Which gets us back to the violence and hope captured in fairy tales, à la Zipes. LI has been insinuating that as we entered a pin factory at the beginning of the Wealth of Nations, which inaugurates the science of economics, we are entering a fairy tale haunted place. The path of pins leads to Grandmother’s house. But pins are also an integral part of the economy of spinning, as Zipes makes clear in his analysis of Rumpelstiltskin in Fairy Tale as Myth. As he also makes clear, the patriarchal readings of Rumpelstiltskin – a tale classified under the motif of Helper’s Name in the Aarne-Thompson index – are, to say the least, misleading. Helper is the wrong name for Rumpelstiltskin – “he is obviously a blackmailer and an oppressor,” according to Zipes. Well, “obviously” is a strong word to use about any character in a fairy tale: he could be seen, as obviously, as the accursed share, rejected by the ennobled Miller’s Daughter who is seeking, above all else, to elevate her child above the status she was raised in, all the while keeping that status system intact to gain the benefits of it. Much like the American CEO, usually the product of student loans and state funded colleges, seeking to ensure the radical diminishment of public investment so that others are much more burdened down by student loans in less funded universities competing with the Ivies where the CEOs send their own children.
Still, Zipes is right to draw attention to the woman in the story. The Grimm Brother’s version of the tale is something of a disappointment in comparison to the version published by Madame L’heritier in the Cabinet des fees, Ricdin-Ricdon, since the character of the Miller’s daughter is not very developed in the former, while this character, Rosanie, the daughter of a peasant in L’heritier, is an acute psychological portrait of upward social ambition.
Zipes claims that the spinning motif in the Grimm Brother’s tales is, in a sense, a valedictory to the enormous injury done to women in the 18th and 19th century as their cottage industry of spinning and weaving was wrested from them and centralized in male managed factories.
The very first literary form of Rumpelstiltskin, Mademoiselle L’Heritier’s Ricdin-Ricdon, demonstrates that spinning was cherished by the aristocracy at the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth century. The queen is most eager to employ Rosanie as a spinner and cherishes all the articles that Rosanie magically produces. We know that numerous French courts had constructed spinning rooms for women to produce much needed cloth, and there was a great demand for gifted spinners at the time that Mademoiselle L’heritier wrote her tale. Interestingly, her model spinner, Rosanie, takes possession of the devil’s magic want (i.e., phallus) to create an image that satisfies if not exceeds society’s expectations. She does not spin straw into gold but rather flax into yarn and thread. ...(67)
I think Zipes is correct to front the spinning in this tale as at least equivalent to the story of the name of the “helper” – but to make this a tale of spinning as an affectionately perceived craft is a bit of a distortion. He writes: “Throughout the entire tale, spinning and female creativity remain the central concern and are upheld as societal values that need support, especially male support.” This is a reading that fails to capture the irony in Rosanie’s story – to say the least. In L’Héritier’s tale, Rosanie has one abiding characteristic: a total abhorrence of spinning. When she is first spotted by Prince Prud’homme (and surely these bourgeois names for the royals – Prud’homme and Queen Laborieuse – are meant to ironically), she is being dragged around the back yard by her evil hag of a mother, who demands that her daughter spin more. In a crafty move that reproduces the comic gesture from Moliere’s Medecin malgre lui, when the hag is interrupted by Prince Prud’homme – who is taken by Rosanie’s looks and wants to know why she is being mistreated by the hag –she tells him a lie, a neat inversion of the truth – that she is punishing her daughter for spinning too much. Thus, under false pretences, Prince P. takes Rosanie back to the court, where his mother is delighted to receive a top flight spinner. Rosanie, horrified by what her mother has done but unable to face being expelled from the court if she confesses the truth, is going through the park to cast herself off a pavilion set on a cliff and end her life – so much does she hate spinning - when she meets the strange man – a big man, in the tale, with a dark face, but oddly amused face – to whom she tells her tale.
About which, more later.