Guest Blog by Elise Forier Edie
I based my fairy godmother tale, "My Last Curse," on an existing story by Baroness D’Aulnoy. In writing it, I tried to solve a mystery that has bothered me for much of my life. Baroness D’Aulnoy was a 17th century writer and fabulist. She is best known for her contes de fees, or fairy tales. One of her most well-known is "The White Doe," which appears in the Orange Fairy Book, edited by Andrew Lang. And that story always struck me as a big, fat mess.
I have always been a fan of fairy tales, and Andrew Lang’s twelve colorful volumes hold almost all my favorites. But I’ve also always been puzzled by "The White Doe." The story is filled with powerful and determined females, from a crab fairy, to a Black Princess, to virtuous Desiree, the enchanted White Doe herself. But throughout the tale, all of these wonderful women doom themselves with bad choices. The crab fairy becomes vengeful, the Queen forgets to thank her, the Black Princess never redeems herself, and the White Doe runs off to marry the man who almost kills her. Even as a child, I wondered how poor Desiree could marry the prince who shot her, and why the crab fairy would curse a girl she helped to bring into the world.
But once I looked at poor Baroness D’Aulnoy’s life, it all came clear for me. As the editors of Encyclopedia Britannica casually relate, in bloodless prose: “Shortly after her marriage as a young girl in 1666, Marie d’Aulnoy conspired with her mother and their two lovers to accuse falsely Marie’s husband, a middle-aged financier, of high treason. When the plot miscarried, she was forced to spend the next 15 years out of the country.”
Wow! Here is story of Shakespearean scope and every word of it is true: Act one: Marie is barely sixteen years old when wed to a middle-aged financier. (Ew.) Act two: Marie, her mother—and both their lovers!— form a desperate plan, so young Marie can escape the marriage by having her husband killed (OMG. How much did this guy suck?). Act three: when the plot fails, Marie is thrown in prison. (As a teenager. In the 1600s. Listen, if it was anything like England’s Newgate — the most well-documented prison of the era — it was a hellish place, part underground dungeon and part open sewer). Act four: Marie is pardoned and spends the next thirteen years abroad doing… actually, no one knows. Likely she led an itinerant and desperate existence, scrounging a life for herself by mooching off various friends and acquaintances. But Act Five: she must have made herself charming and indispensable because Marie somehow re-emerges in triumph, as one of Paris society’s most popular authors. And seriously, this fifth act sounds like a wonderful life, one that quite redeemed the horror of the first four. As reported by Jack Zipes in a recent Princeton University Press article: “(Marie) established her own salon on the rue Saint-Benoît, where she often read her fairy tales before they were published. It became customary at d’Aulnoy’s salon to recite fairy tales and on festive occasions to dress up like characters.” (I mean! Cos-play and storytelling! Madame, may I come, too?)
Anyway, once I knew the details of this author’s extraordinary life, the conflicts in her strange and convoluted story "The White Doe" made much more sense. Marie’s Princess Desiree is cursed to never see the light of day. She is raised in darkness. Her only escape is marriage, but the engagement transforms her into an animal. She runs away only to be shot and hobbled by her fiancé. What else could a clever, gifted and determined woman of era expect? How else could a girl live as she pleased, in a society crushed by a rigid, unforgiving patriarchy?
In tribute to Marie — and to all women who have tried (and still try) to take control of their lives in a vicious and controlling system — I offer "My Last Curse." In this re-telling of "The White Doe" the fairies enchant their girl only to empower her and to give her a chance to fight against unspeakable odds. Their one hope? That Desiree might find a way to thrive and make her own choices. May we all find a way, as Marie d’Aulnoy did, to escape prison, run away and make a life for ourselves on our own terms, and where our own dreams can come true.
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