Charles-Perrault-Bluebeard-Les-Contes-de-Perrault-Gustave-Dore-1-1867-EcruIf you were to open the door, I should be very angry

Once upon a time there was a man who owned splendid town and country houses, gold and silver plate, tapestries and coaches gilt all over. But the poor fellow had a blue beard, and this made him so ugly and frightful that there was not a woman or girl who did not run away at sight of him. Amongst his neighbors was a lady of high degree who had two surpassingly beautiful daughters. He asked for the hand of one of these in marriage, leaving it to their mother to choose which should be bestowed upon him. Both girls, however, raised objections, and his offer was bandied from one to the other, neither being able to bring herself to accept a man with a blue beard. Another reason for their distaste was the fact that he had already married several wives, and no one knew what had become of them.

In order that they might become better acquainted, Blue Beard invited the two girls, with their mother and three or four of their best friends, to meet a party of young men from the neighborhood at one of his country houses. Here they spent eight whole days, and throughout their stay there was a constant round of picnics, hunting and fishing expeditions, dances, dinners, and luncheons; and they never slept at all, through spending all the night in playing merry pranks upon each other. In short, everything went so gaily that the younger daughter began to think the master of the house had not so very blue a beard after all, and that he was an exceedingly agreeable man. As soon as the party returned to town their marriage took place.


Charles-Perrault-Bluebeard-Les-Contes-de-Perrault-Gustave-Dore-2-1867-EcruHer friends were eager to see the splendors of her house

At the end of a month Blue Beard informed his wife that important business obliged him to make a journey into a distant part of the country, which would occupy at least six weeks. He begged her to amuse herself well during his absence, and suggested that she should invite some of her friends and take them, if she liked, to the country. He was particularly anxious that she should enjoy herself thoroughly.

“Here,” he said, “are the keys of the two large storerooms, and here is the one that locks up the gold and silver plate which is not in everyday use. This key belongs to the strongboxes where my gold and silver is kept, this to the caskets containing my jewels; while here you have the master key which gives admittance to all the apartments. As regards this little key, it is the key of the small room at the end of the long passage on the lower floor. You may open everything, you may go everywhere, but I forbid you to enter this little room. And I forbid you so seriously that if you were indeed to open the door, I should be so angry that I might do anything.”

She promised to follow out these instructions exactly, and after embracing her, Blue Beard stepped into his coach and was off upon his journey.

Her neighbors and friends did not wait to be invited before coming to call upon the young bride, so great was their eagerness to see the splendors of her house. They had not dared to venture while her husband was there, for his blue beard frightened them. But in less than no time there they were, running in and out of the rooms, the closets, and the wardrobes, each of which was finer than the last. Presently they went upstairs to the storerooms, and there they could not admire enough the profusion and magnificence of the tapestries, beds, sofas, cabinets, tables, and stands. There were mirrors in which they could view themselves from top to toe, some with frames of plate glass, others with frames of silver and gilt lacquer, that were the most superb and beautiful things that had ever been seen. They were loud and persistent in their envy of their friend’s good fortune. She, on the other hand, derived little amusement from the sight of all these riches, the reason being that she was impatient to go and inspect the little room on the lower floor.

So overcome with curiosity was she that, without reflecting upon the discourtesy of leaving her guests, she ran down a private staircase, so precipitately that twice or thrice she nearly broke her neck, and so reached the door of the little room. There she paused for a while, thinking of the prohibition which her husband had made, and reflecting that harm might come to her as a result of disobedience. But the temptation was so great that she could not conquer it. Taking the little key, with a trembling hand she opened the door of the room.

At first she saw nothing, for the windows were closed, but after a few moments she perceived dimly that the floor was entirely covered with clotted blood, and that in this were reflected the dead bodies of several women that hung along the walls. These were all the wives of Blue Beard, whose throats he had cut, one after another.

She thought to die of terror, and the key of the room, which she had just withdrawn from the lock, fell from her hand.

When she had somewhat regained her senses, she picked up the key, closed the door, and went up to her chamber to compose herself a little. But this she could not do, for her nerves were too shaken. Noticing that the key of the little room was stained with blood, she wiped it two or three times. But the blood did not go. She washed it well, and even rubbed it with sand and grit. Always the blood remained. For the key was bewitched, and there was no means of cleaning it completely. When the blood was removed from one side, it reappeared on the other.

Blue Beard returned from his journey that very evening. He had received some letters on the way, he said, from which he learned that the business upon which he had set forth had just been concluded to his satisfaction. His wife did everything she could to make it appear that she was delighted by his speedy return.

On the morrow he demanded the keys. She gave them to him, but with so trembling a hand that he guessed at once what had happened.

‘‘How comes,” he said to her, “that the key of the little room is not with the others?”

“I must have left it upstairs upon my table,” she said. “Do not fail to bring it to me presently,” said Blue Beard. After several delays the key had to be brought. Blue Beard examined it, and addressed his wife.

“Why is there blood on this key?”

“I do not know at all,” replied the poor woman, paler than death.

“You do not know at all?” exclaimed Blue Beard; “I know well enough. You wanted to enter the little room! Well, madam, enter it you shall—you shall go and take your place among the ladies you have seen there.”

She threw herself at her husband’s feet, asking his pardon with tears, and with all the signs of a true repentance for her disobedience. She would have softened a rock, in her beauty and distress, but Blue Beard had a heart harder than any stone.

“You must die, madam,” he said; “and at once.”

