What Fairy Tales Reveal about the Transformations in a Woman’s Life
Email this review


A nontraditional and challenging vision of how female lore passed down from generation to generation sheds light on the changes experienced by women through different stages of life.

Freelance journalist Gould (Spirals: A Woman’s Journey Through Family Life, not reviewed) identifies three stages—maiden, matron, and crone—and divides her material into three corresponding but unequal parts. In each, she examines classic fairy tales, ancient myths, and modern novels, plays and films that can be viewed as retellings of these old tales to reveal what they have to say about women’s lives and the biological, social, and spiritual transformations they undergo as they move from one stage to the next. Thus, the first section looks at, among others, “Snow White,” “Cinderella,” Jane Eyre, and My Fair Lady; the second includes “Bluebeard’s Wife,” Gone With the Wind, and Rebecca; and the last features “Hansel and Gretel” and the myth of Demeter and Persephone. Exhibiting considerable scholarship, Gould examines various versions of the tales as they have been revised and altered through the centuries. Her own experiences and those of such well-known women as Eleanor Roosevelt and Florence Nightingale provide further examples of transforming events. Disney fans will shudder as the very Freudian author sees sex everywhere: a key to a locked room, the spindle that pricks Sleeping Beauty’s finger, and the tower that houses Rapunzel are all phallic symbols, while a drop of spilled blood signifies either a first menstrual period or the loss of virginity, and Bluebeard’s forbidden bloody chamber is the male equivalent of a womb. Gould argues that the drive to procreate propels the maiden into the matron stage, during which the joys and stresses of bearing children and nurturing a family may create ambiguity and conflict. She is most specific when dealing with the biological and social transformations of stages one and two, and most uncertain when discussing the spiritual changes of stage three.

Not entirely persuasive, but sure to provoke brisk controversy in women’s-studies courses.

Pub Date: Feb. 22nd, 2005
ISBN: 0-394-58532-1
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2004