Inverting Pygmalion: Fairy Tales and the Male Model

Sometimes I do wander the web, clicking on tumblr posts. I’m having a coffee, a short break from grading papers or providing feedback. Yes, sometimes I am procrastinating! I’ve long ago learned to accept procrastination as part of my writing process – procrastination is often, after all, an opportunity to break from a faltering thought process.

But sometimes, on my wanderings, something catches my eye and I’m on a new research path!

Today I was looking through some posts and I came across “Why, this is my dream prince!” The post features a juxtaposition of Disney princesses with statues and homemade models of their prince charmings. I had never put all the examples together to realise there really is a theme.

It’s a theme that has deep roots in fairy tale. For instance, in Basile’s tale of Betta, the merchant daughter, the erstwhile heroine disdains all the men of her acquaintance. Instead, she moulds her own man, giving her father a bit of a start when a strange man suddenly appears from her room. It is a delightful twist on the Pygmalion myth in which the woman now sculpts her own ideal man. Indeed, Betta does such a wonderful job, the Queen steals away her creation.

The fairy tales of late seventeenth-century France are filled, on the other hand, with portraits of princes and princesses, some of which speak to their future lovers. In d’Aulnoy’s “The Hind in the Wood,” the prince’s portrait utters endless compliments to the princess he has never actually laid eyes upon. The princess, in turn, falls in love with the portrait, for she has not yet met the prince. Portraits were often utilised in the royal marriage market. A flattering portrait along with lands and cash could ensure a profitable marriage between distant strangers.

The use of models and portraits in fairy tale is quite common. I’m now investigating whether it is most common for the princes to be sculpted and painted and how other scholars have thought about this issue.



Fairy Tale in Italy

One of the nicest classrooms I've taught in

One of the nicest classrooms I’ve taught in

I can’t really complain about jetlag and my second dose of ‘flu this winter when just a couple of weeks ago, I was teaching students at the above location.

View from Boccaccio's home

View from Boccaccio’s home

I was teaching ‘Fairy Tale in Italy’ at Monash’s Prato campus again. We finished our fortnight with a field trip to Certaldo and the home of Boccaccio. Boccaccio didn’t really write fairy tales, but the Decameron does include ‘Griselda’ – which did pass into fairy tale – and the Decameron serves as a model for Straparola’s The Facetious Nights and Basile’s Tale of Tales. The tower from his home has the most magnificent view.



There is little opportunity to follow too closely in the footsteps of Basile and Straparola, but Certaldo gave us a glimpse into the Italian world they knew, a world of little towns perched on high hills with red brick buildings and sweeping views over the countryside. We were able to sit at the castle and chat about ‘Griselda’ and our appreciation for the often very positive representations of female characters in early Italian tales.

Belinda wrote once on the Monash Fairy Tale Salon blog about her trip to Germany, describing the Romantic artwork she saw at Neuschwanstein:

It never really hit me before that what we consider a fairy-tale style is actually a Romantic style. The immense popularity of the Grimms’ tales has made us associate fairy tales with the visual art of their time.

I’d actually been thinking about that myself. The light, bright greens and Tuscan reds of Italy had often made me wonder what fairy tale today would ‘look’ like if Straparola and Basile had remained popular. The atmosphere of sunshine and the openness of the countryside offer a very different setting to the dark, tangled woods of the Grimms. Likewise, the bold, dynamic art of the baroque period would offer energetic heroes draped in rich attire. All in all, I think our idea of fairy tale would be much more robust and rather less dreamy.

Back in Prato, our lessons often included a gelati break, which I think we all miss.

Break time

Break time

We talked a great deal about the fairy tale heroes and heroines, remarking at times upon the issue of their veracity. I mused on my own experience in Verona. It was my second visit and I hadn’t really noticed the first time just how much attention Juliet’s house receives.

Juliet's Balcony - only, not really

Juliet’s Balcony – only, not really

There were always crowds present, yet Juliet, of course, probably never existed. The balcony, certainly, was a late edition to a house owned by a family whose name resembled ‘Capulet.’ Yet people crowd into the small courtyard to pay their respects to her. Does truth really matter when the story is that good?

It’s now back to teaching Fairy Tale Traditions at the Clayton campus. We’re in the middle of the French tales at the moment.

Italy - where the door knockers seem to come straight from the labyrinth...

Italy – where the door knockers seem to come straight from the labyrinth…

June is for fairy tale!

There’s a lot happening on the fairy tale front in June!

The Australian Fairy Tale Society is having its first conference in Sydney on the 9th. I’ll be there giving my paper, Baroque in Oz: From Giambattista Basile to Shaun Tan. Notice the little Beauty and the Beast nod? I’ll also be on a panel about fairy tale in Australia – I’m really looking forward to that!

Then on the 29th, our Monash Fairy Tale Salon is holding a symposium, Transporting Tales. It will be run as part of the Glen Eira Storytelling Festival and everyone is welcome. The call for papers has just gone out – it’s a bit of a tight turn around, but we’d love to hear from everyone!


Transporting Tales – Fairy Tale Symposium
June 29

Australian Fairy Tales by James Hume-Cook; with illustrations by Christian Yandell

As part of the Glen Eira Storytelling Festival, the Monash Fairy Tale Salon will be hosting a day exploring fairy tale migrations, with a special focus on Australian tales. Fairy tales cross oceans and continents. How do people carry their tales with them? How are tales transformed by migration? In particular, how have fairy tales come here to Australia and how is our own fairy tale tradition based on migration?

This Melbourne event explores many of the ideas that will be raised at the Australian Fairy Tale Society conference to take place on June 9 in Sydney.

The day is open to academic papers as well as fairy tale readings and performances. For the bold at heart, come dressed as your favourite fairy tale character and be in the running to win a prize! This event is open to anyone who has a love of fairy tales, and will take place at the Theatrette, Glen Eira Town Hall, on Sunday June 29, from 1pm-5pm.

We are looking for interested participants who would like to present original work and/or papers on fairy tales. Preference will be given to material dealing with or inspired by Australian themes, but other material will certainly be considered.

Areas of interest:

– Scholarly analysis of fairy tale (incl. literary studies, translation studies, film & TV, drama studies, gender studies)
– Live performance of fairy tale (incl. new & established fairy tales)
– Fairy tale readings (incl. new & established fairy tales)

Please send a 100-200 word summary or abstract to by May 10.


At the Australasian Children’s Literature Association for Research’s conference in Geelong, June 30 – July 2, there’ll also be a fairy tale panel. I’ll be on the panel to give my paper, “Between Princesses: Fashion, Pleasure and the Gaze.”

After all that, I’ll be taking off to Tuscany where I’ll be teaching fairy tales at Monash’s Prato conference! Phew. It’s going to be busy!

Fairy tale in Italy



This is a bit of a cross-post from the Monash Fairy Tale Salon, but the good news is, Fairy Tale in Italy is part of the 2014 Monash Prato programme.

That’s right – a chance to study fairy tale in Tuscany! We’ll be looking at the first European authors of fairy tale, Straparola and Basile, Collodi’s Pinocchio and the tales collected by Italo Calvino, including those which were originally sourced from the area right around Prato itself.

There’s an information session, details below:

Date – Monday 28th October
Time – 1:00pm – 2:30pm
Location – R1 (Bldg 8), Clayton Campus
More information is available at
We always have a fantastic time. The programme is full and challenging, but you do get to study in Italy! I can also advise on the best place for gelato and gluten free food and the best museums in which to see Cinderella’s shoes (okay, perhaps not her actual shoes, but close enough!).