“Since I must die,” she replied, gazing at him with eyes that were wet with tears, “give me a little time to say my prayers.”

“I give you one quarter of an hour,” replied Blue Beard, ‘‘but not a moment longer.”

When the poor girl was alone, she called her sister to her and said:

“Sister Anne “—for that was her name—” go up, I implore you, to the top of the tower, and see if my brothers are not approaching. They promised that they would come and visit me today. If you see them, make signs to them to hasten.”

Sister Anne went up to the top of the tower, and the poor unhappy girl cried out to her from time to time:

“Anne, Sister Anne, do you see nothing coming?” And Sister Anne replied:

“I see nought, but dust in the sun and the green grass growing.”


Charles-Perrault-Bluebeard-Les-Contes-de-Perrault-Gustave-Dore-3-1867-EcruHeaven be praised, they are my brothers

Presently Blue Beard, grasping a great cutlass, cried out at the top of his voice:

“Come down quickly, or I shall come upstairs myself”

“Oh please, one moment more,” called out his wife.

And at the same moment she cried in a whisper:

“Anne, Sister Anne, do you see nothing coming?”

“I see nought but dust in the sun and the green grass growing.”

“Come down at once, I say,” shouted Blue Beard, “or I will come upstairs myself”

“I am coming,” replied his wife. Then she called:

“Anne, Sister Anne, do you see nothing coming?”

“I see,” replied Sister Anne, “a great cloud of dust which comes this way.”

“Is it my brothers?”

“Alas, sister, no; it is but a flock of sheep.”

“Do you refuse to come down?” roared Blue Beard.

“One little moment more,” exclaimed his wife.

Once more she cried:

“Anne, Sister Anne, do you see nothing coming?”

“I see,” replied her sister, “two horsemen who come this way, but they are as yet a long way off…. Heaven be praised,” she exclaimed a moment later, “they are my brothers. . .

“I am signaling to them all I can to hasten.”

Blue Beard let forth so mighty a shout that the whole house shook. The poor wife went down and cast herself at his feet, all disheveled and in tears.

“That avails you nothing,” said Blue Beard; “you must die.”

Charles-Perrault-Bluebeard-Les-Contes-de-Perrault-Gustave-Dore-4-1867-EcruThey plunged their swords through his body

Seizing her by the hair with one hand, and with the other brandishing the cutlass aloft, he made as if to cut off her head. The poor woman, turning towards him and fixing a dying gaze upon him, begged for a brief moment in which to collect her thoughts.

“No! no!” he cried; “commend your soul to Heaven.” And raising his arm

At this very moment there came so loud a knocking at the gate that Blue Beard stopped short. The gate was opened, and two horsemen dashed in, who drew their swords and rode straight at Blue Beard. The latter recognized them as the brothers of his wife—one of them a dragoon, and the other a musketeer—and fled instantly in an effort to escape. But the two brothers were so close upon him that they caught him ere he could gain the first flight of steps. They plunged their swords through his body and left him dead. The poor woman was nearly as dead as her husband, and had not the strength to rise and embrace her brothers.

It was found that Blue Beard had no heirs, and that consequently his wife became mistress of all his wealth. She devoted a portion to arranging a marriage between her sister Anne and a young gentleman with whom the latter had been for some time in love, while another portion purchased a captain’s commission for each of her brothers. The rest formed a dowry for her own marriage with a very worthy man, who banished from her mind all memory of the evil days she had spent with Blue Beard.


Ladies, you should never pry,—
You’ll repent it by and by!
‘Tis the silliest of sins;
Trouble in a trice begins.
There are, surely—more’s the woe
Lots of things you need not know.
Come, forswear it now and here—
Joy so brief that costs so dear!

Another Moral

You can tell this tale is old
By the very way it’s told.
Those were days of derring-do;
Man was lord, and master too.
Then the husband ruled as king.
Now it’s quite a different thing;
Be his beard what hue it may—
Madam has a word to say!

CInderella slipping her foot into the glass slipper, illustration by Charles Geraud, 1865

Cinderella by Charles Perrault

Cover for Les Contes Des Fees: En Prose En En Vers

Cover for Les Contes Des Fees:
En Prose Et En Vers

This version of Cinderella is included in my upcoming book, “Cinderella Through the Ages.” Join my mailing list to get the Kindle version for FREE!. (NOTE: If you use a different format for your eReader, download the Kindle version anyway, and send me message with the version you want, and I will send it to you.)

Many people think Charles Perrault is the actual “author” of Cinderella (at least those who don’t think it was Walt Disney.) It is true that his version is the first to have the elements we consider today as the Cinderella story, the closest to the version produced by Walt Disney in 1950, and the one that Disney DID use for his interpretation. But Perrault’s Cendrillon, or The Little Glass Slipper, was written in 1697, in French.

In 1921, a reprint of an 1888 version that recreated the French as closely as possible to the original French of Perrault was published, with a very long introduction and commentary, in English, by Andrew Lang, who collected and edited all the “Color” Fairy Books and who can be considered an expert Folklorist. I have included passages from Lang’s commentary on Cinderella by way of introduction to the story which follows, in which, three years before the published study by Marion Roalfe Cox that identified no less than “Three Hundred and Forty-Five Variants of Cinderella,” and many years before the development of an official classification system, Lang summarizes his own list of variants. A new facsimile of the 1921 book is available on Amazon, as well as online in text format courtesy of The Project Gutenburg. My remarks are in brackets [ ]; tooltips are bolded.

