Reconstruction of Fairytale Canon in A. S. Byatt's Short-Genre Fiction

Essay, 2011

9 Pages, Grade: 2.0


The small prose by A. S. Bayette, a well-known author of many novels, is represented by two separately published short stories (Angels and Insects) and five collections of short stories - “Sugar and Other Stories” (Sugar and Other Stories, 1987), “Stories in the Style of Matisse "(The Matisse Stories, 1993)," The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye (1995), "Elemental Spirits: Tales of Fire and Ice" (Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice, 1998) ). The genre feature of the works of the collection “The genie in a glass bottle of the nightingale's eye” is defined by the subtitle “five tales”, although this translation is not entirely accurate. The combination of fairy stories, according to M. N. Konkova, should rather be translated as “fairy tales,” that is, a genre that synthesizes both fabulous and realistic storytelling plans [1, p. 6].

In the dissertation research by O. V. Lebedeva, devoted to the study of the poetics of the English short story in the context of its historical development, the works of the collection are considered as examples of the cross-genre interaction of the short story and the tale. E. M. Meletinsky pointed out the close connection of genres, arguing that “the majority of short stories can be compared with a fairy tale, especially a fairy tale, mostly at the level of episodes, individual fragments of a whole fairy tale plot” [3, p. 69]. The interpenetration of genres is manifested in the fact that the constituents of the genre of fairy tales are rethought in the context of the novelistic genre, which gives rise to the synthetic genre “on the verge of fiction and reality, which fancifully combines traditional fairy tale beginnings, plot and plot with an unpredictable novelistic ending that accentuates the denouement” [2, p. 22]. In this case, we can talk about the genre version of the fairy tale novel. Both definitions, on the one hand, emphasize the genre mobility of the story and short stories, and on the other, the significance of the fairy tale as an element of the artistic structure for expanding their intertextual space.

The small prose by A. Bayette attracted the attention of researchers from the point of view of embodying in it the plot of self-determination of personality (O. N. Turysheva 4) and the identification of the main style dominants that contribute to the deepening of the psychological problems of fairy tales (M. N. Konkova). The aim of our study is to consider the features of the reconstruction of traditional fairy-tale motifs and images that underlie the originality of the fairy tales short stories of the collection “The Djinn in the glass bottle of the Nightingale's Eye,” which can serve as the basis for further analysis of the influence of folk tales on the works of other collections.

The form and content of a folklore tale are determined by a certain fairy canon with its traditions, archetypal motifs and images, the borrowing of which by authors of modern fiction generates numerous studies and provides extensive material for polemic. Many contemporary authors recognize the influence of fairy-tale discourse on their work, as exemplified by two collections of essays edited by C. Bernheimer: "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall": Women writers explore their favorite fairy tales (1998) and "Brothers and Beasts": an anthology of men on fairy tales (2007).

Among those who express their attitude to the fairy tale and note the possibility of reading it at different levels, the names of N. Geyman, M. Atwood, W. le Guin, J. K. Oates, A. Carter, F. Weldon, A. S Bayette and many others. The small prose by A. S. Bayette, combining the traditional style of a fairy tale with a realistic narrative of contemporary problems, relies heavily on an important feature of the nature of the fairy tale. According to N. Philip, she is able to act as an intermediary "between the life that we have and the life that we want; between the world that we inherit and the world created in our imagination" [7, p. 39].

The “Djinn in the nightingale's glass bottle” includes five fairy tales short stories, the last of which gave the name to the entire collection. The first two tales (“Glass Coffin” and “Godet's Story”) first appeared as fake short stories in Bayette’s novel “Possess”, however in the context of a separate collection, they acquired a new sound. The “Djinn in the nightingale's glass bottle” includes five fairy tales short stories, the last of which gave the name to the entire collection. The first two tales (“Glass Coffin” and “Godet's Story”) first appeared as fake short stories in Bayette’s novel “Possess”, however in the context of a separate collection, they acquired a new sound.The fairy tale "Dragon Spirit" was written by order of a special project related to the tense situation in the countries of the Balkan region, which confirms the special adaptive properties of a fairy tale to cover the burning issues of human existence. The close allusive connection of the short stories of the collection with the folk tale is confirmed by the traditional formula of the concept of “lived yes was” with slight variations (There was once ... Once upon a time there lived ...). However, only the first novella uses the ending They did live happily ever after, which, according to Bayette, does not pay tribute to the traditional fairy-tale style, but contradicts the expectations associated with a certain initial fund of archetypal elements of different levels of folk tales.

