Sleeping Beauties: Mummies and the Fairy-Tale Genre at the Fin de Siecle

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Abstract

This essay examines the relationship between mummy fiction and the fairy-tale genre in the closing years of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth. It argues that dormant and perfectly-preserved female mummies that populate much of fin-de-siècle mummy fiction emulate the figure of Sleeping Beauty or Snow White, preserved in glass coffins or museum display cases. Concurrently, it observes that while the suggestion of the marriage of the mummy is raised in a number of these texts, any chance of longstanding romantic union is often foiled, in contrast to the distinctly marital “happily-ever-after”s characteristic of the fairy tale. As human remains that were bought, sold and collected throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and beyond, mummies invited (and still invite) objectification. Yet the frequent disintegration or disappearance of these desirable mummies before they can be bound by the legal and religious strictures of marriage in these fictions demarcates them as objects which cannot be tamed. This essay claims that we might read this in light of Britain’s contemporary imperial involvement in Egypt, a political and historical context that scholars have recognised as responsible for a number of narratives revolving around the notion of the mummy’s curse: the
female bodies which cannot be fully controlled could be seen to resist Britain’s imperialist mission. Ultimately, through this analysis, this essay seeks to reconcile the “imperial Gothic” whose tales of imperial adventure and danger are often held to be “masculine,” with the fairy tale, held by many theorists as “feminine.” This approach aims to establish the influence of fairy-tale tropes and
conventions far beyond the genres traditionally aligned with this “feminine” tradition.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-34
JournalJournal of International Women's Studies
Volume18
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017