Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Story: Cinderella, Humble, Haughty Child

This short story was recommended to me by T.H. Enerdly. It comes from a 1999 book called "Inverted Odysseys" (affiliate link), which, among other things, includes this "pervered" version of Cinderella written by the Surrealist artist and photographer Claude Cahun.

Strictly, this is not a lady2maid story, but comes pretty close, suggesting themes of self-imposed downgrade. I hope it's to your liking.


“She let fall one of her glass slippers,
which the Prince carefully picked up.”

Perrault


My father remarried and I was very happy about it all. I’d always dreamed of having a stepmother. But heaven overwhelmed me, giving me two sisters by marriage. They were deliciously cruel. I especially loved the elder, who despised me delightfully: When she saw me always sitting in the cinders by the fireplace, whose warmth penetrated me with delight (sometimes even burning me), did her dear familiar voice not call me Kitchenella? Never was a word so sweet to my ears.


Sadly, they were pretty girls, marriageable maidens; they left us soon, leaving me with my parents, who, devoted to one another, regarded the world with a drunkard’s tenderness—and included me in their superb universal indifference. I will do anything to avoid a marriage like that . . . But how would I do it? I with my loving nature, and so submissive? . . .


Moreover, I was feeling my pleasure diminishing day by day, and my feelings of ecstasy growing weak. I understood the reason for it (being devoted, for lack of anything better, to solitary reveries, I reflected a great deal on it): Such pleasures grow dull from force of habit. I was too lowly at present, too humiliated, to enjoy, vigorously, my daily humiliation. One has to climb up on the shores, on a high bank, to plunge again into the infinite sea of human pleasures. Daughter of a king, ah! if I were queen! . . . To wed, publicly to wed, the lowliest of my vassals, to make it seem that he forced me to abdicate, he mistreated me, he preferred the chattel of his village to me! . . . How to make such fantasies real?


My very wise godmother, Fairy Godmother, to whom I confessed my desires, came to my rescue. She knew our Prince very well (once upon a time, she’d assisted at his baptism), and revealed to me by which curious particularities one could seduce him: He had a passion for women’s shoes. To touch them; to kiss them; to let himself be trampled underneath their charming heels (pointed heels painted scarlet to look like splashes of blood); it is a modest joy that he has sought since he was a child. On this, though, the ladies of the court have not satisfied him: clumsy and timid, afraid of harming the heir to the throne, they dressed up in slippers. And, fearing he would kiss them in a vulgar manner, with every sign of respect they raised a foot up to his august but bitter mouth with its fixed smile . . . For this royal lover one must be the haughty mistress, the pitiless dominatrix in hard heels, someone I could be—I who understand! . . .


“Godmother, you demand the most terrible sacrifice of me! This man is the opposite of what my heart wants.”


—“I know that very well, my little one. But there’s a reason. Every sacrifice has its own reward: You will feel in playing your part an emotion more profound than those you’ve so far known all too well. But blasé Cinderella, believe me: the most acute sweetness on earth (for you, the most vivid happiness) is to oppose this instinct, to violate and to chastise by turns.”


Persuaded by my good godmother, I accepted her presents: three pairs of gray horses the color of cinders, a carriage, a coachman, six footmen; clothes of velvet and gold, dainty delicate slippers of squirrel fur (he adores fur) that she entrusted specially to me. . . .


She recommended that I be proud and fierce, as mysterious as the ideal, and to flee without fail on the stroke of midnight, the second night losing (but in full view of the Prince, who would be following me), my little left slipper. (I have such small and compact feet, they seem stunted—because I regularly squeeze them into a vise of stiff linen and rigid lace, as the Chinese do. This exquisite, and habitual, torture fills me with pleasure . . . )


I obey. I saw the Prince, yesterday, and he importuned me vociferously. Alas! I guessed only too well his thoughts! and noticed the essential details . . He blushes at the subject of boots. He blushes, he naively told me, if he passes in front of a display of shoes, which seems to him the worst indecency; but a display of flesh does not touch his tolerant and modest soul: It amazes him that anyone could complain about games so silly, and even a little repugnant.


I agree with him. And perhaps I could truly love him if he wanted sometimes to reverse our roles . . . One must not even dream of that: If I destroyed his illusions, he would quite quickly return the cricket to the hearth!—I must deceive him to the grave.


