Madame d'Aulnoy

Madame d'Aulney, Baroness d'Aulnoy
Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy
Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy
BornMarie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville
Died4 January 1705
Occupationfairy tale writer, Baroness
Notable works
  • Sentiments of a Penitent Soul (Sentiments d'une Ame penitente)
  • The Return of a Soul to God (Le Retour d'une Ame à Dieu)
  • History of Hippolyte, Count of Douglas (Histoire d'Hippolyte, comte de Duglas) (1690)
  • History of Jean de Bourbon, Prince of Carency (Histoire de Jean de Bourbon, Prince de Carency) (1692)
  • The Count of Warwick (Le Comte de Warwick)
  • Memories of the Court of Spain, Account of the Voyage to Spain (Memoires de la cour d'Espagne, Relation du voyage d'Espagne) (1690 or 1691)
  • Memories of the Court of England (Mémoires de la cour d'Angleterre) (1695)
  • From Fairy Tales (Les Contes des Fées) (1697)
SpouseFrançois de la Motte, Baron d'Aulnoy

Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baroness d'Aulnoy (1650/1651–4 January 1705), also known as Countess d'Aulnoy, was a French writer known for her fairy tales. When she termed her works contes de fées (fairy tales), she originated the term that is now generally used for the genre.[1]


D'Aulnoy was born in Barneville-la-Bertran, in Normandy, as a member of the noble family of Le Jumel de Barneville. She was the niece of Marie Bruneau des Loges, the friend of François de Malherbe and of Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac.[2] In 1666, she was given at the age of fifteen (by her father) in an arranged marriage to a Parisian thirty years older— François de la Motte, Baron d'Aulnoy, of the household of the Duke of Vendôme. The baron was a freethinker and a known gambler. In 1669, the Baron d'Aulnoy was accused of treason (speaking out against imposed taxes by the King) by two men who may have been the lovers of Mme d'Aulnoy (aged nineteen) and her mother, who by a second marriage was the Marchioness de Gadagne.[2][3] If found guilty, the verdict would have meant execution. The Baron d'Aulnoy spent three years in the Bastille before finally convincing the court of his innocence. The two men implicated in the accusation were executed instead. The accusations and counter-accusations are recorded in the Bastille's archives. The Marchioness de Gadagne fled to England, and although a warrant was served for Mme d'Aulnoy's arrest, she escaped from officers through a window and hid in a church.

It is possible she then worked as a spy for France (and perhaps spent some time in Holland, Spain, and England) before returning to Paris in 1685 (possibly as repayment for spying).[3] The Marchioness de Gadagne stayed in Madrid financed by a pension from the Spanish King. Mme d'Aulnoy hosted salons in her home at rue Saint-Benoît that were frequented by leading aristocrats and princes, including her close friend, Saint-Evremond.

In 1699 Mme d'Aulnoy's friend Angélique Ticquet was beheaded for having a servant retaliate against Angélique's abusive husband, also from a forced marriage. The servant was hanged for shooting and wounding Councillor Ticquet. Mme d'Aulnoy escaped persecution despite her alleged involvement and discontinued involvement in the Paris social scene for twenty years.

D'Aulnoy published twelve books including three pseudo-memoirs, two fairy tale collections and three "historical" novels. She contributed to the anthology Recueil des plus belles pièces des poètes français in 1692 and wrote a series of travel memoirs based on her supposed travels through court life in Madrid and London. And although her insights may have been plagiarized and invented, these stories later became her most popular works. She gained the reputation as a historian and recorder of tales from outside France, and elected as a member of Paduan Accademia dei Ricovatri, she was called by the name of the muse of history, Clio. However, at this time the idea of history was a much looser term which included her fictional accounts. In 150 years, the more strictly documented form of the term led to her accounts being declared "fraudulent". However, in France and England at the time her works were considered as mere entertainment, a sentiment reflected in the reviews of the period. Her truly accurate attempts at historical accounts telling of the Dutch wars of Louis XIV were less successful. The money she made from her writing helped raise her three daughters, not all produced during her time with the Baron d'Aulnoy .

Her most popular works were her fairy tales and adventure stories as told in Les Contes des Fées (Tales of fairies) and Contes Nouveaux, ou Les Fées à la Mode. Unlike the folk tales of the Grimm Brothers, who were born some 135 years later than d'Aulnoy, she told her stories in a more conversational style, as they might be told in salons. Much of her writing created a world of animal brides and grooms, where love and happiness came to heroines after surmounting great obstacles. These stories were far from suitable for children and many English adaptations are very dissimilar to the original.