Ever other : unsettling subjects in contemporary revisions of fairy tales

Marais, Adri (2017-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2017.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Fairy tales create some of the first and most lasting impressions on young minds. In the formative years, they shape world-views, self-perceptions and opinions of ‘others’ in ways that persist into adulthood. Acknowledging that these presumably innocent stories are of greater social significance than is generally recognised, I am interested in contemporary revisions of the classic fairy tales widely critiqued by ‘second wave’ feminists for the restrictive gender expectations they prescribe. And yet, while it remains located in a larger area of scholarship that can be defined as revisionist feminist fiction, this dissertation focuses on revisions of classic fairy tales published after 1990 – effectively ‘after Angela Carter’ and her generation’s focus on voiceless and disempowered female characters during the sixties, seventies and eighties. My premise is that these post-1990 adaptations have moved beyond the white, middle-aged and heterosexual concerns of ‘second wave’ feminism, broadening their scope to include non-normative interests and counterhegemonic world views as reflected by ‘third wave’ feminism. As such, these texts have taken on the insights of postcolonial and queer theory as well as ageing studies in order to explore how race, age and sexual orientation or gender identity intersect with gender and sex to create marginal subjects or ‘others’. While I acknowledge all ten texts as feminist revisions, I also identify three new areas of difference that intersect with sex and/or gender to create marginalised and misrepresented black, ageing and queer ‘others’. I read Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird (2014), Nalo Hopkinson’s “The Glass Bottle Trick” (2001) and Shaida Kazie Ali’s Not a Fairytale (2010) as post-colonial revisions critical of the white ideal and Eurocentric discourses implicit in certain classic fairy tales. Considering a second tale from Hopkinson’s Skin Folk anthology titled “Riding the Red”, together with Terry Pratchett’s Witches Abroad (1991) and Dubravka Ugresic’s Baba Yaga Laid an Egg (2007), I explore how they both underscore and problematise the ageism inherent in these classics, unsettling the glib and tired generalisations that fairy tales make about older women. Finally, I consider Malinda Lo’s Ash (2009), Wesley Stace’s Misfortune (2006) and Emma Donoghue’s “The Tale of the Shoe” and “The Tale of the Witch”, both from the Kissing the Witch collection (1997), as queer retellings that centre around unconventional gender identities and non-normative sexuality which, by association, encourage readers to recognise the binary gender roles, compulsory heterosexuality and cisnormativity espoused by the most popularly read and repeated fairy tales. Although I primarily make use of the term ‘revision’, my study also employs synonyms like ‘rewriting’, ‘retelling’, ‘recasting’ and ‘counter-narrative’ to describe what it considers to be a literary act of confrontation, disruption and reinvention. As I engage in their comparative close reading, I explore the ways in which these contemporary revisions of fairy tales unsettle and renew convention instead of simply reproducing it. Ultimately I consider how they build on and move beyond the feminist revisions of the previous century in order to confront new and different sites of othering that hold potential for literary liberation.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Feëverhale, of sprokies, laat van die eerste en mees blywende indrukke op jong gemoedere. In die vormingsjare gee dit gestalte aan wêreldsienings, persepsies van die self en opinies van ‘die ander’ op wyses wat ons tot in volwassenheid bybly. In ag genome dat hierdie oënskynlik onskuldige stories groter sosiale gewig dra as wat algemeen aanvaar word, is ek geïnteresseerd in kontemporêre hersienings van die klassieke feëverhale wat omvattend gekritiseer is deur ‘tweede golf’ feministe weens die beperkende geslagsrolle wat dit voorskryf. En tog, terwyl hierdie verhandeling steeds geleë is in ‘n wyer vakgebied wat as feministiese hersieningsfiksie gedefinieer kan word, fokus dit op hersienings van klassieke feëverhale wat na 1990 gepubliseer is – effektief ‘na Angela Carter’ en haar generasie se fokus op stemlose en ontmagtigde vroue karakters tydens die sestig-, sewentig- en tagtigerjare. My uitgangspunt is dat hierdie na-1990 wysigings aanbeweeg vanaf die wit, middeljarige en heteroseksuele sorge van die ‘tweede feministiese golf’ om die nienormatiewe belange en teen-hegemoniese wêreldbeskouings van die ‘derde feministiese’ golf te weerspieël. As sulks reflekteer hierdie tekste die insig van postkoloniale en queer-teorie sowel as veroudering-studies, ten einde te verken hoe ras, ouderdom en seksuele oriëntasie of gender-identiteit met geslag en geslagtelikheid ontmoet om marginale subjekte of nuwe gevalle van ‘die ander’ te skep. Alhoewel al tien tekste as feministiese hersienings beskou word, identifiseer ek ook drie nuwe areas van andersheid wat met geslag en/of geslagtelikheid sny om ʼn gemarginaliseerde en misverteenwoordigde swart, bejaarde en queer ‘ander’ te skep. Ek lees Helen Oyeyemi se Boy, Snow, Bird (2014), Nalo Hopkinson se “The Glass Bottle Trick” (2001) and Shaida Kazie Ali se Not a Fairytale (2010) as postkoloniale hersienings wat krities is tot die wit ideaal en Eurosentriese diskoerse inherent aan sekere klassieke sprokies. Ek oorweeg ook ʼn tweede storie uit Hopkinson se Skin Folk-bundel, getiteld “Riding the Red”, saam met Terry Pratchett se Witches Abroad (1991) en Dubravka Ugresic se Baba Yaga Laid an Egg (2007) en ondersoek hoe hierdie tekste die ouderdomsdiskriminasie in klassieke sprokies beide beklemtoon en problematiseer, sowel as die oppervlakkige en uitgeputte veralgemenings wat gemaak word oor ouer vrouens ontwrig. Laastens behandel ek Malinda Lo se Ash (2009), Wesley Stace se Misfortune (2006) en Emma Donoghue se “The Tale of the Shoe” en “The Tale of the Witch”, beide uit die Kissing the Witch-versameling (1997), as queer hersienings wat wentel rondom onkonvensionele gender-identiteite en nie-normatiewe seksualiteit wat, deur assosiasie, lesers aanmoedig om die binêre geslagsrolle, verpligte heteroseksualiteit en cisnormatiwiteit, wat deur welgelese en populêre sprokies bevorder word, raak te sien. Alhoewel ek hoofsaaklik die term ‘hersiening’ aanwend, maak my studie ook gebruik van sinonieme soos ‘herskrywing’, ‘hervertelling’, ‘hervorming’ en ‘teen-narratief’ om, wat ek verstaan as ʼn literêre akte van konfrontasie, onderbreking en heruitvinding, te beskryf. Terwyl ek ʼn vergelykende literatuurstudie aanpak, ondersoek ek maniere waarop hierdie kontemporêre hersienings van klassieke sprokies konvensie ontwrig en hernu, eerder as om dit net te herhaal. Uiteindelik oorweeg ek hoe hulle beide voortbou op die feministiese hersiening van die vorige eeu en dit verbysteek, ten einde vars en verskillende areas van andersheid – wat potensiaal vir verdere literêre bevryding inhou – te konfronteer.

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