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Aurelia.
Art and Literature through the Mouth of the Fairy Tale.

Text by Carol Mavor.
Reaktion Books, London, United Kingdom, 2017. In English. 256 pp., numerous illustrations, 6¼xx1¼".

Publisher's Description

Selected as Book of the Week by Laura M. André

"Forget whatever you previously associated with 'fairy tales,' and enter Carol Mavor’s kaleidoscopic universe of art and literature. Everyone from Ralph Eugene Meatyard to Kiki Smith to Frank Baum to Emmett Till to Francesca Woodman to Langston Hughes is here, and so many more, held together by Mavor’s casually erudite, finely spun web. Aurelia is as strange, enigmatic, and full of magic as its subjects." —Maggie Nelson, Faculty, Chair MFA Creative Writing Program, School of Critical Studies at CalArts

In eighteenth-century London butterfly collectors weren’t known as lepidopterists—they were the Society of Aurelians, employing an old term that refers to that mysterious cask where beauty is divined: the chrysalis. As a twenty-first-century Aurelian, Carol Mavor, in this book, moves through the enchanted woods and flowered fields of our fairy-tale-telling history in pursuit of our most intricately laced and resplendently clad stories, in turn showing us how deeply fantasy, myth, nursery rhyme, and dream have influenced our wider art and culture. 
           
Mavor reawakens us with new insights through the stories that we have known since childhood. For example, when Alice stumbles upon a Wonderland cake marked “EAT ME” or when the witch dangerously lures in Hansel and Gretel with her delicious gingerbread house, Mavor uncovers eating as curious and obsessional. Yet, she also unearths magical enchantment in more surprising places. She discovers a tragic candyland in the poetry of 1950s genius child-poet Minou Drouet. She showcases a subterranean fairytale from the Ice Age in the cave paintings of Lascaux. She shows how the brown fairies that flit among the poems of Langston Hughes become a lesson in civil rights. And, perhaps most dramatically, she holds aloft Miwa Yanagi’s photograph of Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother embracing within the cut-open belly of the wolf as a grisly allegorical work commemorating the victims of Hiroshima.
           
With the haunting, melancholic rhythm of nursery rhymes, Mavor reads us the world of the fairy tale as our own world, full of trouble and dangers, but yet also full of heroes and magic, showing us where fantasy, literature, and our own social and political histories meet in the depths of our shared imagination.

Carol Mavor is Professor of Art History and Visual Culture at the University of Manchester. She has published widely on photography, cinema, colour and childhood.


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