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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What is a Victorian Fairy Tale?

I have noticed recently that fairy tales have started coming back to the forefront in television and on the big screen. Disney has, of course, been doing this for awhile, but the market has seemed to shift slightly in the audience, now marketing toward teens and adults. A prime example of this is the recently released Red Riding Hood starring Amanda Seyfried (review will be upcoming later this week). This resurgence in popularity of the fairy tale has brought me back to interest in the original tales behind these works. I have a fairly old edition of Grimm’s fairy tales (before many of the stories were edited to be more politically correct) as well as books on Victorian and Celtic fairy tales. Most of us know many of the Brothers Grimm tales but how many Victorian fairy tales can you name? From the book I have, which features many of the most well known tales, I have only heard of two – I would wager most of you are in the same boat. I thought I would do a mini feature on Victorian tales to re-familiarize all of us with these stories.
Grimm's Snow White
Today we focus on what actually makes up a Victorian fairy tale.

Many fairy tales prior to the Victorian period tended to feature some grotesque or scary themes and events. There were ogres, scores of children being eaten up, magic, sexual references, violence etc. These tales were not seen as suitable for children because of these characterizations.

Enter the Victorian period. Literature during the Victorian period took on a unique style very much the opposite of its predecessor. The main focus of the tales from this time became issues of morality. There was almost always a message that the reader could take away from the story (sort of similar to the Aesop’s Fables of old).

Here is a great passage from my book of Victorian tales that pretty much sums up what these tales were about.
The coronation of Victoria in 1837 marked the arrival of a golden age for the literary British fairy tale. Even though initially there was still considerable resistance to these innocent amusements, by the queen’s fiftieth jubilee fairy tales were no longer regarded as the engines of mischief…, but rather, … “as engines for the propulsion of all virtues into the little mind of an agreeable and harmless form.” Clearly, their authors were mindful of the criticisms of earlier nursery lore. The new fairy tales were cleansed of the savagery and ethical ambiguity that had characterized many traditional stores: here there were no ogres who cut off children’s heads, as there were in Perrault’s “Hop o’ My Thumb”, and no rewards for the liar, as in “Puss in Boots.” Even when not overtly moralizing, these tales were always moral. Good always triumphed over Evil in these optimistic fantasies (Hearn xix-xx)1.
Many of these tales from the Victorian period were written by very famous novelists (Dickens, Browning, Wilde, Nesbit and Barrie, to name a few). We will explore some of these famous tales later this week.

If you would like to read some of these Victorian tales, may I recommend The Victorian Fairy Tale Book by Michael Hearn?

1 Hearn, Michael. "Foreward." The Victorian Fairy Tale Book. New York: Pantheon, 2002. Print.

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. Great post! I could only think of Wilde when you asked how many Victorian fairytales we knew. It's great you will be exploring the topic further! I really love fairytales and am looking forward to these posts.

    On this note, I have a Friday meme on my blog that concern everything related to fairytales, so if you ever feel like contributing, you're welcome.

  2. Irena- Thanks for the info about your meme!

  3. Oooh, fabulous post! Thanks for the book recommendation -- I'm going to seek it out because I love fairy tales and Victoriana so the the combination of the two....well...it's heaven!

  4. I have a book about Victorian times that covers this subject briefly and I remember reading about Queen Victoria's role in 'cleaning up' and changing the way children were raised. Very interesting!

  5. Audra - this collection has a pretty good assortment of tales.

    Arleigh - I can imagine that she had an impact!


Thanks for leaving your comments! I love reading them and try to reply to all!