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Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

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We have all heard the story of Cinderella, the beautiful child cast out to slave among the ashes. But what of her stepsisters, the homely pair exiled into ignominy by the fame of their lovely sibling? What fate befell those untouched by beauty ... and what curses accompanied Cinderella's looks?

Set against the backdrop of seventeenth-century Holland, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister tells the story of Iris, an unlikely heroine who finds herself swept from the lowly streets of Haarlem to a strange world of wealth, artifice, and ambition. Iris's path quickly becomes intertwined with that of Clara, the mysterious and unnaturally beautiful girl destined to become her sister. While Clara retreats to the cinders of the family hearth, Iris seeks out the shadowy secrets of her new household -- and the treacherous truth of her former life.

372 pages, Paperback

First published October 6, 1999

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About the author

Gregory Maguire

128 books7,399 followers
Gregory Maguire is an American author, whose novels are revisionist retellings of children's stories (such as L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz into Wicked). He received his Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Tufts University, and his B.A. from the State University of New York at Albany. He was a professor and co-director at the Simmons College Center for the Study of Children's Literature from 1979-1985. In 1987 he co-founded Children's Literature New England (a non-profit educational charity).

Maguire has served as artist-in-residence at the Blue Mountain Center, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Hambidge Center. He lives in Concord, Massachusetts.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,820 reviews
Profile Image for Amanda.
544 reviews35 followers
October 14, 2007
I love books based on fairy tales, but it's taken me forever to really read any of Maguire's stuff. I still haven't read "Wicked." Years ago, I tried reading this book and just couldn't get into it. But with so many people telling me how great this guy is, I decided to give it another shot.

This book follows the story of Iris and Ruth, two little girls who, with their mother, flee from England after their father is murdered. Poor and begging, they have no choice but to first take a job as the housekeeper to an artist, then to a merchant of the city (I believe it's Amsterdam but not entirely sure). Ruth, the oldest, is dumb and mute and taken care of by Iris, the younger, smarter sister, who shows artistic promise but is considered plain at best and will never be a beauty.

The merchant's daughter, Clara, befriends the two young girls amidst her fear of leaving her home and her belief that she is a changeling. When her mother dies during pregnancy and Iris' and Ruth's mother steps in as matron of the household, Clara is held as nothing more than the beauty in which her stepmother will buy back her fortune. Having no interest in the outside world, especially a ball thrown by the prince's godmother, Clara makes the kitchen her domain, preferring to live with the ashes and do the housework than to travel into the regular world.

Told from the viewpoint of one of the stepsister's this tale follows the Cinderella story in a completely different way. While the stepmother could still be considered "evil", "Cinderella" and her stepsisters are actually as true sisters...even through their disagreements they love each other. Even during the hard times, the plain Iris must deal with the dumb Ruth and the neurotic Clara, yet she does with patience and care.

The writing is fairly descriptive and florid and made it hard to get going with. But once the story found it's pace, I found it to be a good read. Though I can't say it's one of my favorites, the ending touched me and I am curious to read more of this author's work.
Profile Image for Emilie.
7 reviews
April 16, 2008
Maguire's ability to come up with an interesting story is far better than his ability to tell the story. His writing is often a bit too labored, his symbolism too transparent, and his literary devices a bit clunky.

Like 'Wicked', 'Confessions' offers the reader a variation on a well-known story. Also like 'Wicked', 'Confessions' is not really all that much to write home about. A somewhat creative variation, but one in which many of the characters are incredibly hard to like, and the story just falls flat in the end. The epilogue reads like something that has been tacked on in order to make up for loose ends, and ultimately transforms a story that seems like it is trying to veer away from the formulaic fairy tale mold into a "happily-ever-after", problems-solved-in-the-last-five-minutes kind of thing. I wouldn't exactly call it satisfying.
Profile Image for Lauren (Shakespeare & Whisky).
256 reviews433 followers
April 14, 2017
“In the lives of children, pumpkins turn into coaches, mice and rats turn into men. When we grow up, we realize it is far more common for men to turn into rats.”

I enjoy Maguire's work. He combines lively characters with literary writing.

