National Dreams: The Remaking of Fairy Tales in Nineteenth-Century England. By Jennifer Schacker. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003. Pp. 198 + notes, bibliography, notes, index, illustrations.
In National Dreams, Jennifer Shacker boldly claims that the England of the nineteenth century had no real fairy tales of its own and so had to depend on the collections of folk and fairy tales passed on to them from other nations. Recognizing the political and economic potential of fairy tales in other European countries, English publishing houses sought to translate and print these foreign tales for their English audiences. Schacker argues that in the process, fairy tales became powerful vehicles for conveying cultural knowledge in England. In addition to serving as moral or etiological stories for children, the way they were translated and fine-tuned allowed the English to position themselves as intellectually superior to their foreign neighbors. This, in Schacker's view, helped build an English national identity that ushered them into the twentieth century.
The object of Shacker's study is the folklore book or collection of traditional tales. All of these volumes were chosen by English publishing houses, she argues, because they had already achieved huge popularity in their native lands. Shacker specifically analyzes the contributions of four major works to the creation of a national identity in nineteenth-century England. These collections include, German Popular Stories translated by Edward Taylor from Grimms' original Kinder und Hausmarchen, Fairy Legends and Traditions of Southern Ireland by T. Croffton Croker, Arabian Nights translated (and rewritten) by Edward Lane; and Webbe Dasent's Popular Tales from the Norse. Shacker contends that rather than asserting their own patriotic identity through fairy tales, the English came to understand themselves, as well as foreign nations, through the literature of their European neighbors. By placing emphasis on compilers as situated between two cultures, Schacker examines their influence on the text in framing audience perception of the Other. Adeptly darting between folklore, Victorian studies, children's literature and publishing history, National Dreams emerges as a cohesive and focused work on the role of folklore collections in nineteenth-century England.
Schacker's examination of these folklore collections leads her to conclude that they owe their popularity in England to elitist...