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Bluebeard: A Reader's Guide to the English Tradition

Casie E. Hermansson
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Bluebeard is the main character in one of the grisliest and most enduring fairy tales of all time. A serial wife murderer, he keeps a horror chamber in which remains of all his previous matrimonial victims are secreted from his latest bride. She is given all the keys but forbidden to open one door of the castle. Astonishingly, this fairy tale was a nursery room staple, one of the tales translated into English from Charles Perrault's FrenchMother Goose Tales.

    Bluebeard: A Reader's Guide to the English Traditionis the first major study of the tale and its many variants (some, like "Mr. Fox," native to England and America) in English: from the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century chapbooks, children's toybooks, pantomimes, melodramas, and circus spectaculars, through the twentieth century in music, literature, art, film, and theater.

    Chronicling the story's permutations, the book presents examples of English true-crime figures, male and female, called Bluebeards, from King Henry VIII to present-day examples.Bluebeardexplores rare chapbooks and their illustrations and the English transformation of Bluebeard into a scimitar-wielding Turkish tyrant in a massively influential melodramatic spectacle in 1798. Following the killer's trail over the years, Casie E. Hermansson looks at the impact of nineteenth-century translations into English of the German fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, and the particularly English story of how Bluebeard came to be known as a pirate. This book will provide readers and scholars an invaluable and thorough grasp on the many strands of this tale over centuries of telling.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-353-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Preface Three Hundred Years of “Bluebeard” in English
    (pp. IX-XX)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XXI-XXII)

    • Chapter 1 Principal Variants
      (pp. 3-20)

      The French fairy tale of Charles Perrault, “La Barbe bleue” (“Bluebeard”), was penned in 1695 and published in 1697. The figure Perrault named, however, had dominated international folklore and myth for centuries before Perrault gave him the particulars of a blue beard and a sumptuous castle with one forbidden room with which to tempt and test his wives. Whether for its ever-popular depiction of female curiosity or for serial wife murder, the story in Perrault’s form took prompt and lasting hold over the English imagination.

      This fairy tale is one of the grisliest in the canon. But one of the...

    • Chapter 2 Pirates and True Bluebeards
      (pp. 21-34)

      The one thing that has been relatively clear, from the fairy tale side of things anyway, is that Bluebeard was never a pirate. How then to explain the common confusion between Bluebeard and piracy—even the specific identity confusion between Bluebeard and Blackbeard, the very real Captain Edward Teach of Bristol, who was contemporaneous with Charles Perrault’s tale? It is tempting to assume that the beards have simply created the confusion, and thus it exists merely in name. Blackbeard’s beard was one of the most powerful weapons of fear he had, and he apparently made good theatrical use of it....


    • Chapter 3 Found in Translation Charles Perrault’s “Bluebeard” in English
      (pp. 37-50)

      Robert Samber was the first, in 1729, to provide an English translation of Perrault’s French fairy tale. His edition not only launched a series of reprints, new editions, and bilingual versions into the English publishing scene throughout the eighteenth century, but it also strongly impressed itself on the “Bluebeard tradition” that continued to thrive exponentially throughout the Victorian years. Versions based on Perrault’s “Bluebeard” continued to be the norm even after the tale was joined by Grimm stories fromKinderund Hausmärchen(Grimm 1812–1815, 1819), which were translated (without any “Bluebeard” variant) into English asGerman Popular Storiesin 1823–...

    • Chapter 4 A “Three Tail’d Bashaw” Bluebeard Takes a Turkish Turn
      (pp. 51-66)

      When not mistaken for a pirate, Bluebeard is often characterized as a beturbaned Turkish tyrant. But Bluebeard did not become a “three tail’d Bashaw”¹ until the eighteenth century, perhaps beginning around the time that G. M. translated the“coutelas”in Perrault’s story as “scimitar” (instead of Samber’s “cutlass”).² Bluebeard certainly did not get any of his eastern cast from Charles Perrault. Most crucially, for the English Bluebeard tradition, in 1790 the Irish composer and tenor Michael Kelly was in Paris and saw André Modeste Grétry’s operaRaoul Barbe Bleue(1789, libretto by Paul Sedaine). He returned with a program and...


