Detail from a portrait of Charles Perrault that was painted by Philippe Lallemand between 1671 and 1672.

Charles Perrault (January 12, 1628 - May 16, 1703) was a French author whose works include an autobiography, essays and other works of non-fiction, poems and translations of works originally written in Latin. He is best known, however, for his 1697 collection of fairy tales, which is known in French as Histoires ou Contes du temps passé or Les Contes de ma mère l'Oye[1] and in English as Fairy Tales from Past Times with Morals or Mother Goose Tales. Although he was not the first person to write fairy tales,[2] Charles Perrault is considered to have set the model for the fairy tale as a literary genre that was then imitated by other writers.


Charles Perrault was born in Paris on January 12, 1628. He was born into a wealthy family, although not a noble one. He was the seventh child of Pierre Perrault and Paquette Le Clerc. After studying law, Charles Perrault entered the civil service, as his father and older brother Jean had done before him.

Perrault took part in the creation of the Academy of the Sciences and the restoration of the Academy of Painting. He became the first secretary of the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres (a society devoted to the promotion of the humanities) when the society was founded in 1663. As such, he served under Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the finance minister to King Louis XIV. Thanks to his connection to Colbert, Charles Perrault was able to get his brother Claude appointed as the designer of a new section of the Louvre that was built between 1665 and 1680.

In 1668, Charles Perrault wrote the poem "La Peinture" ("Painting") in honor of King Louis XIV's favorite painter Charles Le Brun. In 1670, he wrote the poem "Courses de testes et de bague" ("Head and Ring Races") in honor of celebrations that Louis XIV held for his mistress Louise de La Vallière.

Charles Perrault04

Portrait of Charles Perrault by an unknown artist.

In 1669, Perrault advised King Louis XIV to include thirty-nine fountains in the labyrinth of Versailles which each represented one of the fables of Aesop. The fountains were installed between 1672 and 1677. Perrault wrote a guidebook to the labyrinth of Versailles which was published in 1677.

Perrault became a member of the Académie française in 1671. In 1672, he married Marie Guichon, who died in 1678.

In 1674, Perrault's friend Philippe Quinault wrote a libretto for Jean-Baptiste Lully's opera Alceste, based on the ancient Greek play Alcestis by Euripides. After the opera was criticized for not following the established rules of classical drama, Perrault wrote an essay in which he stated that Qinault's libretto was better than Euripides' original play. The publication of this essay brought about the start of the so-called Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns, a heated artistic and literary debate which took place in France throughout the rest of the 17th century and which flared up again when Perrault's essay was republished after his death in the early 18th century. The debate pitted the Ancients, those who thought that the art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome were superior, against the Moderns, those who thought that the art and literature of their own century were better. Charles Perrault was on the side of the moderns and wrote further essays in support of their cause.

Charles Perrault was forced to retire from the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres in 1682. He then attempted to write Christian epic poetry, for which he was mocked in the writings of the French satirist Nicolas Boileau.

IN 1694, Perrault wrote three fairy tales in verse. He later rewrote those three stories in prose and they were published along with eight other fairy tales in his 1697 book Histoires ou Contes du temps passé . The success of this volume led Perrault to translate into French verse some of the fables that were written in Latin by the 16th century Italian poet Gabriele Faerro.

Perrault died in Paris on May 16, 1703 at the age of 75.

Fairy tales[]

Charles Perrault is best know today for his 1697 anthology of fairy tales Histoires ou Contes du temps passé . According to the first edition of the book, its author was Pierre Perrault Darmancour, Charles Perrault's son who was 19 years-old at the time that the volume was first published. Most scholars agree, however, that the book was written by Charles Perrault alone and that his son did not contribute to it in any way. Perrault probably attributed the work to his son in an attempt to introduce the youth to society.

Perrault 1695 Contes

Illustration from the title page of a manuscript of Histoires ou Contes du temps passé written in 1695, two years before the book was published.

Histoires ou Contes du temps passé contains the following stories:

All of the stories are in prose but end with morals in verse.

Perrault had previously written versions of the stories of "Griselda", "The Ridiculous Wishes" and "Donkeyskin" in verse which were published in 1694. They were rewritten in prose before they were published in Histoires ou Contes du temps passé. Perrault's prose versions of "Griselda" and "The Ridiculous Wishes" were published in the literary magazine Mercure galant in 1693. Perrault's "Sleeping Beauty" was published in the same magazine in 1694.

The stories of "Little Red Riding Hood", "Puss in Boots", "Cinderella" and "Griselda" are known to have existed before Charles Perrault's time. Perrault may have invented the other stories in the anthology, he may have adapted them from existing folktales or he may have taken them from medieval texts which are now lost. Charles Perrault made no claim to be recording folktales as they had been passed down orally for generations. He rewrote the folktales that he included in Histoires ou Contes du temps passé in order to please his audience, which consisted chiefly of sophisticated and highly literate adults. Perrault did not write his fairy tales in simple language and embellished their simple plots.

The first English translation of Charles Perrault's anthology of fairy tales, translated by Robert Samber, was published in 1729. A highly faithful annotated translation by the Scottish poet, novelist and collector of folktales Andrew Lang was published in 1888.

Charles Perrault's best known stories in the English-speaking world today are "Sleeping Beauty", "Puss in Boots", "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Cinderella". The majority of adaptations and printed versions of "Puss in Boots" and "Cinderella" available in English continue to tell those stories largely as Perrault wrote them. Most English-language printed versions and adaptations of "Sleeping Beauty" and "Little Red Riding Hood", however, more closely follow the versions of those stories that were written in German by the Brothers Grimm in the 19th century.

See also[]


  1. Les Contes de ma mère l'Oye literally means "Tales of My Mother the Goose". The modern French word for "goose" is oie, Perrault spelled it as oye. It is unlikely that Mother Goose was a real person. The name is simply meant to represent an old woman who knows many folktales.
  2. The phrase "fairy tale" (conte de fée) was coined in 1697 by the French writer Madame d'Aulnoy (1650-1703) to describe the stories that she wrote.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Versions of "Sleeping Beauty", "Little Red Riding Hood", "Bluebeard", "Puss in Boots" and "Cinderella" are also included in the collections of German folktales compiled by the Brothers Grimm in the 19th century.
  4. Versions of the Griselda folktale had previously been written by the 14th century Italian writers Giovanni Bocccaccio and Petrarch. Geoffrey Chaucer adapted Petrarch's version as "The Clerk's Tale" in The Canterbury Tales

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