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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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Conclusion: Romance and the Princess’ Continuing Relevance 229


™ CONCLUSION ™ Romance and the Princess’s Continuing Relevance PRINCESS STORIES continue to have a readership even when those readers reach adulthood. Novel-length adaptations of princess stories can be found for an adult audience, most commonly in the genres of romance and science fiction/fantasy. In both genres, authors of princess stories wrestle with feminist issues. It is unsurprising that these issues arise in the science fiction and fantasy adaptations, as science fiction has always had feminist ties. According to Merja Makinen, in fact, no genre has been more feminist- friendly than science fiction. The speculative nature of the genre opens it to thought experiments and innovations not found elsewhere in literature. All of the major feminist debates are found in science fiction, “from the explora- tions of phallocentric language, to strong action-women agency; from ideal feminine communities, to the phallocentric dystopias; from explorations of the alien ‘other’ to questions of identity with the cyborg” (129). Women in science fiction and fantasy often have more agency, more financial or magical wherewithal, than female characters in any other genre and often more than the male characters populating their stories. Romance, on the other hand, has no such theoretical connection or tradition of feminism. Romance novels are most often simply dismissed as not being worth reading, and rarely are they examined for feminist issues and viewpoints. One of the fairy tales most likely to be adapted for an adult audience is that of Sleeping Beauty, which might seem to pose unique difficulties for the author...

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