Author: Meghan Cox Gurdon

Correcting ‘Youth’s Eternal Temptation to Arrogance’—One Bedtime Story at a Time

“We almost never take this out because it is really fragile,” said Christine Nelson, a curator at the Morgan Library in New York. I was sitting across from her, in her office. She drew out a small navy-blue case and opened the lid. Inside, its glossy red leather binding embossed with gold, was the earliest surviving volume of the fairy tales of Charles Perrault. This beautiful object had been created in 1695 as a gift for the teenage niece of Louis the Fourteenth, a girl known as “Mademoiselle.” Nelson opened to the frontispiece (illustrated above), revealing a charming little painting. A plain-faced woman in a linen coif and rustic dress sits before a fire, holding a spindle of wool. She seems to be telling a story to three young people in elegant clothes, one of whom leans forward, touching the storyteller’s knees in her eagerness. Curled up by the fire, a plump little cat listens, too. On the wooden door behind the spindle holder, a sign reads: Contes de Ma Mere l’Oye. (Tales of My …