Cinderella stories, of one type or another, have remained enduringly popular for hundreds of years. There are Cinderella tales originating from every culture and every time period up to the present day. They reflect the ‘rags to riches’ fantasies of storytellers from all around the world.
But what constitutes a Cinderella story? Even though they exist in a vast variety of forms, most have a very similar basic plot. Firstly, there is always a heroine, whose fortunes are to be the focal point of the tale.
She is naturally innocent, kind, gentle and beautiful, and always has hardships to bear. For example, in the French version, upon which the Disney animated film is based, Cinderella lives with her weak-willed father and her ‘evil’ stepmother and stepsisters who treat her appallingly; she is forced to act as a servant to them and is dressed in rags.
Very often in these stories, there are a number of magical animals that help Cinderella in some way, and along with Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, enable her to go to the ball, which invariably she has been prevented from attending by her cruel family.
At the ball, Cinderella and Prince Charming meet and fall in love instantly, but Cinderella forgets her Godmother’s deadline, and has to rush off suddenly, unintentionally leaving behind only one clue as to her true identity for the love-struck hero.
After one final setback, usually resulting from Cinderella’s interfering and vain stepsiblings, the Prince and his love are re-united and go back to the Palace to be married immediately.
Cinderella forgives her family, and they join the happy couple at court and all live ‘happily ever after.’ This is the most well known of the “Cinderella” plots, but as I have said, other versions exist such as “Katie Woodencloak” and “Cindermaid”.
“Pride and Prejudice”, Jane Austen’s classic novel, was first published in January 1813. It was designed to appeal to the fashionable novel-reading public of the day, and it was an instant success for its author, and has remained consistently so. With the pretty and likable Elizabeth Bennet marrying the rich and handsome Mr Darcy at the end of the book, at first glance, “Pride and Prejudice” seems like a typical Cinderella tale. In this essay, I will be investigating the similarities and differences it has to the Cinderella story I have outlined above.
For me, Elizabeth is the first obvious ‘Cinderella’ in “Pride and Prejudice”. She is one of five Bennet sisters, intelligent, witty and impetuous with an independent streak in her, as we find out when she insists that she walk to Netherfield to visit her ill sister. Elizabeth, like Cinderella, has a family who can make life very difficult for her at times. Her father is loving, but like Cinderella’s father, is weak-willed;
“Her father, contented with laughing at them, would never exert himself to restrain the wild giddiness of his youngest daughters.” (Chapter 37.)
This trait in her father’s disposition allows Lydia to elope with Mr Wickham from Brighton. Elizabeth’s mother and sisters also inhibit her, not by being malicious or unkind, as with Cinderella, but by their rudeness and hysterical behaviour;
“…and in the unhappy defects of her family a subject of yet heavier chagrin. They were hopeless to remedy.” (Chapter 37.)
“Her mother would talk of her views in the same intelligible tone. Elizabeth blushed and blushed again with shame and vexation.” (Chapter 18.)
These unattractive qualities in her relatives, as well as her family’s lower social status, prove to have an unfavourable effect on Mr Darcy’s feelings towards her, even though he admits he loves her. Mr Darcy believes Lizzy’s connections to be ‘inferior’;
“He spoke well, but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed…His sense of her inferiority…of the family obstacles which judgement had always opposed to inclination were dwelt on with warmth.” (Chapter 34.)
Although Elizabeth does not suffer the deprivation that Cinderella does (dresses are no problem for Lizzy as they are for Cinderella), and in fact lives comfortably, the Bennets live under the threat that when Mr Bennet dies, they will lose their home Longbourn, because there is no male heir to the estate. So Cinderella’s ‘poverty’ situation could, theoretically affect Elizabeth at some point in the future. Therefore, it is very important for the five Bennet daughters to marry well, to ensure the family’s future security and status. This fact differentiates Cinderella from Elizabeth, as she is fiercely discouraged from going to the ball by her by her jealous stepsisters, where as Elizabeth (and her sisters) are actively encouraged to look for husbands with good fortunes by going to dances.
Cinderella spontaneously falls in love with Prince Charming – she had only desperately wanted to go to the ball, and nothing more. But Elizabeth must be convinced of the true goodness of Mr Darcy’s personality before she will overcome her prejudices and dislike of him. Elizabeth’s opinion of Mr Darcy is changed by her hearing his housekeeper at Pemberley speak of how good and kind he really is, and also when Mr Darcy sends a letter to her explaining the misunderstandings about Mr Wickham and the Jane-Bingley affair. It is only after realising her actual feelings for him, and being attracted by his large estate, that Lizzy is prepared to love and marry Mr Darcy.
Cinderella is a servant in her household, and although Elizabeth is certainly not a servant, she does aid and support her difficult family, along with her sister Jane, through use of her intelligence and sensibility.
Of course, the main reason Elizabeth can be compared to Cinderella is that she is the disadvantaged heroine who marries her Prince and is taken off to his palace in a fairy tale ending;
“‘Good gracious! Lord bless me! Only think! Dear me! Mr Darcy! Who would have thought it! And is it really true? Oh! My sweetest Lizzy! How rich and how great you will be!'” (Chapter 59.)
