The Swan-Maiden in Late-Victorian Folkloristics

Bihet, F. (2019) The Swan-Maiden in Late-Victorian Folkloristics. Fairy Investigation Society Journal. pp. 24-29.

[thumbnail of Swan-Maidens FIS Newsletter FBihet Jan 2019.docx] Text
Swan-Maidens FIS Newsletter FBihet Jan 2019.docx - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (28kB)


Joseph Jacobs’ European Folk and Fairy Tales (1916) aimed to reconstruct “the original form of the fairy tales common to all Europe”. He compares his method to restoring “Ur-texts” from manuscripts. One of his most successful reconstructions was ‘The Swan Maidens’. A hunter encountered seven maidens all clad in feathered robes which they removed when bathing in a lake. Stealing the youngest maiden’s plumage he manages to keep her captive, marrying her and hiding her feathers so she cannot escape. After several years of marriage the swan maiden’s daughter is playing and finds the plumage, thus her mother escapes. The hunter goes on a quest to find the “Land East o’ the Sun and West o’ Moon”, eventually retrieving his errant wife. At the beginning of John Rhys’ Celtic Folklore, Welsh and Manx (1901) a similar tale of the Lady of ILyny Fan Fach in Carmarthenshire, taken from William Rees of Tonn in 1841, acts as a departure point for Rhys’ discussions. In the tale a young lad encounters the lake maiden sitting on the water whilst grazing his widowed mother’s cattle. On subsequent visits he offers her bread, until eventually she agrees to marry him, providing a large dowry of farm animals, on the condition he must not strike her three times without a cause. Eventually after having children the husband strikes the wife for the third and final time. She immediately leaves home with her dowry of animals following her back into the lake. However, the lady gifts her sons with the knowledge to become ‘most skilful physicians in the country.’ Similar tales of fairy-brides leaving their families, or subverting Victorian marital norms, run as a thematic arc through late nineteenth and early twentieth century folkloristics, fascinating male scholars. This article discusses some examples of this expansive and under considered topic.

Publication Type: Articles
Additional Information: Newsletter 9
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary history
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary history > PN905 Folk literature
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary history > PN905 Folk literature > PN980 Fables
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Research Entities > The Chichester Centre for Fairy Tales, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction
Academic Areas > Institute of Arts and Humanities > English and Creative Writing
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Angela Roberts
Date Deposited: 30 May 2019 11:57
Last Modified: 30 May 2019 11:57

Actions (login required)

View Item
View Item
▲ Top

Our address

I’m looking for