The two most widely known versions of the story “Cinderella” in the Western world are the literary retellings, Cendrillon ou la petite pantoufle de verre, in Histoires ou Contes du Temps passé, (1697) by Charles Perrault’s and Aschenputtel, in Kinder und Hausmärchen (1812), by the Brothers Grimm. Both of the tale’s titles have been translated into “Cinderella”, a name that has been spread widely by the likes of Walt Disney’s 1950s film adaptation. However, although they share a name, the two tales are not identical in every feature. Indeed, it is not common for any of the Cinderella stories, found in different cultures and different eras, to be identical.
Cinderella has been categorised, by folklorists Antti Aarne and Stith Thomson, as tale type 510a and scholars are fascinated with the well-known tale’s oral roots and place in the folk tradition. Marian Roalfe Cox produced the first comprehensive study of the story in her work Cinderella: Three Hundred and Forty-five Variants Of Cinderella, Catskin, and Cap O’ Rushes in 1893 and later on Anna Birgitta Rooth wrote her doctoral dissertation titled the Cinderella Cycle (1951), which detailed some seven hundred versions, almost twice as many as her predecessor. Noting the differences in the tales has become the subject of a few sociohistorical studies. Yet, what makes a tale a variant of Cinderella is disputed.
Max Lüthi elaborates on the old Italian proverb ‘the fairytale has no landlord’ stating that ‘each storyteller can tell it his own way so long as he faithfully retains the basic structure.’ Yet pinpointing that basic structure is hard when a story is thought to have been in existence for at least a thousand years. The “Cinderella” stories, especially the oral retellings, were most probably altered every time they were told according to the teller’s audience, aims and intention for telling the tale and cultural surroundings. It is difficult, then, to calculate at what point the tale would cease to be a Cinderella story. For many critics a story is not a Cinderella story unless it possesses certain images or themes. For some it is the glass slipper or shoe imagery forever cast in the minds of the twenty-first century child by the ‘visual festival’ in Disney’s Cinderella, created when the heroine leaves her dainty glass slipper on elegant blue-washed stairs. For Andrew Lang, ‘it [is] a person in a mean or obscure position, [that] by means of supernatural assistance, makes a good marriage’. Christopher Booker has based a whole section, Rags to Riches, of his narrative theory book on this concept, commenting that the reader takes this story type’s ‘unvarying regularity in plot’ for granted as the Cinderella story.
The fairy tale has an amorphous nature and resists being categorised. Works such as Cox’s, Thompson’s and many of the different cultural variants, primarily found in Alan Dundes’ Cinderella: A Casebook, help when coming to compare the Cinderella tales. The aforementioned Thompson and Cox conducted, perhaps, the most thorough study of “Cinderella’s” basic structure. The pair have arranged a wealth of folk and other material that belongs to the “Cinderella” type. For Cox the essential incidents of a “Cinderella” story are: an ill-treated heroine who is recognised by means of shoe. In addition to these, the Aarne-Thompson study on the types of folktale listed two stepsisters, a mother helping from the grave, and a threefold visit to the ball or church, as being the incidents that distinguish “Cinderella” from a similar tale in the 510 type: Cap o’ Rushes. Marina Warner states that, rather than thinking about fairy tales as ‘indestructible word-strings’, it is better to ‘imagine them as a language of the imagination, with a vocabulary of images and a syntax of plots’. Thompson and Roalfe-Cox provide both of these for the tale of “Cinderella”. However, using the fairy tale as a historical source, reflective of the time that it was told, is problematic. For example, the motif ‘lowly heroine marries prince’ recognised by Thompson. One can translate this into one of “Cinderella”’s characteristic concepts: rags-to-riches. In this motif marrying the prince denotes the riches. Logically, the teller’s concept of “riches” could be used to identify more than just his or her personal preference and reflect a wider historical context. However, as Warner aptly puts it, fairy tales ‘resemble an archaeological site that has been plundered by tomb robbers, who have turned the strata upside down and inside out and thrown it all back in again in any old order.’ A wealthy and regal man represents the riches in Perrault’s tale. As Louise Bernikow states, he has to be a ‘valuable and scarce commodity’ so that it justifies the stepsisters’ cruel treatment of Cinderella; they must believe that there is only one set of riches to go around. This is one example that demonstrates the nature of women in Perrault’s text: they are women with their eyes constantly turned to men. ‘In patriarchy, there can be no solidarity among women.’ However, Perrault most definitely plundered the motif of the ‘lowly heroine marries prince’ from a conceived notion of the “Cinderella” story, for which in turn one could create many theories of why it has been used by the teller, drawing on contextual factors. An aspect of such a tale is weaved into Perrault’s own retelling and it is difficult to separate the one from the other or attribute mythological significance or theory to something so amorphous.
