Charles Perrault was a French writer and a member of the Academie Francaise, which laid the foundations of a new literary genre; fairy tales. The most famous Perrault stories include Le Petit Chaperon (Little Red Riding Hood), Cendrillon (Cinderella), Le Chat Botte (Puss in Boots), La Belle au Bois dormant (The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood), and La Barbe Bleue (Bluebeard).
Many of Charles Perrault's stories, transcribed by the Brothers Grimm, will continue to be printed and many have been adapted for opera and ballet (such as Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty), theater, and movies (Walt Disney). Perrault was a very influential figure on the French literary scene of the seventeenth century.
Early Life and Education
He was born on January 12, 1628, into a wealthy Parisian bourgeois family, the seventh child of Pierre Perrault and Poletta Le Clerc. He attended good schools in the city and studied law before starting his career in the civil service (following in the footsteps of his father and older brother Jean). Perrault also participated in the creation of the "Academy of Sciences", as well as in the renovation of the Academy of Painting.
In 1654, he moved in with his brother Pierre, who took over (read: bought) the position of chief tax collector of the city of Paris. The "purchase" of official state roles was a common practice in seventeenth-century France. Subsequently, when the Belles-Lettres Academy was founded in 1663, Charles Perrault was appointed its secretary and served under Jean-Baptiste Colbert (Minister of Finance Louis XIV).
In 1668, Perrault wrote La Peinture ("Painting") in honor of the king's first painter, Charles Le Brun. He also wrote the Courses de testes et de Bague ("Races of the Head and the Ring'') in 1670 in memory of Louise-Francois de La Baume le Blanc, Duchess of La Valliere. Perrault himself married Mary Gishon in 1672 (she was only nineteen). Unfortunately, she died only six years after the wedding.
It was a very hectic time in the life of Charles Perrault, and in 1669 he helped Louis XIV. to design gardens in Versailles. Perrault persuaded the king to include thirty-nine fountains in the part of the labyrinth in the gardens, each of which represents one of Aesop's fables. The work was done between 1672 and 1677. The jet of water that erupted from the mouth of the animal was designed to create the impression of speech to the given creatures. Next to each fountain was a plaque with an inscription and a quatrain written by the poet Isaac de Benserad.
Elected to the French Academy in 1671, Charles Perrault initiated the Argument of the Ancients and Moderns, in which the adherents of ancient literature ("Ancients") opposed the adherents of Louis XIV's literature ("Moderns"). Charles Perrault was on the side of modernism and wrote Le Siecle de Louis le Grand (The Century of Louis the Great, 1687) and Parallèle des Anciens et des Modernes (Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns, 1688-1692) where he tried to prove the superiority of the literature of its age and set modern writers such as François de Malherbe and Molière above the Greek and Roman classical authors. Le Siecle de Louis le Grand was written in honor of Louis XIV. and his recovery from life-threatening surgeries. Perrault claimed that because of Louis's enlightened rule, the present era was superior to historical views.
Despite accepting the service of the crown, in 1695, when he was sixty-seven, Perrault lost his position as secretary. Nevertheless, he decided to dedicate himself to his children and started writing stories inspired by the old oral traditions of French and European folklore.
In 1697 he published a collection of stories from the past with morals Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passé, titled Stories of the Mother Goose (Les Contes de ma Mere l'Oie), which was a huge success, and mostly was inspired by earlier fairy tales written while visiting the salon of Mary Catherine Le Jumel de Barnville, with Baroness d'Aulnoy who originated the term "fairy tale". Many of the famous stories that can be read today, such as Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood, were first written under his pen.
Perrault actually published his collection under his last son’s name (born in 1678) Pierre Darmancourt ("Armancourt" is the name of the property he bought him), probably fearing criticism from the "Ancients".
In the stories, Perrault used images that surrounded him, such as castles (for Puss in Boots he used the Marquis of the Castle d'Oiron as an inspiration). Perrault contrasted his folklore themes with details, aspects, and subtexts extracted from the world of contemporary fashion.
Charles Perrault died in Paris, the city of his birth - and adult life - on May 16, 1703, at the age of seventy-five.
Summaries, Analyses & Books
- Cinderella Analysis
- Cinderella Characters
- Cinderella Summary
- Little Red Riding Hood
- Little Red Riding Hood Analysis
- Little Red Riding Hood Characters
- Little Red Riding Hood Summary
- Little Thumb
- Puss in Boots
- Ricky of the Tuft
- The Fairies
- The Ridiculous Wishes
- The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood