Baby à la Sauce Robert

Sauce Robert, Julia Child says in Mastering the Art of French Cooking (p. 72), is a brown mustard sauce with lots of onions and white wine, and is served with roast or braised pork, pork chops, boiled beef, broiled chicken or turkey, hot meat leftovers or hamburgers. Obviously, Julia Child hadn’t read “Sleeping Beauty”, or she would have added “roast or broiled baby” to that list of acceptable meats. Well, at least the ogress thinks that sauce Robert would go well with cooked toddler; her cook disagrees.

What? You didn’t know about the ogress and the broiled baby? What version of Sleeping Beauty” were you looking at? Oh, probably the same one I’m familiar with – lovely, tender Grimms’. That’s right, when it comes to “Sleeping Beauty”, the Grimms were the sweet, child-friendly storytellers; Charles Perrault’s version is a whole lot more grim. If you think that “Sleeping Beauty” is the story of a princess who pokes her hand with a spindle, falls asleep for a hundred years in a rosebush-covered castle, is kissed awake by the prince, and lives happily-ever-after-the-end, you only know half the tale – the half the Germans decided to write down as “Dornröschen”.

The French, on the other hand, went a little further than that. And made it a bit more, ahem, PG 13. Oh yes. Sex, teen pregnancy, family violence, attempted cannibalism, poisonous creepy-crawlies, this one has it all. Up to the point where the prince finds the beautiful princess on her beautiful bed, the story is pretty much the same as the Grimms’, but then it goes off the rails. The prince, you see, doesn’t kiss the girl to wake her up, she just opens her eyes on her own accord and tells him off for taking so long to get there. He keeps himself in check until they’re married, which happens right there and then, with the lord almoner (also newly awakened) officiating; then “the chief lady of honour drew the curtains [on the big four-poster bed the girl has been snoozing in for the last hundred years]”, and Perrault informs us that the prince and princess “had but very little sleep” that night (Lang, The Blue Fairy Book, 60). Hoo boy! And don’t forget we’re talking about a fifteen- or sixteen-year-old here. Well, after that energetic night, the prince goes home and lies to his parents about where he’s been – in the cottage of a charcoal burner, he says (uh-huh, suuure!). His dad buys it, being “a good man” (does that translate to “gullible”?); the Queen, his mother, for whose benefit the lie was concocted in the first place, not. The mother, you see, is an Ogress who likes to snack on children, and so is of a suspicious turn of mind. Well, the prince keeps inventing excuses for “having to go hunting”, so he can go back to Beauty’s castle. What they’re doing there you can deduce from the subsequent births of their daughter, Morning, and a year later their son, Day; as far as I can gather, Beauty is about eighteen by now. Then the good-but-gullible King dies, and the prince takes his place. So now he figures he’s got the upper hand, and he announces his marriage and brings his wife and children home to Mama Ogress. Bad choice. The newly-minted King goes off to war with his next-door neighbour, and what do you know, almost as soon as he’s gone the Dowager Queen gets a little peckish. She packs her daughter-in-law the young Queen off to a country house in the woods, and orders her cook (or “clerk of the kitchen”) to roast up her granddaughter, little Morning, with – you guessed it – sauce Robert. No, really, Perrault specifically says so. The cook, being of a non-cannibalistic persuasion, tricks the Ogress by serving her roast lamb instead; the following week, when she thinks she’s eating little Day, it’s kid (i.e. baby goat, not baby human), and finally venison instead of Queen à la Sauce Robert. The Ogress quite enjoys the meals, until she overhears the young Queen talking to her children (threatening little Day with a spanking, no less) and realises she’s been tricked, whereupon she loses her ogreish temper and commands them all, cook included, to be executed by immersion in a tub full of poisonous toads, vipers and snakes. Fortunately, at the last minute, the young King comes back from war (I guess he got off work early), and the Ogress-Queen-Mother is so peeved she commits suicide by jumping into the viper tub. The King, being of a somewhat sentimental disposition, “could not but be very sorry, for she was his mother” (63), but consoles himself with his wife and children, and they do, presumably, live happily ever after.

And you thought the Grimms were grim… But at least Perrault didn’t go as far as the even older Italian version, Giambattista Basile’s “Sole, Luna e Talia” (“Sun, Moon and Talia”). It follows roughly the same outline as Perrault’s story, except that in this version, the ogress isn’t the young King’s mother, but his wife. That’s right, the guy is already married when he finds the sleeping Talia – who, incidentally, is doomed to sleep as long as a sliver of poisoned flax is still stuck in her finger (just like Snow White and her poisoned apple). So this king doesn’t even bother waking the girl up; he feels “his blood course hotly through his veins”, “gather[s] the first fruits of love” (which are a little more than a kiss), and leaves again. Talia, still soundly asleep, gives birth to twins (Sun and Moon). One of them, in search of a nipple, sucks the splinter of flax out of her finger, and she wakes up. After that, the story pretty much goes back to the Perrault plot, with less vipers and a better reason for the first queen to resent Talia, but at the end the wicked queen is dead, the king finally makes an honest man out of himself and marries Talia, and they live happily ever after. So here we have adultery and rape added to the mix of motifs, but hey, the story’s got a moral: “Those whom fortune favors / Find good luck even in their sleep.”

Do you still wonder why we stick with telling the Grimms’ version of the story? Pass the sauce Robert, please.

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5 thoughts on “Baby à la Sauce Robert

  1. Wow. I haven’t read much of Sleeping Beauty, although I did look at many of the fairy tale princesses for my last paper. The Perrault version is extremely disturbing, isn’t it? And the Italian version is even worse! Strange that the Perrault version of Cinderella is much tamer than the Grimm’s version. I have to keep reminding myself when I read these fairy tales that they were written for adults at first, and became children’s tales later on. As for being adult tales and looking at then and now–sex, perversion, violence, hatred, and greed–the more we change, the more we stay the same. Awesome post, Amo.

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  2. The interesting thing (well, not really surprising, when you think of it) is that Disney always picked the tame version of the story, and that’s how we know them today.
    Perrault is also nasty on Little Red Riding Hood, which is really a rape story in disguise – with him, it ends with Red Riding Hood being eaten; I guess the only one who lives happily ever after is the wolf. With the Grimms, Red and her grandmother do get eaten, but the huntsman comes along, cuts open the snoring wolf’s stomach, and they hop out fully intact, while the wolf is dispatched somehow-or-other.
    The other thing about Perrault is that his tales are far more “literary” than Grimms. His Cinderella even has the name of the stepsisters’ fashion designer listed (Mademoiselle de la Poche), and his Sleeping Beauty wears “a point band over a high collar” which to the Prince looks like the fashion of his great-grandmother’s day (but he’s polite enough not to mention it). Grimm’s is far more “folktale-ish”, the princess is just pretty, without specific descriptions of what she wears etc.
    Lüthi says that stories can become “folklorised” again – the more they get retold, the more their style changes back to the true folktale style of depthlessness and abstraction. I think that’s one of the things that happened to Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.

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  3. Pingback: Beauty and the Beast | quill and qwerty

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