Cenerentola’s Literary Beginnings
Cinderella made her first appearance onto the world stage through a man named Giambattista Basile. Bastile produced the first written version of this beloved story which was written and set in Naples, Italy in the early 17th century.
One of the most popular versions of Cinderella was “Cendrillion”, written by Charles Perrault in French in the late 17th century. Perrault’s additions and alterations to the story such as the pumpkin, the fairy godmother and the introduction of the infamous glass slippers made it an instant favourite, and set in motion a literary tradition that would be revised and recycled for over 400 years.
In the 19th century, the story was picked up and reworked into a folk tale collection published by the Brothers Grimm who brought the story into the world of modern literature. The story was entitled “Aschenputtel”.
The iconic nature of Cinderella’s character went onto become a popular motif within the literary world, with stories appearing of a persecuted heroine in countries all over the world, and continuing to emerge today.
Variations occur within different literary streams. Some of the most notable include;
Every version has a villain, but who that is depends on the version. In some revisions Cinderella’s father is seen to play an active role in his daughter’s ruin, but in more modern adaptations it has become popular for the stepmother and stepsisters to play the characters of the villains.
The number of balls in each story varies from one to three. Several variants have Cinderella attending church, forgoing the ball all together.
- Fairy Godmother
Perrault’s version of the story introduced us to the fairy godmother motif which has gone onto become a popular theme in many adaptations of Cinderella, as well as other films and stories. In the Brothers Grimm version, it is Cinderella’s deceased mother who comes to her rescue, an idea picked up by the contemporary Broadway musical Into The Woods. In other versions of Cinderella, the fairy godmother’s role is carried out by a Dove of Fairies, talking animals, a magical alabaster pot, a philosopher and tutor to the prince.
- Midnight Curfew
The quintessential ‘stroke of midnight’ deadline that has become so familiar in popular culture is largely absent from many Cinderella tales - in the Brothers Grimm’s “Aschenputtel”, Cinderella leaves due to tiredness.
- The Glass Slipper
The presence of the glass slipper can be exclusively credited to Perrault’s “Cendrillion”. The Brothers Grimm utilise a gold slipper, while other versions draw on items such as an anklet, a ring or a bracelet for the prince to use in his quest to identify Cinderella. The 1950 Disney movie uses the glass based slipper as a way of adding a plot twist - when the slipper is shattered, Cinderella is robbed of the chance to try it on, but is provided with an opportunity in which to prove her identity when she produces the matching one.
In the German revision of the story, the first stepsister fits into the slipper by cutting off a toe. The second stepsister cuts off her heel in order to achieve the same. When the prince finds blood dripping from the slipper, he sends them home. This same version sees the evil stepsisters punished when birds peck their eyes out. Modern adaptations have become more child-friendly and lack the gore of these earlier versions.
In Popular Culture
Since its first appearance, Cinderella has gone onto become a cultural giant, influencing and inspiring countless spin-offs, adaptations and revisions. Here are just a few of the places we can see Cinderella’s spell cast in pop-culture;
- Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (Novel), Gregory Maguire
- Ella Enchanted (Film), 2004
- Ever After (Film), 1998
- A Cinderella Story (Film), 2004
- Once Upon A Time (TV Series), 2011
- My First Cinderella (Ballet), 2013
- Into The Woods (Broadway Musical, Film), 2014
- Cinderella (Song), Britney Spears
- Cinderella Man (Rap), Eminem
The original name of the story and the main character ‘Cenerentola’ is derived from the Italian word “cenere’ which translates ‘ash-cinder’. This word refers to the way in which servants and scullions were often soiled with ash from their cleaning work and from living in cold basements where they huddled by the fireplace in an attempt to stay warm. The story’s title and the name of the protagonist have come to be known as ‘Cinderella’ in English folklore – a word which has come to be relevant in popular culture, transcending the confines of the story itself.
In evolutionary psychology, the ‘Cinderella Effect’ refers to the higher rate of incidence of child abuse, in households where children are being step-parented. Another condition has been termed ‘The Cinderella Complex’, a diagnosis that refers to women’s fear of independence, and the inherent, and often unconscious desire to be taken care of by others (a man…or prince).
In a world full of adaptation, nobody offers a more creative interpretation and fresh approach than that of The Walt Disney Company.
In 1950, Cinderella, the twelfth film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series was released, on the cusp of the classic ‘golden age’ of Disney animation. The film itself utilised key concepts introduced by Perrault such as the glass slipper and pumpkin – motifs which have become iconic. The film itself was a box office success, with the profits from the film’s release, music sales and merchandise bringing in enough cash to finance a long line of further projects including both animated and live action films, Disney’s entry into television production and the commencement of building work on Disneyland.
The success of Cinderella was followed 52 years later by Cinderella II: Dreams Come True. Released direct-to-video, the sequel centres on the concept of after ‘Happily Ever After’, with three stories strung together into one narrative. The final instalment to date of the animated series is Cinderella III: A Twist in Time which was released in 2007. The film has spawned questions due to its unusual time sequencing. Chronologically, the film is the third in the franchise, but its plot picks up where Cinderella left off, making it a continuation of the first. To add further confusion, though the film appears to skip the events of the second film, some of the characters that appear in the second film are acknowledged in the third.
Disney’s most recent foray into Cinderella is the 2015 live action film of the same name. The film borrows many elements from the 1950 animated film, as well as integrating new motifs such as ‘courage’ and ‘kindness’. Cinderella had its world premiere in March and became an overnight success, grossing over $500 million at the box office. It seems like 400 years after Cinderella was first penned, this fair, feminine fairytale character is more popular and beloved than ever before.
Fast Facts about Disney’s Cinderella
- Cinderella is the second Disney Princess after Snow White
- She is also the second Disney Princess to be an orphan, after Snow White.
- Cinderella was the first Disney Princess to be seen as a child, sparking a tradition followed by Tiana and Rapunzel.
- Cinderella’s hair color has been the subject of mass debate among fans worldwide. In the 1950 Disney film, her hair appears to be an orange toned, strawberry blonde but when the character appears in Disney Parks and at public events representing Disney, her hair is a particularly yellow blonde. In the 2015 live action film, actress Lily James’ who plays Cinderella has a hair color that is decidedly ash blonde.
- Cinderella is the first of only four Disney Princesses who are not born royalty. This paved the way for Belle, Mulan and Tiana.
- Her shoes size is cited in Cinderella III: A Twist in Time as being a 4 ½.
- The only mention of Cinderella’s mother in the 1950 film was when she told the mice that her dress belonged to her mother. In the 2015 film, we get to see her mother interacting with her, before she falls fatally ill.
- Cinderella is the Disney Princess with the largest amount of animal companions to her credit.
- In the 1950 film Cinderella loses her shoe a total of three times. First, when she delivers the breakfast trays, second, when she is departing from the ball, and third, when she is walking down the steps after her wedding.
- The role of Cinderella in the 2015 live action film was rumoured to have been offered to Amanda Seyfried, Gabriella Wilde, Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson and Margot Robbie before casting crew finally landed on Lily James.
- It took Swarovski crystal several months and countless attempts to create the eight pairs of glass slippers that were needed for filming of the 2015 film.
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