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Fables and Fairy Tales. 0010: Anon., Blue Beard; or, Female Curiosity

Author: Perrault, Charles (abridged from)
Title: Blue Beard; or, female curiosity
Cat. Number: 0010
Date: No date but 1813-1832
1st Edition: A more substantial version of the text first appeared as part of Charles Perrault's Histoires, ou countes du temps passé, avec des Moralitez in 1697. This was first translated into English by Robert Samber as Histories, or tales of past times in 1729
Pub. Place: Bristol
Publisher: Rose and Son
Price: 1d
Pages: 1 vol., 16pp.
Size: 10.5 x 6.5 cm
Illustrations: Wood-cuts on front and back covers plus frontispiece and four further cuts

Images of all pages of this book

Page 002 of item 0010

Introductory essay

The origins of the Blue Beard narrative are obscure. Elements of the tale have been detected in a variety of medieval and renaissance historical and literary sources, not to mention its evident Biblical overtones. In any case it seems certain that Blue Beard was part of an oral tradition in both France and Britain well before it was first published in its modern form in 1697. This first publication was as part of the Histoires, ou contes du temps passé, avec des Moralitez by Charles Perrault (or possibly his son, Pierre Perault Darmancour). It soon became better known as Contes de ma Mere l'Oye. In 1729, along with the other Perrault tales, Blue Beard made its first appearance in English, translated by Robert Samber as Histories, or tales of past times, or 'Mother Goose's Tales' as it soon became known. These tales continued to be published as a children's book throughout the eighteenth century, sometimes with the French alongside the English as an educational tool, and, from the 1760s or 1770s in an edition by John Newbery's successors which seems to have been more particularly aimed at entertaining children. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the tales began to appear individually as chapbooks or inexpensive children's books. The versions of Blue Beard in the Hockliffe Collection (0010, 0010 and 0031) provide good examples of this sort of text.

The front cover of Blue Beard; or, Female Curiosity (0010) records its publisher, Philip Rose and Son of Bristol, as operating from 20, Broadmead. The firm was located at that address from 1813 to 1832 according to an article on 'Bristol Printers' in The Bibliographer's Manual of Gloucester Literature (Hyett 1897, 3:339-44). It ought to be noted however that from 1833 to 1844 their imprint read simply 'Broadmead', which is what appears on the title page (although the firm continued to publish, at 57 Broadmead, until 1860). The text's appearance seems supportive of a publication date in the 1820s. By this time steam ships, such as that which decorates the front cover, would have been a fairly common, though not an everyday, sight.

A comparison of this text of Blue Beard with that published at around the same time by J. L. Marks of London (0009) provides an insight into methods of abridgement. Both Marks and Rose took the original Perrault-Samber edition as their basic text, and shortened it to fit into 8 and 16 pages respectively. Rose's text repeats almost wholesale the original text, omitting only the morals which Perrault had appended. Marks's edition is more cursory, having to cram everything into so small a compass. Generally, details not particularly material to the narrative are entirely omitted from his text. Thus, for instance, the 'fairy' nature of the key that cannot be cleaned (the only supernatural element of the tale as it was written by Perrault) is not mentioned (c.f. 0010, p.6 and 0010, p.10). Here and there a paragraph might be summarised by a single short sentence. Occassionally this results in mistakes in continuity, such as that Marks's edition does not inform the reader that as soon as Blue Beard had left his castle, his wife's friends and relatives lost no time in coming to visit, though it is later assumed that the reader must know this (c.f. 0010 p.4, and 0010 pp.7-8). In Marks's shorter version of the tale the length of time that Blue Beard grants to his wife to say her prayers is appropriately half what he grants her in Perrault-Samber's and Rose's edition (0009, p.7; 0010, p.11). Marks's version rushes to its close - no sooner have Blue Beard's brothers-in-law been spotted by her sister than they have killed him. Not only do Perrault and Rose allow a more leisurely denouement, but they assure the reader that all the characters save Blue Beard live happily ever after. In Marks's version readers have to assume this if they wish for a happy ending. What is left in, of course, is what was regarded as important. The narrative remains intact, as do the illustrations, which take up between a third and a half of the available room in the Marks edition. To remove the wood-cuts would have been to create more room for the text, but they were clearly thought too important in attracting a potential readership to be excised. (Indeed, though the text is similar in the editions by Perrault-Samber, Rose and Marks, the illustrations are different in each.) Likewise, much space could have been saved by omitting the long passage in which Blue Beard's wife, supposedly preparing herself through prayer for her imminent murder, asks her sister Anne over and over again whether their brothers are approaching. Yet the ritualised, repeated reply - that Anne can see nothing save the sun, which 'makes a dust', and the grass, 'which looks green' - creates a suspense that was clearly regarded as absolutely essential to the tale. This editorial decision removes any doubt as to what it was that readers saw in tales such as these. They read them to be entertained by a suspenseful narrative, not for the moral - the dangers of curiosity - which Perrault had dutifully appended to his text, but which is scarcely even alluded to in these abridgements.

The Hockliffe Collection also contains a French edition of Perrault's tales, Contes des Fées (Paris, no date - see 0034) and a collection of Mother Goose's Tales, which includes 'Blue Beard', published between 1808 and 1825 by T. Sabine and Son in London (0031). Although the texts remain consistent, the illustrations vary substantially. A verse edition of Blue Beard or Fatal Curiosity. A Tale of the Olden Time intended for the amusement of all good children (London, no date) is also in the collection (0734).

For analysis of the Blue Beard tale see Warner 1995, 241-97, Opie 1980, 133-141, and Zipes 1983 or 1994.

Hyett, Francis Adams, and Bazeley, Rev. William, 'Bristol Printers', The Bibliographer's Manual of Gloucester Literature, 3 vols., Gloucester, 1897

Warner, Marina, From the Beast to the Blonde. On Fairy Tales and their Tellers, 1994, rpt. London: Vintage, 1995

Opie, Peter and Iona, The Classic Fairy Tales, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974, rpt. London, 1980

Zipes, Jack, Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion: The Classical Genre for Children and the Process of Civilization, New York, 1983

Zipes, Jack, Fairy Tale as Myth, Myth as Fairy Tale, Lexington, Ky., 1994