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French Fairy Tales and Legends
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French folklore includes fables, fairy tales and legends of peoples living in France and much else. Most oral French tales were collected after the mid-1800s. (WP, "French folklore")

Some Sources and Roots of French Tales

Literary Tales and some origins

Charles Perrault (1628–1703) derived almost all his tales from folk sources and earler Italian works, but rewrote his tales for the upper-class audience. Earlier versions of "Cinderella" and "Puss in Boots" are Italian, for example [More]. (EB, "fairy tale")

Marie Catherine d'Aulnoy (1650/1–1705), a contemporary of Perrault, collected tales and published stories too. She formed her tales to entertain the nobility and citizens in a period marked by whigs, vanity, perfume and powder.

There are other more or less sleek-phrased salon tales than those of Perrault and Madame d'Aulnoy and style imitators. In 1786, in Geneva, the French author Charles-Joseph Mayer published forty-one volumes of literary fairy tales under the title Le Cabinet des fées. In the thirty-seventh volume he lists up 101 authors who contributed. They are here: [The 101 authors]

Folk tales and folklore work in France

Until 1860, most French folk tales were hardly recognised in the cities. The folk tales had been orally transmitted among other classes of the society, in various dialects and versions. In the genuine folk tales we find girls who have work to do. Among them are girls living in cottages and working in the fields.

Main efforts to collect French folk tales were undertaken from the 1860s, and large amounts of folk tales were collected and published between 1871 and 1914 - many hundred folklore books. Folk tales, legends and songs were in them. Further, scholars also found at the time that many Medieval tales originated in folk tales. (Delarue 1956, xii, xiii)

Regional collections of folk tales and legends were published. They derived from Bretagne (Brittany), Gascogne, Lorraine, Provence and others. (See the map.) The folklorist Paul Sébillot (1843–1918) was one of those who published folklore books from different regions in France. After the the First World War, French folklore work reached a low ebb. But in those years the Folklore Fellows Communications (FFC) was founded in Helsinki, Finland, and FFC has published folklore catalogues that makes it far easier to compare, classify and find sources of many European folk tales and variants of them. The looming catalogue The Types of International Folktales has helped many find sources and versions of tales, including well-known French ones. (Uther 2004).

After the Second World War, French folklorists renewed their interest in French folk tales. They collected still more tales, including tales in French from Canada and also other parts of the world where French was in use or had been in use, as in the formerly French Louisianna. In France, Henri Pourrat (1887–1959) collected one thousand tales in Auvergne, in mid-France. The seasoned writer Pourrat he work, The Treasure of the Tales considered this collection his masterpiece. He wrote it long after Paul Sébillot had published a book on tales from Auvegne.

Paul Delarue had collected data of about ten thousand French tales for a catalogue by 1956 (Delarue 1956, xiv-xv). After Delarue passed away, Marie-Louise Tenèze continued the work. It is a work in progress. Parts of it are published under the title Le conte populaire français. [More about this classifying work].

Regions of France, and Corsica

France and its Regions

France has been a major influence in Europe since the Late Middle Ages. Many bonhommes, influential artists, thinkers and scientists have flourished in France.

The country's borders have been changing. Parts of neighbouring countries have once been French, and in some areas outside France people speak French still, as in parts of Belgium and some parts of Switzerland.

People in different parts of France have different origins, and may even speak different languages. For example, in Brittany some speak Gaelic today. In Brittany many Celtic legends have come down to us. Dr Walter Y Evans-Wentz presents some of them in his work The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. Folk tales from once-Celtic Brittany may look sinister and heavily steeped in witchcraft and a measure of humour shining through here and there (Delarue 1956, xvi-xvii). The folklorist Paul Sébillot (1843-1918) from Brittany has published many stories from Brittany, in French, such as Contes populaires de la Haute-Bretagne, and tales from other French provinces.

