Le Petit Chaperon Rouge

 

“Little Red Riding Hood’s perennial popularity is due in part to her ability to adapt to the times. Every year, reincarnations of the story pop up in print, on television, on billboards and advertisements, in children’s games and adult jokes …What makes Little Red Riding Hood so interesting to folklorists, feminists, psychoanalysts, poets, and advertisers? […] Beneath her simple appearance – beneath her cloak – Little Red Riding Hood embodies complex and fundamental human concerns. Her tales speaks to enduring themes of family, morality, growing up, growing old, of lighting out into the world, and of the relationship between the sexes. It brings together archetypal opposites, through which it explores the boundaries of culture, class, and, especially, what it means to be a man or a woman.” (Catherine Orenstein, 2002)

 

Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, 1697

Charles Perrault, [Translated by Jack Zipes, 1983]

Moral

One sees here that young children,

Especially young girls

Pretty, well brought up, and gentle,

Should never listen to anyone who happens by,

And if this occurs, it is not so strange

When the wolf should eat them.

I say the wolf, for all wolves

Are not of the same kind.

There are some with winning ways,

Not loud, bitter, or angry,

Who are tame, good-natured, and pleasant

And follow young ladies

Right into their homes, right into their alcoves.

But alas for those who do not know that of all the wolves

The docile ones are those who are most dangerous.

 

Perrault’s tale portrays the sexual contradictions of the seventeenth century. An age of notorious sexual liaisons amongst the aristocracy, yet also an age of ‘institutionalized chastity'(Orenstein,www.msmagazine.com/summer2004/danceswithwolves.asp), the tale is a direct warning to young women of the dangers of unscrupulous, wolf-like men. The engraving which accompanied the tales conveys a young girl lying naked in bed beneath the wolf, before she is devoured. The tale is an allegory for the rape of a young girl. Unlike the Grimms’ version in which the young girl is rescued from the belly of the wolf, in Perrault’s tale there is no such salvation or redemption. Orenstein comments: ”in the common slang of the day, even in the scholarly works of Charles Perrault, when a girl lost her virginity it was said that elle avoit vu le loup – “she’d seen the wolf”, (Orenstein, 2002).

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