It seems strange then that Perrault and the Brothers Grimm along with lesser known editors and collectors of the academic and popularised tale, such as Giambattista Basile and Henri Pourrat, have been criticised for romanticizing the folk and folk tradition that they have borrowed from. Even stranger, that those ‘armchair critics’ will offer, for example, a doctrinaire Freudian or Jungian reading of “Cinderella” and, in addition, very rarely acknowledge the “Cinderella” story outside either of the Brothers Grimms’ or Perrault’s versions of Cinderella. They treat the literary variants like ‘sacred scripture[s]’ and do not recognise the fairy tale’s amorphous nature. Yet, “Cinderella” is not defined by the literary genre any more than it is by folk tradition. Surely Perrault and Grimm are just three more storytellers in a long line of storytellers, who have appropriated “Cinderella” for their own uses? Indeed, Jack Zipes notes that as soon as the Brothers Grimm and Perrault’s printed works were published and circulated in Germany, France and elsewhere ‘they were reabsorbed by the oral tradition and …served as the basis for new oral versions that in turn have influenced new literary texts.’ The Cinderella cycle continues.
There are undoubtedly differences between the literary folk tale and oral folk tale, yet the purity of the Brothers Grimm and Perrault’s “Cinderella” stories, need not be pedantically picked apart. Interestingly enough, the Brothers Grimm wanted to ‘uphold the alleged “purity” of folk tales against artificial courtly art’ yet ultimately failed. Zipes maintains that ‘they violated the oral tradition by seeking to idealise and conserve it.’ Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm consciously ‘entered into a dialogue with existing oral and literary versions, with the intention of providing aesthetic standards and norms of civility and morality’ of their time. However, as Zipes notes, oral and literary fairy tales alike, are ‘grounded in history.’ The “civilising” process that Perrault and the Brothers Grimm are said to have applied to their fairy tales, including “Cinderella”, was a process most definitely conditioned by their time. Perrault wished to address social and political issues of late seventeenth century France. In addition, ‘literary socialization was one way of disseminating its [the French bourgeoisie’s] values and interests.’ The Brothers Grimm wished to create a national identity by preserving in their fairy tale compilations ‘the truth and essence of natural language, associated with the common people and agrarian customs.’ Both Perrault and Grimm have appropriated the tale of “Cinderella”, and both of their versions became the two dominant “Cinderella” tales in western Europe and America by the end of the nineteenth century. However, the two authors have recorded two different stories.
Perrault’s Cendrillon has been dubbed the more ‘civilized’, by Louise Bernikow, and the more ‘literary’ by Andrew Lang, as opposed to the Grimms’ Aschenputtel: noted by Zipes as having retained more “barbaric” elements. Interesting, since the Brothers Grimm recorded their version of Cinderella considerably later than Perrault who, regarded these ‘barbaric and uncivilised’ elements as ‘crude entertainment’ and shunned or mocked them in his version of Cinderella.
Perrault, dubbed by Zipes as the ‘greatest stylist’ to write fairy tales in the French tradition, has come to represent an entire genre of literary fairytales. Although, popularisation of fairy tales among the French upper classes is a development forgotten not just by English speaking countries, but also by modern France. Even though the development set the tone and standards for the most ‘memorable literary fairytales in the West up till the present’. A greater understanding of Perrault’s manipulation of fairy tales can be gleaned from understanding this development.
Until the 1660s, the oral folk tale in France had not been deemed worthy of being written down. It was considered part of the vulgar common people’s tradition told by non-literate peasants at the hearth. Zipes notes, that it was literate merchants and travellers who passed them onto people of all classes in inns and taverns. French aristocratic women in salons then took up the fairy tales with intentions of elevating it in the hope that this would distinguish them as unique individuals and develop their précieux ‘ideal’ manner. As well as completing the social function of amusement, the tales ‘complemented another purpose, namely, that of self-portrayal and representation of proper aristocratic manners.’ As the ‘embellishment, improvisation and experimentation with known folk or literary motifs were stressed’ the oral tales taken from the common people’s tradition were knowingly refined. Perrault became a significant figure in these literary salons and in the 1690s, the “salon” fairy tale had become so acceptable that men and women began to write them down. In 1696, Perrault transformed several popular folk tales into new literary versions and, in 1697, he published them in Histoires ou Contes du Temps passé; Cendrillon was one of the tales published. It has been noted before that Cendrillon is aimed at an aristocratic audience and, as Bernikow aptly puts it, is ‘cleaned up, dressed up and given several pointed “lessons” on top of the original material.’ Perrault’s ‘froufrou’ concoction is trimmed with all things French: red velvet suits, plaited ruffles, head dresses, along with naming one of the step sisters Charlotte. His account is wrapped up in the sophisticated world of the court, far removed from the rural settings found in folk tradition. The courtly feel in the tale is presented perfectly by Roberto Innocenti’s illustrations, drawn in 1983.
