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Once upon a time, there lived a widower who possessed an
only daughter. The girl had a governess for whom she
cared greatly and the governess felt equal affection for her.
Eventually, the girl’s father remarried, and took a wife
who had an evil temperament. She treated the charming
daughter with such coldness and contempt that the young
girl would complain to her governess, “O God, would that
thou hath been my darling mother, thou who lovest me
and art always caressing me.”

-Giambattista Basile

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The first tale to have the protagonist named Cinderella is
Giambattista Basile’s “Cat Cinderella,” written in 1634. This story,
unlike most Cinderella’s, gives the name of the girl before she is
given the new name “Cat Cinderella,” and that name is Zezolla.

Zezolla makes a habit of going to her governess constantly saying
how she wished the governess was her mother instead. After a
while the governess tells Zezolla to murder her stepmother by
slamming the lid of a chest down on her neck, saying:

“If thou wilt do as I bid, I will become thy mother.”

Zezolla does as she is told, and the father, believing it was an
accident, marries the governess after Zezolla's insistent
recommendations. But, soon after the wedding, her new stepmother
reveals that she has six daughters which she had kept hidden. The
stepsisters move in and Zezolla’s position in the house is quickly
lowered, till she is sleeping in the kitchen and wearing coarse rags.

In this lowly state the stepmother and the stepsisters start to call
Zezolla “Cat Cinderella,” as if she were nothing but an animal.

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One day her father announces that he is going to Sardinia on
business and asks his stepdaughters what they would like as
presents, and as an afterthought he asks his own daughter what she
would like. The others all ask for expensive gifts, while Zezolla says:

“I want nought, but that thou recommend me to the queen
of the fairies, bidding her that she might send me something.”

Before heading home from Sardinia, the father does as Zezolla had
asked, and receives from the fairy queen a date tree, a golden
bucket, and a silken napkin. She takes great care of this tree,
watering it with the golden bucket, and using the napkin to soak up
the extra moisture. It’s not long till the tree is at its full height,
and from its branches a fairy emerges, promising to fulfill all the
child’s wishes.

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One day Zezolla learns that the prince is going to throw a ball, and
she wants very much to attend. So when the day arrives she waits
for her stepmother and stepsisters to leave, then goes to the tree
and makes her wish known. The tree throwes down a golden gown
and a necklace made of pearls and precious stones, and gives her a steed
so she would have a way to get there.

When she gets there she meets her sisters, but they fail to know
who she is, and as soon as the prince sees her enter the ballroom he
is Smitten by her beauty and regal bearing, and proposes to her.
But she flees, afraid that he’ll reject her when he learns of her
lowly circumstances.

The prince wishes to find this princess, and finds one of her slippers
which she lost during her escape. He then orders there to be a
great banquet and that all women in the kingdom are to attend, so
that he can find the maiden whose foot fits the slipper.

Oh, what a banquet it was, and what joyance and amusements
were there, and what food: pastry and pies, and roast, and
balls of mincemeat, and macaroni, and ravioli, enough to feed
an army.

Since none of the feet fit the slipper the prince wonders if
someone may have been missed. Zezolla’s father confesses that his
daughter insisted upon not coming because she felt unworthy of
notice. The prince orders the feast to last another day, and
decrees that every woman is to attend. The next day, when the
prince has come to Zezolla with the slipper, it jumps to her foot
like a moth to a flame, and the prince takes her by the arm and bids
her to sit beside him on the dais, has a crown placed on her head
and:

Commanding all his subjects to do her obeisance as their
queen.

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Now that you have read what the story is about
...continue on...
and be enlightened to what hidden meanings lay within.

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Fairy tales usually follow a pattern, and that is that they all focus
on a “childhood sin,” and why that sin is wrong. Basile, before the
tale begins, stresses the fact that “Cat Cinderella” is a tale of
envy.