What’s important is to be Princess. When I become Princess, godmother helping it, I know quite well that I will have myself beaten by the least of my manservants.

Then I will don again my garb of the slovenly maid, those precious rags, with their color and smell of cinders, and every day, secretly, I will cover my crazy head; I will go out into the night. I will approach passersby (there’s no lack of poor men or ugly men or even dishonest men), and the better I play my role for the dear Prince, the more marvelously intense for me will be this contrast and these humiliating encounters.




38 comments:

  1. An Appreciative ReaderJanuary 24, 2017 at 10:37 AM

    Fabulous set up and turn around to the Cinderella story... but then just the last two paragraphs to end it! It was all teed up, expectations raised, but then came to (for readers with out interests) a rather limp end. The final paragraph is fantastically written, I just wanted it to last a chapter. Crying out for an extended version, now that really would be good! Thanks though Camille for the share of something a little bit different :)

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    1. I am glad you liked it. Yes, it is more of a snippet than a story. But you can certainly see where it was going!

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    2. Since I brought this story to your attention, Camille, I've learned a few more things about the story. I was alerted to the existence of the story from a book review appearing in "The Washington Post." The book was titled "Fairy Tales for the Disillusioned: Enchanted Stories from the French Decadent Tradition." My local library doesn't have a copy, so I was unable to read the story as it appeared in the decadent fairy tales book. So I tried to find a copy of the original version in French on the web. While doing this, I stumbled upon the version in the "Inverted Odysseys" book. The translation in this book struck me as being a little clunky, so I continued my search. I discovered that by using Google's book search feature and appropriate search terms, I could read the first 3 of 4 pages of the story as it appears in the decadent fairy tales book. The translation of the story in the latter book is, in my opinion, superior to the one in the "Inverted Odysseys" book. However, the last two paragraphs, the ones the "appreciative reader" mention, are on the 4th page that Google doesn't display. I was hoping that the decadent fairy tales book concluded the story in a more satisfying way, but it looks like I'll have to wait until I get my hands on a copy of the book.

      T. H. Enerdly

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    3. Thank you so much, fascinating stuff. I do think that original versions of fairytales (not the ones adapted for kids that we all know) ARE all fairly brutal and "disillusioned" to begin with. So the decadents were only going back to the roots!

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  2. Great story! And the anthology looks very promising. The tone and atmosphere reminded me a lot of the short stories of Angela Carter, especially her collection Burning Your Boats. I was also reminded of the stories of British fantasy author Tanith Lee. I don't remember any of their stories that directly deal with "social downgrade". Still, I think that readers who liked the Cahun tale would probably enjoy much of the writing of Tanith Lee and Angela Carter.

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    1. Thank you for your recommendations, Patti. Something to definetely check out as well.

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    2. Looking at the similarities between all these writers made me think of a question I haven't pondered before. Is "lady2maid" or "social downgrade" fiction just one subgenre or special case of transgressive fiction, just one of many possible ways of playing around with and inverting social norms? Or is there some unique psychological and literary dynamic to "downgrade" stories?

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    3. As a professor of mine used to say, to answer this question fully I'd have to write a PhD dissertation. I do think that transgressive fiction is a bit of an all-inclusive term which can apply to huge swaths of world literature going back centuries ago. Lady2Maid and social downgrade are definetely a subgenre of that much wider tradition, but I struggle to point to anything particularly unique about it. What do you think?

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    4. An Appreciative ReaderJanuary 25, 2017 at 1:40 AM

      Blimey I do feel stupid reading these comments, not sure if I dare put anything down. If this is idiotic be gentle!

      For me our genre only works in a feminine context but maybe that is just me...? Lord2Butler just ain't the same I'm afraid (sounds more like a 70s sitcom...) Perhaps the loss of elegance and place in society is something society sees as much more damaging for women. Male transgressive literature seems to revolve around violent self destruction, maybe including drink or drugs. Think of Trainspotting, A Clockwork Orange, Fight Club or Macbeth. From what I see female stories work on loss of status, and often beauty/attractiveness too because - and I don't comment on the correctness of this - beauty is seen as the feminine ideal maybe? Similarly with loss of power; Exec2Sec works well with a woman as she is clearly competent in our prejudiced world to have climbed the ladder so the fall and loss of status is more delicious, whereas a man in the lead role it would not do so as well. A once powerful female CEO reduced to secretaial duties appeals far more than a male version. Of course, in terms of clothes and accessories a woman has far more too, which then, of course, will be taken away, allowing much greater imagery and description. I remember watching a version of Bleak House where the haughty Lady Dedlock sells her clothes for a ragged dress and ends up dead at the graveyard. I should have known then I'd turn out odd, made such an impression!

