Richard Dadd's famous painting of "The Fairy Feller's Master-stroke" epitomises the Victorian fascination with fairy tales and the fantastic creatures who inhabit those tales. There is also an unintended irony in the title, for as the 19th century progressed, attitudes - both scholarly and popular - towards the fairy tale shifted dramatically. At the opening of the century literary collections of fairy tales were a noticeable aspect of Romanticism, an integral part of the burgeoning idealization of children and childhood. The true nature and origin of fairy tales was ignored or suppressed and the "Fairy tale teller" reigned supreme. But such attitudes were in conflict with a parallel enthusiasm for antiquity and the "matter of Britain", also inspired by the Romantic movement. Scholarly study of the folk origins of themes and characters within Celtic literature, and in the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, led to analyses of fairy lore, and a shift in the perception of the fairy folk. The scholar as fairy-feller set to work, and a darker vision of the fairies emerged: the happy creatures of children's tales were transformed into malignant beings. But not for all: both traditional fairy tales and literary imaginings progressed side by side, and fairies continued not only as a delight for children, but also as an escape route for adults perturbed by a growing tide of religious doubt. In the course of the 19th century, folklorists, antiquarians and literary scholars all produced studies of fairies and fairy tales reflecting their different viewpoints and approaches to the subject. Their work provides a surprisingly rich - and largely untapped - source of material that illustrates not only the development of folklore as a scholarly study, but also the nature of literary theory, the growth of fantastic literature, the social effects of philosophical speculation, changing attitudes to child education and the concept of childhood, and the history of ideas in general. This series of reprints is designed to make significant, representative examples of these various approaches to both fairy tales and fairy lore available to scholars and students.
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During the nineteenth century, folklorists, antiquarians and literary scholars all produced studies of fairies and fairy tales that reflected their different viewpoints. The work contained here provides a rich source of illuminating material about fairy tales, ranging from the nature of literary theory, the development of folklore as a scholarly study, and the growth of fantastic literature, to the social effects of philosophical speculation, changing attitudes to childhood education, and a reevaluation of the concept of childhood itself.
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