Cinderella · Historical · NovElla

Louisa May Alcott’s Modern Cinderella

Do you like modern retellings of your favorite timeworn tales? The short story, A Modern Cinderella, Or The Little Old Shoe, was considered an “updated” version by author Louisa May Alcott — in 1860! Which means, to us, it’s now historical. That makes the story a fantastic mix between the American lifestyle in the late 19th century and the Cinderella folktale.

A Modern Cinderella

Louisa May Alcott (1832 – 1888) lived through her own rags-to-riches story. Her father, Bronson Alcott, was highly idealistic, often to the point of disdaining to work for a living. The generosity of close family-friend Ralph Waldo Emerson was instrumental in the Alcott family’s survival. Through her writings, such as the classic Little Women, Louisa May Alcott was able to earn a comfortable living, and support her relatives, all by herself— no Prince Charming required!

Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott

Luckily for us, she still chose to create her own version of Cinderella. Louisa May Alcott penned  A Modern Cinderella near the beginning of her career, several years before Little Women was published. True to her American heritage, there is no one of actual royalty among the characters. The princely hero is identified by his integrity.

Cinderella herself is Nan (nickname for Anne or Anna), and she’s taken over her dead mother’s responsibilities. Nan’s real sisters, Di and Laura, are lazy at first, but they begin learning from their sister’s good example during the story.

And the slipper? Is it glass? Is it gold? Neither—it really is just an old shoe, thrown “after him for luck… Only that, and nothing more.”

Alcott's Chirstmas Treasury

Louisa May Alcott also wrote a large number of stories that center around Christmas. Several of them refer to Cinderella, such as Becky’s Christmas Dream and The Quiet Little Woman. The references occur when the main character, a servant girl, is left behind while the family she serves goes visiting for Christmas revelries. In these cases, a helpful “fairy godmother” stand-in, or a talking animal, helps her to see that she can aspire to be content as a devoted servant. I don’t know about you, but I think that stops a little short of the princess fairytale ending that’s expected today. These references by Alcott fall into the tradition that has occurred throughout history: taking the Cinderella story and altering it to set forth an ideal or a moral consistent with the expectations of the time.

Happy Holidays!


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