      At its worst there can be a social and cultural misogyny I fear at putting a woman "in her place"; I don't think this site suffers from that, helped by brilliant female authors and female characters as both protagonist and antagonist.

      I think I better stop there as I seem to have moved from simple idiocy to pretentious idiocy! All opinions are based on the huge statistical sample of my experiences and tastes and is liable to being completely wrong. I apologise to anyone who's time I have wasted reading this post!

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    5. When I think of questions about classifications and definition, I often go back to Wittgenstein's famous discussion of games. "The problem is that there is no property common to all games, so that the most usual kinds of definition fail. Not every game has a ball, nor two competing teams; even, sometimes, there is no notion of "winning." In my view, the explanation is that a word like "game" points to a somewhat diffuse "system" of prototype frames, among which some frame-shifts are easy, but others involve more strain." I think that subgenres are like that. Transgressive stories involve a common set of themes, related to subversion of social hierarchy.Some subgenres will utilize some themes more often, but boundaries are elusive, and there is always a "family resemblance", sometimes slight, sometimes distinct.

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    6. You're right that Lord2Butler doesn't sound right, but if I spin it another way, it becomes obvious what the male equivalent of this genre is.

      Cuckolds.

      It's not quite scrubbing floors in a dowdy uniform, but the loss of status as husband/provider/lover is way more damaging to the psyche. Being on the couch while your wife is in your bedroom with a "real man" is brutal.

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    7. Guys, these are some excellent points. Thank you very much for your ideas. The comments section in this blog is not very user-friengly (i.e. you cannot answer a specific post once it's part of a chain + the response window is tiny), so apologies if it's hard to follow who I'm answering, I'd try to be clear on this.

      -- excellent points on masculine vs feminine versions of the subgenre. I do agree that there are good reasons why the lady2maid is such a powerful fantasy and lord2butler is something out of an Italian opera buffa or P.G. Wodehouse. Loss of elegancy (wider, "class") is one of the things that attracts me in such stories. I've said repeatedly in this blog and in the newsletter that I find change in speech patterns or clothing style a lot more enticing than traditional "sexual degradation"/BDSM. A once beautiful and stylish woman that talks and dresses like a common whore or a simple peasant is something I find irresistible. Lady Dedlock (or Lily Barth from House of Mirth) is a wonderful example! The fall of the once mighty and powerful lady is indeed something that seems a lot more drastic and brutal than a man down on his luck.

      -- I did not expect to see Ludwig Wittgenstein's name ever mentioned in this blog, but here we are. And great points that hit the bull's eye, Patti, thanks.

      -- Cuckolds. Very interesting point. I never thought of is as a version of this subgenre. Yes, this is a loss of status story too, but I think the main difference is that by definition it's focused on sex and infidelity, whereas lady2maid stories are more about social drop and may not feature sex at all (it does appear often, but is never the focal point of the story or something the heroine is focused on).

      I did not realize this little story will stimulate such a great discussion. T.H. Enerdly, thanks again.

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    8. I am intrigued by the question of a possible male equivalent. Perhaps novels like Damage by Josephine Hart, or perhaps even better, Heinrich Mann's Professor Unrat, the basis of the Marlene Dietrich movie "Blue Angel". The "Blue Angel" theme of male social descent seems to be a fairly common one.

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    9. Indeed, Blue Angel is a good one. An even better and straight-to-the-point one could be Erich Von Stroheim's character in Sunset Boulevard.

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    10. An Appreciative ReaderJanuary 26, 2017 at 2:57 AM

      The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy is the best example I can think of. Oh no, am i disproving my own theory!? Hold on, drink causes his destruction so I am not totally off the mark! ;)

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    11. An Appreciative ReaderJanuary 26, 2017 at 3:06 AM

      By the way I agree with you Camille that changes in speech or clothing are more "enticing" than crude degradation. The psychology of power exchange and loss of status can be extremely alluring I find. I also agree with your other point below that your wonderful blog has disproved this type of story appeals to "only me in the whole wide world" either! I do hope to have a contribution for you anon...

