Friday, January 11, 2013

Cinderella Type: ATU 510B Peau d’Ane

The second Cinderella tale type in Cinderella Tales From Around the World is ATU 510B Peau d’Ane.

This is the tale type that shocks and awes, really. At first glance, it doesn't seem like a Cinderella tale at all. But it is! The elements are all there. And, when you start reading dozens and dozens of these, the elements cross contaminate between this tale type and ATU 510A to the point where it is hard at times to designate a tale as one or the other. This is true of all the Cinderella tale types, actually.

From the introduction:

ATU 510B Peau d’Ane
(The Dress of Gold, of Silver, and of Stars [Cap o’ Rushes])

Again, perhaps the best known version of this tale comes from Perrault, Peau d'Ane (Donkeyskin), published around the same time as his Cinderella. However, the English Catskin and the German Allerleirauh (All-Kinds-Of-Fur) are nearly as well known. The tale used to more widely known but has been ignored or rewritten in recent times to suppress the incest themes.

A father, usually a king, promises his dying wife to marry only someone as beautiful as her or someone who can wear her ring. The father searches everywhere and discovers his daughter is the only one who fulfills the stipulation. He declares he will marry her. Upon the advice of a helper, she demands impossible items before she will marry him, hoping to delay or prevent the wedding. The first is a dress like the sun (gold), the second a dress like the moon (silver), and the third a dress like the stars (diamonds). Finally she demands a cloak made of the king’s prize donkey which defecates gold or a similar outfit of animal skin which will provide a disgusting disguise for her escape and concealment. Once all of these are provided, she runs away with all of the garments and seeks employment as a servant in another kingdom while wearing the cloak of skins. The girl is considered one of the lowliest servants and is abused by the prince as she performs tasks for him. She secretly attends feasts or church wearing her beautiful dresses, causing the prince to fall in love with her. When asked from whence she comes, she gives mysterious answers that reference the abuse he dealt her, such as “Comb-throw.” He gives her a ring or other token and she disappears. When the prince grows inconsolably sick with love, the woman prepares him food with the token hidden within. He recognizes the token, reveals her true identity, and then they are married.
So this tale involves incest and abuse and occasionally dealings with the devil. Uusally Donkeyskin escapes before the wedding to her father (or brother!), but on rare occasion, she doesn't. She wears smelly clothes made of skins, from cats to mice to louse to donkeys. She is abused by her future husband, too.

An important point here is that this Cinderella isn't passive. She seeks advice and takes it, but she isn't rescued. She makes hard, moral decisions, suffers the bad choices of others, although it's hard to think of her as a victim, and eventually triumphs. Triumphs with achieving a royal marriage, that is, even if her future husband likes to throw things at her. So you decide if that is a happy ending... Although, to be fair, there is the sense that she won't suffer that treatment once her royal status is revealed. Or so we hope.

These are not comfortable tales and it is not surprising that they have lesser visibility in modern times. But the tale has a rich, long history, and used to be better known in popular culture. Chapbook versions abound, for example. And in France, where Perrault's tales are all golden, the tale has not been suppressed as it has been since the Victorian age in English speaking countries. One of the cult classic films in France is a retelling of the tale. And so French children are more familiar with the tale, with toys, picture books and even jewelry to be found with the theme.

And Cinderella Tales From Around the World offers over 110 variants of the tale. I'll be sharing some of my favorites in the coming days.

1 comment:

  1. Just got up to that section in your book. I usually prefer the versions where the prince or future husband doesn't abuse the heroine. My favorite version so far is "Maria Wood" from Italy in which the bridegroom is the devil, and the king who befriends her is really nice and not a jerk.