Perrault’s Cendrillon

About an excerpt of Charles Perrault’s Cendrillon, illustrated here by Gustave Doré?

Gustave Dore Cinderella

Gustave Dore Cinderella

You know the story, of course. Cendrillon, morally abandoned by her father and treated as a servant by her stepmother, is crying her eyes out at home. Her stepsisters, in their best finery, are gone to the Prince’s ball. But Cendrillon’s godmother appears and tells our heroine:

“Go to the garden, and bring me a pumpkin.”

Cendrillon hurried to pick the finest she could find, and brought it to her godmother, while wondering how that pumpkin could make her go to the ball. Her godmother hollowed it and, once nothing but the rind was left, hit it with her wand, and the pumpkin was forthwith changed into a beautiful carriage, all golden.

The name “Cinderella”, used in English translations, is not evocative enough. The connotation here is not cinders, but “cendres”, ashes, a symbol of grieving and penitence.

Bruno Bettelheim saw in this near universal tale a story of sibling rivalry, but I believe it goes far deeper. It deals with the mother-daughter relationship, the mother figure being twofold: the good mother (godmother) and the wicked, abusive, jealous mother (stepmother). Also the power of mourning as a preliminary to spiritual rebirth. And how easy it is to pass up beauty, even in plain view.

For the original text of Perrault’s version in all of its late 17th century glory, see here. I am not so fond of the Grimm brothers blood-and-gore version, but it is all a matter of taste.

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