Nouveaux Contes des fées. Par Madame D * *. by…

~ Nouveaux Contes des fées. Par Madame D * *. La Haye: Meindert Uytwerf, 1700.

2 vols in one, 12mo (138 × 70 mm), pp. [2], 244; [2], 210, plus engraved frontispieces to each volume (the same plate, as called for, by Jan Van Vianen). 10 engraved illustrations to the head of each tale, woodcut devices to titles, woodcut and typographical ornaments. Contemporary sprinkled sheep, gilt panelled spine. Minor expert repair to first frontispiece and title and the binding. English ownership inscription to first title: ‘G. Morgan 1756’. A very good copy.

An exceptionally rare early edition of an important fairy tale collection. Aulnoy’s fairy tales (including those here) were fist published in four volumes as Les Contes des fées in 1697-8 by Barbin in Paris. They were followed by four more volumes of new tales (also printed in Paris), the Contes nouveaux ou les Fées à la mode, printed by Catherine Legras and Nicolas Gosselin in 1698. Copies of any of these volumes or sets are now almost impossible to find (even in libraries, and they are habitually described as ‘lost’ or ‘untraceable’, though Volker Schröder of Princeton has recently traced the few known copies and fragments in a series of posts on his blog, Anecdota). Pirated editions bearing a false ‘Trévoux’ imprint appeared a few months later, with unrelated woodcuts from another source, and again surviving in less than a handful of copies.

These editions were followed by the Uytwerf La Haye editions appearing between 1698 and 1700, which appear to be only fractionally less rare than the first editions and entitled: Les Contes de fées (1698) and our Nouveaux Contes des fées (1700). The Nouveaux contes comprises the tales from volume 3 and 4 of the Paris Barbin editions, namely:

I. Preface; Don Gabriel Ponce de Leon, nouvelle Espagnolle; Le mouton; Finette cendron; Fortunée; II. Babiolle; Don Fernand de Toledo; Le Nain jaune; Suite de Don Fernand de Toledo; Serpentin vert.

The fine engraved headpiece illustrations are reproduced from the originals in the Barbin editions, but the engraved frontispieces are entirely new plates by Jan van Vianen, showing the striking figure of a female story teller (in the guise of Minerva) surrounded by fashionably-dressed listeners and with scenes from tales played out in the clouds above her head.

Of the tales gathered in Nouveaux Contes des fées, Le Nain jaune (The Yellow Dwarf) was easily the most enduring, perhaps Aulnoy’s most significant literary legacy— appearing, as it did, in numerous European versions both in print and on the stage. A tale of mothers, daughters, suitors and matrimony, Le Nain jaune is the tragic tale of the restless and spoilt princess Toute-belle who rejects her noble suitors and ends up betrayed by her mother and betrothed to the hideous Yellow Dwarf, later dying while attempting to escape her fate. Its afterlife was considerable, in literature and beyond. A French card game is named after it, and it became a popular subject for the stage, especially in England in various adaptations of the Mother Bunch story, and was retold notably by Andrew Laing in The Blue Fairy Book. Worldcat: Kansas and Princeton (the Cotsen copy) only outside Europe, both lacking the first frontispiece and the latter noticeably trimmed. Earlier editions are famously rare, surviving in only on a small handful of copies between them.

Keywords: french, literature, women
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