Popular Culture in the Dissertation

As I’ve been working towards a dissertation proposal, I’ve been asking myself various questions about appropriateness: What time period should I be looking at when researching retellings of Peau d’âne? Is it right for me to include only retellings by women authors? Is one film going to be enough to justify a reader who specializes in film theory? And perhaps my most interesting internal debate at this point: is “popular” culture fair game for analysis?

The retellings of PD that I’ve found so far are varied: a musical film from 1970, an autofiction (I’ll claim) from 2003, a play from 2010, a short story from 2002 in a volume celebrating Charles Perrault’s fairy tales, a shorter story from 2012 in an anthology of fairy tales retellings from many traditions, and two novels.

The novels are perhaps the trickiest of the texts to fit into my mindset of what is dissertation worthy. I’ve already settled (after some thought about the fact that I’m in a French program, and not a Comp. Lit. program) on the fact that I’m going to be looking at texts in English, with all the complications of cultural implications that will add to my work. And now, I’m wrestling with the fear that my work won’t seem scholarly enough to some based on the content of my bibliography. Regardless of this fear, I see potential in Robin McKinley’s Deerskin (1993)

Deerskin Cover deerskin smallunnatural issue

and Mercedes Lackey’s Unnatural Issue (2011), and how I can use them to arrive at an understanding of the uses of Perrault’s Peau d’âne as a jumping off point for 20th and 21st century writers. Specifically thought-provoking elements so far include the importance of setting up the strong female characters through unconventional upbringings (the protagonists are not equipped to be “proper ladies,” having received more practical/physical/natural educations), the treatment of character reactions to the idea of incest, the portrayal of the father’s power within each text, the romantic development of each story in comparison to the standard simplistic fairy tale romance structure, and the presence of space (a simple matter of length?) for more complex psychological development of the Donkeyskin counterpart.

The use of these texts is, of course, up to me, and a little bit also the approval of my advisor. But I think that if push comes to shove, I’m going to shove these novels into my dissertation.


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