Today's subject is Andrew Lang's Coloured Fairy Books.
My first meeting with these was some 30 years ago. I visited Sweden and my sisters, and there was a book sale, and a cheap copy of these was on sale. I didn't have money, and my sisters probably didn't have that much money either, because I didn't get them, even though I asked. Might be because they misunderstood my request... I hope not. I choose to think it was a question of money.
You see, these books have not been translated to Finnish... I have been on the project for 20 years now, translating and illustrating, but I assume with the pace I keep someone does it before I do. :-D
(I haven't done practically anything during these 20 years, so there's no reason to believe I'd do anything the next 20 years either.)
These books were published 1889-1910. There weren't supposed to be more than one fairy tale collection, but because of the demand, he edited one more, and one more, and one more, until there were 12 books. The colors are a bit oddly chosen... probably because they were never meant to be a series of books.
The colors also don't reflect the fairy tales between the covers. The stories in the Green Fairy Book are not more "masculine" than those in the Pink Fairy Book.
Now, I have only read two of these... *blush*
(Yes, yes, I know... I know. Freely available on line, and I LOVE fairytales, and there was a time one couldn't have stopped me from reading these and everything else too! But, alas, that time was like 20 years ago. I admit, I have become a lazy slob.)
So, I'm not very aware of what's in them. Nevertheless, these books are practically responsible for making such fairytales like Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, Beauty and the Beast, Puss in Boots, Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Snow White such household names they are today. All these are in the first two Coloured Fairy Books!
(Now, I have to say that brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault has a lot to do with that too, but Beauty and the Beast... it was made known by two French ladies, first by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and then by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont.
Now, they were not noble women, even though one might think so. Madame de Villeneuve got her last name from her husband, a military officer, who was a rather horrible husband, and lucky for Gabrielle-Suzanne, died, leaving her nothing. She had to support herself by writing. Her best known story is The Beauty and The Beast. In its original version it's a lot longer and has quite a lot of other stuff in it. Among other things The Beast IS truly a beast. Vile, stupid and violent...
Madame Leprince de Beaumont (she is not a noble either, even though she married a nobleman. She managed to get the unhappy marriage annulled when he... hm... got problems, and moved to London as a governess. It was there she rewrote The Beauty and The Beast, to better suit for children.
Now, The Beauty and The Beast was very popular already in the 19th century, so I don't know how much Andrew Lang did to spread it, or if it was included to make people buy the book...)
As I already said, these books were never meant to be a series of books. We have to thank the daring publisher for there to be even Blue Fairy Book, because fairy tales were no longer interesting. They had their golden age a couple decades earlier. Nevertheless, Blue Fairy Book became a hit, and they prepared Red Fairy Book, and Green - in which Andrew Lang writes that it will be the last. But luckily, it was not.
The book “was an experiment, and of a kind that must have caused a certain amount of anxiety to Longman, the publisher…For at that time the fairy-tale had almost ceased to be read in British nurseries, and the novel of child life, the stories of Mrs. Ewing, Mrs. Molesworth, and L. T. Meade, were the only fare”
- Mufei Jiang, Andrew Lang's Fairy Books
(Now, I, of course, needed to find out who were these "Mrs. Ewing; Mrs. Molesworth, and L.T.Meade"
Juliana Horatia Ewing is the "mother of child-novels". That means, novels where the main character is a child, or someone remembering his/her childhood. Her work is available at Project Gutenberg.
Mary Louisa Molesworth wrote novels for girls, who were "too old for fairy tales, but too young for Jane Austen". That is, YA novels :-D Written for girls who were to become Victorian mothers and wifes. You can read her books also at Project Gutenberg.
Elizabeth Thomasina Meade Smith wrote also stories for girls. She was a very prolific writer. Her first book was published when she was just 17, and after that there were over 300 books published during her lifetime, and some after. She was only 60 when she dies. She also wrote everything. Girls' books, "sentimental" stories and "sensational" stories, religious storie, historical novels, adventure, romances, mysteries... She wrote 11 novels with Robert Eustace producing two female villains, "Madame Sara" and "Madame Koluchy" "the mastermind of a band of gansters! Sounds like a fantastic lady, this one :-)
(She was also the founder and editor of a girls' magazine called Atalante... and, yes, it was sort of feminist magazine. It had very good writers and articles, and it "sought to widen girls' aspirations and opportunities in middle-class careers, so there were articles on medicine, the civil service and typewriting"...)
Yes, some of her books are also available at Project Gutenberg.)
I am pretty certain of that it is very much thanks to these books we have the Golden Age of Fairy Tale Illustrators in England in the beginning of 20th century. Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Kay Nielsen...
Now, there's some 35-45 fairy tales in each book, some 450 in all 12, from all over the world. Asia, Africa, Americas, Australia and Europe, old stories and new ones, folk tales and "literary" tales, by authors dead and alive. He even adapts his own fairytale for one of the books... There are re-tellings of Greek myths, sagas and epic poems... I think these books are amazing.
My husband just told me that he hadn't even heard of Andrew Lang before he met me. (After that it would have been impossible not to hear about him :-D)