Do bear in mind that this was written almost 130 years ago, and beyond that, Lang makes use of several languages on his discussion. Nevertheless, his analysis is well worth reading for anyone interested in the folklore or historical aspects of the Cinderella story. Other readers may skip the discussion, and head right for the story.

From the Introduction by Andrew Lang

The stories of Charles Perrault are usually called ‘Fairy Tales,’ and they deserve the name more than most contes.  The Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, as will be discussed below, takes the part usually given, in traditional versions, to a cow, a sheep, or a dead mother who has some mystic connection with the beast.

The story of Cinderella (Cendrillon, Cucendron, Cendreusette, Sainte Rosette) is one of the most curious in the history of Märchen. Here we can distinctly see how the taste and judgment of Perrault altered an old and barbarous detail, and there, perhaps, we find the remains of a very ancient custom.

The Fairy-Godmother vs. the Friendly Beast

There are two points in Cinderella, and her cousin Peau d’Ane, [Donkey Skin,] particularly worth notice. First, there is the process by which the agency of a Fairy Godmother has been substituted for that of a friendly beast, usually a connection by blood-kindred of the hero or heroine. Secondly, there is the favouritism shown, in many versions, to the youngest child, and the custom which allots to this child a place by the hearth or in the cinders (Cucendron).

Taking the first incident, the appearance in Perrault of a Fairy Godmother in place of a friendly beast, we may remark that this kind of change is always characteristic of the promotion of a story. Just as Indian ‘aboriginal’ tribes cashier their beast-ancestors (‘Totems’) in favour of a human ancestor of a similar name, when they rise in civilisation, so the rôles which are filled by beasts in savage Märchen come to be assigned to men and women in the contes of more cultivated people. In Cinderella, however, the friendly beast holds its own more or less in nearly all European versions, except in those actually derived from Perrault. In every shape of the story known to us, the beast is a domesticated animal. Thus it will not be surprising if no native version is found in America, where animals, except dogs, were scarcely domesticated at all before the arrival of Europeans.

In examining the incident of the friendly and protecting beast, it may be well to begin with a remote and barbarous version, that of the Kaffirs. [The word kaffir is a derogatory term that was used in South Africa to refer to a black person. The word is derived from the Arabic term kafir, (meaning “disbeliever”), which originally had the meaning “one without (the Islam) religion”] Here, as in other cases, we may find one situation in a familiar story divorced from those which, as a general rule, are in its company. Theorists may argue either that the Kaffirs borrowed from Europeans one or two incidents out of a popular form of Cinderella, or that they happen to make use of an opinion common to most early peoples, the belief, namely, in the superhuman powers of friendly beast-protectors. As to borrowing, Europeans and Kaffirs have been in contact, though not very closely, for two hundred years. Among the neighbouring Zulus, Dr. Callaway found that Märchen were the special property of the most conservative class,—the old women. “It is not common to meet with a man who is willing to speak of them in any other way than as something which he has some dim recollection of having heard his grandmother relate[70].” Whether the traditional lore of savage grandmothers is likely to have been borrowed from Dutch or English settlers is a question that may be left to the reader.

The tale in which the friendly beast of European folklore occurs among the Kaffirs is The Wonderful Horns. As among the Santals (an ‘aboriginal’ hilltribe of India) we have a hero, not a heroine. “There was once a boy whose mother that bore him was dead, and who was ill-treated by his other mothers,” the Kaffirs being polygamous. He rode off on an ox given him by his father. The ox fought a bull and won. Food was supplied out of his right horn, and the ‘leavings’ (as in the Black Bull o’Norroway) were put into the left horn. In another fight the ox was killed, but his horns continued to be a magical source of supplies. A new mantle and handsome ornaments came out of them, and by virtue of this fairy splendour he won and wedded a very beautiful girl.

Here, it may be said, there is nothing of Cendrillon, except that rich garments, miraculously furnished, help to make a marriage; and that the person thus aided was the victim of a stepmother. No doubt this is not much, but we might sum up Cendrillon thus. The victim of a stepmother makes a great marriage by dint of goodly garments supernaturally provided.

In Cendrillon the recognition makes a great part of the interest. There is no recognition in the Kaffir legend, which is very short, being either truncated or undeveloped.

Let us now turn to the Santals, a remote and shy non-Aryan hill-tribe of India. Here we find the recognition, but in a form not only disappointing but almost cynical.

In the Santal story we have the cruel Stepmother, the hero,—not a heroine, but a boy,—the protecting and friendly Cow, the attempt to kill the Cow, the Flight, the great good-fortune of the hero, the Princess who falls in love with a lock of his hair, which is to play the part of Cinderella’s glass slipper in the ἀναγνὠρισις, and, finally, a cynically devised accident, by which the beauty of the hair is destroyed, and the hero’s chance of pleasing the princess perishes. It will be noticed that the use of a lock of hair floating down a river, to be fallen in love with and help the dénouement, is found, first, in the Egyptian conte of the Two Brothers, written down in the reign of Ramses II., fourteen hundred years before our era.

In that story, too, the hero has a friendly cow, which warns him when he is in danger of being murdered. But the Egyptian story has no other connection with Cendrillon[73]. The device of a floating lock of hair is not uncommon in Bengali Märchen.