In Normandy northmen settled and mingled with those who lived there already. The Norman bards spread chivalrous romances of such as King Arthur and the knights of the Round Rable out of Celtic myths and legends. There are good stories about the Viking Rollo (ca. 860 – c. 932) and his men in Dudo of St. Quentin's Gesta Normannorum from the Middle Ages. The whole, previously sacked region flourished under Norman rule, and Normans soon took over England, half of Italy, and many vassal states around the Mediterranean Ocean: In Antich in Syria, Palestine and in Tunisia they ruled in Oriental splendour, the historian Reginald Allen Brown sums up (1985, 6-14). [More]

Franks were Germanic tribes. They were united under the Merovingians, who succeeded in conquering most of the area that is now France, in the 500s AD. The Frankish state included most of western Europe by the end of the 700s. The Franks in western Europe merged with the Gallo-Roman population and passed their name to modern France. The Franks in the east kept their Germanic language and became part of the Germans, Dutch, Flemings and Luxembourgers. - People in the former Frankish areas along the Rhine have many legends too. The Rhine areas have sometimes been in France, sometimes in Germany and have their own legends, as can be seen in the book Hero Tales and Legends of the Rhine.

In southern France is the historical region of Occitania, where Occitan was the main language spoken. The language is sometimes still used, for the most part as a second language. This large part of France, as well as Monaco and smaller parts of Italy and Spain, has been recognized as a region since the Middle Ages, that is, since the thirteenth century. Earlier still, the territory was united in Roman times as the Seven Provinces, and in the early Middle Ages it was termed Aquitanica, or the Kingdom of Toulouse into the early 1200s. Troubadour literature from Occitania spread to the courts in other parts of Europe, and became the chief form of poetry in Europe in the Mediaval Age. From the thirteenth century, Occitan districts were made parts of France. Some Occitan regions in Italy - such as Provence and Savoy - were also conquered by France. Folk tales from regions nearby the Mediterranean Sea have several distinctive features as to themes and descriptions. The heroine in many such tales is more typically feminine than female ruffians in Nordic sagas, for example. (Delarue 1956, xvii-xviii) [SN, sv. "oksitansk"; WP, sv. "Oksitania"].

Last but not least, many splendid French tales go back to older sources and foreign sources, for example from the Italian Giambattista Basile's The Pentamerone. Basile recorded and adapted tales that are believed to have been orally transmitted around Crete and Venice. His work contains earlier versions of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Puss in Boots, Sleeping Beauty, and Hansel and Gretel. Charles Perrault acknowledged he used Basile's collection. [More] Still further back in time, there is the classical heritage with legends, tales and fables of Greeks and many others since.

Common features of French folk tales

Despite distinctive stamps on tone and forms of tales in different regions, folk tales in France are much as other folk tales in Europe, and hence one regional variant may look like variants from other districts. Different tale tellers have put their stamps on the tales too, but they have stayed within the bounds of their art too. Paul Delarue stresses that each folk tale is a piece of art. A blend of distinctive features of landscapes, local conditions and traditions and of individual tale tellers may play their parts in how tales were transmitted before they were put down in writing and more or less "frozen" that way. (Cf Delarue 1956, xv)

Paul Delarue considers that French folk tales naturally have several features in common as well. The supernatural is downtoned, simplified and made well nigh reasonable. From being a monsterlike cannibal, Bluebird has turned into a country squire or a bourgeois . . . Fantastic creatures are for most part fairies and ogres. French tale tellers have also removed much horror and cruelty found in Medieval tales and the custums they speak of. The presentation is "direct, without accessory details, . . . without lyricism; the style is sober and unadorned." The style is considerate, unvarnished, and poetical: "this poetry is light, sweet, tender, familiar, smiling, occasionally moving, and makes one think of conversation inspired by the sparking wines of our countryside." I suppose they drank other fluids too, although the French prefer wine to beer, the third most popular drink overall after water and tea. (Delarue 1956, xviii-xix; WP, "Beer")

- Tormod Kinnes


French fairy tales and legends, Literature  

The collections of French folk tales - contes populaires or just contes - are many and diverse.

French tales - some in English

Andrews, James Bruyn. 1892. Contes ligures: Traditions de la Rivière. Paris: Ernest Leroux.

