ONCE there was a gentleman1 who married, for his second wife, the proudest and most haughty woman that was ever seen. She had, by a former husband, two daughters of her own humor, who were, indeed, exactly like her in all things. He had likewise, by another wife, a young daughter, but of unparalleled goodness and sweetness of temper, which she took from her mother,2 who was the best creature in the world.
No sooner were the ceremonies of the wedding over but the stepmother3 began to show herself in her true colors. She could not bear the good qualities of this pretty girl, and the less because they made her own daughters appear the more odious. She employed her in the meanest work of the house:4 she scoured the dishes, tables, etc., and scrubbed madam's chamber, and those of misses, her daughters; she lay up in a sorry garret,5 upon a wretched straw bed,6 while her sisters lay in fine rooms, with floors all inlaid,7 upon beds of the very newest fashion, and where they had looking-glasses8 so large that they might see themselves at their full length from head to foot.
The poor girl bore all patiently, and dared not tell her father,9 who would have rattled her off; for his wife governed him entirely. When she had done her work, she used to go into the chimney-corner, and sit down among cinders and ashes,10 which made her commonly be called Cinderwench;11 but the youngest, who was not so rude and uncivil as the eldest, called her Cinderella.12 However, Cinderella, notwithstanding her mean apparel, was a hundred times handsomer than her sisters,13 though they were always dressed very richly.
It happened that the King's son14 gave a ball,15 and invited all persons of fashion to it. Our young misses were also invited, for they cut a very grand figure among the quality. They were mightily delighted at this invitation, and wonderfully busy in choosing out such gowns, petticoats, and head-clothes16 as might become them. This was a new trouble to Cinderella; for it was she who ironed her sisters' linen, and plaited their ruffles;17 they talked all day long of nothing but how they should be dressed.
"And I," said the youngest, "shall have my usual petticoat; but then, to make amends for that, I will put on my gold-flowered manteau,19 and my diamond stomacher,20 which is far from being the most ordinary one in the world."
They sent for the best hairdresser they could get to make up their head-dresses and adjust their double pinners, and they had their red brushes and patches from Mademoiselle de la Poche.21
Cinderella was likewise called up to them to be consulted in all these matters, for she had excellent notions,22 and advised them always for the best, nay, and offered her services to dress their heads, which they were very willing she should do. As she was doing this, they said to her:
"Cinderella, would you not be glad to go to the ball?"
"Alas!" said she, "you only jeer me; it is not for such as I am to go thither."
"Thou art in the right of it," replied they; "it would make the people laugh to see a Cinderwench at a ball."
Anyone but Cinderella would have dressed their heads awry, but she was very good, and dressed them perfectly well. The sisters were almost two days without eating,23 so much were they transported with joy. They broke above a dozen laces24 in trying to be laced up close, that they might have a fine slender shape, and they were continually at their looking-glass. At last the happy day came; they went to Court, and Cinderella followed them with her eyes as long as she could, and when she had lost sight of them, she fell a-crying.25
"I wish I could -- I wish I could -- "; she was not able to speak the rest, being interrupted by her tears and sobbing.
"Yes," cried Cinderella, with a great sigh.
Cinderella went immediately to gather the finest she could get, and brought it to her godmother, not being able to imagine how this pumpkin could make her go to the ball. Her godmother scooped out all the inside of it, having left nothing but the rind; which done, she struck it with her wand,30 and the pumpkin was instantly turned into a fine coach,31 gilded all over with gold.32
She then went to look into her mouse-trap, where she found six mice,33 all alive, and ordered Cinderella to lift up a little the trapdoor, when, giving each mouse, as it went out, a little tap with her wand, the mouse was that moment turned into a fine horse, which altogether made a very fine set of six horses of a beautiful mouse-colored dapple-gray. Being at a loss for a coachman, the godmother could not think of what to use.
"Thou art in the right," replied her godmother; "go and look."
Cinderella brought the trap to her, and in it there were three huge rats. The fairy made choice of one of the three which had the largest beard, and, having touched him with her wand, he was turned into a fat, jolly coachman, who had the smartest whiskers eyes ever beheld. After that, she said to Cinderella:
She had no sooner done so but her godmother turned them into six37 footmen, who skipped up immediately behind the coach, with their liveries38 all bedaubed with gold and silver, and clung as close behind each other as if they had done nothing else their whole lives. The Fairy then said to Cinderella:
"Oh! yes," cried she; "but must I go thither as I am, in these nasty rags?"
