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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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Chapter One: A Little Princess: A First Wave Feminist Girl 15


™ CHAPTER ONE ™ A Little Princess: A First-Wave Feminist Girl FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT’S 1905 novel, A Little Princess, serves as the prototypical princess story for the purposes of this study. It has long and repeatedly been described as a Cinderella story (sometimes favorably, sometimes deridingly), and there certainly are elements of a fairy tale in the story of rich Sara Crewe’s fall into abuse and penury and her later restoration to love and wealth. But the defining element of a princess story is the educative quality of the material: princess stories include a heavy dose of princess lessons, which teach the reading audience as well as the fictional princess how best to become this exemplary girl. For the purposes of this discussion, and certainly for the examination of the prototypical princess story A Little Princess, a princess story is defined as a story in which the protagonist either is a princess or is attempting to become one (either through marriage or through character development). There is always an element of the transformative in these stories: the heroine transforms into or becomes identified with a princess through marriage or through discovered identity, or both—and the girls reading about her are encouraged to do the same. A Little Princess is a princess story with biographical overtones from its author’s life, but more than that it is a work that exemplifies the ways first- wave feminist thought permeated American culture. So while some may dismiss A Little Princess as a Cinderella story, far...

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