The title of the first short story “Glass Coffin” evokes an association with the plot of the fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty”, in which the young prince removes the spell from the sleeping inhabitants of the enchanted castle and marries the awakened princess. The reader meets with familiar images and magical objects - a glass key, a beautiful castle in a crystal dome and a princess imprisoned in a crystal coffin by an evil wizard. The role of the noble savior of the young beauty in Bayette is assigned to a simple tailor, although in the framework of the archetypal logic of the development of events, the girl is sure that he is a prince, destined to conjure her and receive her as a reward for his wife. The tailor's words, however, contradict the prescribed arrangement of the fabulous roles of the folklore canon:Of course I will have you, ... for you are my promised marvel. ... Though why you should have me, simply because I opened the glass case, is less clear to me altogether, ... I trust you will feel free to reconsider the matter, and remain, if you will, alone and unwed [5, с. 20-21]. Thus, the hero not only frees the princess from the bonds of imprisonment, but also gives her freedom of action, while predicting the possibility of changing the predictable ending of the famous fairy tale of the Brothers Grimm.

The short story ends with the hero and the princess and her spellbound brother living together in the castle, the brother and the unmarried sister prefer to go hunting, and the tailor does her favorite sewing. The freedom gained by the characters and new roles indicate that following the motive of the alleged wedding as a consequence of the liberation of the heroine from glass captivity reflects the inevitable power of the fairy tale canon, while for the author this is less important than the freedom to indulge in your favorite pastimes and show some creativity [6, from. 116]. From the subsequent works of the collection, it becomes clear that the first text defines their cross-cutting themes and a number of parameters that determine the rethinking of the models of folk tales.

The heroine of the story "The Story of the Elder Princess", once in an archetypal plot scheme, would be doomed to failure in advance, since the successful completion of a difficult task is usually on the shoulder of the youngest of three children in the family. The princess is neither the youngest nor the most beautiful daughter, but it is she who will go in search of a miraculous deliverance of the kingdom from the green atmosphere that has enveloped it. To do this, she needs to get a silver bird, which can be reached by an ancient abandoned road. The powerful sorcerer sets out in detail to the girl the algorithm of her actions and advises her to follow the prescribed path steadily.

The image of the older princess is collective, it is difficult to correlate it with any folk tale, but the attention of the reader is drawn to such an attribute of the heroine, as its reading. Acquaintance with many fairy tales helps her to realize that she is trapped in a previously known plot in which she is given the role of a loser: I am in a pattern I know, and I suspect I have no power to break it, and I am going to meet a test and fail it, and spend seven years as a stone [5, p. 48]. With a state of despair, the princess is helped by meetings with three creatures with whom she changes her plot roles. In reality, they do not play the role of helpers (according to W. J. Proppa's classification), because they themselves need help. Met Princess Scorpion, the warped Toad with a huge head wound and the giant Cockroach are a noticeable reminiscence of the archetypical motive for the possible deceptiveness of appearance. In many fairy tales of the Grimm brothers, princes enchanted by the wizard appear as hedgehogs, reptiles, lions, bears, undergoing transformation and returning to their human form, thanks to the transformative power of love (for example, "Song Lark Jumper", "King Frog, or Iron Heinrich", "Snow White and Alozvetik", etc.). But Frog immediately warns the Princess not to imagine such a development. Scorpio, in turn, also advises not to stay within the known stories, and regardless of specific fairy tales to do good, because it is always profitable to help other creatures.

The turning point in the story is the princess's decision to leave this inconvenient story and go my own way. I could just leave the road and look for my own adventures in the forest [5, p. 52]. The girl is pushed to this decision by the understanding of the reasons that led her new companions to a disastrous state - they were captured by their stories and became their victims. Thus, the Toad tried to cut her head because of a false belief that she might be hiding a gem. When the princess realizes that the disgusting creatures are the product of far-fetched, stereotypical stories, she begins to look at them differently and notices their true beauty without any transformation. Following her path, the princess gets to the old lady's house, where her friends are thoroughly treated, and she herself reveals the vocation of a natural storyteller. All the numerous inhabitants of this house are united by the fact that they do not have their own fairytale story, so they do not have to worry about the plot peripetias of traditional fairy tales. In addition, the storytelling of the breakup of fairytale paths and the awareness of responsibility for making one's own decisions has an obvious therapeutic effect on the storyteller himself and his listeners.

"The Story of the Elder Princess" ends with two short stories by an old lady representing the other two sisters of the princess. The middle princess breaks the traditional story by the fact that it is she who manages to get the cherished bird and later become queen of the country, but at the same time, she leaves the younger sister without any history. Feeling unnecessary, the younger daughter is rescued by a magical old woman who offers her a thin but strong thread, running away and enticing the princess to develop the story of her own free life, winding this thread into a tight ball. In this way, A. Bayette deepens the images of her characters, making them, unlike the two-dimensional images of a traditional fairy tale, responsible for making decisions that determine their life path. The author's use of the archetypical motif of the journey helps to show the process of becoming an independent holistic personality.

