The project proposes an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural study of the rival-sisters motif in the French and German fairy tales of late 17th and 18th centuries, and in early 19th century British novels by women writers. In all European cultures fairy tales are a major gateway to the issues of identity and to the encoding of gender relations. Thus, a systematic exploration of the theme of female siblings’ rivalry can provide a new and deeper understanding of the dominant ideologies of gender and sexuality.
My hypothesis is that the versions of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast tales as told by French women writers (Mmes d’Aulnoy, de Murat, de Villeneuve, and Leprince de Beaumont, Mlle Lhéritier) and German ones (Benedikte Naubert, Caroline Stahl, Ludowine von Haxthausen), as well as Jane Austen’s use of the same folklore patterns reveal an important tension between female and male authors in their treatment of the rival-sisters motif.
A thorough examination of this thematic form of tension and the gendered reading of these works in their social and historical contexts can help illuminate the intertextual dialogue between the European fairy tale tradition and the development of the realist novel. My goal is to articulate the evolution of the function and significance of the rival-sisters tensions in different cultural permutations, and in male- and female-penned texts.