Her godmother only just touched her with her wand, and, at the same instant, her clothes were turned into cloth of gold and silver, all beset with jewels. This done, she gave her a pair of glass slippers,40 the prettiest in the whole world. Being thus decked out, she got up into her coach; but her godmother, above all things, commanded her not to stay till after midnight,41 telling her, at the same time, that if she stayed one moment longer, the coach would be a pumpkin again, her horses mice, her coachman a rat, her footmen lizards, and her clothes become just as they were before.
She promised42 her godmother she would not fail of leaving the ball before ; and then away she drives, scarce able to contain herself for joy. The King's son who was told that a great princess,43 whom nobody knew, was come, ran out to receive her; he gave her his hand as she alighted out of the coach, and led her into the ball, among all the company. There was immediately a profound silence,44 they left off dancing, and the violins ceased to play, so attentive was everyone to contemplate the singular beauties of the unknown new-comer. Nothing was then heard but a confused noise of:
"Ha! how handsome she is! Ha! how handsome she is!"
All the ladies were busied in considering her clothes and headdress, that they might have some made next day after the same pattern, provided they could meet with such fine material and as able hands to make them.
The King's son conducted her to the most honorable seat, and afterward took her out to dance with him; she danced so very gracefully46 that they all more and more admired her. A fine collation47 was served up, whereof the young prince ate not a morsel,48 so intently was he busied in gazing on her.
She went and sat down by her sisters, showing them a thousand civilities,49 giving them part of the oranges and citrons50 which the Prince had presented her with, which very much surprised them, for they did not know her. While Cinderella was thus amusing her sisters, she heard the clock strike eleven and three-quarters,51 whereupon she immediately made a courtesy to the company and hasted away as fast as she could.
When she got home she ran to seek out her godmother, and, after having thanked her,52 she said she could not but heartily wish she might go next day to the ball, because the King's son had desired her.
As she was eagerly telling her godmother whatever had passed at the ball, her two sisters knocked at the door, which Cinderella ran and opened.
"How long you have stayed!" cried she, gaping, rubbing her eyes and stretching herself as if she had been just waked out of her sleep; she had not, however, any manner of inclination to sleep since they went from home.
"If thou hadst been at the ball," said one of her sisters, "thou wouldst not have been tired with it. There came thither the finest princess, the most beautiful ever was seen with mortal eyes; she showed us a thousand civilities, and gave us oranges and citrons."
Cinderella seemed very indifferent in the matter; indeed, she asked them the name of that princess; but they told her they did not know it, and that the King's son was very uneasy on her account and would give all the world to know who she was. At this Cinderella, smiling, replied:
"Ay, to be sure!" cried Miss Charlotte; "lend my clothes to such a dirty Cinderwench as thou art! I should be a fool."
Cinderella, indeed, expected well such answer, and was very glad of the refusal; for she would have been sadly put to it if her sister had lent her what she asked for jestingly.
The next day the two sisters were at the ball, and so was Cinderella, but dressed more magnificently than before. The King's son was always by her, and never ceased his compliments and kind speeches to her; to whom all this was so far from being tiresome that she quite forgot55 what her godmother had recommended to her; so that she, at last, counted the clock striking twelve when she took it to be no more than eleven; she then rose up and fled, as nimble as a deer.56 The Prince followed, but could not overtake her. She left behind one of her glass slippers, which the Prince took up most carefully. She got home but quite out of breath, and in her nasty old clothes, having nothing left her of all her finery but one of the little slippers, fellow to that she dropped. The guards at the palace gate were asked if they had not seen a princess go out.
They said they had seen nobody go out but a young girl, very meanly dressed, and who had more the air of a poor country wench than a gentlewoman.
When the two sisters returned from the ball Cinderella asked them if they had been well diverted, and if the fine lady had been there.
They told her, yes, but that she hurried away immediately when it struck twelve, and with so much haste that she dropped one of her little glass slippers, the prettiest in the world, which the King's son had taken up; that he had done nothing but look at her all the time at the ball, and that most certainly he was very much in love with the beautiful person who owned the glass slipper.