    • Chapter 5 Cheap Thrills Bluebeard in Chapbooks and Juveniles
      (pp. 69-88)

      Bluebeard came to prominence through the eighteenth century initially in the form of reprints and pirated knockoffs of Mother Goose tales, quickly breaking out into chapbook form. The termchapbookrefers to small, cheaply printed books, crudely illustrated, and even more crudely sewn, which were in circulation throughout the British Isles by the hundreds of thousands in their heyday (1750 to 1850). These books were distributed to every rural area of Britain on foot by chapmen (also known more prosaically as traveling-, running-, or flying-stationers; peddlers, packmen, or hawkers). By the late eighteenth century, “Bluebeard” was headlining many of these...

    • Chapter 6 “You Outrageous Man!” Bluebeard on the Comic Stage
      (pp. 89-107)

      In the dramas of the early decades of the nineteenth century, Bluebeard took his cue from the Colman and Kelly production, infusing contemporary chapbooks with imagery and characterization from this popular stage production (1798) and its popular revivals.¹ The stream of chapbooks that had taken their direction from Perrault translations was decidedly diverted. Here, Bluebeard is an oriental grotesque; his wife is named Fatima; she is sold by her mercenary father Ibrahim to the “three tailed Bashaw”² and rescued by her true love, Selim, along with her brothers and her sister Anne. Such was the story set by Colman and...

    • Chapter 7 Bluebeard in Victorian Arts and Letters
      (pp. 108-126)

      Interestingly, Bluebeard’s nineteenth-century popularity in chapbooks and drama was occurring at a time when the status of folk and fairy tales was in question in England, and this period was critical for their adoption by the middle-class readership. The widespread presence of theMother Goosetales attests to their popularity, but not to their respectability. Jack Zipes noted that the Puritan suppression of morally dubious entertainment had far-reaching effects, and that the “‘civilized’ appropriation” of such tales by Perrault and other salon writers did not happen in England (1987a, xiv). The following suggestion by Maria Edgworth (1798) for how to...


    • Chapter 8 Bluebeard in Crisis
      (pp. 129-143)

      At the advent of the twentieth century, the Bluebeard pantomime as Christmas fare had become thoroughly traditional. The 1901–1902 Drury Lane Christmas season pantomimeBluebeard(J. Hickory Wood and Arthur Collins) is exemplary: Mustapha has two daughters, Fatima, and Anne, the latter played to cross-dressed comic effect by the famed actor Dan Leno: “Seize me! Seize me! Why doesn’t someone seize me?” (20). Fatima is in love with Selim, but is literally sold at the Slave Market to Bluebeard, “the millionaire collector” (17). Anne is part of the lot, slipped in by her father, but she believes herself to...

    • Chapter 9 Modernist Bluebeard
      (pp. 144-158)

      Modern treatment of the Bluebeard story is indelibly influenced by the two operas, that by Maeterlinck and Dukas and that by Balázs and Bartók, which themselves drew upon a wide range of European modernist ideas. Influences for the operas included the Dreyfus Affair and the Catholic Church’s reexamination of the crimes of Gilles de Rais, as well as a desire to musically distinguish French and Hungarian music from German and French influences. Post–World War I, post-Freud, and post-Nietzsche, the Bluebeard story in the English tradition frequently reflected the modern dilemma. But as “Bluebeard” has always been used as a...

    • Chapter 10 Contemporary Bluebeard
      (pp. 159-176)

      Bluebeard proliferated throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. As the protagonist of Loren Keller’s novelFour and Twenty Bluebeardswrites, “there was plenty of room in the ‘postmodern’ world, or any other, for my twenty-four versions” (1999, 257). In the contemporary landscape, these versions are simultaneous with one another. Charles Ludlam’s avant-garde playBluebeard(1987) features a Bluebeard who is part mad-scientist, part “Turk” (2.9), and it is set in part to Béla Bartók’s music from the operaDuke Bluebeard’s Castle. As Charles Dickens predicted, the “counterfeits” have taken the field.

      “Bluebeard” works in the latter half of...

  9. Epilogue Bluebeard Today
    (pp. 177-178)

    In the postmodern present, all Bluebeards are simultaneously possible. In the pantomimeBluebeard(2003) by Paul Reakes, the treatment of “Bluebeard” is entirely traditional.¹ Contemporary references toBuffy the Vampire SlayerandWallace and Gromitare the only clues that the pantomime is less than a hundred and fifty years old, and the pantomime delights in the traditional comic business, the kitchen scene,ad libinteraction with the audience, and the pantomime dame as Sister Anne (Ruby, playeden travestiby a male actor), whom no one wishes to marry.² Symbolically present in this traditional pantomime are the dozens of...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 179-222)
  11. Bibliographies
    (pp. 223-275)
  12. Index
    (pp. 276-290)
  13. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 291-298)