective. My thesis project also includes my own short story version of "Beauty and the Beast," as well as three personae poems written from the perspectives of Beauty, her father, and the Beast. I composed these creative pieces in order to apply my new knowledge of gender within the literary fairy tale genre and to further develop my writing abilities in the genres of short fiction and poetry.