Zhiyuan Meng

Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2023

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Romance Languages and Literature: French Language and Literature

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



“How can one be happy?” is an age-old question that has been asked countless times throughout history. The answer, however, varies considerably according to when and where the question is asked. In seventeenth-century French court society, marked by patriarchal and monarchical domination, the key to happiness depends heavily upon the individual’s gender and social position. This dissertation examines three cross-dressed heroines in fairy tales written by first-generation French storytellers at the end of the seventeenth century. Their adventures as male chevaliers are conducive to the evaluation of advice for an audience of both genders from aristocratic and high bourgeois backgrounds on how to thrive in the court society from women writers’ perspectives. By studying the requirements, motivations, persuasiveness, and impacts of the cross-dressing performances, I demonstrate that, contrary to the conclusion of previous studies, the three female protagonists do not attempt to challenge the gender hierarchy and promote instead feminine obedience. Furthermore, by considering the historical realities of the seventeenth century, including the evolving social and political landscapes and the resulting changes in royal demands from the subjugated classes, I show that the fairy tales’ emphasis on the necessity and benefits of devotion, deference, and self-restraint corresponds well to the needs of the society and offers realistic and practical advice for success. By noting the tales’ reflections of various aspects of the court society, I illustrate how the three tales exemplify the first-generation French literary fairy tales’ innovation compared to their Italian predecessors, and their aim to expose social issues, to please and instruct readers, and to restore order and productivity in the society. The consideration of the seventeenth- century socio-political realities in the evaluation of the cross-dressing tales demonstrates a new approach to the study of the literary fairy tale genre.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Julie Singer Harriet Stone

Committee Members

Tili Boon Cuillé, Pascal Ifri, Lynne Tatlock,