J. D. Stahl notes that they look like they have come straight from a sepia album of an English wedding in the 1920s.
Unlike Perrault, the Brothers Grimm started recording oral “German” tales at a time when the literary fairy tale was already in vogue and widely popularized. This meant that they were not only improving on the peasant’s oral tradition, but on the literary tradition. Oddly enough, however, the Brothers actually criticised the literary fairy tale and wished to preserve the oral folk tradition of the tale more than the likes of Perrault. Nevertheless, they, like Perrault, were not merely impartial collectors, and sought to create an ideal type of fairy tale that was as close to the oral tradition as possible, whilst incorporating ‘stylistic, formal, and substantial thematic changes to appeal to a growing middle-class audience.’ This is problematic because the Grimms had, amongst other societal ideals, their own concept of folklore and folk that they superimposed onto the tales; therefore, as Catherine Velay-Vallantin notes, violated ‘primordial orality by coagulating a certain version of a certain tale with, precise forms in light of the artificial conditions’. In addition to imposing their notions of the oral tradition, they also imposed their own value system. As Zipes aptly puts it:
[The brothers eliminated] sexual and erotic elements that might be offensive to middle-class morality, added numerous Christian references, emphasised specific role models for the female and male protagonists according to the dominant patriarchal code of that time and endowed many of the tales with a “homey”, or biederneier flavour by the use of diminutives, quaint expressions and cute descriptions.
Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, they did not collect their tales from peasants’ oral renditions; instead they would invite storytellers, usually aristocratic or middle-class young women, to their drawing room where the women would deliver their tales. Therefore, given their circumstances, their ‘betrayal’ (as Velay-Vallantin refers to it) of the folk tradition is not unexpected. Yet, as the Brothers Grimm were not actively ridding their stories of the common people’s tradition, their tales retain more of the stylistic, thematic and semantic qualities that characterise oral folktales. For example, as aforementioned, the tale holds more of the barbaric incidents that Perrault omitted: ‘the doves…pecked out…the [step]sisters’ eyes.’ (Aschenputtel, p. 541.)
It is interesting to note, as Zipes does, that the development of the literary genre has been a primarily male discourse. It is surprising, then, that “Cinderella” has been included in male editors’ collections so fervently when the story’s main action primarily concerns the relationships played out between women. As Bernikow points out ‘women are close by and hostile.’ Donald Haase maintains that the editing of the Grimms’ has laid bare ‘the inscription of patriarchal values in the classic fairytale and documented the appropriation of the genre by male[s]’. As Zipes aptly puts it:
The matriarchal worldview and motifs of the original folk tales underwent successive stages of ‘patriarchalization’…the goddess became a witch, an evil fairy or stepmother; the active, young princess was changed into an active hero; matrilineal marriage and family ties became patrilineal; the essence of the symbols based on matriarchal rites, was depleted and made benign; and the pattern of action that concerned maturation and integration was gradually recast to stress dominance and wealth.
In tales such as “Cinderella”, where women are the focus, evidence is not hard to come by and, being a written text, therefore provides the perfect example of stylistic and semantic shifts of power embedded within the tale.
Before one looks upon the fairy tale as ‘too monolithic’ and starts accusing Perrault of misogynistic tendencies, it is interesting to note that Perrault, having been annoyed by Boileau’s satires against women, wrote three verses, along with a long poem Apologie des femmes (1694), in defence of women. However, as Zipes aptly puts it, ‘whether these works can be considered pro-women today is another question:’ his enlightened moral attitude still sought to exercise authority over women, even if he did consider it ‘just authority’.
Zipes notes that ‘Perrault’s fairy tales, which sought to “elevate” heroines, actually reveal that he had distinctly limited view of them. His ideal femme civilisée of upper-class society, was the composite female who was ‘polite, beautiful, graceful, properly groomed, industrious and knows how to control herself at all times.’ Red Riding Hood the heroine in Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, also published in Histoires ou Contes du Temps passé along with Cendrillon, is punished when she strays, literally from the path but also from these virtues listed. She is not obedient, she does not wait passively for a man to recognise her attributes: ‘she lives only through the male for marriage. The male acts the female waits.’ Perrault’s Cinderella is not an active heroine. She is described as snivelling by Bernikow, who detests Cinderella’s inability to act and change her situation. When she is finally given a chance by the fairy godmother to say what she really wants, she stammers over her words and the fairy godmother has to finish her sentence. She suffers in silence not daring to cry until her sisters have left; ‘like a saint she shows neither anger or resentment toward the women who treated her badly.’ When all is over she forgives and marries her two stepsisters to two noblemen. As Zipes notes, ‘her composure is admirable’ and ‘displays all the graces expected from a refined aristocratic young lady’. She is purposely contrived by Perrault to exemplify what he expected his civilising process to entail. Whereas Aschenputtel in the Grimms’ tale is forced, Cendrillon chooses to lie in ashes and happily helps her stepsisters to get ready. She does little but wait for a man to recognise her virtues and marry her. Perrault’s tale reads almost like a rulebook, and, as Zipes details, Cinderella portrays a young women’s transformation from “slutty maid” to “virtuous princess”.
