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Eat or Be Eaten: Psychological and Bodily Violence in Michèle Roberts’s Reworking of Fairy-Tale Cannibalism


This paper focuses on Robertsʼs counter-narrative “The Cookery Lesson” and the theme of fairy-tale cannibalism. While questioning the representation of the cannibalizing and the cannibalized bodies through the analysis of the sensuous language describing the desire-violence nexus, we shall take into account the ways in which the narrative form is affected in the passage from traditional fairy tale to contemporary short story, not only as concerns the representation of characters but also as regards the use of narrative voices and narrative strategies recalling the oral origins of fairy tales. At the same time, such formal choices critically re-contextualize source stories in a modern space-time framework, thus dismantling their supposed universal value. Incidentally, at the time of their circulation, the absence of a clear space-time description (which was mainly limited to rural life) helped learned readers reject issues such as cannibalism considered as savage, primitive practices causing moral and physical loathing in western civilised people.