Once upon a time there was a little girl who, at the age of two, had in some fashion to be told that her father had just cut off the head of the beautiful mother who used to lavish affection on her, and pretty clothes. Shortly afterwards the child learned that, although she retained contact with him, she had been officially repudiated as her father's daughter, even if she probably had to wait a while before having it explained that this occurred because her mother had been accused both of adultery and incest. She was sexually abused, at 14, after her father died, by a wicked stepfather who was executed a little later (although not for that misdemeanour), subsequently imprisoned by her ugly half-sister in a grim, ill-omened fortress, then placed under guard in a house elsewhere, and threatened at intervals with imminent death. Being both a princess and plucky, she not only survived all this but grew up to become a great and resplendent Queen. Though she never married the Frog Prince of whom she was teasingly fond, or any of her other and more handsome suitors, she lived for a long time in peace and prosperity, governed her kingdom well, repelled its enemies and won the hearts and praise of most of her subjects. She has never really died.
LRB 10 July 2003 | PDF Download