From the Santals let us turn to another race, not so remote, but still non-Aryan, the Finns. That the Santals borrow Märchen from their Hinduised aboriginal neighbours is not certain, but is perfectly possible and even probable. Though some theorists have denied that races borrow nursery tales from each other, it is certain that Lönnrot, writing to Schiefner in 1855, mentions a Finnish fisher who, meeting Russian and Swedish fishers, ‘swopped stories’ with them when stormy weather made it impossible to put to sea. No doubt similar borrowings have always been going on when the peasantry on the frontiers met their neighbours, and where Kaffirs have taken Hottentot wives, or Sidonians have carried off Greek children as captives, in fact, all through the national and tribal meetings of the world.

The Wonderful Birch (Emmy Schreck, ix.) is a form of Cinderella from Russian Carelia. The story has a singularly dramatic and original opening. A man and his wife had but one daughter, and one Sheep. The Sheep wandered away, the woman sought him in the woods, and she met a witchwife. The witchwife turned the woman into the semblance of the Sheep, and herself took the semblance of the woman. She went to the woman’s house, where the husband thought he was welcoming his own wife and the sheep that was lost. The new and strange stepmother demanded the death of the Sheep, which was the real mother of the heroine. Warned by the Sheep, a black sheep, the daughter did not taste of her flesh, but gathered and buried the bones and fragments. Thence grew a beautiful birch tree. The man and the witchwife went to court, the witchwife leaving the girl to accomplish impossible tasks. The voice of the dead mother from the grave below the birch bade the girl break a twig from the tree, and therewith accomplish the tasks. Then out of the earth came beautiful raiment (as in Peau d’Ane), and the girl dressed, and went to court. The Prince falls in love with her, and detects her by means of her ring, which takes the part of the slipper. Then comes in the frequent formula of a false bride substituted by the witchwife, a number of trials, and the punishment of the witch.

Here, then, the friendly beast is but the Mother surviving in two shapes, first as a sheep, then as a tree, exactly the idea of the ancient Egyptian story of the Two Brothers, where Bitiou first becomes a bull, and then a persea tree[77]. In Finnish the Cinderella plot is fully developed. A similar tale, still with the beast in place of the Fairy Godmother, is quoted by Mr. Ralston from the Servian (Vuk Karajich, No. 32). Three maidens were spinning near a cleft in the ground, when an old man warned them not to let their spindles fall into the cleft, or their mother would be changed into a cow. Mara’s spindle fell in, and the mother instantly shared the fate of Io. Mara tended the cow that had been her mother lovingly, but the father married again, and the new wife drove Mara to dwell among the cinders (pepel), hence she was called Pepelluga, cinderwench[78]. The cruel Servian stepmother had the cow slain, but not before it had warned Mara to eat none of the kindred flesh [79], and to bury the bones in the ashes of the hearth. From these bones sprang two white doves, which supplied Mara with splendid raiment, and, finally, won for her the hand of the prince, after the usual incidents of the lost slipper, the attempt to substitute the stepmother’s ugly daughter, and the warning of the fowls, ‘Ki erike, the right maiden is under the trough.’

In a modern Greek variant (Hahn, ii.), the Mother (not in vaccine form) is eaten by her daughters, except the youngest, who refuses the hideous meal. The dead woman magically aids the youngest from her tomb, and the rest follows as usual, the slipper playing its accustomed part.

In Gaelic a persecuted stepdaughter is aided by a Ram. The Ram is killed, his bones are buried by his protégée, he comes to life again, but is lame, for his bones were not all collected, and he plays the part of Fairy Godmother[80].

Turning from the Gaelic to the Lowland Scotch, we find Rashin Coatie as a name under which either Peau d’Ane or Cendrillon may be narrated. We discovered Cendrillon as Rashin Coatie, in Morayshire[81]. Here a Queen does not become a cow, indeed, but dies, and leaves to her daughter a Red Calf, which aids her, till it is slain by a cruel stepmother.

The dead calfy said

Tak me up, bane by bane And pit me aneth yon grey stane,

and whatever you want, come and seek it frae me, and I will give you it.

The usual adventures of Cinderella ensue, the birds denouncing the False Bride, whose foot is pinched to make it fit the ‘beautiful satin slipper’ of the heroine.

In most of these versions the heroine is aided by a beast, and even when that beast is dead, it continues helpful, in one case actually coming to life again, like the ox in the South African Märchen.

In all these thoroughly popular and traditional tales, the supernatural machinery varies much from that of Perrault, who found Peau d’Ane ‘difficile à croire’ [hard to believe.]. But, in all the wilder tales, the machinery is exactly what we note in the myths and actual beliefs of the lower races. They do not shrink from the conception of a mother who becomes a cow (like Io), nor of a cow (as in the case of Heitsi Eibib among the Hottentots), who becomes the mother of human progeny. It is not unlikely that the Scotch mother, in Rashin Coatie, who bequeathes to her daughter a wonder-working calf (a cow in Sicily, Pitré, 41), is a modification of an idea like that of the cannibal Servian variant[83]. Then the Mouton of Madame d’Aulnoy seems like a courtly survival of the Celtic Sharp Grey Sheep mixed with the donnée of Beauty and the Beast[84]. The notion of helpful animals makes all the ‘Manitou’ element in Red Indian religion, and is common in Australia. The helpful calf, or sheep, bequeathed by the dying mother, reminds one of the equally helpful, but golden Ram, which aids Phrixus and Helle against their stepmother, after the death or deposition of their mother Nephele. This Ram also could speak,—

ἀλλἀ καὶ αὐδὴν

ἀνδρομέην προέηκε κακὸν τέρας [85].

This recalls not only the Celtic Sharp Grey Sheep, but also Madame d’Aulnoy and her princess, ‘je vous avoue que je ne suis pas accoutumée à vivre avec les moutons qui parlent.’

