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Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Profile: Goldilocks

Who's that girl? Who indeed, and is she a girl? An old lady? Or even a fox? And is she a real blonde, or a silver locks?

Yes a bit like the three bears' chairs Goldilocks comes in all shapes and sizes. She has morphed from old lady (or a fox - nobody can be certain which came first - although Joseph Jacobs thought that Robert Southey mistakenly took the term vixen to mean an old woman), into the delightful little madam we know today. Other names she's gone by include; Silver Hair, Silver locks, Goldenlocks, and Golden Hair.

Age: The tale appears in one guise or another from the early 1800s although it's likely that it was being told long before that. For a long time Southey's 'The Story of the Three Bears', first published in 1837, was thought to be the oldest surviving literary version, but then in 1951 Eleanor Mure's 1831 version was discovered in Toronto Public Library's Osborne collection. The title page of the book says it's 'The celebrated nursery tale of The Three Bears put into verse and embellished with drawings for a Birth-day present to Horace Broke' (Mure's nephew).

As for our subject's age in the story, she was an old woman until 1849 when Joseph Cundall wrote in the dedication to his children at the beginning of A treasury of pleasure books for young children;
The " Story of the Three Bears" is a very old Nursery Tale, but it never was so well told as by the great poet Southey, whose version I have (with permission) given you, only I have made the intruder a little girl instead of an old woman. This I did because I found that the tale is better known with SILVER-HAIR, and because there are so many other stories of old women.

Location: English, perhaps - as with any fairy tale there's no way of saying for definite where she first came from!

Friends: Well she doesn't seem to have many, the Bears (who incidentally were originally all male) don't seem to like her much and who can blame them - whether she's a 'vagrant' with her 'ugly, dirty head' on Little, Small, Wee Bear's pillow (Southey), or the pretty little girl contemporary illustrators so like to portray; she was still breaking and entering, stealing porridge and thoughtlessly destroying their property. Although the Bear's treatment of her does vary - from trying, unsuccessfully, to burn her and chucking her 'aloft on St. Paul's church-yard steeple' (in Mure's version), to just standing back and letting her jump from the window.

And as Southey says 'whether she broke her neck in the fall; or ran into the wood and was lost there; or found her way out of the wood, and was taken up by the constable and sent to the House of Correction' - who knows?

Best lines written about her:
The prize has to go to Mr Dahl for his alternative finale to the tale:
... in the book as you will see,
The little beast gets off scot-free,
While tiny children near and far
Shout, 'Goody-good! Hooray! Hurrah!'
'Poor darling Goldilocks!' they say,
'Thank goodness that she got away!'
Myself, I think I'd rather send
Young Goldie to a sticky end.
'Oh daddy!' cried the Baby Bear,
'My porridge gone! It isn't fair!'
'Then go upstairs,' the Big Bear said,
'Your porridge is upon the bed.
'But as it's inside mademoiselle,
'You'll have to eat her up as well.'

Places to look for her online:
You can see five pages from Eleanor Mure's 1831 version here. I've also been told by The Osborne Collection at Toronto Public Library that they will be publishing a facsimile of the book next year.

You can read Robert Southey's 1837 version in his book of essays, The Doctor.

Also first published in 1837 was George Niccol's versified version of Southey's tale.

There is a lovely digitised copy of Joseph Cundall's 1849 version in which he changed the old woman into a girl called Silver-hair available on The Internet Archive.

Scrapefoot is the tale of the three Bears and the Fox, and it was collected by Joseph Jacobs in More English Fairy Tales in 1894.

I have searched and searched with no luck for a digitised copy of The Old Nursery Stories and Rhymes, from circa 1904, illustrated by John Hassall, which is thought to be the version in which she was first called Goldilocks. If any one knows of an online copy it would be wonderful if you could leave a comment below.

The story as told by Flora Annie Steel and illustrated by Arthur Rackham in English Fairy Tales 1918 is available on Project Gutenberg.

Read all about her history in pantomime at It's-behind-you.

Visit SurLaLune for an annotated version of the story, more history, a collection of illustrations and a list of modern interpretations.

It should be noted that not many delinquent little girls can say they have scientific theories named after them but Goldilocks can - you can read up on the Goldilocks Principle here.

And just for fun play at being a horrid little girl and splat the bears with some porridge!

The Goldilocks above is by illustrator Darren Wren, you can see more of his great work on his website.

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