What they said was very true; for a few days after the King's son caused it to be proclaimed, by sound of trumpet, that he would marry her whose foot the slipper would just fit. They whom he employed began to try it upon the princesses, then the duchesses and all the Court, but in vain; it was brought to the two sisters, who did all they possibly could57 to thrust their foot into the slipper, but they could not effect it. Cinderella, who saw all this, and knew her slipper, said to them, laughing:
"Let me see if it will not fit me."
Her sisters burst out a-laughing, and began to banter her. The gentleman who was sent to try the slipper looked earnestly at Cinderella, and, finding her very handsome, said:
It was but just that she should try, and that he had orders to let everyone make trial.
He obliged Cinderella to sit down, and, putting the slipper to her foot, he found it went on very easily, and fitted her as if it had been made of wax.58 The astonishment her two sisters were in was excessively great, but still abundantly greater when Cinderella pulled out of her pocket the other slipper,59 and put it on her foot. Thereupon, in came her godmother, who, having touched with her wand Cinderella's clothes, made them richer and more magnificent than any of those she had before.
And now her two sisters found her to be that fine, beautiful lady whom they had seen at the ball. They threw themselves at her feet to beg pardon60 for all the ill- treatment they had made her undergo. Cinderella took them up, and, as she embraced them, cried that she forgave them61 with all her heart, and desired them always to love her.
She was conducted to the young prince, dressed as she was; he thought her more charming than ever, and, a few days after, married her. Cinderella, who was no less good than beautiful,62 gave her two sisters lodgings in the palace, and that very same day matched them with two great lords63 of the Court.
1. Gentleman: Cinderella's status as a gentleman's
daughter makes her more acceptable as a future king's consort. It also places
her above the status of peasant. Cinderella is not usually a rags-to-riches
tale, but a riches-to-rags-to-riches tale.
2. Mother: With over 340 versions of Cinderella, many
variations of the story exist. Although this Perrault
version does not mention Cinderella's mother beyond this reference, many
versions have the dead mother providing assistance to her daughter in either
animal form or through magical objects which appear from a tree on the mother's
grave (the Grimms' version uses the tree).
3. Stepmother: The stepmother is a common villain in fairy tales. The stepmother has been a villain since the earliest known versions of the Cinderella tale. The competition between the two women for the husband/father's affection provides a logical reason for the stepmother's cruelty. However, the stepmother has often replaced mothers in other tales, such as Snow White, when the image of a cruel mother was considered to be too harsh and terrifying for young audiences.
The image of the evil stepmother occurs frequently in fairy tales. She is associated with jealousy and cruelty (Olderr 1986). "In masculine psychology, the stepmother is a symbol of the unconscious in a destructive role" (von Franz 1970). The stepmother figure is actually two sided, in that while she has destructive intentions, her actions often lead the protagonist into situations that identify and strengthen his or her best qualities.
Perhaps one of the enduring elements of the
Cinderella story comes from the politics of a family, usually a blended family.
While many fairy tales have outside antagonists, Cinderella's trials are in her
home and immediate family.
work of the house: The
meanest work would be the filthiest, harshest and most demeaning work in the
household, such as scrubbing floors and emptying chamber pots.
5. Garret: A garret is a room directly under the
roof, or in other words, an attic (Webster's 1990).
bed: Until this
century, straw beds were a common type of bedding for all but the supremely
rich who could afford goose beds or other more expensive mattresses. Straw was
used as the stuffing for the mattress.
all inlaid: Inlaid
floors are parquet floors and were common in more elegant homes in previous
8. Looking-glasses: In other words, mirrors. Mirrors are also a sign of luxury and wealth. In fairy tales, mirrors can be representative of a character's true nature which they reflect. Mirrors are especially important in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Here the mirrors represent the stepsisters'
vanity and the family's wealth. The fact that the family owns
mirrors large enough to give a full reflection of a person from head to toe
shows that they have been extremely wealthy and thus powerful at least in the
past if not Cinderella's present (Chevalier 1982).