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    12. Thanks, AR! I can't agree more with you agreeing with me! Duh. Anyway, I would probably go even further and state that degradation that does not involve 'cultural' and 'social' change it not even a proper degradation for me. It's too superficial and boring to me as a reader. I think some may disagree with me on this, but I do strongly believe that being seen and treated as poor and unimportant is a 1000 times more degrading than being seen and treated as a slut or a sex slave (the standard route of 95% of degradation stories).

      I am assuming that one of the reasons for that is that the former scenario is largely seen as pure erotic fantasy (i.e. chances of that happening in reality are incredibly low), whereas the latter scenario is something many of us are afraid of for most of our adult lives and something many of us experienced in some (typically very mild) way, so it is something we can relate to.

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  3. I had never heard of Claude Cahun. The more I read about her, the more interesting she sounds. Claude Cahun, the Lesbian Surrealist Who Defied the Nazis Thanks again for making me aware of her.

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    1. Yes, indeed a very interesting character in the period over-populated with hyper interesting characters.

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  4. I am also reminded of a series of novels some years back by Nancy Kilpatrick. Writing as "Amarantha Knight", she rewrote a number of classic horror novels, such as Dracula and Frankenstein, as sadomasochistic erotica. I think most of those remain available, at least as e-books.

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  5. Ir occurs to me also that for many of the stories here social transformation and subversion of hierarchy isn't really the central theme. Many do focus on power exchange and subversion of hierarchy. For many stories though, "lady2maid" is just a plot device. It can used as a way to set up a revenge drama, or a moral tale, or simply a piece of sadomasochistic or fetishistic erotica. Some stories seem to be mostly involved with just name-checking the author's list of personal fetishes.

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  6. I think that the audience for a “Cinderella in reverse” story played completely straight is a hard sell, which is why there are so few of them in mainstream fiction. Those books are almost what I might refer to as “accidental” lady2maid stories, in that, they were never intended to be viewed in that light.

    There is a dearth of this type of material, so it’s amazing that this blog even exists, let alone one that is updated regularly (With a newsletter too!). You may have to slow down eventually, Camille.

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    1. Very true, also much of Cinderella in reverse plots are indeed reversable or not too drastic or not detailed enough, as if authors of mainstream fiction are scared of their own demons (I think they are!).

      Let's see about slowing down. Readers' activity in this thread (and others) is the reason why it will be awhile before I run out of ideas for the blog or the newsletter (I just got myself something for the next one right here). I am actually amazed by the level of interest in what I assumed to be a very obscure topic that "only me in the whole world" was interested me.

      Thank you for your comments.

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    2. Some day I may write a piece about my theories about lady2maid stories, but the short version is the following:


      There is a chicken or egg problem. To have an audience for lady2maid stories, there have to be some lady2maid stories. In the past, even thought there were some such stories, they were so obscure and difficult to find, that there were, for all practical purposes no such stories. Camille's blog seems to have collected enough such stories to prime the pump, so to speak. Once there were some easily accessible stories, the necessary conditions for building an audience sprung into existence (build it and they will come). And in fact, an audience came.


      I believe that the existence of resources such as Camille's blog is essential for developing an audience for lady2maid stories. Some day, I hope to write an article detailing why I believe this is so.


      BTW, did you know that reverse cinderella stories are sometimes called allerednic stories.


      T. H. Enerdly

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    3. allerednic?

      Yikes. This genre would never have gained any traction with a backwards name like that. :P

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  7. I hadn't seen the word "allerednic" before. From a quick query via Google, it seems that the word is used mostly, if not always, in a humorous or parodic way.

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    1. See the following link:

      https://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-123759318.html

      T. H. Enerdly

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    2. Looks like Cherie Blair (Former British PM's wife) populirized the term and it was picked up by the Daily Mail. Also, I might be mistaken, but I think one of the stories in C.Lakewood's collection was penned by someone using Allerendic as a pen name.

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  8. On the subject of Lord2Butler plots how about the Joseph Losey film The Servant with Dirk Bogarde as the conniving valet?
    Speaking of butlers are there stories featuring uppity wives sent to the Country House to serve as a maid under the supervision of a Jeeves/Bunter--perhaps because the husband can't bear to see his Lady suffer the drop in status she craves?

