My bookish friends will assure you that there are two literary things I love above all else, the Victorians and Fairy Tales. My love for the Victorians is not restricted to the Victorians proper. Give me an amazing novel set in the Victorian era or a book with the length and depth of a Victorian novel (I’m looking at you, Eleanor Catton) and I’m a happy bookworm. My love for fairy tales began early with an obsession for Andrew Lang’s many-hued collections of fairy tales. I was the child who hated Disney’s The Little Mermaid because the mermaid did not tragically turn to suicidal sea foam at the end. Grimm, Lang, Perrault, Anderson… I love them all. My senior creative thesis in college was a collection of poorly written fairy tale poems inspired by Anne Sexton’s Transformations and Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. As you can guess, the combination of Victorians and fairy tales is enough to turn me into a simpering fan girl. This may explain why I adore Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and my obsession with my current read, A S Byatt’s The Children’s Book as both books are set in Victorian times and brimming with fairy tale elements. The Victorians and fairy tales have one overarching theme in common: the uncanny combination of superficial beauty, magic, and atmospheric wonder laced and tinged with violence, sex, and the darker elements of humanity.
Oxford University Press kindly sent me a beautiful, hardcover copy of Victorian Fairy Tales edited by Michael Newton in exchange for an honest review. I cannot wait to dig into this beautiful book!
My goal is not race through the tales in Newton’s collection. Instead I’m endeavoring to read one a week and then review that fairy tale. I picked up the book on my lunch break and read the introduction. Actually, I skimmed the introduction. I tend to skim the introductory materials, read, and then follow-up with a more thorough reading of the introduction. That allows me to have an uninfluenced first impression and then deepen my understanding of my reading afterwards. My first gander at Newton’s introduction was enlightening. He discusses the origins of the Victorians’ love for fairy tales, controversy surrounding the fairy tales’ intended audience, and the business of writing fairy tales during this era. The introduction is followed-up with a note on text selection, a bibliography for further study and a chronology of the fairy tale from 1705 to the First World War.
Next week I’ll be reading the Prologue, which consists of two “original” fairy tales and then move on to the first Victorian fairy tale in the collection, Robert Southey’s The Three Bears.