Charles Perrault (12 January 1628 – 16 May 1703) was a French author who laid the foundations for a new literary genre, the fairy tale, with his works derived from pre-existing folk tales. The best known include Le Petit Chaperon rouge (Little Red Riding Hood), Cendrillon (Cinderella), Le Chat Botté (Puss in Boots) and La Barbe bleue (Bluebeard). Perrault's stories continue to be printed and have been adapted to opera, ballet (like Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty), theatre, and film.
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, rendition of the severe east range of the Louvre, built between 1665 and 1680, to be seen by Colbert. It was chosen over designs by Gian Lorenzo Bernini 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 Louis XIV and Bernini.
He wrote La Peinture (Painting, 1668) 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 in an early 19th century engraved frontispiece
He married Marie Guichon, age 19, in 1672, who died in 1678 after giving birth to a daughter. The couple also had three sons, Charles-Samuel (1675-?), Charles (1676-?), and Pierre (1678-?). Marie died in October of 1678, only months after Pierre's baptism
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, who was a longtime family friend of the Perraults, was gaining a quick 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. In response, Perrault wrote Critique de l'Opéra (1674) and in it 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, he decided to write epic poetry and show his genuine devotion to Christianity, and wrote 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.
Tales of Mother Goose
In 1695, when he was 67, he lost his post as secretary. He decided to dedicate himself to his children and published Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals (Histoires ou Contes du Temps passé) (1697), with the subtitle: Tales of Mother Goose (Les Contes de ma Mère l'Oie). Its publication made him suddenly widely-known beyond his own circles and marked the beginnings of a new literary genre, the fairy tale, with many of the most well-known tales, such as Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. He had actually published it 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 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. Charles Perrault died in Paris in 1703 at age 75.
- ^ Biography, Bibliography (in French)/
- ^ Sideman, B.B.: "The World's Best Fairy Tales", page 831. The Reader's Digest Association, 1967.
- ^ 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
- ^ Neil, Philip; Nicoletta Simborowski (1993, p.126.). The Complete Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 0395570026.
- ^ 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