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Happily Forever After: The Timeless Relevance of Fairy Tales

Distinctive Collections’ new exhibit on the “moral of the story”

From a treacherous trip to grandma’s house, rags to riches, escaping a witch’s oven, a trickster cat that brings good fortune—these are the tales and imagery that shape our happily ever afters and childhood. These tales seem to not fade away but inspire many generations of retellings and adaptions. While we have Charles Perrault, Madam d’Aulnoy, Hans Christian Andersen, and Grimm Brothers to thank for the dissemination of these beloved works, these tales have enduring presence in our society because the morals and lessons continue to have relevance in our culture today. Beyond the imagination of benevolent godmothers and a goose that lays golden eggs, the core conflicts, struggles, and messages of the stories remain reflective of our world. It is why fairy tale imagery is so popular beyond entertainment, but conspicuous in our everyday lives.  

Distinctive Collections invites you to explore the world of fairy tales and examine the importance of morals in the tales with the new exhibit, Happily Forever After: The Timeless Relevance of Fairy Tales. Curated by Rebecca Oviedo, Distinctive Collections Coordinator, and Beaudry Allen, Preservation and Digital Archivist, the exhibit showcases a selection of fairy tales and fairy tale inspired works from Falvey Memorial Library and Special Collections. The exhibit is located on the first floor of Falvey Memorial Library and open to the public throughout the summer. 


Beauty is in the eye of the ten cent handbook

Posted by Amanda McCollom, Digital Library Intern

How to become beautiful; or, Secrets of the toilet and health, published in 1882 by Frank Tousey, is a part of the Ten Cent Handbook series, which provides “how-to” guides on an assortment of topics ranging from card tricks to taxidermy to engineering. How to become beautiful offers a look into late 19th century beauty standards for women and how moderation and temperance were upheld as the key to beauty and good health. The introduction stresses the importance of avoiding extremes in food, temperature and emotion with mandates such as “Let your food be plain and not too highly seasoned,” (8). The guide urges women to resist any expression of emotion as it, “is just as sure to leave a wrinkle either in the mind or body, which can never be eradicated,” (6). As developments in industry enabled families to purchase more goods, men started working outside of the home while women were expected to live up to the ideals of the “cult of domesticity.” Women’s roles revolved around maintaining the home and acting as the moral center for the family; advices guides like How to become beautiful were common during this time as they offered women instructions for being the ideal wife and mother.

The remainder of the handbook offers a collection of “toilet recipes,” to be used to improve and enhance one’s skin, eyes, teeth, hair, breath, hands and feet. The handbook claims these “toilet recipes” are “carefully tested by experienced chemists, and are guaranteed not to produce other than beneficial results,” yet the precise sources of the formulas are unknown (11). While DIY beauty recipes are still popular today, you won’t find many of the ingredients for these 1882 recipes at your local store. For instance, the recipe for preventing baldness calls for 1 drachm of Powdered Spanish flies and 1 ounce of alcohol, which once macerated and filtered, should be combined with lard at a 1:9 ratio (22). The final thirty pages contain perfume recipes, many with romantic names such as “Dreamer’s Extract,” “Enchanted Drops,” and “Kiss of Cupid,” (40, 44, 48). This language reinforced the importance of femininity and attractiveness as key components to a women’s health and identity. While beauty standards and gender roles have certainly changed today, advice for women still proliferates today through magazines and blogs. How to become beautiful provides a way to examine how expectations for women have both changed and remained the same.

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Last Modified: February 22, 2017