9. Father: Cinderella's father is absent but not dead
in most of the older versions of the tale. Since the conflict between
Cinderella and her stepfamily is domestic, it can be assumed her father does
not interfere in what was considered a woman's domain. Many modern
interpretations, such as the recent film Ever After (1998) starring
Drew Barrymore, have the father dead to explain why he does not prevent the
mistreatment of his daughter.
and ashes: Ashes
are a symbol of mourning. Cinderella, perhaps unwittingly, mourns for her
mother and her own predicament in an unfriendly household by being covered in
11. Cinderwench: According to Webster's Dictionary, a wench
is a "young woman."
12. Cinderella: Some versions of the tale explain that
Cinderella's true name is Ella to account for the nickname. Gail Carson Levine
uses Ella in her novel, Ella Enchanted (1997) and Drew Barrymore is
Danielle in Ever After (1998).
13. Handsomer than her sisters: Her beauty shows that Cinderella is more virtuous and good than her sisters. In the past, and often still today, physical beauty was considered to reflect the true nature of a person.
In some versions of the tale, the stepsisters are beautiful like Cinderella, showing that external beauty is not equivalent to internal beauty.
In some Native American versions of the tale,
the Cinderella character is portrayed as ugly and scarred, often caused by her
jealous sisters, until she is transformed before the eyes of the community for
her goodness. Read a version here at: Indian
14. King's son: A prince is the suitor and a common character in romantic fairy tales such as this one. In several modern interpretations of the tale, the prince is a reluctant suitor, forced into the search for a wife, until he happily falls in love with Cinderella. The film The Slipper and the Rose especially builds up the prince's disapproval of the ball and wife hunt.
Also note that the prince is not called
Prince Charming in the original tale. Walt Disney popularized the name with its
usage in his film version of Cinderella.
15. Ball: A ball is a large party in which the participants dress up in their finest clothes and dance. Balls were exclusively for the privileged and wealthy.
Many other variants of the tale have the
Cinderella character meeting the prince at church, one of the few places where
people of different classes might regularly see each other while gathered to
worship in times past.
petticoats, and head-clothes: Perrault's experience and interest in fancy dress is
emphasized in his version of Cinderella. He provides more detail and
description of the ball clothes than most other versions of the tale. The
detailed descriptions also show the literary, instead of oral, nature of his
story. Perrault's language is intended for the
17. Plaited their ruffles: Ironing and plaiting ruffles would be tedious
work with old fashioned irons.
18. Red: Red is a color of passion and brilliance.
It demands attention, which the sisters are hoping for in their pursuit of the
prince for marriage.
19. Manteau: A manteau is a cloak but
occasionally refers to a woman's gown.
stomacher is worn over the breast or chest. At one time it was fashionable for
both women and men to wear stomachers. Women's stomachers were often highly
brushes and patches from Mademoiselle de la Poche: Red brushes and patches were types of
make-up worn by society women. Red brushes were usually used like blush and the
patches were usually fake beauty marks worn on the face.
22. She had excellent notions: Cinderella is an intelligent and artistic woman. She knows how to make clothing appear at its best which was an important skill in her time. She only has rags to wear herself, but she has the taste to work with the finest materials. This was a sign of femininity.
Cinderella's willingness to share her dressing
skills with her sisters also shows her good and generous heart.
days without eating: There
are a few possibilities for this affliction. Nervousness and excitement can
lead to loss of appetite. One cannot help but wonder if the sisters were also
considering their tight clothing and corsets. Quick diets before great events
were not uncommon in past centuries just as they are today.
above a dozen laces: In
the time of corsets and stays, laces were used to tie up clothes and make the
body appear as slim as possible. The image of the stepsisters breaking many
laces shows that they are not ideally thin and are trying to conceal their
figures by contorting them into slimmer clothing.
fell a-crying: In
many versions of the tale, Cinderella cries to show her frustration. It is not
considered to be weakness but a testament of the terrible burden she bears.
26. Godmother: The godmother did not become a common and well-known character in the Cinderella tale until Perrault incorporated her into his version of the story. Other versions of Cinderella in different cultures often have the heroine receive assistance from the deceased mother. The fairy godmother versions are the best known in Western culture thanks to Perrault and later versions from Disney and other sources.
The Grimms' version
does not use the fairy godmother; a tree planted over the mother's grave
provides the materials needed for Cinderella to attend the ball instead. Read
their version here: Aschenputtel. The Scottish version, Rashin-Coatie, has a benevolent red calf that provides
27. Fairy: Up until this point, the tale is not magical. The introduction of the fairy godmother provides the elements needed to make this a fairy tale, not necessarily because it has a fairy but because it has magic.
