In my relentless quest for knowledge, I came upon a shocking discovery that shattered basic truths of my childhood.
I offer you the truth about Cinderella.
Cinderella’s father was a weak, shallow man who gave into his young daughter’s every whim, avoiding confrontation and discipline at all costs. Cinderella’s fits of rage at being refused anything were legendary throughout the near countryside. Her mother was the only person courageous enough to use the phrase, “No, you may not” with her. Although the tantrums, screamings and tears were trying, Cinderella’s mother did not fear them.
But her mother died and Cinderella became more difficult. Her father realized he could not control her. Leaving Cinderella in the care of the servants, he traveled the far countryside in search of a new wife. There was not a woman in the near countryside who would have him.
In no hurry to return to his enfant terrible, he wooed every woman unfortunate enough to cross his path. In the course of his meanderings, he happened upon a widow with two well-behaved daughters. He pursued her, hoping she could tame Cinderella. His dash and charm soon won the widow over and he insisted they marry without delay. The widow, hoping to include his daughter in the merry festivities, wanted to postpone the nuptials until Cinderella could be sent for. However, fearful the widow would change her mind after meeting Cinderella, he insisted upon haste. They married, and with her two daughters journeyed to his home.
Whisperings among the townsfolk began soon after their arrival. The father, maintaining he must be about managing the estate, was rarely at the manor. The stepmother was left with the care of her wayward stepdaughter. She would not treat Cinderella differently than her own daughters, nor would she tolerate Cinderella’s behavior. Rumor had it that Cinderella had finally been made to comb her hair, say “Please” and “Thank you”, and clean her room (she only allowed servants in to serve her breakfast in bed).
When she turned sixteen, the battle between Cinderella and her stepmother began in earnest. Soon the countryside near and far was abuzz with the goings-on concerning Cinderella. She was hanging out with a bad crowd, spending nights in the forest smoking and drinking. She lost interest in her appearance, wearing rags and not bothering to wash off the ashes from the rowdy bonfire parties she attended.
Things came to a climax when Cinderella pilfered gold coins from the stepmother’s hidden drawer, some of her stepsisters’ jewelry, and then went on a three day bender. She tottered home ragged and smelly.
Her stepmother, at her wits’ end, grounded Cinderella for a month, going so far as to post foreign mercenaries outside Cinderella’s doors and windows. The stepmother recalled a recent brouhaha when another young girl’s lover had been caught climbing up to her bedroom on her hair. As an added precaution, Cinderella was locked in the highest tower of the manor, because her hair didn’t quite reach the ground.
Then an invitation to a ball so grand that it took place over the course of three nights, arrived from the palace. The dates? The last three days of Cinderella’s grounding. Although Cinderella begged, cried and threatened, the stepmother remained firm. Cinderella would not attend the ball.
Cinderella’s father returned home after hearing disparaging remarks about his character and neglect of his family, and unsettling rumors of his daughter’s escapades. He was outraged by his wife’s decision to keep Cinderella from the ball. Still, she would not be swayed. She really cared for the girl. Maybe missing the ball would force her to come to her senses.
Cinderella’s father refused to attend the ball with his wife and her daughters. He spent the evening drinking with an old friend, Charles Perrault, bemoaning the sad turn his life had taken and wishing he could leave behind an untarnished legacy. Charles was empathetic, well aware of the trials of marriage and of raising teenagers.
The next day, Charles, inspired by the father’s plight and intrigued with the notion of rewriting the father’s history, penned a short but captivating work of speculative fiction, Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper. He was so pleased with the results, he included it in his Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralités: Contes de ma mère l’Oye. (Tales from Times Past with Morals: Stories of Mother Goose). Concerned that the inaccuracies might tarnish his own reputation, he published the work under the name of his son Pierre (Perrault) Darmancourt. The rest is history.
Or is it? The cruel deception of Cinderella’s rags to riches story renders suspect all the fairy tales we have come to love and believe. I, for one, will read them will a little more skepticism than I once did.