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.
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.
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 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.
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.