The older rural and popular forms of Cinderella, then, are full of machinery not only supernatural, but supernatural in a wild way: women become beasts, mothers are devoured by daughters (a thing that even Zulu fancy boggles at), life of beast or man is a separable thing, capable of continuing in lower forms. Thus we may conjecture that the ass’s skin worn by Peau d’Ane was originally the hide of a beast helpful to her, even connected, maybe, with her dead mother, and that the ass, like the cow, the calf, the sheep, and the doves of Märchen, befriended her, and clothed her in wondrous raiment.

For all these antique marvels Perrault, or the comparatively civilised tradition which Perrault followed, substituted, in Peau d’Ane, as in Cendrillon, the Christian conception of a Fairy Godmother. This substitute for more ancient and less speciosa miracula is confined to Perrault’s tales, and occurs nowhere in purely traditional Märchen. In these as in the widely diffused ballad of the Re-arisen Mother

‘Twas late in the night and the bairns grat, The Mother below the mouls heard that,—

the idea of a Mother’s love surviving her death inspires the legend, and, despite savage details, produces a touching effect (Ralston, Nineteenth Century, Nov. 1879, p. 839).

Another notable point in Cinderella is the preference shown, as usual, to the youngest child. Cinderella, to be sure, is a stepchild, and therefore interesting; but it is no great stretch of conjecture to infer that she may have originally been only the youngest child of the house. The nickname which connects her with the fireside and the ashes is also given, in one form or another, to the youngest son (Sir George Dasent, for some reason, calls him ‘Boots’) in Scandinavian tales. Cinderella, like the youngest son, is taunted with sitting in the ashes of the hearth. This notion declares itself in the names Cucendron, Aschenpüttel, Ventafochs, Pepelluga, Cernushka[86], all of them titles implying blackness, chiefly from contact with cinders. It has frequently been suggested that the success of the youngest child in fairy tales is a trace of the ideas which prevailed when Jüngsten-Recht, ‘Junior-Right’ or Borough English, was a prevalent custom of inheritance[87]. The invisible Bridegroom, of the Zulu Märchen, is in hiding under a snake’s skin, because he was the youngest, and his jealous brethren meant to kill him, for he would be the heir. It was therefore the purpose of his brethren to slay the young child in the traditional Zulu way, that is, to avoid the shedding of ‘kindred blood’ by putting a clod of earth in his mouth. Bishop Callaway gives the parallel Hawaian case of Waikelenuiaiku. The Polynesian case of Hatupati is also adduced. In Grimm’s Golden Bird the jealousy is provoked, not by the legal rights of the youngest, but by his skill and luck. The idea of fraternal jealousy, with the ‘nice opening for a young man,’ which it discovered (like Joseph’s brethren) in a pit, occurs in Peruvian myth as reported by Cieza de Leon (Chronicles of the Yncas, Second Part). The diffusion of Jüngsten-Recht, or Maineté, the inheritance by the youngest, has been found by Mr. Elton among Ugrians, in Hungary, in Slavonic communities, in Central Asia, on the confines of China, in the mountains of Arracan, in Friesland, in Germany, in Celtic countries. In Scandinavia Liebrecht adduces the Edda, ‘der jüngste Sohn Jarl’s der erste König ist.’ Albericus Trium Fontium mentions Prester John, ‘qui cum fratrum suorum minimus esset, omnibus praepositus est.’ In Hesiod we meet droit de juveignerie, as he makes Zeus the youngest of the Cronidae, while Homer, making Zeus the eldest, is all for primogeniture (Elton, Origins of English History, ch. viii. Liebrecht, Zur Volkskunde).

The authorities quoted raise a presumption that Jüngsten-Recht, an old and widely diffused law, might have left a trace on myth and Märchen. If Jüngsten-Recht were yielding place to primogeniture, if the elders were using their natural influence to secure advantages, then the youngest child, still heir by waning custom, would doubtless suffer a good deal of persecution. It may have been in this condition of affairs that the myths of the brilliant triumph of the rightful but despised heir, Cinderella, or Boots, were developed.

On the other hand, it is obvious that the necessities of fiction demand examples of failure in the adventures, to heighten the effect of the final success. Now the failures might have begun with the youngest, and the eldest might be the successful hero. But that would have reversed the natural law by which the eldest goes first out into danger. Moreover, the nursery audience of a conte de nourrice is not prejudiced in favour of the Big but of the Little Brother.

These simple facts of everyday life, rather than some ancient custom of inheritance, may be the cause of the favouritism always shown to the youngest son or daughter. (Compare Ralston, Russian Folk Tales, p. 81. The idea of jealousy of the youngest brother, mixed up with a miscellaneous assortment of motifs of folk tales, occurs in Katha-sarit-sagara, ch. xxxix.)

Against the notion that the successful youngest son or daughter of the contes is a descendant of the youngest child who is heir by droit de juveignerie, it has been urged that the hero, if the heir, would ‘not start from the dust-bin and the coal-hole.’ But if his heirship were slipping from him, as has been suggested, the ashes of the hearth are just what he would start from. The ‘coal-hole,’ of course, is a modern innovation. The hearth is the recognised legal position of the youngest child in Gavel-kind. ‘Et la mesuage seit autreci entre eux departi, mes le Astre demorra al puné (ou al punée)[88].’ In short, ‘the Hearth-place shall belong to the youngest,’ and as far as forty feet round it. After that the eldest has the first choice, and the others in succession according to age. The Custumal of Kent of the thirteenth century is the authority.

