The romantic aspects of fairy tales are perhaps their most familiar (and most criticised) feature. After all, the heroine who rises above misfortune and marries a prince is a plot that distinguishes many of the best-known tales, with the protagonists of ‘Cinderella’ (ATU 510A), ‘Snow White’ (ATU 709) and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (ATU 410) all decisively putting an end to their woes by marrying Prince Charming. Criticism ranges from the fact that such heroines are largely characterised by passivity and prettiness, threatened by vindictive female counterparts and ultimately ‘saved’ by a well-heeled partner — making their potential lesson for female audiences somewhat suspect. Of course, this depends on how literally we take such tales, and how negatively we view their perceived influence, with a number of conflicting ideas raised about this point over the years. While fairy tales frequently came under attack with the emergence of the women’s movement, an important detractor asked us to think again. In two articles published in the early 1970s, Alison Lurie contended that such tales have a great deal to offer feminist thinking in terms of the powerful females at their centre, pointing out that a wider variety of heroines exist — beyond the usual suspects — and attributed the limited range of ‘classic’ tales to male editorial policies. Marcia Lieberman’s response, ‘Someday My Prince Will Come: Female Acculturation Through the Fairy Tale’ (1972), denied any progressive features.
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