Bérenger-Féraud, L.-J.-B. 1885. Contes populaires des provençaux de l'antiquité et du Moyen Age. Paris: Ernest Leroux.

Carey, Martha Ward, tr. 1887. Fairy Legends of the French Provinces. New York: T. Y. Cromwell.

Carnoy, Émile Henry. 1885. Contes français. Paris: Ernest Leroux.

Cosquin, Emmanuel. 1887. Contes populaires de Lorraine comparés avec les contes des autres provinces de France et des pays étrangers, et précedés d'un essai sur l'origine et la propagation des contes populaires européens. Paris, Vieweg.

Delarue, Paul, ed. The Borzoi Book of French Folk Tales. Tr. Austin E. Fife. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956.

de la Salle, Antoine, red. 1899. One Hundred Merrie and Delightsome Stories Right Pleasaunte To Relate In All Goodly Companie By Way Of Joyance And Jollity (Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles). "The Women Who Paid Tithe" by Monseigneur de Villiers. Paris: Charles Carrington.

Duchon, Paul. 1938. Contes populaires du Bourbonnais. Moulins Crépin-Leblond.

Macquoid, Thomas Robert, and Katherine Sarah. 1881. Pictures and legends from Normandy and Brittany. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.

Marelle, Charles. 1888. Affenschwanz et Cetera: Variantes orales de Contes populaire, français et étrangers. Braunschweig: Georg Westermann Verlag.

Marie, de France. 1911. Lays of Marie de France, and other French legends. London: Dent.

Masson, Elsie. 1929. Folk Tales of Brittany. Philadelphia: Macrae Smith.

Picard, Barbara Leonie. 1955. French Legends, Tales and Fairy Tales. London: Oxford University Press.

Pourrat, Henri. 1994. French Folktales: From the Collection of Henri Pourrat. New York: Pantheon Books.

Pourrat, Henri. 2009. Le trésor des contes. Deux volumes. Paris: Omnibus. –– 1000 French tales.

Sauvé, Léopold-François. 1889. Le folk-lore Hautes-Vosges. Paris: Maissoneuve et Charles Leclerc.

Sébillot, Paul. 1880, 1881, 1882. Contes populaires de la Haute-Bretagne. Tome 1, 2 et 3. Paris: G. Charpentier.

Sébillot, Paul. 1881. Contes des paysans et des pêcheurs. Paris: G. Charpentier.

Sébillot, Paul. 1882. Contes des Marins. Paris: G. Charpentier.

Sébillot, Paul. 1884. Contes des provinces de France. Paris: Libraire Léopold Cerf.

Sébillot, Paul. 1900. Landes et des Grèves. Rennes: Hyacinthe Cailliere.

Sébillot, Paul. 1898. Littérature orale de l'Auvergne. Paris: Maisonneuve.

Sébillot, Paul, et Françoise Morvan. 2007. Contes de Haute-Bretagne. Rennes: Ouest-France. (1880).

Sébillot, Paul, Henri Pourrat, Félix Remize. 2011. Contes d'Auvergne. Rennes: Ouest-France.

Seignolle, Claude. 1946. Contes populaires de Guyenne. Tome 1 et 2. Paris: G.-P. Maisonneuve.

Spence, Lewis. 1915. Hero Tales and Legends of the Rhine. London: George C. Harrap.

Spence, Lewis. 1917. Legends and Romances of Brittany. New York: Frederick Stokes.

Uther, Hans-Jörg. 2004. The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography Based on the System of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson. Vols 1-3. FF Communications No. 284-86, Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica.

Other works referred to - in English

Basile, Giambattista. 1932. The Pentamerone. Tr. Benedetto Croce. 2 vols. London: John Lane the Bodley Head. ⍽▢⍽ An Italian source.

Boccaccio, Giovanni. The Decameron. [Online on-site] ⍽▢⍽ Another Italian folklore source.

Brown, Reginald Allen. 1985. The Normans and the Norman Conquest. 2nd ed. Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press.

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