There are points in Cendrillon, specifically, where Perrault omits or trivialises the folk tradition that came before and in doing so appears to devalue women collectively. In Cendrillon a woman’s power over nature is trivialised. According to Heide Göttner-Abendroth, a women’s natural power is present in myths told by matriarchal societies. The Great Goddess had three personifications ‘maiden, woman and crone…and through these triples manifestations she steers the seasons and the world.’ The fairy godmother in Cendrillon is a prime example of Perrault trivialising ancient matriarchal structures. As Bernikow points out, she is nothing but ‘saccharine fluff’ because she is not real and has no connection to anything real. This is unlike the aid that the Grimms’ Cinderella receives from her mother, and although she resides in the spirit world, as it were, represents a very real and naturally induced mother-daughter bond. In Walt Disney’s 1950 film adaptation, based on Cendrillon, the fairy godmother is ridiculous: fumbling around for her lost wand and forgetting things. Perrault’s tale has only the faintest of connections to the strong aiding force of nature represented in the Grimms’ tales and indeed, according to Cox, most of the other European folk tales. As Bernikow speculates, it may have had some connection to the witch-hunts that were a result of the major crisis of the Reformation period 1490-1560: an attempt to rid France of all pagan evils offending the Christian faith. A woman who might change the natural world is regarded as “uncivilised” and it appears that ‘Perrault’s story attempts to control the elements of witchcraft just as various kings’ governments had: …Perrault controls female power by trivialising it.’
Another matriarchal motif that Perrault has civilised is the symbol of the hearth, hence the ‘essence of the symbol based on matriarchal rites, is depleted and made benign’ . The hearth was a matriarchal symbol and a ‘place of honour’ for women. Bernikow argues Cinderella’s connection to ashes and the hearth could be a residue of the ancient Vestal Virgin that served the hearth and Hera the mother goddess. Cinderella wishes to be near to her mother that has died and been replaced with a vile stepmother, similarly ashes are a symbol of mourning. Bruno Bettelheim argues that Cinderella is like a devalued and degraded mother goddess rising like a mythical phoenix from the ashes. In some versions of the tale, Cinderella’s prince kneels down in her ashes, and as Bettleheim argues, submits fully to the mother goddess. Perrault completely excludes the prince from having any contact with Cinderella in her peasant form. Similarly, in the Grimm tale, although she is not dressed in finery, she has to wash her face before she is presented to the prince. For Cinderella to truly gain respect from the prince he should accept her for her connection to the hearth and the mother goddess. Yet, for all Perrault’s civilising the hearth is still included within the tale. It is a prime example of matriarchal traditions existing in verschleiert ‘disguised form.’ It also shows how easily the fairy tale can adapt to its surroundings and how hard it is to take mythological significance from different aspects within it, such as the hearth, which has been both a sacred place of honour for women and a place to which a woman can be domestically chained.
Materialistic wealth from marrying a rich man is all that a heroine can gain in Perrault’s tales: if she sits and looks pretty Cinderella will be rewarded with a prince who ultimately symbolises wealth. Other Cinderella stories, such as Mother Holle, also included in the Brothers Grimms’ fairy tale collection, show that the Cinderella type heroine receives more than just riches. The symbolic value of gold that she is given has nothing to do with economics, and is said by Göttner-Abendroth to refer to the ‘wealth deep within the womb of the earth: fertility.’ In Cendrillon the prize is not knowledge. Heaven forbid that a woman should think for herself. This was something that Perrault feared and is illustrated in his tales. As Zipes notes, in Perrault’s tale ‘the princess becomes wily, deceitful, and sexual once she has brains to match her beauty.’ Likewise, the prize is not gifts that would associate the heroine with ‘natural functioning’ considered vulgar among the French bourgeoisie.
