Austen · Cinderella · Historical · NovElla

Jane Austen’s Cinderella Obsession

Jane Austen Portrait

Did Jane Austen write a story about Cinderella?

Well, not exactly; but I love connecting two of my favorite topics together! Arguably, all of Austen’s most popular works have at least one Cinderella element in them: every heroine marries a man of greater wealth. Although not always her social superior, the male lead is often a financial savior, the same as in many versions of Cinderella. Even Emma Woodhouse, who loses her mother in Cinderella-fashion, becomes engaged to the one man in Highbury with a larger fortune than herself. To go even further, the Dashwood sisters actually have their very own self-serving stepbrother.

Glass Slipper

However, of Austen’s novels, two stand out as the most Cinderella-esque: Mansfield Park and Persuasion.

Let’s start with Persuasion: Anne’s mother has passed away and she has two horrible sisters. Anne takes care of the work, i.e. visiting the poor, managing money, etc. (Austen never has her characters’ tasks drop below those appropriate for the gentry in Regency England.) Although originally wealthy, the Elliots also enter financially straightened circumstances. Hence, Cinderella has her fall.

For those of you who know the story, could Lady Russell function as the stepmother? Is Mrs. Croft Anne’s fairy godmother? There are so many interpretation possibilities with retellings!

Captain Wentworth is certainly the navy-ranked ‘prince’ of Persuasion. Although the storyline does not follow the Cinderella tale closely, it still ends with the couple’s mutual discovery of each other’s affection. In this case, the pen turns out to be mightier than the slipper.

Anne Elliot
Persuasion, Ch 21: Anne Elliot with a letter from Mr Elliot by C. E. Brock

 

Fanny Price is the poor relation in Mansfield Park. Taken from her family, she is at the mercy of her Aunt Norris, not unlike any Cinderella with a wicked stepmother. Her cousins, Maria and Julia Bertram, act very convincingly in the roles of evil stepsisters.

Fanny and Aunt Norris
Fanny working diligently for her Aunt Norris

Fanny even goes to the ball: her coming-out birthday celebration. Here especially, the roguish Henry Crawford muddles the Cinderella storyline, but Prince Charming recognizes her pure heart in the end. If this were a standard retelling, perhaps Henry Crawford would be the intended prince! Discover more possibilities in this article about fairytales and folklore in Mansfield Park.

Fanny at Her Ball

Do these Cinderella elements make us love Jane Austen’s novels all the more? I’m not suggesting Austen deliberately incorporated Cinderella, or any other fairy tale, into her writing. With so many versions in folklore, it may be hard to avoid the parallels! Still, I think the similarities highlight the ubiquitous presence of these themes, especially the rags-to-riches archetype.

 

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7 thoughts on “Jane Austen’s Cinderella Obsession

  1. There definitely a reason that these Cinderella archetypes are seen in so many cultures and so many time periods. I never thought of seeing the similarities in Jane Austen. It’s funny that Persuasion is my favorite Austen, and Mansfield Park is my least favorite. But I like your points for both of them, I can definitely see the elements!

  2. The fantasy theme of Cinderella possibly stays because the variety of story, oral, written and or collected brings cultural ideals to the child, the tales told to the young often stay with the individuals until such a time that they experience the differences in the historical Cinderella from different regions and eras? The travel bug inspired by the wandering character, Cinderella, with a variety of names, one traveler tells the story to others in a neighboring village and the relay orally, printed woven into a tale of marvels and magic, cruelty and wisdom the Cinder girl or boy wears many wondrous costumes from the regions the story travels to and from. And in my childhood, Northern European fairy tales were read when 3 years of age and my brother and sister. Textiles with stories printed on the fabric made into a dress, embroidered handkerchief and pillow cases, dolls that were named by the company “walking dolls” had wonderful Cinderella costumes to wear. So how the story unravels into the USA modernistic dystopian novels, ballets with scenes of beauty this is just the beginning? Thanks for a good discussion set here. You definitely have a wonderful topic, well done. atk

    1. That is so true! Cinderella has such widespread popularity, everyone can relate to the story. I agree there’s an anthropological aspect to how the fairy tale is expressed in different societies.
      Thanks for sharing!

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