Jump to Navigation

The Absent Mother: Women Against Women in Old Wives' Tales

Print this article   Email this article

Never-never land? Marina Warner delves into the world of fairy stories to discover a historical context of family discord and feminine assertiveness in the adventures of Snow White and Cinderella.

Plato defined fairytales, in the oldest theory about them, as tales told by nurses. Possibly the earliest story extant that recognisably anticipates the classic fairytales – Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast – is Apuleius' Cupid and Psyche, interpolated in his metaphysical comedy, The Golden Ass, written in the second century AD. In the novel, a young bride is captured by bandits and separated from her husband and thrown into a cave; there, a disreputable old woman chooses to tell her the story of Psyche's troubles before she reaches happiness and marriage with Cupid. It is 'an old wives' tale', she says, (anilis fabula) and it will distract her from her troubles.

 This article is available to History Today online subscribers only. If you are a subscriber, please log in.

Please choose one of these options to access this article:

Call our Subscriptions department on +44 (0)20 3219 7813 for more information.

If you are logged in but still cannot access the article, please contact us

About Us | Contact Us | Advertising | Subscriptions | Newsletter | RSS Feeds | Ebooks | Podcast | Submitting an Article
Copyright 2012 History Today Ltd. All rights reserved.