Bernikow argued that, unlike Perrault, the Grimms’ tale has actually preserved its matriarchal thrust and some folk conventions and is, therefore, a far cry from Perrault’s ‘perfumed French courts.’ For example, the Brothers Grimms’ use of folk convention resulted in them presenting a more forward thinking and active Cinderella character. More so than Perrault, whose purposeful process of civilizing and elevating of the French oral motif and form, meant that the active element to Cinderella’s character was lost and only delightfully dainty lists of ideal feminine attributes added as a replacement. The nature of Cinderella in the Brothers Grimms’ version is steeped in ‘ritual action’. Her nature is demonstrated in her behaviour: she is only described as beautiful and never good. The only indication of her character is revealed through her actions, which are governed by traditional folk motifs and rituals. For example, she attends the ball three times. Trebling is not exclusive to Aschenputtel and as Vladimir Propp states: it is an auxiliary function that is simply mechanical repetition or is used to hold up the action whilst introducing new details to the story. The third attempt usually proves most fruitful and action can proceed as normal. In the Grimms’ Cinderella, she loses her shoe, which prompts the prince to hunt for the maiden that fits the golden shoe he has found. Therefore, the nature of Cinderella in Perrault’s version of the tale is purposefully civilised and Cinderella’s nature no longer provides a vehicle for which traditional elements can be practiced; it is instead tailored to Perrault’s aforementioned femme civilisée. In Perrault’s tale, Eric Csapo argues that Cinderella ‘represents a …collective popular wish that it were really true that social privilege resulted from natural merit and that a strict correspondence existed between the qualities endowed by nature and culture.’ Indeed, this is what eventually happens in Cendrillon: Cinderella’s passive and gentle nature leads her to marry the wealthiest man in the kingdom and achieve for herself a higher social status. Essential qualities must be inherent within her nature. As Csapo argues, the sweet nature that Cinderella possesses was carefully cultivated by values in polite bourgeois society and is attributed to the ‘natural family’ . Whereas Cinderella’s cultural family, her stepmother and stepsisters connected to her only by civil law, are described as ‘rude and uncivil’ in the tale. Warner notes that one sister is even so crass as to refer to Cinderella as ‘Cinderbottom’. They do not possess a refined nature and even have to rely on Cinderella for advice on their proper mode of dress: ‘Cinderella was consulted in all these matters, for she had good taste’ (Cendrillon, p. 535.) Perrault promotes the idea that virtues and a good nature are worth developing, as they will be recognised over actions: constraint, among others, is the highest of virtues. Perrault denounces the ‘wild natural forces’ that shape Cinderella’s ritual action in Aschenputtel. Perhaps he was influenced by the French historical transition period, 1480-1650 when it was believed that children were naïve, untamed at birth and needed to be taught and controlled in the ways of a Christian civil society and protected from these ‘wild natural forces.’ Nevertheless, the Grimms’ inclusion of ritual action and folk rhetoric means that residues of the active woman, who has the ability to manoeuvre her own fortune, remain within the tale.
As Haase notes, Bernikow argues that in Aschenputtel The Brothers Grimm maintained ‘the powerful connection between mother and daughter, who are pitted against a woman [Cinderella’s stepmother] compromised by patriarchy.’ For example, Marie Louise von Franz, in The Problems of the Feminine in Fairy Tales, traces the tales female archetypes from Greek mythology, in particular the image of motherhood represented by Demeter, goddess of fertility and grain, mother and controller of nature: Göttner-Abendroth notes, Demeter’s triadic character remains completely intact. In Robert Graves’ edition of Greek myths Demeter is said to ‘wander about the earth, forbidding the trees to yield fruit and the herbs to grow, until the race of men stood in danger of extinction’ all because her daughter Kore has been abducted. Similarly, Aschenputtel’s mother is reborn in the natural world as either a tree or a beast. Invested with the power of the matriarchal mother, Aschenputtel’s mother can give Aschenputtel anything that she desires. This role is performed by the fairy godmother in Cendrillon, yet the transformation of the mice, rats, lizards and rags, an incident that originated in the Perrault version, is only a small reminder of the ancient female power exhibited in the Grimms’ tale. This reveals how the Brothers Grimm have rejected the courtly civilising of the mother’s power in tales, such as Perrault’s, and have instead dug deeper into folk tradition in an effort to preserve what they thought was the “purity” of the tale. Unbeknownst to them, the theme of the “mother’s aid” had already undergone significant changes from its “roots”, if it had any, in prehistoric and oral culture. The mother aid, amongst other things in the Grimms’ tale is actually a residue itself of matriarchal power.
Although Zipes maintains that ‘it is not always clear that the Urmärchen ‘the primeval tale’, if there is one, has come from a matrilineal society he goes onto add that Göttner-Abendroth in her substantial work, The Goddess and Her Heroes, ‘provides sufficient evidence from ancient relics…and our knowledge of matriarchal rites’ to substantiate a claim ‘that a strand of the Cinderella cycle emanated from the matrilineal oral tradition.’ Göttner-Abendroth explains that they are just residues, not because the “common” people were incapable of retaining myths’ complex frameworks, or because they simply forgot the name of the characters within them, but because when the matriarchal myths were repeated explicitly, and by name, they were seen as antagonistic to patriarchal societies. The Mother Goddess was simply referred to as ‘mother’ and the daughter Goddess as ‘princess’, as opposed to high priestess or crown princess. However, Propp maintains in his work The Morphology of Folktales, that the mythical structure these figures move within is unaltered. Göttner-Abendroth studies in detail Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s retelling of Cinderella, along with three other tales that all fit her first group: “the abundance-giving woman in the other world”. Göttner-Abendroth sees residues of the ‘the crown princess’ Underworld initiation journey,’ and of the mother goddess of early matriarchy, in the Grimms’ Cinderella. In Aschenputtel, Cinderella undergoes trials in stages of three. From the first: winning of the prince with her beauty at the ball, escaping her father, to waiting while the prince tries her shoe on her two stepsisters then finally her. She is eventually rewarded after the third trial. The myth and concept of the Underworld initiation journey and early matriarchal mother goddess were founded in matrilineal societies in what Göttner-Abendroth terms the ‘matriarchal epoch,’ a period more commonly referred to as the Neolithic Age. The Underworld journey initiation is similar to the journey Kore undertakes in Demeter and Iakchos.
