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La Barbe Bleue, from the painting made Specially for the 1913 Christmas edition of "The Illustrated London News" by Kay Nielsen* (Photo credit: Google Images)

La Barbe Bleue, from the painting made Specially for the 1913 Christmas edition of “The Illustrated London News,” by Kay Nielsen* (Photo credit: Google Images)

 *The text is available from The Spirit of the Ages                                 

Charles Perrault‘s Audience

As you have noticed, Bluebeard is reminiscent of many folktales and other works of literature, not all of which belong to what we now call children’s literature.  Yesterday, we looked at Charles Perrault’s Bluebeard.  Perrault’s first audiences were persons who gathered in French seventeenth-century salons, a more refined and sophisticated environment than court: the Louvre and, later in the century, VersaillesChildren may have been Perrault’s  very last audience. 

Charles Perrault as a Moderne

I also mentioned that in French seventeenth-century literature, one could not combine comedy and tragedy.  Like comedies, fairy tales end well, but there may be a “happy ending” to a comedy that does not seem a real comedy.  Such is the case with some of Molière‘s comedies.  The best examples are Le Misanthrope, Tartuffe and Dom Juan Molière nearly broke the rules as did Perrault in his fairy tales.  We know that Bluebeard’s young wife will be saved, but by the time her brothers arrive, we are out of breath.  Would that a message-carrying dog had been sent to fetch the brothers!

However, Charles Perrault, a moderne in the famous Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes, has chosen riveting suspense.  Here, rules are being challenged by a member of the Académie française itself.  Other than the stained key, there is very little enchantment in Bluebeard, in which respect it resembles Puss in BootsThe young wife and Anne are clever girls, but where is the young wife’s fairy godmother?  Well, she does not have one.  Is this a fairy tale?  One wonders.

A Fairy tale “bursting out,” but saved

As for motifs and instances of intertextuality, seldom have they been as abundant than in Bluebeard.  In fact, motifs and intertextualité seem to override genre.  Although, “all’s well that ends well,” this is a fairy tale I would call “éclatée” or bursting out.  Perrault is taking the new genre to its very limit.  Moreover, there is something biblical about this fairy tale: the stain cannot be removed, except miraculously.  That stain seems of remembrance of la tache [stain] originelle, the original sin.  Moreover, the brothers arrive at the very last-minute.  So not only the young bride, but the genre itself, i.e. fairy tales, are saved.  This is anin extremis,” intervention.


As for Bluebeard, he is not the mean second wife who turns her husband’s beautiful daughter by a first marriage into a chimney sweeper.  Bluebeard is more than an “animal,” he is a monster.  He’s Goethe’s FaustMephistopheles.


Having written the above, I can say no more than I did yesterday: “All’s well that ends well.”

ovs-image-kay-nielsen1kay nielsen

Both images are by Danish illustrator Kay Nielsen (12 March 1886 – 21 June 1957)

For Students

For those of you who are students of folklore, I have provided Alishman’s extremely useful cross-referencing, complete with links to the tales he mentions.  Motifs overlap in this surprisingly rich “fairy tale,” so I have listed them.

Particularly helpful is Alishman’s page devoted to the Grimm Brothers.   It is entitled: Grimm’s Fairy TalesThe brothers Grimm have a classification system of their own: KHM.

ATU Type 710

Marienkind (KHM 3)

ATU type 311

To access D. L. Alishman’s page, click on 
How the Devil Married Three Sisters ATU 311
and other folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 311 
translated and/or edited by D. L. Alishman
  1. How the Devil Married Three Sisters (Italy).
  2. The Cobbler and His Three Daughters (Blue Beard) (Basque).
  3. Your Hen Is in the Mountain (Norway).
  4. Fitcher’s Bird (Germany).
  5. Link to The Hare’s Bride (Germany). This tale is contained in a separate file and will open in a new window.
  6. The Three Chests: The Story of the wicked Old Man of the Sea (Finland).
  7. The Widow and Her Daughters (Scotland).
  8. Peerifool (Scotland).
  9. The Secret Room (New York, USA).
  10. Zerendac (Palestine).
  11. The Tiger’s Bride (India).
  12. Links to related sites.
(copied from D. L. Alishman)

ATU type 955

To access D. L. Alishman’s page, click on
The Robber Bridegroom
  1.  Link to The Robber Bridegroom (Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, versions of 1812 and 1857). Opens with a new page.
  2. The Robber’s Bride (Germany). 
  3. The Sweetheart in the Wood (Norway). 
  4. The Story of Mr. Fox (England). 
  5. The Oxford Student (England). 
  6. The Girl Who Got Up a Tree (England). 
  7. Bloody Baker (England). 
  8. Bobby Rag (England).
  9. Captain Murderer (England, Charles Dickens).
  10. Laula (Wales).
  11. The History of Mr. Greenwood (Scotland).
  12. The Cannibal Innkeeper (Romania).
  13. Greenbeard (Lithuania).
  14. Sulasa and Sattuka (India, The Jātaka).
  15. Links to related sites.
(copied from D. L. Alishman)

Learn from Masters

© Micheline Walker
15 June 2013

Bluebeard, by Harry Clarke (1889-1931)
Photo credit: Wikipedia