These rules of inheritance show, at least (and perhaps at most), a curious coincidence between the tales which describe the youngest child as always busy with the hearth, and the custom which bequeaths the hearth (astre) to the youngest child. To prove anything it would be desirable to show that this rule of Gavel-kind once prevailed in all the countries where the name of the heroine corresponds in meaning to Cendrillon.

The attention of mythologists has long been fixed on the slipper of Cinderella. There seems no great mystery in the Prince’s proposal to marry the woman who could wear the tiny mule. It corresponds to the advantages which, when the hero is a man, attend him who can bend the bow, lift the stone, draw the sword, or the like. In a woman’s case it is beauty, in a man’s strength, that is to be tested. Whether the slipper were of verre or of vair is a matter of no moment. The slipper is of red satin in Madame d’Aulnoy’s Finette Cendron, and of satin in Rashin Coatie. The Egyptian king, in Strabo and Ælian, merely concluded that the loser of the slipper must be a pretty woman, because she certainly had a pretty foot. The test of fitting the owner recurs in Peau d’Ane, where a ring, not a slipper, is the object, as in the Finnish Wonderful Birch tree.

M. de Gubernatis takes a different view of Cinderella’s slipper. The Dawn, it appears, in the Rig Veda is said to leave no footsteps behind her (apad). This naturally identifies her with Cinderella, who not only leaves footsteps, probably, but one of her slippers. M. de Gubernatis reasons that apad ‘may mean, not only she who has no feet, but also she who has no footsteps … or again, she who has no slippers, the aurora having, as it appears, lost them…. The legend of the lost slipper … seems to me to repose entirely upon the double meaning of the word apad, i.e. who has no foot, or what is the measure of the foot, which may be either the footstep or the slipper….’ (Zoolog. Myth. i. 31). M. de Gubernatis adds that ‘Cinderella, when she loses the slipper, is overtaken by the prince bridegroom.’ The point of the whole story lies in this, of course, that she is not overtaken. Had she been overtaken, there would have been no need for the trial with the slipper (op. cit. i. 161). M. de Gubernatis, in this passage, makes the overtaking of Cinderella serve his purpose as proof; on p. 31 he derives part of his proof from the statement (correct this time) that Cinderella is not overtaken, ‘because a chariot bears her away.’ Another argument is that the dusky Cinderella is only brilliantly clad ‘in the Prince’s ball-room, or in church, in candle-light, and near the Prince,—the aurora is beautiful only when the sun is near.’ Is the sun the candle-light, and is the Prince also the sun? If a lady is only belle à la chandelle, what has the Dawn to do with that?

M. André Lefèvre calls M. de Gubernatis’s theory quelque peu aventureuse (Les Contes de Charles Perrault, p. lxxiv), and this cannot be thought a severe criticism. If we supposed the story to have arisen out of an epithet of Dawn, in Sanskrit, the other incidents of the tale, and their combination into a fairly definite plot, and the wide diffusion of that plot among peoples whose ancestors assuredly never spoke Sanskrit, would all need explanation.

In Perrault’s Cinderella, we have not the adventure of the False or Substituted Bride, which usually swells out this and many other contes, and which, indeed, is apparently brought in by popular conteurs, whenever the tale is a little short. Thus it frequently winds up the story which Perrault gives so briefly as Les Fées. Among the Zulus[89], the Birds of the Thorn country warn the bridegroom that he has the wrong girl,—she is a beast (mbulu) in Zululand. The birds give the warning in Rashin Coatie[90], and birds take the same part in Swedish, Russian, German, but a dog plays the rôle in Breton (Reinhold Köhler, op. cit. p. 373). In a song of Fauriel’s Chansons Romaiques the birds warn the girl that she is riding with a corpse. Birds give the warning in Gaelic (Campbell, No. 14).

Perrault did more than suppress the formula of the False Bride. By an artistic use of his Fairy Godmother he gave Cinderella her excellent reason for leaving the ball, not because cupit ipsa videri, but in obedience to the fairy dame. He made Cinderella forgive her stepsisters, and get them good marriages, in place of punishing them, as even Psyche does so treacherously in Apuleius, and as the wild justice of folk tales usually determines their doom. An Italian Cinderella breaks her stepmother’s neck with the lid of a chest. But Cendrillon ‘douce et bonne au début reste jusqu’à la fin douce et bonne’ (Deulin, Contes de Ma Mère l’Oye, p. 286). These are examples of Perrault’s refined way of treating the old tales. But in his own country there survives a version of Cendrillon in which a Blue Bull, not a Fairy Godmother, helps the heroine. From the ear of the Bull, as from his horn in Kaffir lore, the heroine draws her supplies. She is Jaquette de Bois, and reminds us of Katie Wooden cloak. Her mother is dead, but the Bull is not said to have been the mother in bestial form. (Sébillot, Contes Pop. de la Haute Bretagne, Charpentier, Paris, 1880, p. 15). In these versions the formula of Cendrillon shifts into that of The Black Bull o’ Norroway.


The version presented here is the translation by A. E. Johnson, which many consider to come the closest to the nuances of Perrault, himself. This one comes from Old-Time Stories, published in 1921, but the first release with his translations was much earlier. The images are by illustrator, Gustave Doré, one of the most acclaimed illustrators of the time. I have left the spelling, which is English rather than American, as it was, as well as most of the punctuation, changing only single quotes for speech to double quotes.

