If Les Contes de Charles Perrault have been read by a wide audience since their publication, the author remains little known…
An actor of the Grand siècle
Free man, close to power, Charles Perrault is a witness and an actor of the Grand Siècle. However, his life is very little known. He was born on January 12, 1628, the youngest of 7 siblings, he studied brilliantly at the College of Beauvais. « I’ve always been first in my class. » He is studying philosophy. He leaves the class following a disagreement with his teacher, in the company of a comrade. From there, he forged his own culture and read pell-mell sacred and profane works, the Bible, the history of France. In 1651, he became a lawyer and followed in the footsteps of his father and his older brother.
Promoting the cultural policy of Louis XIV
Very quickly, his duties bored him and he became finance receiver for his other brother and began a political career. It was at this time that he worked with Louis de Breteuil, then comptroller general of finances to Louis XIV. This work leaves him time to devote himself to poetry. He assists from 1663 Colbert, Minister of State. For 20 years, he worked with the powerful minister. More particularly, in charge of promoting the cultural policy of Louis XIV, he directed the royal propaganda service, and, as such, aroused and corrected the praises of the king and distributed the bonuses intended for the artists who joined. He also oversees the construction of palaces and monuments intended to give a high idea of royal magnificence. In particular, he entrusted the construction of the colonnade of the Louvre to his architect brother, Claude Perrault. His enmity with Racine, Boileau and especially Louvois caused him to lose his place in 1683, a few months before Colbert’s death.
An eclectic man of letters
Perrault is an eclectic man of letters. But he will remain famous above all for his tales. After having definitively abandoned his political career, he devoted himself to his family. He married 19-year-old Marie Guichon at the age of 49 and had four children. In 1697, Perrault published Histoires ou contes du temps passé avec des moralités better known to the general public under the name Les Contes de ma mère l’Oye. previously. The paternity of the work is attributed to his son Pierre Perrault Darmancour and will be debated for several years before finally being recognized. This collection was published at a time when fairy tales were very popular among middle-class and aristocratic adults. Children’s literature is not a recognized genre and children do not constitute a distinct audience. Perrault’s pedagogical orientation towards children’s literature is actually late.
A text intended to warn young girls
This collection, which is believed to be written for children, actually contains only one tale intended for them, Little Red Riding Hood. It is also the only tale that ends badly. This is a text intended to warn young girls against the « wolves », the gallant men and traps of the Court. Perrault plays on ambiguity. He multiplies the formulattes, insists on ternary rhythms and on structures, in a sustained literary style, thus thinking of the cultivated public of the Court and the city. The success of the work is immediate. A new literary genre was born, that of the marvelous tale. Shortly after the tales, he undertook the writing of his Memoirs of my life, a plea which presented the author and his brothers as the true inspirations of the art of the time. The work remains unfinished and will not be published until 1757. Charles Perrault dies in Paris on May 16, 1703, at the age of 75.