Saturday, January 12, 2013

Charles Perrault created fairy tale genre

Charles Perrault
It is the birthday of French writer Charles Perrault (1628), who is credited with creating the fairy tale literary genre and the Mother Goose stories. He didn't actually make up the tales themselves. They were already part of folklore tradition. Perrault was just the first to write them down. Among his best known tales are Bluebeard, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, and The Sleeping Beauty. The German Brothers Grimm (Jacob and Wilhelm) rewrote many of the tales.

Perrault grew up in a wealthy Parisian family, was well educated and studied law. He became a civil servant. His brother Pierre hired him as an assistant when Pierre became tax collector of Paris. Perrault helped establish the Academy of Sciences and restore the Academy of Painting. In 1663, he became secretary of the Academy of Inscriptions and Belle-Lettres, the French humanities society. In that capacity, he served King Louis XIV's finance minister, Jean Baptiste Colbert, and advised him on matters regarding the arts. Quite the insider, Perrault got his brother hired as the designer of a new section of the Louvre that was begun in 1665.

Perrault influenced the design of Louis XIV's famous gardens at Versailles, suggesting that 39 fountains be included, each representing one of Aesop's fables. When he was 41, Perrault, by then a member of the Academie francaise, led a famous literary debate called the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns. Perrault defended the Moderns after a friend's opera (a new genre) was roundly criticized for departing from classical theater (as defined by the ancient Greeks). Perrault suggested the superiority of the artistic works i the age of Louis XIV over that of the ancient Greeks. 

After a career in Parisian artistic circles, Perrault was forced out of his government  positions and turned to writing children's stories. At the age of 69, he published Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals, subtitled Tales of Mother Goose (1897) under the name of his 19-year-old son, Pierre, possibly to avoid stirring up things again with the defenders of the Ancients.

Perrault also wrote an epic poem about St. Paulinus of Nola, a Latin poet who renounced wealth and position (he could have been a Roman Senator) and devoted himself to Christianity, philanthropy, and simple pious living. 

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