New book with Lorena coming in 2022

I’m delighted to announce that my new book with Lorena Carrington, Magical Tales from French Camelot, will be published by Serenity Press in March 2022. It features my original translations and retellings of several wonderful French Arthurian tales from the 12th century, especially those by Marie de France and Chrétien de Troyes. Though not strictly speaking fairy tales, they include many fairy tale elements and are extraordinary stories. Lorena has created the most gorgeous visual world for the stories, with glorious, atmospheric and richly evocative illustrations. It’s been a great joy collaborating with her again!

Below is the beautiful cover, and the blurb of the book. Can’t wait for it to be out!

The legend of King Arthur began in Britain. But it is in twelfth-century France that the stories really took off, with gifted writers creating a panoply of vivid new characters and elements such as Lancelot, Perceval, the Grail and the doomed love between Lancelot and Guinevere, within a richly imagined, action-packed world of adventure, magic, romance and mystery. Women as much as men are important characters in the French stories, there’s an intriguing take on shapeshifters and other supernatural beings, and fascinating glimpses of the patterns and customs of medieval life as well as explorations of conscience and the true nature of courage. In the process these extraordinary medieval writers, such as Chrétien de Troyes and Marie de France, created a whole new immensely popular genre of literature whose appeal and influence endures to this day.

This beautiful new collection of stories translated and powerfully retold by Sophie Masson and superbly illustrated by Lorena Carrington will introduce you to some of the most striking tales and extraordinary characters and places from the French Arthurian tradition, transporting you into a gripping, magical world like no other.

The fairytale-tellers, part three: the women who created Beauty and the Beast

Madame de Villeneuve in 1759, painted by Louis Carrogis Carmontelle.

Beauty and the Beast is one of the world’s most-loved fairy tales, but it isn’t sourced from folklore tradition or an anonymous teller: instead, it was as an original fairy tale, in two different versions, by two French women writers of the eighteenth century, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve(1685-1755) and Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beamont( 1711-1785).

Madame de Villeneuve, as she was known as an author, came from a prominent noble family and led a rather colourful, even scandalous life. She wrote many popular novels and fairy tales, but it is for the creation of La Belle et la Bête, Beauty and the Beast, for which she is most well-known today. It was published as an 185-page novel in 1740, within a longer volume of her original fairy tales called  La jeune américaine, et les contes marins (The young American girl, and tales from the sea).  Her Beauty and the Beast was an immediate success, and was reprinted several times, including in  Le Cabinet des Fées.

Madame Leprince de Beamont came from a humbler background than Villeneuve, but also had a rather colourful life, and earned a living as a writer and teacher, publishing over 70 books. She wrote her version of Beauty and the Beast  (without , it has to be said, any acknowledgement of Villeneuve’s original)  as a 20-page story, published  in

Madame Leprince de Beaumont, artist unknown

1756 in her Magasin des enfants (Children’s Magazine, or Compendium) an educational book which includes several other fairy tales as well as dialogues discussing life and morals. It also was a great success; and it is her shorter, sharper, much more striking version which has stood the test of time. I very soon learned why that was, as I read both original versions side by side–the Villeneuve novel in a digitised manuscript held in Gallica, the online repository of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (the French National Library), and  Madame Leprince de Beaumont’s short story in a 1799 print edition of the Magasin des enfants, which I obtained online from an Italian second-hand bookshop.

And you’ll discover why I so much preferred Beamont’s version, when you read my introduction to my own retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

First page of Madame Leprince de Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast in a 1799 edition of her book which I own.

 

 

 

 

Fairytale tellers, part two: the founder of a new genre

Charles Perrault in 1671, painted by Philippe Lallemand

Without this seventeenth-century writer, the fairy tale as we know it today might never have have emerged from the oral tradition: he could in fact be rightly called the founder of a new and hugely successful literary genre.  I’m speaking here of Charles Perrault (1628-1703), writer of such famous gems as Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood,  Puss in Boots, Bluebeard, Donkey Skin, and several others. The tales he collected and retold in his 1697 book, Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passé (Tales and Stories from Past Times), also known as Contes de ma Mère l’Oye (Tales of Mother Goose) are from anonymous folk sources, embellished in his own sprightly, elegant, sharp and inimitable way, with ‘morals’ that are often raise an ironic eyebrow at the ways of the world.  His retellings of these traditional stories are famous throughout the world even today and have inspired many generations of other writers. Including me–in my own collection, I’ve chosen to retell Perrault’s Le Maître Chat ou le Chat botté (Master Cat or the Booted Cat), usually known in English as Puss in Boots.

From a wealthy bourgeois family, Perrault had an illustrious if occasionally turbulent career at the glittering court of King Louis XIV,  and was a prominent figure in the literary and cultural scene of the time. Retiring from government service at the age of sixty-seven, he wrote Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passé , which was an immediate success and which inspired other of his literary contemporaries, such as Madame d’Aulnoy–who first coined the term contes de fées –(fairy tales)to create their own. And thus the craze for fairy tales was born.