In Aschenputtel the natural mother helps Cinderella acquire the crown and the estate from the Other World. Cinderella receives gifts from her mother who is more than just a dead mortal mother. She is an ‘abundance-giving woman’ complete with magical tree growing from her grave and talking doves perched on its boughs. The gold and silver garments that the doves throw down to Cinderella from her mother are, Göttner-Abendroth argues, reminiscent of gifts given to Gold Marie in the Mother Holle story. This tale is very alike to Cinderella and was also recorded by the Grimms but, as Göttner-Abendroth argues, retains more of a matriarchal framework. Mother Holle is actually a matriarchal mythical name stemming from the ‘pre-Germanic Underworld Goddess ‘Hel,’ or ‘Hella,’’ Like the fairy tale she ‘manifested the ultimate food, fertility, justice, and maternity, much as the fairy tale Mother Holle still does.’ In this story, gold and silver rains down from an arched gateway and clings to Gold Marie like a dress. Cinderella’s golden dress is, according to Göttner-Abendroth, ‘a graceful symbol…of abundance and the art of weaving, an authentic matriarchal art form.’ Therefore, the prince having found Cinderella ‘so beautiful in her golden dress’ proves that a maiden ‘radiating the symbolic value of life’s abundance in her clothes’ is irresistible to a man.
Although the matriarchal can be pried from the Brothers Grimm tale, Göttner-Abendroth argues that ‘the system of myths of the mother goddess’ is significantly minimized and only residues of this matriarchal rite of passage are left in Aschenputtel. The Grimms’ tale contains only relics of the original Underworld initiation story. Although Cinderella gains wealth with the help of her “abundance-giving mother from the other world”, the estate that she gains belongs to the prince. Göttner-Abendroth asserts that by matriarchal principle it is the ‘mother alone who bequeaths’. A prince with an estate and a crown was something that would have never occurred in a matriarchal society. In addition, her right of inheritance from her father is called into question, because her father has remarried and his second wife has daughters. It is interesting then as Göttner-Abendroth notes that ‘Cinderella’s natural relationship to her mother runs contrary to the “patriarchalization” of the tale’ where the father and prince define Cinderella’s role as daughter and wife. She is no longer a sovereign princess. Like Perrault the “patriarchalization” overshadows this text and, Zipes maintains, that they ‘domesticated the young women [Cinderella] to make her worthy of a king, and they stressed the virtues of self-denial, obedience, and industriousness all major qualities of the middle class ethic.’ Similarly, Göttner-Abendroth notes that Cinderella’s mother never leaves the Other World, whereas in other stories, which Göttner-Abendroth regards as containing the abundance-giving woman, the mother appears in person or at least gives the magic gifts to her daughter in human form. Just as Cinderella’s ‘mourning and daily tarrying at her mother’s grave’ is a relic of the Underworld journey, so Cinderella’s mother’s lack of personal, or rather bodily, involvement is all that remains of the ‘abundance-giving woman in another world’. Göttner-Abendroth even suggests that Cinderella herself is a rejuvenated reflection of the overruling matriarchal Great Goddess. Supported by her claim that in one variation of the tale, her physical attributes mirror nature: ‘she is red as a rose and white as snow’ and the ‘fluttering doves, are Aphrodite’s birds, which in turn are themselves a reflection of the fallen Goddess of Love.’
However, as Ruth B. Bottigheimer has identified, it was not the Grimms’ ‘editorial alone, or even primarily, that shaped the representations of women in their collection. As illustrated by motifs such as the hearth that are constantly attributed or denied new and old meanings, Bottigheimer found among the brothers’ stories, competing views of gender that were inherent in their sources, as well as “kindred values [that the collection] revived and incorporated from preceding centuries.’ Göttner-Abendroth points out “German” fairy tales do not exist as such. They are only fairy tales collected in Germany, each of which belongs to an international treasury of stores, as their many variants demonstrate.’ Therefore, the patriarchal process could have been inherent within the sources that Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were collecting. Bottigheimer argues, and Haase notes that the image of women in Kinder und Hausmärchen resulted, in part, in Wilhelm’s increasing reliance on misogynistic folktales from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The folktale sources themselves were subject to “patriarchalization”. As aforementioned, Göttner-Abendroth argues that the old matriarchal worldview was forced to conceal itself from non-initiates behind typified figures rather than explicit mythological names. By way of illustration, Göttner-Abendroth recalls ‘the European Middle Ages and the slow and painful process, by which the Christian church infiltrated the older matriarchal-based religions.’ In addition to this, even those classes, who concealed the old matriarchal worldview, adapted many of their tales to the invading patriarchal societies either for self-protection or because they adopted these new ideas.
