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

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.

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