Thursday, May 23, 2019

"Cinderella, or The Little Glass Slipper" by Charles Perrault



Illustration by Marie "Rie" Cramer (1887–1977)

Charles Perrault was a 17th Century French author who, like the Grimm Brothers a hundred years later, documented oral fairy tales for a reading audience. Perrault's primary audience was children though and he included morals at the end of each tale so that young people would know exactly the lesson he intended them to learn from the stories.

With "Cinderella," Perrault wanted kids to understand the value of what he called, "grace." He mentions it a couple of time in the moral. He says that physical beauty is cool and all, but "grace is priceless and wins any race." And then later, "Grace is a gift that the fairies confer: Ask anyone at all; it's what we prefer."

What he's talking about is character. Yes, Cinderella is a beautiful woman and when she's dressed in the right clothes she gets all the attention at the ball. But Perrault argues that it's her kindness and humility that actually win the day for her. Her father is still alive in Perrault's version, but he's "completely under the thumb of his wife" and apparently oblivious to the way his daughter is being treated. Cinderella doesn't complain though and she's gracious in the way she treats her mean step-sisters, helping them get ready for the ball. Once she marries the prince, she forgives them and even procures noble husbands for them as well. This version of the story is all about patiently persevering through suffering. It's a valuable moral, though I question the assurance that everything will turn out okay in the end. Real-life circumstances don't always work out the way they do for Cinderella. But I do believe that patience and perseverance are their own rewards.

My fairy tale project is focused on the Brothers Grimm, but I wanted to compare Perrault's Cinderella to theirs, because they pull a whole different message from the tale. In fact, their Cinderella isn't patient or gracious at all.

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