Naming and Narrating in Women’s Fiction, 1750-1880
Chapter Two. “Things Totally Out of Nature”: Fairies and Fairy Tales in Eighteenth-Century Fiction 23
C H A P T E R T W O “Things Totally Out of Nature”: Fairies and Fairy Tales in Eighteenth-Century Fiction A fairy skipd upon my knee Singing & dancing merrily I said Thou thing of patches rings Pins Necklaces & such like things Disguiser of the Female Form Thou paltry gilded poisnous worm —William Blake FANTASY in British women’s fiction is limited before 1800, and texts refer- ring to fairy creatures do so sparingly.1 Furthermore, Nicola Bown argues that gender distinctions regarding artistic taste involved fairies, of all things—men ought to admire them and women dislike the creatures.2 The female sex found little reason, she concludes, to embrace a concept that re- produced restrictive and insulting stereotypes of femininity like excessive vanity. For ladies, fairies unilaterally symbolized “paltry gilded poisnous worm[s],” to use William Blake’s phrase. Is this why so little about folklore and fairies surfaces in the eighteenth century? Fanny Burney never uses the word “fairy” in Cecilia, Camilla, or Evelina, and Jane Austen makes no notable mentions of supernatural crea- tures, even in her mock-Gothic Northanger Abbey. Maria Edgeworth, whose Practical Education urges scientific training and avoidance of fairy tales, allows her narrator Thady Quirk in Castle Rackrent (1800) to allude to “fairy mounds” and to the Banshee, yet provides extensive explanations of the terms in the text’s Glossary. There Edgeworth painstakingly explains the folklore of her Irish subjects as uneducated, country superstitions. She also cites the authority of the rising antiquarian movement to offer a...
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