The first stepmother is envious of Zezolla’s charm. The governess,
who Zezolla loved like a real mother, was envious of the
stepmother’s good position, and wanted it for herself, and her
daughters. It is this second stepmother who is driven by envy
throughout the story that causes all of Zezolla’s troubles.

“What the child really longs for is the love of her dead
mother: this is what motivates her to pursue the governess
and to participate in the stepmother’s death. It is the
governess who covets the father, and the power that accrues
from her new position. She is the one driven by envy.”

In every Cinderella story, there is the dead mother, who represents
the nurturing, loving mother that is present in infancy. The one that
seems to always be there, and is always good to the child. Leaving
infancy, the child is presented with what it believes to be
unbelievably harsh circumstances. Mother leaves the child alone for
what seems to be eternity, it must pick up after itself, and isn’t
being treated as if it were the center of attention. And then, there
is the problem of sibling rivalry, competing for the love of the
child’s parents. The child will feel it is lacking something that the
other siblings must have that it doesn’t, that somehow it deserves a
lowly position.

Zezolla trades one “bad mother” for another, and then has the
added anxiety of six stepsisters, and is bumped down from a good
place to a lowly place, sleeping in the kitchen, next to the hearth.

The hearth, full of ashes, has a meaning all to itself. The hearth is
representative of a mother, and ashes were used in many cultures as
a sign of grieving. Zezolla, sleeping by the hearth, is grieving for
the memory of a “good mother” she once possessed, but cannot find.

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The tree, of which Zezolla takes such great care, with its connection
to the earth and life giving properties symbolizes the spirit of the
good mother. The tree, and the fairy within, give comfort and hope
to Zezolla that the stepmother, who is the bad mother, does not.
The bad mother and the good mother now coexist in this story.
Just because the bad mother is there, doesn’t mean there is no
hope in the future of the good mother being there.

The tree and the fairy are there for the child for a while before
the problem of getting to the ball ever arises. It is there long
enough for it to become full grown, and for the fairy to afterwards
appear. This gives the child time to mature, and discover the hidden
good mother in a time when the child only believed that all was left
was the bad.

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The appearance of a “good mother”
in the form of a tree, fairy, bird,
or some other creature, is quite a
common feature in Cinderella tales,
and sometimes come they in combination,
such as this story’s Tree and fairy.

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In "Yeh-hsein," the girl has a large golden fish,
an animal highly revered in Chinese folklore.

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In "Rashin Coatie,"a Scottish variant, the girl
has a red calf. In Scotland, long haired red
cattle are an important source of sustenance.

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“Cat Cinderella,” just like so many others, is a tale designed to
fulfill the universal need to be loved and cherished, knowing that
someone is there for them. When Zezolla runs away from the prince
in fear of rejection, it’s a reflection of every child’s fear of
being rejected by someone they wish to have love them, for many
children see within themselves an ash and dirt covered little
Cinderella, unworthy of being elevated to a higher level of
existence.

Then, when there is the great feast, banquet, or some other grand
event in which there is some form of competition, such as all the
maiden’s trying on the slipper to see if they will get to marry
the prince, there is the great primitive excitement everyone knows
of being the chosen one. Symbolically speaking, the favorite in the
eyes of the child’s parents, above all the others in the family.

The major flaw in this Cinderella, though, is that evil goes
unpunished. Most have a clear cut case of who is evil, and who is
good, and as with most fairy tales, “Cinderella” or not, evil is
punished. This is definitely not the case the Basile’s version of
Cinderella. Zezolla murders her first stepmother, but doesn’t get
punished for the crime. The second stepmother, who talked her into
killing the first, and then takes great advantage of her new
position after wedding the father is never punished for her crimes.
This leaves the tale with holes that are never filled, and the
reader with unanswered questions and doubts about the story.

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Click to go back to the "Cinder-who?"
Click to go indepth into the Grimm's "Aschenputtel."
Click to go indepth into Perrault's "Cinderella."