The swan maiden is a supernatural woman forced to marry, keep house, and bear children for a mortal man who holds the key to her imprisonment.  When she manages to regain this key, she escapes to the otherworld, rarely to return.  Barbara Fass Leavy studies the meaning of gender in the stories that cluster around the swan maiden.

The author poses questions concerning how the female folk socialize other women in a man's world, how myths of feminine evil attach themselves to widely disseminated folktales, and how ominous meanings are obscured by the traditional happy endings of some fairy tales.

Beautifully written, this book reveals the myriad ways in which the folktales become allegories of gender relations and expertly combines literary, gender, and cultural studies to present the swan maiden as the prototypical "other", a being alienated from the dominant society.  Woman was the other -- trapped by marriage in a world never quite her own.  Leavy shows how the tale is frequently replayed in modern literature and life.


"... a valuable contribution to our understanding of how social constructs such as gender are explored, passed on, and commented on by individual narrators."
         Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society (University of Chicago)

"... a wonderful book, rich in stories. . . just the right balance of down-to-earth relevance and respect for fantasy."
        Wendy Doniger

"Leavy concludes her study with a fascinating analysis of Ibsen's play "A Doll House," in which Nora, the modern swan maiden, regains her freedom after finding her lost garment."
       The New York Times Sunday Book Review

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