Casie Hermansson is never surprised when people assume that Bluebeard, the character who has been the focus of her research since her graduate school days, was a hairy, sword-wielding pirate. But even if readers aren't sure how to visualize the character, the storyline certainly has a familiar ring.
Hermansson, a professor in the Department of English, recently published her second book, "Bluebeard: A Reader's Guide to the English Tradition," which studies the history and compares literature on the famous fairy tale by French author Charles Perrault (the creator of Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood). The story of a wealthy French Lord (and serial wife murderer) feared for his
blue beard, the tale - removed from children's literature in the 20th century due to its gruesome details - created the basis of countless stories based around fear of a lover with a dark secret.
"It is one of the grizzliest stories in the entire canon," said Hermansson, whose award-winning work has led to her status as an international expert on Bluebeard literature. "The archetypes of something being hidden, doing what's forbidden and seeing your doom, these are hallmarks of horror. Think Stephen King, Hitchcock. Pandora opens the box, Eve bites the apple, Bluebeard's wife opens the door to find the remains of her husband's former wives...it's just another story along the lines of the wife doing what she is forbidden to do and the consequences that result."
Her first Bluebeard work, for which she was honored with the Woodhouse Prize for Best Dissertation in English literature, was published as a book 10 years ago. With the past six years spent researching her latest, Hermannson has corrected scholars' assumptions along the way and even presented at a special colloquium in Zurich alongside "rock stars" of literature.
"I like to say this is my 'once in a career' book, the book I didn't have to write but did," said Hermansson, who just sold her first children's story. "To have the opportunity to examine something to this depth has been fabulous for scholarly intricacy. This has been one of the highlights of my career."