The well-known and beloved incident: ‘identification of Cinderella by means of a shoe’, is an example of an incident where the exact origin of the source is not known, and therefore may already have been subject to “patriarchalization” before it filtered through to the Brothers Grimm. The identification by means of a shoe incident represents the concept of women subjected to beauty extremes that are promised to help them advance socially within their culture. Self-mutilation is a recurring incident in the Cinderella cycle, one that may have originated from the practicing of foot binding in China, which was, in part, associated with female advancement and winning the attentions of a man. Ko makes it very clear that there are other factors such as fetishism that may have lain behind the origin of foot binding. However, the motive definitely played its part and when one cake peddler, Ning Lao-t’ai-t’ai, born 1867, was interviewed, he stated, ‘match-makers [in China] were asked not “Is she beautiful?” but “How small are her feet?”’ The theme of beauty connected to marriage prevails in Perrault’s text. The only way that Cinderella can escape her sisters is to marry out of her unhappy situation, unlike the Grimms’ tale where Aschenputtel can escape to her mother’s grave for solace. The race is on then to see who can escape this isolated world of women being horrible to one another. All thoughts are turned towards the prince and their ideas of beauty channelled to what men will favour most. The stepsisters are so ‘transported with joy’ that they do not eat so as to have a ‘slender figure’ (Cendrillon, p. 535). The pressure of needing to be chosen by a man so as to escape their misery taints the very nourishment that they take into their bodies. Image is important to gain male attention. Cendrillon is dazzling at the ball and even ‘the King himself old as he was, could not help watching her’ (Cendrillon, p. 536). He tells his Queen this but we do not hear her reply: one can imagine it would not be happy if her husband’s attention rests on another woman. It is not just any sort of pretty that will do: it has to be a pretty that attracts men. The ladies at court after observing her success with the prince, and almost every other male present, begin ‘studying her clothes and head dress, so that they might have theirs made the next day after the same pattern’ (Cendrillon, p. 535). In Cendrillon no woman is disinterested in the beauty of women, either their own appearance or others, especially if it means they will win a prince’s favour and, subsequently, fortune.
Marian Roalfe-Cox notes that three out of five of her Cinderella type groups include the mutilating of the foot in their tales. As Warner notes, ‘the Chinese version [of Cinderella] exhibits many features of its social context’ and none stands out more clearly than the connection to the beloved shoe motif in Cinderella. Critics such as Zipes, Warner and Jameson have briefly touched on the mutilation of feet in Cinderella and its link to the Chinese art of foot binding. In ninth century China, Tuan Ch’eng Shih, a junior minister in the ministry rites scribed the first literary version of Cinderella to be unearthed thus far. Foot binding was still practiced at the time and several passages in the text point at the Chinese tradition of prizing small feet. For example, the shoes are made from gold, which could refer to the cult of the “golden lotus”. The “golden lotus” was a name given to a foot that was three inches long and it was most prized. Any foot over three inches was given the derogatory name, “silver lotus”, and a foot in its natural state that had never been fettered before was dubbed “iron lotus”. Sheh Hsien’s shoe is an ‘inch shorter’ than any of the king’s subjects. Poorly bound feet, explains Dorothy Ko, were as bad as feet not bound at all. You could tell if a woman had not bound her feet properly for the women around her would complain of the noise she made:’ ‘zhou-da-zhou-da’. It is assumed that owner of such small shoes, such as Sheh Hsien would ‘make no noise when walking on stone’ and the heroine does not disappoint: she fulfils all the king’s expectations; she is ‘as beautiful as a goddess.’ Sheh Hsien possesses the qualities of a desirable wife and so the king marries her. Mothers would bind their daughters feet age five or six or if left until she was slightly older break their child’s feet in order that they might be bound smaller. The girl would then learn to bind her feet herself. As Bernikow points out ‘the unbearable pain…masked by a smile’ is ‘frightening in its familiarity’ when one examines the incident in Aschenputtel where the stepsisters are instructed, by their mother, to cut off either their toe or heel to fit the glass slipper. The stepsisters ‘grit their teeth against the pain’ (Aschenputtel, p. 540). However, they do not mutilate themselves appropriately and therefore they are rejected. The idea of women subjected to beauty extremes is hidden within the Grimms’ tale, because they have included the shoe that identifies the perfect heroine for the prince. Nevertheless, there are some differences. For example, no reference is made to Cinderella mutilating her feet to make them look smaller: it is implied by default that her feet are smaller than most women’s. Taking only the culture of China into account, Cinderella would not have been able to ‘do all the work’ (Aschenputtel, p. 538). Seventeenth century author Liu-hsien’s fourth reason why it was a bad idea not to bind one’s daughter’s feet was that ‘the large-footed has to do rough work.’ I am not suggesting, however, that foot binding was even considered or had any place in the Grimms’ plan for the tale. The shoe always belonged to Cinderella, having been magically designed for her feet, and so would always fit. In Sheh Hsien the shoe is a replica of the one that Sheh Hsien wears and is only prized by the king because it is so small. Rather that the identification by means of the shoe is an example of other meanings transcending history, remaining in tales written years and years later in verschleiert ‘disguised form.’