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  9. Pretty much everything that turns me on in fantasy is something that horrifies and disgusts me IRL: humiliation, male domination, lady2maid, exec2sec, racism, forced heterosexuality (forced homosexuality less so, FWIW) and of course the biggie: rape.
    Isn't all BDSM transgressive?
    The article with the word "allerednic" reminds me of a story idea I still haven't made use of: a woman's husband proposes to use their home as his office and a space for entertaining clients in his new business venture. That will require it be kept up to a much higher standard than they have observed. A professional cleaning service will cost more than they can afford out of their skimpy capital -- in fact, it would cost more than the amount she currently earns at her current job.
    And then there is the need for a hostess to wait upon the clients....
    Dang, I really should write that story.

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    1. An Appreciative ReaderJanuary 27, 2017 at 2:32 AM

      "Pretty much everything that turns me on in fantasy is something that horrifies and disgusts me IRL"

      Now ain't that just so! Which is what the censors in life fail to realise, it's a *fantasy*. I love murder stories but I have no desire to either commit or become embroiled in one. Being attracted to these things does not mean you don't have a healthy mind, that's proved (or disproved) by the ability to separate fantasy from reality. I do feel real guilt at what I read and what pushes my buttons, and probably the day I don't is the day to worry, but I keep it in the world of fiction. (Hey I'm a woolly liberal, right? 2016 was crap for me, give me a break!)

      Happily having read a lot of the comments here I see I am not alone but rather share a particular bent with other healthy intelligent people (actually considering the mention of Ludwig Wittgenstein and allerednic in the posts above, it's clearly people who are far *more* intelligent than me, not a high bar, granted). It's the ones who can't separate life from fantasy we need to worry about (along with those who may abhor this site and the community and yet treat women abominably... fit your own names here...)

      Anyway, enough prattle, good luck on that story, Arcadia, looking forward to reading it... ;OD

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    2. Can I be the first in line to read that story when it's done? The plot sounds incredible. I have a soft spot for stories where married couples start playing pretend games that backfire spectacularly.

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  10. Again,I dislike narratives where a woman is destroyed or defrauded by a villain...I want to see a woman's fascination with lower-class life,whether or not fed by a (fair and honest,if dominant) trainer,be the driving force of her slide down the scale.

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    1. That's how I feel as well. However, for purposes of plot logic, it is sometimes necessary to introduce a villain to make things go in the needed direction. I only see them as necessary evil (no pun intended) and also dislike when they take central stage as detroyers of lives.

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    2. Villains can be fascinating, but not one-dimensional ones. To be interesting, a villain has to be also somewhat sympathetic, to have understandable motivations. The problem with having a villain drive the plot direction is that then the protagonist loses agency. The story goes from drama to melodrama. This implies that the villain (or villainess) must not be either too malevolent or too powerful. Otherwise, the rest of the story will be off-balance.

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    3. I'm afraid that nuance is often the first thing on the chopping block when writing a short story in a subject area that isn't exactly high art. It is especially difficult in this genre, because reaching the goal in a realistic way almost necessitates that the journey take place over the course of many months, if not longer. Getting there without it turning into a full-length novel demands certain sacrifices.

      Then there's the balancing act of managing the reader's expectations and the storyline. On the subject of adding flavor, I am always reminded of the scene from the Simpsons where Lisa is making dinner for Homer and Bart. She serves it up, but notices that the cheese isn't fully melted. As she attempts to take back their plates, they growl at her. Their palettes are not that refined.

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    4. Those are valid points about the problems length imposes when writing a short story. But there are lots of ways around those problems. A story may be told in flashback,for instance, or in episodic fashion. Establishing nuance in a character doesn't necessarily require a lot of words. It can be done very quickly, with a short but telling bit of description or dialog. A writer doesn't have to give every character a detailed back-story. She only has to give hints that the characters have one.

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  11. When a longer story makes a better story...take the time!
    I also don't like the protagonist to be someone who "deserves" to be victimized,I want to be going along to watch her adventure rather than among her sneering detractors.I like development that,though it goes far past where she thought she might go when she started,is never feeling to far to go for her at any particular stage she reaches.

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