Cinderella Liberator by Rebecca Solnit enticed me not only with its striking title and cover, but also the improbable pairing of author and illustrator. Rebecca Solnit, high-profile writer and spirited activist, and traditionalist Arthur Rackham, classic book illustrator from the Edwardian era. In this modern take on Cinderella, Solnit aspires to release the cast of characters from their seventeenth-century shackles. Does she succeed in bringing Cinders marching into the 21st-century, and is it possible to march in glass slippers anyway?
Knowing how drab poor Cinderella’s days are, the reader feels the anticipatory thrill of the Fairy Godmother’s arrival, and happily, as beneficent as ever, she produces the goods. In a dress of shimmering silk, Cinderella rides her pumpkin coach to the enchanting royal ball, where the prince looks fabulous in satin trousers and the evening ends all too soon. It is the second half of the book that brings real change, for this is essentially a story of transformation that leads to freedom.
In the infamous scene where the prince arrives at Cinderella’s house, waving her glass slipper aloft, there are revelations galore. Cinderella is obviously cheesed off with her life of servitude but the prince feels his royal existence is a gilded cage. It takes the Fairy Godmother, in her finest moment, to set them both on the path to becoming their ‘truest selves’. It’s a path that includes some startlingly untraditional elements, such as farming, cake shops, and the suggestion that marriage may not be the most desirable of life’s goals. In fact, does Cinderella even fancy her charming prince?
In the absorbing afterword, Solnit tells us that she wanted to set every character free. Thrillingly this extends down to the tiniest mouse turned coach-horse and lizards turned footwomen. Arthur Rackham’s silhouettes are from a 1919 edition of Cinderella and make an unexpected and lovely accompaniment.
A thought provoking retelling with its own special dusting of millennial glitter.
Cinderella Liberator by Rebecca Solnit and illustrated by Arthur Rackham is published by Haymarket Books, 32 pages.