Unnatural Love and Healing: Charles Perrault’s “Donkey-Skin” and Other Fairy Tales

Incestuous and quasi-incestuous relationships were hardly unknown at the court of Louis XIV. The king himself had married his first cousin, Maria-Theresa of Spain, largely for political reasons. His brother Philippe, Duke of Orleans, had married another first cousin, Henrietta of England, before marrying a more distant cousin, Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatine, whose grandmother was related to the royal French family, and who could trace other connections through both parents. Various aristocrats at the court followed these royal examples for financial or other reasons, and in other countries, the occasional marriage between a niece and uncle, or an aunt and nephew—for political reasons—were not unknown. And those were just the relationships validated by the Church.

That perhaps helps explain why so many of the French salon fairy tales focus on similar relationships between cousins or even closer relations, and why Charles Perrault, working both in and against these traditions, ...