Monday, September 4, 2017
The Girl of Glass and Snow:
Feminist revision of fairy tales is not new. Interpretation of any story is to be expected. Literature dies without vision and revision.
Pointing out the negative archetype aimed at older women in fairy tales is not a bad thing. Remember, “older” could mean late twenties. I was shocked last week at a wedding shower of friends whose family belongs to a strict religious denomination. I heard comments describing her as an “older” bride. She’s 26. I was older than that when I married. I must be a Methuselah bride. Or corpse bride. Another friend at 30 said she was called a Cougar. My response was, “If you’re a cougar, then I’m a saber-toothed tiger!”
Seriously, I’m not considered old. I still think the way I did in my twenties, and I don’t dress like I’m old.
Yet, there is a stigma that is ancient against older women, however older is defined. There is not enough room here to explore the hag archetype, and how it has affected literature, myth and history. Certainly, that archetype was aimed at Erzebet. When her husband died, she was somewhere in her 40s, wealthy, alone, of a different religion. Other women in her position were also accused of witchcraft and perversion as she was, their properties forfeit.
The same thing happened to accused “witches” everywhere. Our own Salem Witch Trials followed the same pattern. The old, the poor, the healers, the single, the too wealthy, the outsiders, these were denounced. Sarah Good, the pauper of
, is regularly described
as an old hag, yet she was young enough to have a five year old daughter. The best account is Marion Starkey’s, The Devil in Massachusetts. Salem
On a PBS special of Walt Disney last night, I watched their account of the making of Snow White, and the implications of the magic mirror. Mirrors are huge in feminist studies, and in the myth of Erzebet Bathory. In a play by Velasquez, Las Meninas, the painter was brought before The Inquisition for a painting of Venus in front of the mirror.
The hag, or evil witch, and Maleficent, were straight out of the examples in Sheila Jeffries’ excellent book, The Spinster and her Enemies.
Older women, widows, those retired in late Middle Age, the Marcia’s and Leonora Eyre’s of Barbara Pym’s works, her Miss Clovis’ and Excellent Women, there has often been no room for these in societies all over the world. Native American peoples in some cases left widows out to die among the elements. James Michener told their story in fictional with his novel, Centennial. Some Hindu societies had them die on their husband’s funeral pyres. Even well meaning modern societies for orphans and widows marginalize them. They are usually older, over 25, let’s say, and may have property which everyone else is only too happy to divest.
The story of Erzebet is a cautionary tale, universal in its tragedy, embodied in our fairy tales and retellings of “Snow White.”
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