Gillian Avery


This essay discusses two eighteenth-century English literary fairy tales for children. The first, “The Dice Box,” included by Horace Walpole in his six Hieroglyphic Tales (1785), written for the nine-year-old niece of a friend, probably in 1757, is unique, surreal in its nonsense, Rabelaisian with sophisticated sexual innuendo. In sharp contrast Jane Johnson’s “A Very Pretty Story,” the earliest known English fairy tale for children, written in 1744 and published for the first time in 2001 by the Bodleian Library, Oxford, who have recently acquired the manuscript, is decorous and benign, and was extemporized by a mother for her two small children. Both authors draw on French sources, particularly on Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy and, in Walpole’s case, on Anthony Hamilton, and the article discusses the influence of these on eighteenth-century English writing.