THE ETERNAL APPEAL OF CINDERELLA
All little girls love the story of Cinderella. Well, there are probably exceptions, but they must be few. The discovery that a poor girl who is forced to wear rags as she drudges incessantly at all the most menial tasks set her by a wicked stepmother has a fairy godmother is breathtaking. So is the notion that with one wave of her wand the godmother can send the girl to a prince’s ball—the tall, handsome Prince Charming, no less—wearing a gorgeous ball gown and glass slippers (ouch!) to catch the eye of the prince himself and actually dance with him (it must have been a waltz, don’t you think?). The terrible letdown of midnight coming too soon and Cinderella’s coach turning into a pumpkin and her ball gown into rags is merely a temporary setback as the prince searches frantically for the wearer of the glass slipper left behind on the palace steps. Then the denouement—ah, sigh! For of course the slipper fits only Cinderella. Prince Charming has found her and marries her and thus makes her into a princess. And they lived happily ever after. One more sigh!
I think most women have a soft spot for the story too, and probably a few men. The basic story, with innumerable adaptations, has been recreated over and over again in stories and movies. The rags-to-riches theme combined with a love story is irresistible. There is a potential problem, however, especially in the 21stcentury. Most adult readers demand more of a romantic hero and heroine than the original story provides. The hero must be more than just a handsome prince, and the heroine must be far more than just a poor downtrodden girl waiting for a prince to find her and marry her and give her identity, wealth, and security. Readers demand more of a love story than boy meets girl, falls in love with her, pursues her, and marries her. And of girl suffering in patient silence through a life of drudgery and bullying while she waits for some man to come to her rescue (preferably tall, dark, handsome and rich). Readers want more of a relationship than the simple romance of a first starry-eyed encounter followed immediately by love and marriage and happily ever after.
Don’t they need to know each other?
We expect a hero and a heroine with depth of character. We want equality in their relationship, even if their circumstances are quite different. We need to know that they can bring assets (not necessarily material) of equal value to the relationship. We want a story that shows the growth of their characters and a development of their knowledge and understanding of each other. We want to see them fall in love—not just with each other’s looks and surface charms, but with the person behind those attractions. And we want to know that it is real love, that it is based on a solid foundation and will last a lifetime. We don’t demand (at least I don’t) happily-ever-after because there is no such thing. But we do want to know at the end that these two people stand a very good chance of remaining happy together because they have already shown a willingness to work on valuing themselves and each other and of loving each other through thick and thin.
We want substance, in other words.
Actually, what I think we hope for in the romantic stories we read and movies we watch is everything.We want to have our cake and eat it. But surely we can have both a realistic story with the sort of hero and heroine we can relate to and believe in and at the same time have the sheer romance of a Cinderella story. Why not? Life isn’t always or even often an either/or proposition. Fiction doesn’t need to be one or the other either. By all means let us have both!
Sophia Fry, heroine of THE ARRANGEMENT, Book 2 of my Survivors’ Club series, is very much a Cinderella figure at the start of the book, and she faces total destitution when she is tossed out of her sorry home after being foolish enough to save Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh, from the devious matchmaking schemes of her aunt, uncle, and cousin. Vincent, of course, comes to her rescue in true Cinderella story fashion. He marries her. But he is Prince Charming with a difference—he was blinded at the age of seventeen in the Napoleonic Wars. And this story does not end with the wedding. It really only begins there. But before it does begin, Sophia demands a sort of prenuptial agreement, something Cinderella did not do.
In my book LONGING, Siân Jones lives with her grandparents and her uncle in a small house in a Welsh coalmining valley. She works long hours in the mines, harnessed to a coal cart which she drags along low, poorly ventilated tunnels from the coal seam to the shaft. Yet she ends up married to Alexander Hyatt, Marquess of Craille, the blond, handsome and wealthy new English owner of the mine and its accompanying steelworks. There is a long and troublesome journey between the starting and ending points, however. Times are tough and the workers throughout the Welsh valleys are beginning to rebel against the owners. Siân is a strong-willed, high-principled Cinderella, devoted to her family and her community and her Welsh heritage. Alexander is a powerful man who nevertheless is willing to learn and show humility in face of the rich and ancient Welsh culture and a close-knit community he had not expected before he came from England to take up his inheritance.
To one person who leaves a comment below by Friday, October 5, I will send a signed copy of either LONGING or THE ARRANGEMENT (British edition with a different cover)–winner’s choice.
Last week’s winner of a copy of ONLY BELOVED was Claire Gilless.
This week’s winner is BRENDA MATZEK. Congratulations to her! Thank you all for your comments.