15 July 2006

Review (with bonus unrelated segue!): Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

Like everyone else, I enjoyed Gregory Maguire's book Wicked very much, and so naturally I picked up Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. It's a retelling of Cinderella, as you might suspect, but written from the perspective of one of her ugly stepsisters. Unfortunately, I read it about a month or two ago and didn't get around to writing a review until now, so I can't remember much about it beyond the fact that I did enjoy it, and would recommend it to anyone who liked Wicked.

On the topic of fairy tale retellings in general, I must say that Robin McKinley is my favorite by far. She has the distinction of having written not one but two retellings of Beauty and the Beast. It's been so long since I read Beauty, her first one, that I barely remember it; but Rose Daughter is such an incredible work that I can't even speak intelligently about it because I'm reduced to babbling. It is a gorgeous book.

The tale of Beauty and the Beast intrigues me, as I see it as the antecedent of countless works ranging from Pride and Prejudice to the "to reform a rake" model of Regency-era romance fiction (meaning works set during the Regency, not actually authored at that time), and as the archetype of the destructive pattern that too many women follow.

We all know the appeal of the "bad boy," from the merely rude (Mr. Darcy) to the adulterous (Mr. Rochester) to the downright criminal (Professor Snape), and we've seen it play out in real life as well. I've come to believe that the reason women are drawn to these types of men is that there is a deep primeval archetype, exemplified by the tale of Beauty and the Beast, that women are trying to act out. Quite simply, the idea is that a man can be transformed by the love of a woman, or in some cases, his love for her. The Beast's physical transformation is the symbol of his inner transformation from a selfish prince to a loving husband - the symbol of the civilizing effect a woman has on a man.

The transformation is fairly mild in Pride and Prejudice, and merely a matter of Mr. Darcy reforming his manners; but he says, referring to his pride and ill temper, "Such I was from eight to eight and twenty, and such I still would be if not for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth" (that's from memory, so it may be a bit off). We are then to believe that it never occurred to Mr. Darcy to not be such a jerk until Elizabeth reproved him, and that her reproof was "so skillfully applied" that he immediately began to mend his ways.

I admit to loving Pride and Prejudice, and considering it to set the bar for all romantic fiction. It's a Meeting of the Minds, a comedy of manners with incisive social commentary (a lot of which we modern readers miss), and it appeals to the Beauty and the Beast archetype that lurks unspoken at the bottom of every woman's heart.

There's just one problem. This archetype never plays out in real life. And yet, women think it will, or, perhaps, want to believe it will so strongly that they ignore all evidence to the contrary.

Ladies, jerks are jerks. You can give them all the rebukes you want, couched jokingly or kindly. Won't change a thing. And I can't remember who said it, but someone who is nice to you but a jerk to the waiter is not a nice person.

One thing I've learned from trying to make tough decisions is that once you couch the decision as a question, phrased in the most succinct terms possible, you can find your answer easily. If, when discussing the choice with someone else, you find yourself having to go into detail to explain why your situation isn't the way it sounds, then that should be a clue that perhaps your situation is exactly as it sounds. It's not that you don't know what you should do; it's that you are having trouble gathering the courage to do it.

(I may or may not have been addressing myself for part of this post...)

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat people at all levels.

d in t

1:14 PM  
Blogger laura said...

My former fiance was shitty to the waitresses. It aggravated me no end, but he was good to me.

Until he thought he had purchased me, and then he stopped being good to me, and treated me like a waitress.

I wish I had had your wise words earlier, Mrs. P (not that I would have listened...).

9:04 PM  
Blogger Ronan Jimson said...

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8:29 AM  
Anonymous your favorite bartender usually tips 22-30% said...

and there are other guys who are nice to you and absolutely terrified of mistreating the waiter or undertipping him. in fact, one such guy was extremely self-conscious of his tipping for the first several dates and now just asks how much he should give. such are the dangers of dating someone in the Industry.

2:13 AM  

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