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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 Five: The Third-Wave Princess Story: A Redefinition 169


™ CHAPTER FIVE ™ The Third-Wave Princess Story: A Redefinition THE late 1990s through the late 2000s produced many princess stories for a young adult reading audience. These offered tweens and young teens new versions of older fairy tales or entirely new stories featuring princesses and, in many cases, specific princess lessons. These stories took into account feminism and the new expectations of girls and women in American society; this combination of new expectations and old role models produced some very interesting works, illuminating the tension between traditional romantic expectations and newer social expectations in a culture changed by the women’s movement. The books chosen for this chapter represent a range of princess stories from this period, but they do not represent the entirety of princess stories produced during this time. The renewed interest in young adult princess stories can be seen in two publishers’ new series centered on princesses and fairytales. Scholastic’s The Royal Diaries series, begun in 1999, is a collection of historical novels, fictionalized young teen diaries and epistles of real-life princesses from many countries and times; as a sample, I have included four of their titles in this discussion. Simon Pulse, a teen imprimatur from Simon & Schuster, has the Once Upon a Time series, retellings of classic fairy tales which promise “fresh, quirky heroines” and “unique and original ‘happily ever afters’” (according to the back matter from Snow); three novels from this line are also included. This chapter will survey some of the young adult princess stories published...

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