Elizabeth’s family, like Cinderella’s family, also benefit from this happy ending – the Bennets often visit Lizzy at her new home, and Mr Darcy’s wealth means that they never need worry about losing their home or status again. Mrs Bennet is especially thrilled by the match.
Another Bennet sister can be successfully compared with Cinderella – Jane. She is the eldest daughter, and like Cinderella, is very kind, but also little naï¿½ve;
“What a stroke this was for poor Jane! Who could willingly have gone through the world without believing that so much wickedness existed in the whole race of mankind…Most earnestly did she labour to prove the probability of error, and seek to clear one, without involving the other.” (Chapter 40.)
She also marries a ‘Prince Charming’ with whom she is truly in love, Mr Bingley, who has a ‘palace’ and holds a ball there early in the novel. One thing that makes Jane even more similar to Cinderella in my opinion is that she falls in love with Mr Bingley straight away, even though his meddlesome sisters, Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst, as well as Mr Darcy, try to stop affections developing between them. This reminds me of the way Cinderella was prevented from trying on the glass slipper by her stepsisters.
Unlike Mr Darcy, Mr Bingley has no qualms about Jane’s lower standing in society, and immediately allows himself to fall in love with her, like Prince Charming does with Cinderella at the ball. Similarly, it is at the Netherfield ball, held by Mr Bingley, where Jane and he first display a fondness for each other. Although Jane is like Cinderella in all these ways, she cannot be directly linked with her, as she is not the leading character in “Pride and Prejudice,” like Elizabeth.
Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley are the two men who are most comparable to the Prince in Cinderella. They are both rich men with large estates and good breeding who marry ‘below themselves.’ Mr Darcy is a proud and arrogant man, who we find out later in the book, actually has a compassionate and generous personality. At first, Mr Darcy does not feel it is appropriate for him to marry into a lower class, but he cannot contain his love for Elizabeth, and this love eventually conquers his pride as I have detailed above. This is unlike Prince Charming because in “Cinderella”, the Prince does not mind when he finds out that his unidentified ‘Princess’ is really a poor servant girl – Cinderella’s status doesn’t matter to him at all.
Mr Bingley, on the other hand, is like Prince Charming in that he doesn’t care about Jane’s background, and loves her anyway. Mr Bingley’s character is summed up by this quote;
“‘He is just what a young man ought to be,’ said she, ‘sensible, good-humoured, lively; and I never saw such happy manners! – so much ease, with such perfect good breeding!’
‘He is also handsome,’ replied Elizabeth, ‘which is what a young man ought likewise to be, if he possibly can. His character is thereby complete.'” (Chapter 4.)
For Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy, as with Prince Charming, it is love at first sight with Jane and Elizabeth at the Meryton ball, even if Mr Darcy dare not admit his feelings for some time. When Mr Darcy does propose to Elizabeth, she turns him down, but he remains persistent in trying to assure Lizzy of his good nature, and in the same way as the Prince tracks down Cinderella, Mr Darcy proposes for a second time and Lizzy accepts. It was the letter that Mr Darcy gave to Elizabeth at the Collins’ that revealed his true character to her and this enabled her to accept and love him. In the same way, Cinderella’s glass slipper allows the Prince to find her. It could be concluded that these objects provide the key to identifying the suitors in their true light and make it possible for the characters to eventually marry.
I think that there are several people in “Pride and Prejudice” who could be considered either ‘stepsisters’ or a ‘stepmother’ to Lizzy or Jane. Evidently their own mother and sisters have some qualities similar to those in “Cinderella.” Mrs Bennet, though inadvertently, hinders any marriage between her daughters and ‘respectable’ men through her inappropriate and embarrassing manner – she is chaotic and thoughtless and gives her family a bad reputation.
Jane and Lizzy’s sisters, particularly Lydia and Kitty, are also shallow, selfish and silly young women, only interested in chasing after soldiers and visiting Meryton;
“The two youngest of the family, Catherine and Lydia, were particularly frequent in these attentions; their minds were more vacant than their sisters…They could talk of nothing but officers.” (Chapter 7.)
“Catherine, weak-spirited, irritable…and Lydia, self-willed and careless.” (Chapter 37.)
Lydia’s disastrous elopement with Mr Wickham endangers the anticipated marriage between Jane and Mr Bingley because it disgraces the family. Through this, Lydia is unintentionally like Cinderella’s stepsisters, as she causes a last-minute hitch, which could ruin her sister’s hopes of happiness. In Cinderella, this hitch is the stepsisters preventing Cinderella from trying on the glass slipper by hiding her from the Prince ‘below stairs’.
Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst, Charles Bingley’s sisters, are also like the ‘evil stepsisters’, only more so, in my estimation, than Mrs Bennet and her younger daughters, because they deliberately try to stop the marriages between the Bennet sisters, their brother and his friend taking place. It is revealed that Miss Bingley would like Mr Darcy for herself, and that she is jealous of Lizzy. They also try to persuade Mr Bingley that Jane does not love him in the hope he will forget about her when he is in London. Miss Bingley sends a letter to Jane, which convinces her that Mr Bingley does not care at all for her, which is not true. This, along with Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst’s officious airs, make them ‘stepsisters’ not only to the Misses Bennet but also to their brother.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the cold and obnoxious aunt of Darcy, is also a ‘stepmother’ to Elizabeth because she severely disapproves of the marriage between her and her nephew, Mr Darcy, and therefore tries her hardest to thwart their plans. She believes that Lizzy is of a lower social class and not ‘good enough’ for her nephew. Also, she wants to see Mr Darcy marry her daughter, the sickly Anne de Bourgh;
“‘Let me be rightly understood. This match, to which you have the assumption to aspire, can never take place. No, never. Mr Darcy is engaged to my daughter’…’True, you are a gentleman’s daughter. But who was your mother? Who are your uncles and aunts? Do not imagine me ignorant of their condition.'” (Chapter 56.)
Even so, Lady Catherine does not successfully stop Elizabeth and Mr Darcy from marrying, and neither do Lizzy’s family or Miss Bingley, just as the stepsisters fail to stop Cinderella from marrying her Prince in the end.
It is not explicitly apparent that there are any ‘Fairy Godmothers’ in “Pride and Prejudice,” but I think that Mrs Gardiner, Elizabeth’s aunt, can be regarded as aiding Lizzy throughout the novel. As well as the Gardiner’s help to the Bennets through their troubles with Lydia, Mr and Mrs Gardiner make it possible for Elizabeth to go to her ‘palace’ (Pemberley) for the first time, by taking her with them to Derbyshire. (The Fairy godmother in “Cinderella” also enables Cinderella to go to the palace.);
“With the Gardiners, they were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth, really loved them; and they were both ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards the persons who, by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them.” (Chapter 61.)
Perhaps Jane in her continuing support of Lizzy and the Bennet family could also be seen as a ‘Fairy Godmother’ to them all.
Another similarity between “Pride and Prejudice” and “Cinderella” is that the heroines in both stories go to at least one ball where they meet their future husbands. In “Pride and Prejudice”, there are two balls – the Meryton Ball and the Netherfield Ball, but in contrast with “Cinderella”, the future spouses do not immediately get on as well as Cinderella and Prince Charming do! – At the Meryton Ball Lizzy overhears Mr Darcy snubbing her whilst talking to Mr Bingley;
“‘Which do you mean?’ and turning around, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, ‘She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.'”
Both stories highlight the importance of ‘the ball’ as a major social event; very often it was the only opportunity for people to meet and socialise.
At her ball, Cinderella has a curfew to comply with – she must be home by midnight or else her magical clothes and coach will turn back into rags and a pumpkin. There is no literal deadline in “Pride and Prejudice”, but time is running out for the women in the novel, as they must marry well, while they are still potentially ‘desirable’ wives, if they want to be secure and assured of a future free from want. This fear is shown in the story by the plight of Charlotte Lucas, who marries the repellent Mr Collins because she knows it will probably be her last opportunity to gain a husband and therefore a house of her own;
“Mr Collins was neither sensible nor agreeable; his society was irksome…But still he would be her husband…and at the age of twenty-seven, without having ever been handsome, she felt all the good luck of it.” (Chapter 22.)
An important component of the “Cinderella” fairy tale is magic, and magical animals, and as I have found neither one of these in “Pride and Prejudice”, it is almost certainly one of the biggest differences between the two stories. This shows us that Austen’s novel is not a fable but that the events in the book could have actually occurred in early 19th century society.
From examining the text of “Pride and Prejudice” and several “Cinderella” tales, I have found many similarities, and some differences between the two narratives. I conclude that although Jane Austen did not intentionally design her novel to be like a fairy tale, there is a definite resemblance to “Cinderella”. The plot and subplots of the novel are clearly more complex than in “Cinderella”, but most of the individuals have counterparts in the other story.
As I said at the beginning of this essay, the main heroine, whether you consider her to be Elizabeth or Jane, ‘gets her guy’. In both stories, the wedded couple and their families are more happy and secure than at the start of the tale – they all ‘live happily ever after’, with Lizzy moving to Pemberley, just as Cinderella moves to the palace. Some people may regard the ending of “Pride and Prejudice” as the most unrealistic and ‘fairy story’ part of the book. In reality life was very hard, even for the rich, at this time.
For example, Elizabeth, like many young women at that time, may have died in childbirth a year later, or perhaps Mr Bingley may have been badly injured a month after the novel finishes in a hunting accident. In my view, “Pride and Prejudice” is simply a daydream; a world into which the reader can escape to avoid the unpleasantries which no doubt occurred in the Georgian period, but which Jane Austen chose to ignore. By doing this, Austen created one of the best-loved and most interesting “Cinderella” stories to date.