Portrait (detail) by Philippe Lallemand, 1672
12 January 1628|
|Died||16 May 1703
Charles Perrault (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 La Barbe bleue (Bluebeard). Many of Perrault's stories, which were rewritten by the Brothers Grimm, continue to be printed and have been adapted to opera, ballet (such as Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty), theatre, and film (Disney). 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.
Charles Perrault was born in Paris to a wealthy bourgeois family, the seventh child of Pierre Perrault and Paquette Le Clerc. He attended good schools and studied law before embarking on a career in government service, following in the footsteps of his father and older brother Jean.
He took part in the 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 Memoires, 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.
Perrault married Marie Guichon, age 19, in 1672; she died in 1678.
In 1669 Perrault advised Louis XIV to include thirty-nine fountains each representing one of the fables of Aesop in the labyrinth of Versailles in the gardens of Versailles. The work was carried out between 1672 and 1677. Water jets spurting from the animals mouths were conceived to give the impression of speech between the creatures. There was a plaque with a caption and a quatrain written by the poet Isaac de Benserade next to each fountain. Perrault produced the guidebook for the labyrinth, Labyrinte de Versailles, printed at the royal press, Paris, in 1677, and illustrated by Sebastien le Clerc.
Philippe Quinault, a longtime family friend of the Perraults, quickly gained a reputation as the librettist for the new musical genre known as opera, collaborating with composer Jean-Baptiste Lully. After Alceste (1674) was denounced by traditionalists who rejected it for deviating from classical theater, Perrault wrote in response Critique de l'Opéra (1674) in which he praised the merits of Alceste over the tragedy of the same name by Euripides. His treatise was one of the first documents of the literary debate that was later to become known as the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns.
Perrault was elected to the Académie française in 1671 and initiated the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns (Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes), which pitted supporters of the literature of Antiquity (the "Ancients") against supporters of the literature from the century of Louis XIV (the "Moderns"). He was on the side of the Moderns and wrote Le Siècle de Louis le Grand (The Century of Louis the Great, 1687) and Parallèle des Anciens et des Modernes (Parallel between Ancients and Moderns, 1688–1692) where he attempted to prove the superiority of the literature of his century. Le Siècle de Louis le Grand was written in celebration of Louis XIV's recovery from a life-threatening operation. Perrault argued that because of Louis's enlightened rule, the present age was superior in every respect to ancient times. He also claimed that even modern French literature was superior to the works of antiquity, and that, after all, even Homer nods.
In 1682, Colbert gave his son, Jules-Armand, marquis d'Ormoy, the same tasks as Perrault and forced him into retirement at the age of fifty-six. Colbert would die the next year, and he stopped receiving the pension given to him as a writer. Colbert's successor, François-Michel Le Tellier, marquis de Louvoi, who was jealous of Colbert, quickly removed Perrault from his other appointments.
After this, in 1686, Perrault decided to write epic poetry and show his genuine devotion to Christianity, writing Saint Paulin, évêque de Nôle (St. Paulinus, Bishop of Nola, about Paulinus of Nola). Just like Jean Chapelain's La Pucelle, ou la France délivrée, an epic poem about Joan of Arc, Perrault became a target of mockery from Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux.
Charles Perrault died in Paris in 1703 at age 75.
Tales of Mother Goose
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). Its publication made him suddenly widely known beyond his own circles. 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 was writing 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 in Puss in Boots the Marquis of the Château d'Oiron, and contrasted his folktale subject matter, with details and 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.
- Marie-Jeanne L'Héritier, Charles Perrault's niece
- Madame d'Aulnoy
- The Brothers Grimm retold their own versions of some of Perrault's fairy tales
- Hans Christian Andersen, who continued the fairy tale genre in the 19th century
- Biography, Bibliography (in French)/
- Sideman, B. B.: "The World's Best Fairy Tales", page 831. The Reader's Digest Association, 1967.
- For the conflict between Bernini and Perrault in Paris, see Franco Mormando, Bernini: His Life and His Rome (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), pp. 268-288.
- F. Mormando, Bernini (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 245-288, passim.
- The engraving is derived at more than one remove from the portrait of 1671, now at the Musée de Versailles, by an unknown artist.
- scan of the book at the Bibliothèque nationale de France
- 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)
- Neil, Philip; Nicoletta Simborowski (1993, p.126.). The Complete Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 0-395-57002-6.
- Nadine Jasmin, Naissance du conte féminin, Mots et merveilles, Les contes de fées de Madame d’Aulnoy, 1690-1698, Paris, Champion, 2002.
- F. Collin, Charles Perrault, le fantôme du XVIIe siècle, Draveil, Colline, 1999.
- The 1753 London re-edition is available online
- Zarucchi, Jeanne Morgan (2003), Seventeenth-Century French Writers, Detroit: Gale, ISBN 978-0-7876-6012-3
- Perrault, Charles (1696), Les hommes illustres qui ont paru en France pendant ce siècle - avec leur portraits au naturel (in French) 1 (2 vols. folio ed.), Paris
- Perrault, Charles (1701), Les hommes illustres qui ont paru en France pendant ce siècle - avec leur portraits au naturel (in French) 2 (2 vols. folio ed.), Paris
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- Media related to Charles Perrault at Wikimedia Commons
- "Charles Perrault". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
- Works by Charles Perrault at Project Gutenberg
- Woks by Charles Perrault in the Internet Archive
- Charles Perrault at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Charles Perrault's fairy tales at World of tales
- SurLaLune Fairy Tale Pages: Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault
- (French) Charles Perrault, his work in audio version
- Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault
- The Tales of Mother Goose - Illustrated fairy Tales of Charles Perrault