One of the fairytale archetypes is the dragon - a monster that represents chaos and the destruction of all life, as it happens in the fairytale novel "The Breath of Dragons". Its characters are the inhabitants of a lonely village, where life runs boring and monotonous, but in the soul of many, including two brothers and sisters from the same family, live a desire to experience something new. They are drawn to images of new activities, exciting experiences, radically changed destinies, and the inability to achieve this fills their hearts with longing. However, their lives change as the heads of two dragons slowly slide down the mountain, spewing a caustic, deadly spirit. Dragons are an allegorical image of a volcanic mountain whose eruption destroys everything in the path of spreading lava, smoke and ash.

In accordance with the fairytale norms, the image of the dragon suggests the appearance of a hero who kills him, but in the novella Bayette can not resist dragons. People simply leave their village, fleeing in the woods and leaving everything to take its course, and they are still grieving with some strange longing. By depicting their condition, the author shows that meaninglessness of existence and passive awareness of emptiness are also manifestations of chaos. The inescapable advancement of dragons is rather the embodiment of an archetypical motive of violence that causes a feeling of loneliness, indecency and despair. This motif is quite common in German folk tales, and usually determines a pattern of character transformation, as they have to show resourcefulness in difficult situations and struggle for survival. In the novel "The Dragon Spirit" the transformation manifests itself in a peculiar way - after the disappearance of the dragons the village is reborn, but the main change is the transformation of the quality of life. People enjoy telling stories about the invasion of dragons, and their suffering provides material for miraculous stories: these tales ... became in time charms against boredom for their children and grandchildren, riddling hints of the true relationship between peace and beauty and terror [5, p. 92]. The protagonists of the new fairy tale do not change the plot itself, but their attitude towards it, becoming storytellers, showing creativity and thus acquiring their identity.

The last and longest novel, "Djinn in a glass bottle of Nightingale Eye", begins with a fairytale plot, although it is about the realities of modernity. The protagonist Gillian Perholt is a professional philologist who deals with problems of discourse organization (in the novel, her profession is defined as a narrator). She teaches to students, speaks at conferences on folklore and mythology, and in general has a wide range of philological competence. At the beginning of the story, she comes to Turkey to participate in a scientific conference. Since her professional career is linked to the study of stories, she, like her colleagues, tells different stories, illustrating the unity of form, content and function at the heart of discursive interaction. The novel features more than ten stories of varying lengths, including the extensive presentation of two reports by Gillian and that by Professor Orhan. Such a number of stories within the framework of a unified narrative construction determines its intertextual depth and shows the continuity of literary texts of different epochs, as well as folklore subjects and motifs. Unlike other novels in the collection, Bayette immerses the reader in the atmosphere of Oriental mythology and Arabic fairy tales "Thousand and One Nights".

Arabic fairytales are distinguished by their poeticity and vividness of narration, as well as by the amazing skill of storytelling composition, which was shown by storytellers, who fascinated listeners by an unexpected turn of events due to the intervention of magical forces or due to the ingenuity of the characters themselves. This sudden change happens when Gillian gets a bottle of vintage glass in a souvenir shop. The genie that emerges from the bottle blurs the line between reality and fantasy, and the miracle materializes before her eyes. The stories of the genie about its previous dungeons are woven into a further narrative, like threads in the intricate pattern of the carpet. The development of the relationship between Gillian and Genie is based on the archetypical motive of fulfilling the wishes of the hero who freed the magical creature. A woman is very balanced in expressing her desires, the realization of which gives her an unusual freedom of new sensations, including not only the freedom to interpret other people's stories, but also to create her own story. Unlike the heroes of fairy tales, who are subordinate to Destiny and are therefore the performers of roles defined by them, Gillian frees the genie from the role of a slave forced to obey her. Through her third and last wish, she gives him the opportunity to get what he wants himself, that is, the freedom to return to his native element of fantastic elements.

In A. Bayette's novels, traditional fairytale discourse is the source of many borrowings, defining the plot, composition, system of archetypical images and stylistics of its texts. The archetype as an invariant of a fairytale plot or motif is also actualised in the form of a whole series of binary oppositions constituting the archetypical core of the folklore tale: sleep - waking, captivity - liberation, destruction - restoration, prohibition - violation of prohibition. The role status of characters can also be conditioned by traditional opposition: for example, the author of wishes is a forced executor of wishes. However, the main binary structure that defines the originality of the art picture of the world of fairytale novels Bayette, can be conventionally presented as a confrontation between static and dynamism. Staticism is understood as a predictable adherence to a certain algorithm of actions in the limited space of a classical plot, and dynamism is understood as freedom to break a given scheme, freedom to creatively transform a fairytale canon. Turning once again to the fairytale, the author, just like its heroes, rethinks what is known to create their own worlds and encourage the reader to create their own stories.


Excerpt out of 9 pages


Reconstruction of Fairytale Canon in A. S. Byatt's Short-Genre Fiction
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
reconstruction, fairytale, canon, byatt, short-genre, fiction
Quote paper
Alina Müller (Author), 2011, Reconstruction of Fairytale Canon in A. S. Byatt's Short-Genre Fiction, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Reconstruction of Fairytale Canon in A. S. Byatt's Short-Genre Fiction

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free