In general, fairy godmothers are supernatural
benefactors to their human charges. The fairy godmother figure is derived from
the three Fates who were thought to visit a newborn baby and bestow good or ill
fortune upon it, such as in the Sleeping Beauty tale. The fairy godmother is a wholly
benevolent character, however, while the Fates were capable of causing good or
evil to occur. Gail Carson Levine explores the possibility of a harmful gift
from a fairy godmother in her Cinderella novel, Ella Enchanted.
girl: It is important
that Cinderella be a "good girl" whose patience and perseverance has
earned her the gifts she is about to receive from her godmother.
29. Pumpkin: Besides being a suitable shape for a
carriage, a pumpkin has several symbolic meanings beyond Halloween imagery. A
pumpkin symbolizes feminine containment, the moon, witches, and a charm against
evil spirits (Olderr 1986).
30. Wand: A wand is "a slender stick or rod,
especially one carried by a fairy, magician, conjurer, etc." (Websters 1990). A wand often represents the special powers
of a magical character. Sometimes it represents the harnessing of those magical
31. Coach: The pumpkin coach is a popular image from
the Cinderella tale, second only to the glass slipper. The coach itself is a
sign of wealth and afforded only by the upper class.
32. Gold: Gold, as always, is a precious metal and reserved for the wealthy in past centuries. An entire coach made of gold would be a symbol of great wealth and most likely reserved for royalty.
A famous golden coach in history belonged to
Catherine the Great of Russia.
33. Mice: Walt Disney gave the mice personalities
and made them important characters in his well-known film of the story. In the
older versions, the mice only exist for their necessary transformation into
part of Cinderella's grand transportation to the ball.
34. Rat: The rat's role in the tale has been
explored by some authors in modern times. Two of the most notable are Phillip
Pullman's I Was a Rat! (Amazon.com
Link) and Susan Meddaugh's Cinderella's Rat
Link). The film version by Disney uses a horse instead of a rat.
35. Coachman: A coachman is the driver of a coach.
36. Lizards: The lizards are often portrayed as frogs
in illustrations and films of the tale. The Disney version avoids lizards
altogether and uses a dog instead.
37. Six: Six horses and footmen would be a grand
number for a small coach, implying wealth and importance.
38. Liveries: Liveries are the uniforms of servants in elegant
and wealthy homes.
39. Equipage: Equipage is the combined coach, horses,
and servants used to transport Cinderella to the palace.
40. Glass slippers: One of the most famous elements of the story, the glass slippers are important in many aspects. First, they would be expensive and thus proper footwear for a princess. Second, they represent Cinderella's delicate nature. She would have to be physically light and dainty to be able to wear the shoes without shattering them. Finally, I have always imagined the shoes might also be uncomfortable. Cinderella's ability to dance and wear them with grace shows she has mettle.
The glass slippers provided by Perrault have also been the source of great debate among folklore scholars. For years, the predominant theory was that the original tale included "fur" (French: vair) and not "glass" (French: verre), but that misprints and mistranslations from French sources have given us the famous glass slippers. Now most scholars believe Perrault intended the shoes to be made of glass to add to their magical quality (Tatar 2002).
Many of the Cinderella variants include exotic footwear. For example, the earliest Cinderella, Yeh-shen (or Yeh-hsien), wears gold shoes.
To read more about the shoes in Cinderella variants around the world, especially see Marian Roalfe Cox's Note 48 (about halfway through the note) in her Cinderella book. She addresses the vair vs. verre issue and tells of other materials comprising the shoes in other versions. (Keep in mind that Cox wrote the note in 1893.)
Footwear is important in many
popular fairy tales, such as the boots in Puss in Boots,
the worn-out shoes in The Twelve
Dancing Princesses, and the red hot dancing shoes found in Snow White and
the Seven Dwarfs
41. Till after : is the most common time given as a deadline in the Cinderella tale. Since marks the beginning of a new day and the end of power in the old day, such a deadline is also reasonable. also marks the beginning of the witching hour.
Many balls would start in the late evening
and last until the early morning hours. Cinderella's need to leave at would be an early departure from most balls.
