Norm and Transgression in the Fairy-Tale Tradition: (Non)Normative Identities, Forms, and Writings

deadline for submissions: 
January 31, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Alessandro Cabiati / Brown University


Norm and Transgression in the Fairy-Tale Tradition: (Non)Normative Identities, Forms, and Writings  


Brown University, 7-9 June 2023 

Conference Organisers: Alessandro Cabiati (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and Brown University) and Lewis Seifert (Brown University)


Keynote Speakers

Maria Tatar (Harvard University)

Anne E. Duggan (Wayne State University)

Laura Tosi (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice)

Cristina Bacchilega (University of Hawai’i-Mānoa)


From Perrault’s representation of female disobedience in ‘Bluebeard’ to Little Red Riding Hood’s disregard of her mother’s prohibition of wandering in the forest, transgression is a key theme in fairy tales. The act of transgression is typically used as a vehicle for a moral and/or educational message which seeks to punish the transgressor and reward ‘good’ behaviour that is compliant with societal norms and values. But with the evolution of the literary fairy tale as a genre, transgression has taken many other forms and significations that go well beyond acts of disobedience or the infringement of society’s rules and expectations. Rewritings of fairy tales, including the efforts by late 19th-century Decadent writers to subvert traditional happy endings and moral meanings or postmodern feminist adaptations that challenge the patriarchal structure embedded in those fairy tales, put into question the very notions of transgression and normativity in the fairy-tale world.

It could easily be argued, moreover, that transgression of accepted cultural norms has defined the literary fairy tale as a genre ever since its development in late 17th-century France. Physical deformity and monsters, such as ogres, witches, and other villains, populate the fairy-tale universe; violent and homicidal acts are commonly represented; and transgressive relationships and comportments abound, including, for instance, the numerous tales classified as ‘unnatural love’ in the Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index of folktales. In spite of the evident moralistic and allegorical meanings of fairy tales, and of the supposed acceptance of its illogical and ‘marvellous’ world as normative by the reader, the latter cannot but acknowledge the transgressive presence of topics such as cannibalism and anthropophagy in many of the tales. Recently, scholarly works in the emerging field of Queer Fairy-Tale Studies have underlined the ‘transgressive’ quality of certain traditional tales that do not conform to a heteronormative paradigm.

What can then be considered as normative, and what as transgressive, in a fairy tale? We invite proposals for papers that broadly address the above question(s), and which more narrowly consider, but are not limited to, the following themes:

  • The laws of fairy land and the fairy world; breaking the law and committing crimes; investigations and trials; sentencing, punishments, and ‘fairy’ prisons; eye for an eye and the ‘poetic justice’ of fairy tales. 
  • The subversion of the categories of good and evil, and related notions of reward and punishment; the rejection of happy endings and ‘happily ever after’, and of moral messages and educational aims. 
  • Social and cultural taboos in fairy tales; prohibitions and interdictions; forbidden practices and illicit desires.
  • Transgressions of the ‘once upon a time’ formula and of fairy-tale settings; fairy tales set in modern and contemporary times; the presence of science and technology in the fairy world and the intermingling of fairy tale, fantasy, and science fiction.
  • Transgressions and violations of the human body; illness and physical deformity; amalgamation and equivalence of the human and the animal; posthuman figures. 
  • Gender rules and laws; princesses and laws of succession; adventurous heroines and rescued princes; ruling queens.
  • Nonnormative identities; cross-dressing; gender fluidity; marvellous sexual metamorphoses and magical transsexuality; homo- and bisexual desire.
  • Racial rules and laws; interracial relationships and marriages. 
  • Rewritings of traditional tales; poems, novels, and novellas with a fairy-tale plot; postmodern retellings.
  • Non-Western fairy-tale traditions; translation of non-Western fairy tales in Western culture and vice versa. 
  • Adaptation as transgression; adaptation that becomes the norm (the Disney films); adaptation in other media, theatre, cinema, TV, comics; computer games and new technologies.

Please send an abstract of around 300 words for a 20-minute paper, along with a biographical note and your affiliation, to by 31 January 2023. Outcomes will be communicated by 28 February 2023. For regular updates on the conference, please visit the conference website 

We plan to produce a Special Issue or an Edited Volume including a selection of papers presented at the conference.

The conference is planned as an in-person event, but contingency plans are in place to hold the conference online should it become necessary due to the changing nature of the pandemic.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 101025123.