‘Sleeping Beauty’ by Laura Demers
Read it here in 18 minutes.
Thinking about intertextuality…
Intertextuality simply means there’s a link between one text and another. ‘Text’ here doesn’t just refer to literature; it could refer to any text, such as art or music or architecture. Some theorists argue all stories are intertextual, because every story links to others in some way, e.g. through a theme the writer was inspired by in another story, and wants to explore themselves; or because they’ve chosen to use a trope usually seen in the genre they write in.
There are no rules to intertextuality – a writer can use it as they wish, and achieve many different effects. For example, a character might say their relationship with their lover is like that of Romeo and Juliet, demonstrating they don’t actually know how that story ended; the story might be an adaptation, with the same characters, but from the point of view of a different character, or with a different outcome; the writer might follow the plot of another text, but with more modern characters and ideas.
In ‘Sleeping Beauty’, several references are made to fairy tale characters – the titular slumbering princess, Cinderella, Belle, Snow White, the stepsisters, and the Prince. But these are not the characters from the original violent and terrifying oral fairy tales; these are characters from the Disney animations. The beautiful, feminine, princesses with their long hair and pretty dresses.
The protagonist in this story is pretty far from a Disney princess. Her job involves attending children’s parties, dressed as their favourite fairy princesses. She lives in a house share, a long commute from the homes of the rich people who want her services. She argues with her ex, wanting access to her daughter. Her life isn’t going well. But she’s trying.
The story covers a day-in-the-life, the ups-and-downs of a princess. At her first job, she’s offered a pathetic slice of cake by glaring parents who want a perfect party for their child. She experiences disbelief from some children (‘This isn’t the real Cinderella’). She collapses on the sofa between jobs, a sweaty mess, anxious for a phone message from someone. Unusually, her second job of the day is at a 40th party, where she is the entertainment for the drunken birthday boy, who seems to know his Disney princesses rather well. Finally, she experiences some moments of kindness at the party, and gets the phone message she wanted.
The effect of the intertextuality is irony. She is the Disney Princess for other children, but not her own daughter. There are no Princes masquerading as frogs; no Fairy Godmother to save her; just life – the long, hard slog – with only the occasional sprinkling of magic.