42. Promised: Cinderella promises to leave the ball
but ultimately breaks this promise with her late departure.
The breaking of the promise gives Cinderella a slight hint of imperfection and
humanity. It also shows how much she is enamored with the prince.
surprisingly, Cinderella is mistaken for a princess thanks to her clothes and
carriage. Her grand appearance makes entry into the ball possible despite her
profound silence: While
a dramatic element in the story--one can imagine a storyteller pausing for
effect at this point in the story--the silence also shows that everyone at the
ball is aware of Cinderella's entrance and suitably impressed by her physical
45. King: It is important that the king approves of
his son's choice in a wife since he has the ability to censure his son and even
take away his inheritance and birthright.
so gracefully: The
ability to dance gracefully would be an important feminine trait in this time
47. Collation: A collation is a meal.
not a morsel: The
prince's inability to eat shows that he is in the throes of first love.
thousand civilities: Cinderella's ability to graciously
interact with her stepsisters highlights her charm and goodness while
emphasizing the stepsisters' vanity. They are unable to recognize the very
woman who helped them dress for the ball a short time earlier.
and three-quarters: The
and Cinderella has a fifteen minute warning that is approaching. However, she fails to heed the
her: To emphasize
her goodness once again, Perrault makes sure to have
Cinderella thank her fairy godmother for help. This also allows Cinderella the
opportunity to wish for help in attending the next ball.
stepsisters are rarely named in any Cinderella tale. Perrault's
use of a name comes from his literary embellishment of the tale and was a
personal choice. The name he uses in the original French is Javotte.
wear every day: Cinderella
asks only for her sister's everyday dress, not one of her fancy dresses for the
ball. Still, her sister refuses to share even her most common dress with
55. Forgot: Cinderella breaks her promise to leave the
since she is busy with the prince. While
forgetfulness is understandable, she does break her promise and is given a
small element of humanity. The forgotten time also provides drama, causing
Cinderella to run away and leave behind her shoe, providing the means for her
identification later. The imagery of Cinderella's elegant clothes transforming
back to rags as she runs home is a favorite scene for illustrators and
56. Deer: Perrault does
not resist portraying Cinderella as a beautiful and graceful deer even as she
runs away in panic and rags from the palace
did all they possibly could: Perrault's story is gentle in imagery, not describing the
sisters' efforts in details. In some variants, such as
the Grimm's Aschenputtel, the sisters cut off pieces of their feet
to try to fit them into the slipper. The blood oozing from the slipper gives
them away as impostors.
58. Wax: Wax was a common molding material and
conforms to any shape in liquid form. Perrault uses
the image to emphasize how well the shoe fits Cinderella's foot.
59. The other slipper: While the fitting of the lost shoe is romantic and gives Cinderella credibility, she often produces the second shoe in the pair to confirm her identity.
In many versions of the tale, Cinderella is transformed back into her ball gown once both shoes are on her feet. The Prince and/or his servants are not required to recognize Cinderella in her rags. The implication is that she is in her natural and rightful state when dressed in the better clothing.
In some variants of the tale, the prince
acquires Cinderella's lost shoe by putting pitch or tar in the entrance to try
to catch her when she runs away. He only succeeds in catching her shoe in the
tar and then begins his search for its owner.
pardon: The sisters
do not always beg for forgiveness in the tale. Sometimes their jealousy grows
with Cinderella's good fortune and they are ultimately punished for their lack
of charity. In the Grimm's Aschenputtel, they are filled with rage and scheme to
capitalize on Cinderella's good fortune.
Cinderella rarely metes out punishment upon her sisters in most versions of the
tale, other forces often punish her stepfamily for her. In the Grimm's Aschenputtel, birds come and peck out their eyes when
they attend Cinderella's church wedding.
less good than beautiful: Perrault's desire to emphasize Cinderella's virtuous good
shows that she is forgiving and compassionate despite the ill-treatment she
received from her stepsisters. Most versions of the story have Cinderella
ambivalent of what happens to the sisters; she is busy marrying the prince
them with two great lords: The
stepsisters suffer various fates, including death or being turned to stone, in
various versions of the tale. However, this version has a forgiving Cinderella
who provides wealthy husbands for her stepsisters. In this way, everyone lives
happily ever after whether they deserve it or not. Cinderella still receives
the greatest reward, however.