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The Princess Story

Modeling the Feminine in Twentieth-Century American Fiction and Film


Sarah Rothschild

What is a princess story? In this subgenre, newly defined in The Princess Story, the protagonist either is a princess or is attempting to become one: the girl transforms into or identifies herself as a princess through marriage or through discovered identity, or both. Princess lessons often accompany this transformation, lessons that not only educate the fictional girl but also the reader.
Cultural expectations and anxieties about the roles of girls and women are transmitted through princess stories, and the dialogic nature of feminism and patriarchy, forces for progress and forces for tradition, can be explored through their study. In this book, feminism and progress are embodied by the first, second, and third wave of feminist princess stories; patriarchy and tradition are represented by Disney Studios’ princess stories. All of these stories influenced their readers, some of whom grew up to write their own princess stories, stories that reflected and – they hoped – furthered their ideological goals. Princess stories of the early 2000s are compelling in that they tensely balance romance and feminist assumptions.
Anyone interested in folklore studies, feminist studies, children’s literature, Disney studies, film adaptations, psychology, sociology, or theories of child development will find The Princess Story: Modeling the Feminine in Twentieth-Century American Fiction and Film essential reading. When contemplating the changes made by feminists to American culture, no one figure is as worth examining as the fictional princess, and no book has yet approached the topic as thoroughly as this one.


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Introduction: What Is a Princess Story? 1


™ INTRODUCTION ™ What Is a Princess Story? WHEN I first began considering princesses and the role their stories play in the lives of girls and women, I was the mother of two young girls. My daughters were deeply into pink, and princesses, and wearing dresses— basically being as girly as possible. As their mother and a feminist, I wrestled with this: What was I allowing American culture (and Disney in particular) to teach them? Would they outgrow this phase? Would their future life decisions be impacted by their princess play? Should I dress them in twenty- first century Garanimals, or should I let them express themselves through their clothing as they pleased? Would it be more harmful to allow them to be happy little princesses, or to forbid it? As my daughters were obsessed, I became obsessed. I began to pay more attention to the princess stories my daughters were consuming and the ways they replicated those stories in their play. I began to read—not just the princess stories and their source material, but the many strands of thought and fields of study that would eventually make their way into this book: folklore studies, feminist studies, studies in children’s literature, Disney studies, psychology, sociology, and theories of child development. And I began to recognize that princess stories are different from fairy tales, meaningful in ways that intentionally send messages to girls and women. As this book will demonstrate, princess stories should be considered their own subgenre, worthy of examination. Princess...

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