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Planché's Translation of Sleeping Beauty

An Old Fairy Tale Told Anew, Planché's 1865 verse translation of Charles Perrault's La Belle au bois dormante, provides an interesting look at the very mature writer, long retired from the burlesque stage and working in a different medium.  The poem begins with Planché's typical mixture of nostalgia and Romanticism:

    Once, upon a time !—Why, even now,
        With seventy winters on my brow,
    I feel the power of the spell,
        And on the pleasant pages dwell
    With all the fresh and clear delight
        That made my boyhood’s dream so bright !
    Pages that rivalry defy !  (Page 5)

This is very much the type of emotion Planché evoked in his audiences, as is witnessed by many critical reviews (see, for instance, those of the Times of most Boxing Day performances during the 1830s and 1840s).  Part of the joy of the extravaganza was in the world of the fairy tale, made vivid and coherent for adults, who could therefore savor childhood memories again.  (He rounds off his real age--69--for poetic effect, but the point is clear, nonetheless.)  Planché continues with the same concept of the fairy tale's charm as he expresses in many other places:

    Tales which, though centuries sweep by,
        Are new as when they first were told,
    And never, never can be old !
        Like to the pure and glassy brooks
    Which have for generations been
        Mirrors of childhood’s joyous looks,
    Disporting on their margents green ;
        And on from age to age still run
    Through the same wild and flow’ry ways,
        Shining as brightly as the sun,
    And gladdening all who on them gaze !

    But peace, thou garrulous old man,
        Well-nigh to a child again, indeed !
    Forbear these memories to scan,
        And briefly with thy task proceed ;—
    The flattering task, to be a foil
        To the fine pencil of a Doyle.

The same evocation of the fairy tradition as being at once childlike and yet also a matter of refined art is evident in the final stanza quoted.  Planché flatters Richard Doyle, whose art he admired, but he also implies the story, if not his verse, is worthy the artist.

Planché's patriotism is also evident.  “A lovely, loyal isle” is described as the scene of the action.  “[N]o odious Salique law” keeps the Princess from being heir to the throne.  This, of course, is meant to compare Great Britain to the mythical land, and includes a complement to Queen Victoria, who is mentioned shortly afterward:

    And they heard of an isle afar
        Where a Queen was vastly popular,
    And prayed that their child might someday be
        As good and kind a Queen as she.

Unlike, however, his translations of Aulnoy's works, or the earlier literal renderings of Perrault, this verse publication showed more allegiance to contemporary book culture than to folklore.  An illustration of the evil fairy depicts her riding a broom, straw to the back instead of forward, as older witch-lore would have had it  (9).  Beyond that, part of the charm is in the fun of imagining a scene which Planché might very well have staged with all the resources of costume and set design:

    With flambeau and with girandole
        The palace is ablaze !
    King, Queen, and every courtly soul
        Await the seven Fays,
    All whose addresses they could find
        Invited, as time out of mind.  (Page 8)

As on stage, satire appears in the poem.  For instance, while continuing to describe the gathering of the fairy-tale court, Planché's remarks of the seven "Fays" invited to bless the Princess:

    The custom ‘twas in Fairyland,
        Godmother to the babe to stand ;
    Which meant, of course, that each should stand some-
        Thing or other, very handsome.
    E’en in our day some such reflection
        May guide sponsorial selection.  (Page 9)

Later, while describing the airy veils sprites have woven to hide the sleeping Princess, Planché remarks that such gossamer tissues are very much like acts of Parliament, lovely but insubstantial  (Page reference goes here).  The poem, ostensibly for children, manages to be very much for adults--as much as were the extravaganzas of Planché's early and middle years.

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