Charles Perrault (French: [ʃaʁl pɛʁo]; 12 January 1628 – 16 May 1703) was a French author and member of the Académie française. He laid the foundations for a new literary genre, the fairy tale, with his works derived from pre-existing folk tales. The best known of his tales include Le Petit Chaperon rouge (Little Red Riding Hood), Cendrillon (Cinderella), Le Chat Botté (Puss in Boots), La Belle au bois dormant (The Sleeping Beauty), and Barbe bleue (Bluebeard).
Some of Perrault’s versions of old stories may have influenced the German versions published by the Brothers Grimm 200 years later. The stories continue to be printed and have been adapted to opera, ballet (such as Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty), theatre, and film. Perrault was an influential figure in the 17th-century French literary scene, and was the leader of the Modern faction during the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns.
Life and work
Perrault was born in Paris to a wealthy bourgeois family, the seventh child of Pierre Perrault and Paquette Le Clerc. He attended very good schools and studied law before embarking on a career in government service, following in the footsteps of his father and elder brother Jean.
He took part in creation of the Academy of Sciences as well as the restoration of the Academy of Painting. In 1654, he moved in with his brother Pierre, who had purchased a post as the principal tax collector of the city of Paris. When the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres was founded in 1663, Perrault was appointed its secretary and served under Jean Baptiste Colbert, finance minister to King Louis XIV. Jean Chapelain, Amable de Bourzeys, and Jacques Cassagne (the King’s librarian) were also appointed.
Using his influence as Colbert’s administrative aide, he was able to get his brother, Claude Perrault, employed as designer of the new section of the Louvre, built between 1665 and 1680, to be overseen by Colbert. His design was chosen over designs by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (with whom, as Perrault recounts in his Memories, he had stormy relations while the Italian artist was in residence at Louis’s court in 1665) and François Mansart. One of the factors leading to this choice included the fear of high costs, for which other architects were infamous, and second was the personal antagonism between Bernini and leading members of Louis’s court, including Colbert and Perrault; King Louis himself maintained a public air of benevolence towards Bernini, ordering the issuing of a royal bronze portrait medal in honor of the artist in 1674.
In 1668, Perrault wrote La Peinture (‘’Painting’’) to honor the king’s first painter, Charles Le Brun. He also wrote Courses de testes et de bague (Head and Ring Races, 1670), written to commemorate the 1662 celebrations staged by Louis for his mistress, Louise-Françoise de La Baume le Blanc, duchesse de La Vallière.
Histoires ou contes du temps passé
In 1695, when he was 67, Perrault lost his post as secretary.
He decided to dedicate himself to his children. In 1697 he published Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals (Histoires ou Contes du Temps passé), subtitled Tales of Mother Goose (Les Contes de ma Mère l’Oye). (The spelling of the name is with “y” although modern French uses only an “i”.) This “Mother Goose” has never been identified as a person, but used to refer to popular and rural telltales traditions in proverbial phrases of the time. (Source : Dictionnaire de l’Académie, 1694, quoted by Nathalie Froloff in her edition of the ‘’Tales’’ (Gallimard, Folio, Paris, 1999.- p.10).) These tales, based on French popular tradition, were very popular in sophisticated court circles. Its publication made him suddenly very widely known and he is often credited as the founder of the modern fairy tale genre. Yet his work reflects awareness of earlier fairy tales written in the salons, most notably by Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baroness d’Aulnoy, who coined the phrase “fairy tale” and wrote tales as early as 1690.
Even so, many of the most well-known tales that we hear today, such as Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood, are told as he wrote them. He had actually published his collection under the name of his last son (born in 1678), Pierre (Perrault) Darmancourt (“Armancourt” being the name of a property he bought for him), probably fearful of criticism from the “Ancients”.
In the tales, he used images from around him, such as the Chateau Ussé for The Sleeping Beauty, and the Marquis of the Château d’Oiron as the model for the Marquis de Carabas in Puss in Boots. He ornamented his folktale subject matter with details, asides and subtext drawn from the world of fashion. Following up on these tales, he translated the Fabulae Centum (100 Fables) of the Latin poet Gabriele Faerno into French verse in 1699.