This dissertation focuses on the representation of feminine figures in fairy tales from the seventeenth century to the present day. Using a narratological and feminist critical approach, I consider textual variations of three canonical fairy tales: "The Three Fruits," "Bluebeard," and "The Old Woman Who Was Skinned." Each of these fairy tales can be tracked down across multiple cultural moments, with each fresh re-telling of the tale at once a renewal and a revision of its core narrative elements. I specifically compare Italian fairy tales in literature, cinema, and theater with British and French texts that recount the same tale. Authors considered range from Giambattista Basile and Carlo Gozzi to Italo Calvino, Laura Gonzenbach, Edoardo Sanguineti, and Angela Carter, together with (among others) writer-directors Matteo Garrone and Emma Dante. My dissertation’s aim is to explain the intertextuality of seemingly inexhaustible fairy-tale narratives in relation to specific cultural modes of artistic production and reproduction and, in particular, pertaining to gender roles and the feminine sphere. I argue that the transformations into fairy-tale texts and the feminine sphere—their metamorphoses, in one word—are textual expressions of the inexhaustibility of fairy tales. By “feminine sphere,” I mean the female fairy-tale characters as well as the domestic and family domains associated with women. Furthermore, I claim that the feminine sphere is modified according to the author’s socio-cultural milieu. In representing and problematizing this sphere, fairy-tale texts express and critique deep-seated anxieties pertaining to the role of gender in the societies in which fairy tales originated. I contend that, by employing feminine metamorphoses in their fairy-tale rewritings, these texts work to counteract cultural fears and oppressive patriarchal tropes embedded in Western European societies, such as those of Italy, France, and the United Kingdom.
This dissertation has three main goals. The first is to provide a textual analysis of a body of texts rarely studied in this light. My second goal is to identify and define the practice of fairy-tale revisionism. I borrow the term “revisionism” from the philosopher Adriana Cavarero and critic Lucia Re, who have identified mythic revisionism in women’s literary appropriations of many classical myths. My dissertation applies mythic revisionism to fairy tales in light of the structural similarities between myths and fairy tales, which are both foundational narratives supporting key societal values. Fairy-tale revisionism—I claim—is a fairy-tale specific mode of intertextual renovation and feminist understanding of fairy tales, involving the author’s own take on the fairy tale’s significance in a precise historical moment and requiring a critical analysis of the narrative strategies employed to generate a fresh version of a pre-existing story. My dissertation’s third goal is to define a new intersectional role for femininity in fairy tales. While female characters such as Mother Goose and other archetypal motherly or grandmotherly storytellers traditionally represent the fairy tales’ narrative voice and the stories’ source, I study the presence in these tales of a feminine metamorphic figure that, by recurring in each text as well as by occurring in different ways throughout the fairy-tale web of representations, questions not only gender norms but also ethnic identification and discrimination, ageism, and corporal or psychological violence against marginalized members of society.