In Search of the Swan Maiden: A Narrative on Folklore and Gender

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NYU Press, Jul 1, 1995 - Literary Criticism - 388 pages

In her compendious study, [of the folktale of the runaway wife] Leavy argues that the contradictory claims of nature and culture are embodied in the legendary figure of the swan maiden, a woman torn between the human and bestial worlds.
--The New York Times Book Review

This is a study of the meaning of gender as framed by the swan maiden tale, a story found in the folklore of virtually every culture. The swan maiden is a supernatural woman forced to marry, keep house, and bear children for a mortal man who holds the key to her imprisonment. When she manages to regain this key, she escapes to the otherworld, never to return.

These tales have most often been interpreted as depicting exogamous marriages, describing the girl from another tribe trapped in a world where she will always be the outsider. Barbara Fass Leavy believes that, in the societies in which the tale and its variants endured, woman was the other--the outsider trapped in a society that could never be her own. Leavy shows how the tale, though rarely explicitly recognized, is frequently replayed in modern literature.

Beautifully written, this book reveals the myriad ways in which the folktales of a society reflect its cultural values, and particularly how folktales are allegories of gender relations. It will interest anyone involved in literary, gender, and cultural studies.

 

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Contents

Preface
1
The Dangerous Adventure
11
The Collective and Individual Nature of Dreams
16
The Devils Bride
64
Fidelity to the Otherworld
84
The Animal Groom
101
Exogamous Marriages
111
Active Heroine
153
Marriage and Dependency
221
Russalka and the Forcibly Domesticated Wife
232
The Fear of Woman
240
Orpheuss Quest
245
The Swan Maiden Tale from a Mans Point of View
253
Misogynistic Orpheuses
261
Mutilations and Executions
264
The Swan
277

Swan Maiden and Incubus
156
Genesis 6
179
Liberated Woman as Demon
187
The Animal Bride
196
The Domestic Swan Maiden
211
Notes
303
Bibliography
339
Index of Selected Names and Titles
369
Copyright

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About the author (1995)

Barbara Fass Leavy is Professor of English at Queens College, City University of New York and Adjunct Professor of English in Psychiatry at Cornell University Medical College. She is the author of To Blight with Plague: Studies in a Literary Theme and, with Per Schelde Jacobsen, of Ibsen's Forsaken Merman: Folklore in the Late Plays.

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