Can Cinderella stories still work?

There are a million historical romances that could be considered Cinderella-ish. Everywhere you go in the genre you find governesses being swept off their feet by earls, and lowly serving girls who turn out to be secret daughters of dukes.

But how about actual Cinderella stories?

My main problem with Cinderella is that it basically relies on misogyny to get its point across. There are no bad men in Cinderella, only mean, jealous, and downright evil women who are countered by overly sweet and kind “good women”. It’s the women of the tale who try to ruin Cinderella’s life, and it’s women in the story who fight over a man.

01-lily-james-cinderella Richard Madden Prince

For all its criticisms of being outdated and the protagonist being too stereotypically feminine (shock, horror!), I think the recent Disney movie pulled off something a little deeper than that. Cate Blanchett’s stepmother was a more complex character than just being evil for no particular reason. But the movie still has the problems that come with packaging women into “good” and “bad” boxes.

Cate Blanchett in Cinderella

I recently had my hands on a review copy of The Cinderella Governess by Georgie Lee. The Cinderella name is right there in the title, and I was interested to see how the theme would be handled.

The Cinderella Governess (The Governess Tales #1) by Georgie Lee

I love the Harlequin/Mills and Boon historical line; it is probably the strongest line the publisher produces, and it easily outdoes most other publishers producing historical romance – despite the negative stereotypes too many readers attach to Harlequin books.

I thought that if anybody was going to produce a decent historical romance with a Cinderella theme, Harlequin Historical would.

Instead, I was treated to all the misogynistic stereotyping I would expect from Twilight fan fiction.

Harlequin usually gets their covers surprisingly correct. They take character descriptions into consideration. However, this heroine is a redhead, not blonde – and this is an important factor in the book.

Because the author trots out blonde woman after blonde teen after blonde girl – and demonises them. In true Twilight style, all blondes are beautiful, jealous, self-absorbed bitches – for no reason. In fact, one blonde teen is even referred to as a harlot!

Brunettes are downtrodden.

And our redhead heroine is special.

I’ll admit: I didn’t finish the book. I guess I’ve read one too many books like this recently.

I like the IDEA of the Cinderella theme in historical – or any – romance, but perhaps we could start tackling it without making all other women out to be enemies.

9 thoughts on “Can Cinderella stories still work?

  1. Have you read Ember by Bettie Sharpe? By far the best retelling of Cinderella in romance that I’ve read, and she upends pretty much all the stereotypes you mention here.

      1. Let me know what you think if I do end up reading it. I’m not actually sure if she’s still writing (at least under that pseudonym).

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  4. Sarah Lea Stories

    The live version of Cinderella had a lot more depth than the animated version, especially when it came to the prince. And my daughter LOVES “Lavender’s Blue,” as do I.

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