and can Virginia Woolf be far behind
There’s a huge volume of feminist literature and discussion about how fairy tales disempowered women, and most of that is self-evident. No one thinks it’s a good idea for a little girl to develop the idea that a knight on a white horse is in her future. Probably that idea alone has led to more dysfunction than to fairy tale endings.
But with the new Disney version of Cinderella in theatres now, I dug out my copy of the Perrault version. (For a four-page long story, there’s a lot of mileage on that vehicle!) Perrault’s story highlights the childhood perception of growth into adulthood and its attendant crises:
What if I’m an outcast?
How does belief in a higher power fit in?
How do I treat those who have mistreated me?
The built-in lightness and humor in Perrault’s Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper can make it a responsible read for young ones, especially since the abusive step sisters are treated with equanimity by the socially elevated Ella. Perrault refrains from titling her “Princess” even though she’s married to the Prince, but Ella demonstrates power and forgiveness by marrying them off to “two great Lords of the Court.” No word about the stepmother, who presumably remains married to the hen pecked widower. The message that kindness and perseverance wins out in the end cannot be missed, and there’s no white horse.
Then I looked at the old Rogers and Hammerstein version that was televised in the 1960’s. I saw the strength in Ella that had first struck me long ago. She evoked the idea that in the little world of her own creation (“In my own little corner, in my own little chair…”), she could be whatever she wanted to be, before there was a fairy godmother or a prince on the scene. Ahhhh…
Not so different from Virginia Woolf’s realization and later manifesto (in A Room of One's Own) that with an income of her own and a bit of privacy, a woman can be secure to study and be creative. Of course Woolf’s first income came from the legacy of an aunt, and her later security and social status from her husband.
So which one is the fairy tale?