Unlike Maguire's other, wildly successful novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, this retelling leaves behind magic, instead relying on a genuine historical period and uncanny characters to imbue the novel with an unworldly tone.

Although there is no magic in the story, it manages to feel magical for the reader.

Maguire is not a newcomer to telling stories that deconstruct old narratives, and in my opinion this attempt was more successful then Wicked for several reasons.

One of my major criticisms of Wicked was the inconsistencies and underdeveloped plot arcs. This was so problematic that they changed the ending of the stage production to improve the narratives cohesiveness.

He has a much more basic plot to work with here. The benefits of a tighter narrative result in a much more satisfying novel. He is able to focus attention on his strength as a writer- complex, multifaceted exploration of character.

I never particularly liked the story of Cinderella as a child and as an adult some of the more troubling aspects of the tale became apparent. So it's no surprise that this novel is primarily occupied with female solidarity, self- preservation and conformity.

Iris is a compelling and sympathetic main character. Her relationships with her mother, sister, step- sister Clara (Cinderella), and the painter's apprentice, Casper, form the loci around which each of these issues is explored.

“No, my girl, you know nothing of how we women are imprisoned in our lives, but there are ways to determine the sentence we must serve.”

Iris' relationship with her mother is fascinating. Her mother is spiritually suffocated by her obsession with appearances and survival and it was heart rendering at times to see how this fear crippled her daughters.

“To consider what other people might say is hardly a good reason to take action or to defer it. You have your own life to live, Iris, and at its end, the only opinion that amounts to anything is that which God bestows”

Iris struggles with accepting and understanding herself and the people around her. This is not the sort of book you can passively absorb. I thought a lot about what various characters did and said and what I felt about that.

The setting and writing was a lush and richly formed tapestry. If you enjoy literary writing, you will likely appreciate it, even if the metaphors are occasionally too heavy handed.

However, one of the problems with the novel is that the characters are too difficult to love. To truly love a book I think you need to fall in love a little with at least one of the characters. There are exceptions of course, but even Silence of the Lambs has a weirdly aspirational element to our fascination with Hannibal Lecter.

The characters here felt too strange, too flawed to really admire.

In addition, the climax felt abrupt and at times elements were introduced that were a little too esoteric. The belief the girls had that Clara was a changeling was never really developed, and at times it was hard to see why certain things were included.

Despite this I would recommend it to people who enjoy more adult or literary retellings, especially if they enjoyed Wicked.

For me, it was a satisfying read.
7 reviews1 follower
November 4, 2008
I am an idiot. I did it to myself again.
After reading “Wicked” and hating it, I decided to give Gregory Maguire another go. Apparently, Maguire is my literary equivalent to the corner brick on my fireplace that I keep stubbing my toe upon, even though I know it’s there and I know it’s going to hurt.
But I picked up "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister", thinking I had to give Maguire another try. He shows glimpses of pure genius, so I was hoping he’d be able to channel it properly. After all, how can he screw up a story about Cinderella?
Well, he can and did and in the same manner he’s screwed up his Oz stories: diarrhea of the keyboard.
I am now convinced Maguire can’t pace a story to my liking and his stories and characters are all too convoluted so that I am never sure exactly what is going on or even why I should care. I know Maguire’s deal is to show the human fault in everybody, but if I wanted that, I would watch CNN. I don’t enjoy reading books when I have to try to convince myself to like the characters when I don’t.
Not to mention, Maguire can’t get from Point A to Point B without numerous side trips through the alphabet. He needs an author's Garmin.
His plots remind me of doing a school research paper that is supposed to be 10 pages, only when you finish what you have to say, you realize it’s only four pages, so you go back and start shoveling in fluff to make it the requisite length.
Maguire’s books have the same problem. The story is OK when you get to it, but you’ve got to take waaay too many dead end side roads to get to your destination, and by the time you get there, you’re pissed off and need to take a wee, which is convenient since all I wanted to do was piss on this book anyway.
Profile Image for Jami.
393 reviews48 followers
January 18, 2008
This was an easy read and an interesting take on the "Cinderella" story, but it wasn't amazing. It felt like it gave a very long build-up to a climax that was vague and unexciting and a denouement that was pretty disappointing. Only as an epilogue do we discover what happened to Iris, the main character of the book, and even then, it is brief and without many details.