Cendrillon, by Charles Perrault

Once upon a time there was a worthy man who married for his second wife the haughtiest, proudest woman that had ever been seen. She had two daughters, who possessed their mother’s temper and resembled her in everything. Her husband, on the other hand, had a young daughter, who was of an exceptionally sweet and gentle nature. She got this from her mother, who had been the nicest person in the world.

The wedding was no sooner over than the stepmother began to display her bad temper. She could not endure the excellent qualities of this young girl, for they made her own daughters appear more hateful than ever. She thrust upon her all the meanest tasks about the house. It was she who had to clean the plates and the stairs, and sweep out the rooms of the mistress of the house and her daughters. She slept on a wretched mattress in a garret at the top of the house, while the sisters had rooms with parquet flooring, and beds of the most fashionable style, with mirrors in which they could see themselves from top to toe.

The poor girl endured everything patiently, not daring to complain to her father. The latter would have scolded her, because he was entirely ruled by his wife. When she had finished her work she used to sit amongst the cinders in the corner of the chimney, and it was from this habit that she came to be commonly known as Cinder-slut. The younger of the two sisters, who was not quite so spiteful as the elder, called her Cinderella. But her wretched clothes did not prevent Cinderella from being a hundred times more beautiful than her sisters, for all their resplendent garments.

It happened that the king’s son gave a ball, and he invited all persons of high degree. The two young ladies were invited amongst others, for they cut a considerable figure in the country. Not a little pleased were they, and the question of what clothes and what mode of dressing the hair would become them best took up all their time. And all this meant fresh trouble for Cinderella, for it was she who went over her sisters’ linen and ironed their ruffles. They could talk of nothing else but the fashions in clothes.

“For my part,” said the elder, “I shall wear my dress of red velvet, with the Honiton lace.”

“I have only my everyday petticoat,” said the younger, “but to make up for it I shall wear my cloak with the golden flowers and my necklace of diamonds, which are not so bad.”

They sent for a good hairdresser to arrange their double-frilled caps, and bought patches at the best shop.
They summoned Cinderella and asked her advice, for she had good taste. Cinderella gave them the best possible suggestions, and even offered to dress their hair, to which they gladly agreed.

While she was thus occupied they said:
“Cinderella, would you not like to go to the ball?”

“Ah, but you fine young ladies are laughing at me. It would be no place for me.”
‘That is very true, people would laugh to see a cinder-slut in the ballroom.”

Any one else but Cinderella would have done their hair amiss, but she was good-natured, and she finished them off to perfection. They were so excited in their glee that for nearly two days they ate nothing. They broke more than a dozen laces through drawing their stays tight in order to make their waists more slender, and they were perpetually in front of a mirror.

At last the happy day arrived. Away they went, Cinderella watching them as long as she could keep them in sight. When she could no longer see them she began to cry. Her godmother found her in tears, and asked what was troubling her.
“I should like—I should like——”

She was crying so bitterly that she could not finish the sentence.

Said her godmother, who was a fairy:

“You would like to go to the ball, would you not?”

“Ah, yes,” said Cinderella, sighing.

“Well, well,” said her godmother, “promise to be a good girl and I will arrange for you to go.”

She took Cinderella into her room and said:

“Go into the garden and bring me a pumpkin.”

Cinderella went at once and gathered the finest that she could find. This she brought to her godmother, wondering how a pumpkin could help in taking her to the ball.

Her godmother scooped it out, and when only the rind was left, struck it with her wand. Instantly the pumpkin was changed into a beautiful coach, gilded all over.
Then she went and looked in the mouse-trap, where she found six mice all alive. She told Cinderella to lift the door of the mouse-trap a little, and as each mouse came out she gave it a tap with her wand, whereupon it was transformed into a fine horse. So that here was a fine team of six dappled mouse-grey horses.

But she was puzzled to know how to provide a coachman.

“I will go and see,” said Cinderella, “if there is not a rat in the rat-trap. We could make a coachman of him.”

“Quite right,” said her godmother, “go and see.”

Cinderella brought in the rat-trap, which contained three big rats. The fairy chose one specially on account of his elegant whiskers.

As soon as she had touched him he turned into a fat coachman with the finest moustachios that ever were seen.

“Now go into the garden and bring me the six lizards which you will find behind the water-butt.”

No sooner had they been brought than the godmother turned them into six lackeys, who at once climbed up behind the coach in their braided liveries, and hung on there as if they had never done anything else all their lives.

Then said the fairy godmother:

“Well, there you have the means of going to the ball. Are you satisfied?”

“Oh, yes, but am I to go like this in my ugly clothes?”

Her godmother merely touched her with her wand, and on the instant her clothes were changed into garments of gold and silver cloth, bedecked with jewels. After that her godmother gave her a pair of glass slippers, the prettiest in the world.

Thus altered, she entered the coach. Her godmother bade her not to stay beyond midnight whatever happened, warning her that if she remained at the ball a moment longer, her coach would again become a pumpkin, her horses mice, and her lackeys lizards, while her old clothes would reappear upon her once more.

She promised her godmother that she would not fail to leave the ball before midnight, and away she went, beside herself with delight.

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The king’s son, when he was told of the arrival of a great princess whom nobody knew, went forth to receive her. He handed her down from the coach, and led her into the hall where the company was assembled. At once there fell a great silence. The dancers stopped, the violins played no more, so rapt was the attention which everybody bestowed upon the superb beauty of the unknown guest. Everywhere could be heard in confused whispers:

“Oh, how beautiful she is!”