The concept of self-mutilation in Aschenputtel has been entwined with the shoe motif as means of identifying the heroine. The stepsisters have to mutilate their feet in order to fit into the shoe. However, other forms of mutilation have been recorded in different tales and have not always been linked to the feet. It helps to regard why small feet were so aesthetically pleasing, and were, subsequently, mutilated by their owners. Liu-hsien again has a comment on the reasoning behind the beauty of small feet: ‘If a girl’s feet are not bound, people say she is not like a woman but like a man and they laugh at her.’ The concept of self-mutilation as a means to make oneself look more feminine is found in Moon Brow collected by Margaret A. Mils, which is performed in eastern Iran and western Afghanistan and whom she collected from Rafique Keshavjee an anthropologist conducting research on village organisation in the area. The tale is repeated at rituals where the women call upon the natural mother. The tale, (which she states conforms to the Aarne-Thompson 510a persecuted heroine story type) strongly rejects ‘male symbols’ partly through the efforts of self-mutilation. The heroine loses her cotton and while retrieving it answers a ritual set of questions, given by an esteemed mother goddess figure. Having answered correctly she is then rewarded with a moon on her brow and a star on her chin, whereas her greedy stepsister answers the questions wrong and is cursed, receiving a donkey’s penis on her brow and a snake on her chin. The stepmother cuts off her daughter’s new growths and covers the wounds with salt. Mils argues that the moon and the star are ‘signs of radiant female beauty’ the moon having long been connected with women. Rejecting the largeness of feet because they are masculine, then, could be a residue of women preserving their femininity and therefore their connection to the matriarchal culture. However, even this tale has attributes of patriarchy, as ‘two days later a prince comes riding by’ and the stepmother cleans and cuts her daughter’s masculine facial “gifts” in preparation for his visit. The prince uniformly does not choose the stepsister who has been presented as the more masculine to Cinderella’s feminine. Moon Brow is another Cinderella type tale that has entered into dialogue with the many Cinderella tales before it, just like the Brothers Grimms’ and Perrault’s Cinderella tales have done.
By studying the presentation of women in Charles Perrault’s Cendrillon ou la petite pantoufle de verre, and in Aschenputtel, by the Brothers Grimm, one can establish that the ‘stylistic and semantic shifts of power embedded in written language itself indicate that a different social consciousness was organising and regulating cultural products and stamping its imprint on them.’ In that way, Perrault and the Brothers Grimm have done us a great service by recording this imprint and it may be argued that literature can compliment the oral tradition. As Zipes asserts, by helping to create one of our great literary institutions, the Brothers Grimm and Perrault have preserved residual folk elements that might have faded due to the human memory’s selective and historical tendencies.
Both Perrault and the Brothers Grimm were influenced by their contextual surroundings and have endeavoured to preserve the oral tradition and national prestige of their country through the appropriation of fairy tales: Perrault through the modernization and elevation of French folk motif and tradition and the Grimms’ through their attempt to idealize and conserve the oral tradition. However, the Grimms’ were ‘more dedicated to the customs, expressions, mores and beliefs of the peasantry’ and there is ‘little irony in their narrative compositions’ whereas Perrault made fun of the superstitions and the miraculous in the tales of the oral tradition. Nevertheless, as Zipes notes, the Brothers Grimm did ‘impose their own value system on the oral tradition.’ Aschenputtel has been singled out as having being one of the fairytales that has retained many of the matriarchal traditions found in matrilineal tales. Perrault’s Cendrillon retains a lot less. However, in general, as Zipes notes, ‘the “patriarchalization” of matrilineal tales…began in the oral tradition itself.’ Thus, the Brothers Grimm and Perrault were not at the forefront of devaluing the matriarchal traditions. Instead, they can be placed somewhere in the midst of the Cinderella type heroine transformation period, in which she was changed from
young active women who is expected to pursue her own destiny under the guidance of a wise, gift-bearing dead mother; into a helpless, inactive pubescent girl whose major accomplishments are domestic, and who must obediently wait to be rescued by a male.
Tracing the manifold ways in which Cinderella has changed since Urmächern to the appropriations published by the Brothers Grimm and Perrault, ‘the primeval tale’, if there is in fact such a thing, remains difficult. Imposing order or coherence on such an amorphous body of material and then preceding to squeeze out the ‘mythological significance’ from each and every image, is as helpful, in terms of understanding the “Cinderella” type, as it was for the stepsister’s to cut off pieces of their feet in order that the glass slipper might fit. As Marina Warner states, ‘even when the teller is known and the circumstances of the telling are clear, fairy tales are still rebarbative as historical documents.’
There is of course some information that can be gleaned from studying the appropriation of Cinderella by Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. Indeed, there have been many works that have studied aspects of it. However, it is never straightforward and quite often openly speculative. Perhaps because the tale of Cinderella, like the heroine planted within it, aspires to new heights every time it is told in different countries and different eras.
Word Count: 8467.
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