Research Stream


Bronwyn Reddan
Deakin University


The Problem of Love in Early Modern Contes de Fées

Falling in love and living happily ever after is a romantic fairy tale myth which continues to shape our ideas about love and marriage. This project seeks to challenge the stereotype of love as the ultimate happy ending by examining a corpus of seventeenth-century French fairy tales which represent love as a frequently disappointing or disastrous experience.

Love me, love me not: Performing emotion in early modern contes de fées

Image: The Carte de Tendre or Carte du Pays de Tendre, François Chauveau c 1654. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In late seventeenth-century France, contes de fées were written as politically subversive tales which used fantastic settings to imagine alternative social realities for early modern women. Bronwyn Reddan’s research examines the performance of love in these early modern French stories, arguing that they are historically valuable sources providing insight into early modern debates about gender and the role of emotion in shaping human experiences.  In particular, the tragic tales written by Marie-Catherine le Jumel de Barneville, Comtesse d’Aulnoy and Henriette-Julie de Castelnau, Comtesse de Murat illustrate ambiguity in early modern attitudes to love. Her project investigates this challenge to popular assumptions that fairy tale love inevitably leads to a happy ever after ending and uses the tales of d’Aulnoy, Murat and their contemporaries to develop a more complex picture of historical attitudes towards romantic love.


“Thinking through things: Magical objects and female identity in early modern French fairy tales”, SHAPS Work in Progress Day, 1 November 2013.

“Finding magic in the everyday: Seventeenth-century fairy tales and the transformative power of everyday objects”, Histories of the everyday: East-West perspectives, CHERHub/AAHub workshop, 13 November 2013.

“Reciprocal emotions: Gift giving and the obligation to love in early modern fairy tales”, Emotion, Ritual & Power in Europe: 1200 to the Present, ARC Centre for the History of Emotions Change Collaboratory, 10-12 February 2014.