Many of the ideas introduced into the storyline also felt as though they were left hanging at the end of the book. Clara, the Cinderella character, seemed a very flat character to me, although she could have been interesting if the author had developed her more.

Mostly it was disappointing to not get the completion of Caspar and Iris's relationship after the entire book leads up to it. You would think that if the story was written down by Caspar, as the epilogue explains, then we would have gotten it more from his point of view, rather than Iris's.

Overall, it was an okay read, but I'm not sure I want to read Wicked now after reading this one.
Profile Image for Mahina.
46 reviews4 followers
May 5, 2007
I love fairy tale retellings...especially the ones that try to be the "True" version.
Set in 17th century Holland during the Tulip craze this version of Cinderella is by far my favorite. The central character is not Cinderella (who is a spoiled brat) but Iris, the youngest of the two step-sisters.
Margarethe returns to her homeland, Holland,with her two daughters - plain Iris and simple Ruth, afer her husband is murdered in England. She becomes the housekeeper for a painter. The traditional story of Cinderella is started on its course when a wealthy tulip merchant commissions the painter to paint his beautiful daughter, Clara, with an equally beautiful new tulip (for marketing purposes). Then through a series of events (change of job, miscarriage and death) Margarethe ends up married to the tulip merchant.
Though I was not impressed by this story's Cinderella (Clara), a character I have always adored, Iris more than makes up for her as a strong and likeable heroine.
Be prepared for the twist at the end!
Profile Image for Samantha.
4 reviews14 followers
May 30, 2008
This book gives a whole new view on the Cinderella, one that is completely believable. It offers a real setting(not just a land far, far away or a long time ago) and speaks of real people. It makes you think. Is beauty a gift or a curse? It offers a brave, out-of-the-ordinary heroine, one of the ugly stepsisters herself. The narrator shows you a new perspective on the Cinderella story. Perhaps the wicked stepsisters were not so wicked. Perhaps they had lives too. Perhaps their lives were actually better because they were not so beautiful. This seems to be a gift of Gregory Maguire's, to take old, well-known fairy tales, and make you question them. He can turn the clear antagonist of the story into a most wonderful, good protagonist. It makes you look deep, past looks, past what everyone else tells you.
Profile Image for Laura Cavendish.
11 reviews2 followers
May 12, 2007
I remember when I read this book for the first time. I bought it the day after it came out, because I was already obsessed with Gregory Maguire despite the fact that he had only written one other adult book at that point.

I started the novel in the morning, the day I had to take my parents to the airport in Kalamazoo. We left that evening because their flight was an early morning one. I read and read in the car, getting fairly far. When we got to the hotel and had to go to bed, I COULD NOT sleep, so I got up went in the hotel bathroom, but a towel under the door and read the rest of the book staying up until it was time for us to go to the airport around 4am.

It was FANTASTIC. I think this may be my favorite Gregory Maguire novel. I believe this is probably because it deals with artists during a fascinating period.

It constantly amazes me how well Gregory Maguire can write books from a female perspective and get it spot on, when he is not a female.
Profile Image for Wealhtheow.
2,432 reviews543 followers
July 2, 2009
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is way better than Wicked, not least because the characters have consistent personalities and the plot is coherent. I appreciated the sensory details and descriptions, and the various characters are original. There's a nice twist near the end which gave me a little brain jolt, and I always like that.
Profile Image for Tara.
135 reviews71 followers
March 28, 2007
In the lives of children, pumpkins can turn into coaches, mice and rats into human beings. When we grow up, we learn that it’s far more common for human beings to turn into rats.

If magic was present, it moved under the skin of the world, beneath the ability of human eyes to catch sight of it.

Immortality is a chancy thing; it cannot be promised or earned. Perhaps it cannot even be identified for what it is.

It’s the place of the story, beginning here, in the meadow of late summer flowers, thriving before the Atlantic storms drive wet and winter upon them all.

So let my hands and my face make their way in this world, let my hungry eyes see, my tongue taste.

Is this the main thing that painters of portraits care about? The person on the verge of becoming someone else?