The king, old man as he was, could not take his eyes off her, and whispered to the queen that it was many a long day since he had seen any one so beautiful and charming.

All the ladies were eager to scrutinise her clothes and the dressing of her hair, being determined to copy them on the morrow, provided they could find materials so fine, and tailors so clever.

The king’s son placed her in the seat of honour, and at once begged the privilege of being her partner in a dance. Such was the grace with which she danced that the admiration of all was increased.

A magnificent supper was served, but the young prince could eat nothing, so taken up was he with watching her. She went and sat beside her sisters, and bestowed numberless attentions upon them. She made them share with her the oranges and lemons which the king had given her—greatly to their astonishment, for they did not recognise her.

While they were talking, Cinderella heard the clock strike a quarter to twelve. She at once made a profound curtsey to the company, and departed as quickly as she could.

As soon as she was home again she sought out her godmother, and having thanked her, declared that she wished to go upon the morrow once more to the ball, because the king’s son had invited her.

While she was busy telling her godmother all that had happened at the ball, her two sisters knocked at the door. Cinderella let them in.
“What a long time you have been in coming!” she declared, rubbing her eyes and stretching herself as if she had only just awakened. In real truth she had not for a moment wished to sleep since they had left.

“If you had been at the ball,” said one of the sisters, “you would not be feeling weary. There came a most beautiful princess, the most beautiful that has ever been seen, and she bestowed numberless attentions upon us, and gave us her oranges and lemons.”
Cinderella was overjoyed. She asked them the name of the princess, but they replied that no one knew it, and that the king’s son was so distressed that he would give anything in the world to know who she was.

Cinderella smiled, and said she must have been beautiful indeed.

“Oh, how lucky you are. Could I not manage to see her? Oh, please, Javotte, lend me the yellow dress which you wear every day.”
“Indeed!” said Javotte, “that is a fine idea. Lend my dress to a grubby cinder-slut like you—you must think me mad!”

Cinderella had expected this refusal. She was in no way upset, for she would have been very greatly embarrassed had her sister been willing to lend the dress.The next day the two sisters went to the ball, and so did Cinderella, even more splendidly attired than the first time.
The king’s son was always at her elbow, and paid her endless compliments.

The young girl enjoyed herself so much that she forgot her godmother’s bidding completely, and when the first stroke of midnight fell upon her ears, she thought it was no more than eleven o’clock.

She rose and fled as nimbly as a fawn. The prince followed her, but could not catch her. She let fall one of her glass slippers, however, and this the prince picked up with tender care.

When Cinderella reached home she was out of breath, without coach, without lackeys, and in her shabby clothes. Nothing remained of all her splendid clothes save one of the little slippers, the fellow to the one which she had let fall.

Inquiries were made of the palace doorkeepers as to whether they had seen a princess go out, but they declared they had seen no one leave except a young girl, very ill-clad, who looked more like a peasant than a young lady.

When her two sisters returned from the ball, Cinderella asked them if they had again enjoyed themselves, and if the beautiful lady had been there. They told her that she was present, but had fled away when midnight sounded, and in such haste that she had let fall one of her little glass slippers, the prettiest thing in the world. They added that the king’s son, who picked it up, had done nothing but gaze at it for the rest of the ball, from which it was plain that he was deeply in love with its beautiful owner.

They spoke the truth. A few days later, the king’s son caused a proclamation to be made by trumpeters, that he would take for wife the owner of the foot which the slipper would fit.

They tried it first on the princesses, then on the duchesses and the whole of the Court, but in vain. Presently they brought it to the home of the two sisters, who did all they could to squeeze a foot into the slipper. This, however, they could not manage.

Cinderella was looking on and recognised her slipper:

“Let me see,” she cried, laughingly, “if it will not fit me.”

Her sisters burst out laughing, and began to gibe at her, but the equerry who was trying on the slipper looked closely at Cinderella. Observing that she was very beautiful he declared that the claim was quite a fair one, and that his orders were to try the slipper on every maiden. He bade Cinderella sit down, and on putting the slipper to her little foot he perceived that the latter slid in without trouble, and was moulded to its shape like wax.
Great was the astonishment of the two sisters at this, and greater still when Cinderella drew from her pocket the other little slipper. This she likewise drew on.
At that very moment her godmother appeared on the scene. She gave a tap with her wand to Cinderella’s clothes, and transformed them into a dress even more magnificent than her previous ones.
The two sisters recognised her for the beautiful person whom they had seen at the ball, and threw themselves at her feet, begging her pardon for all the ill-treatment she had suffered at their hands.

Cinderella raised them, and declaring as she embraced them that she pardoned them with all her heart, bade them to love her well in future.
She was taken to the palace of the young prince in all her new array. He found her more beautiful than ever, and was married to her a few days afterwards.
Cinderella was as good as she was beautiful. She set aside apartments in the palace for her two sisters, and married them the very same day to two gentlemen of high rank about the Court.

Moral: Beauty in a woman is a rare treasure that will always be admired. Graciousness, however, is priceless and of even greater value. This is what Cinderella’s godmother gave to her when she taught her to behave like a queen. Young women, in the winning of a heart, graciousness is more important than a beautiful hairdo. It is a true gift of the fairies. Without it nothing is possible; with it, one can do anything.

Another moral: Without doubt it is a great advantage to have intelligence, courage, good breeding, and common sense. These, and similar talents come only from heaven, and it is good to have them. However, even these may fail to bring you success, without the blessing of a godfather or a godmother.