When the dawn light is coursing through the slats in the shutters at last, making thin stripes on the floor, she, tossing, decides that for every human soul there must surely be a possible childhood worth living, but once it slips by, there isn’t any reclaiming it or revising it.
Profile Image for Britany.
966 reviews418 followers
January 31, 2014
While I think Gregory Maguire is brilliant to tackle these twisty fairy tales, and show us the "other" side, for me, I think that his writing is to wordy and feels too crowded, or overkill to actually tell the story he is looking to tell.

This is the story of Ruth and Iris, sisters-- THE step-sisters of Cinderella, aka, Clara Van Der Meer. Both sisters are ugly, but thoughtful, and care deeply about Clara. The happy fairy tale that everyone knows and shares, is turned upside down, and the real story is told.

For me just too much. Too many words, too much emphasis on extraneous events, and the truly evil one here is the step mother- Margarenthe.
Profile Image for Evangeline.
479 reviews12 followers
March 8, 2011
Throughout the course of this book it looked set to gain two stars from me, but the ending ensured the confiscation of one of these. In fact, it almost deserves a minus rating because of it.

The story was extremely slow in starting, and never really picked up enough pace to make it interesting. What i knew of the storyline beforehand was basically that it was going to be a re-telling of the cinderella story from the perspective of one of the stepsisters. What i didn't realise was that the fairy godmother element was removed in order to make the story seem like it could actually have happened in real life. I applauded the idea of this initially, but the unrealistic, and frankly diabolical ending flew back in the face of the idea.

Also, the preoccupation of some of the characters with imps and changelings is tedious and makes no sense. Why take out fairy godmothers and magic mice to make your story seem realistic and then add in other mythical creatures? This story is all too dark and sinister for my liking. Cinderella is one of my least favourite fairytales, and i was willing to hear the story coming from another angle, but this book just made me appreciate the original tale more. I may now go and watch the disney version, and sing along with 'bibbity-bobbity-boo'! And i won't be reading 'Wicked' anytime soon.

Oh, i have just remembered a positive about this book. The title is very clever, and although not exactly unique due to all of the recent copycat 'confessions of...' titles, it was original to start with.
Profile Image for Lightreads.
641 reviews525 followers
December 28, 2008
A Cinderella retelling in the perspective of an ugly stepsister, from the author of Wicked. Hmm. Okay, this book is just "not quite." Which I need to put in the proper scale -- the set-up is brilliant, as Maguire's generally are, and the follow-through is good, and the denouement is fine. But I didn't want fine. I wanted this book to walk up to me and knock me on my ass with a right hook to the gut. Instead it came up, dazzled me with some fancy footwork, and then asked me for a sedate waltz. Parts of this book are sheer genius -- the cleverness of the title which you don't realize until the very last page, the autistic ugly stepsister, the treatment of beauty in art and in life, Clara/Cinderella as a voluntary shut-in, the setting in sixteenth-century Holland, the reality of a prince searching for a wife. And the writing itself is outstanding, the sentence-by-sentence pace intricate and beautiful. But this book, which was excellent by the standards of fiction everywhere, fell just that tragic bit short of the extraordinary thing that it could have been, that feeling
when you read a book and it's as if the whole thing rings like a bell, the note perfect and clear and dazzling. And this sounded as if the author left his finger on the bell when he struck it, to over-extend the metaphor. I'm glad I read it, but I’m beginning to suspect this is Maguire's shortfall, and it makes me sad to see this beautifully conceived idea land in the realms of good and not blow-your-mind.

Profile Image for Donna Craig.
910 reviews39 followers
March 29, 2018
I read Wicked a few years ago—more like I devoured it! This book was written in the same style. I was drawn into the world the author created, and I was held there, spellbound, until the book was finished. Then, I sat there and stared at it for a while. It was hard to get my head out of the world of this book. I am looking forward to reading more by this author. I definitely lost sleep over this book!
Profile Image for ✨Bean's Books✨.
648 reviews2,919 followers
December 23, 2017
I'm sorry, I just cannot get into this story. I don't know what it is exactly but I just can't get into it and it's boring as hell. The author writes very well and very clearly. I've read a couple other books by him. But for whatever reason I just simply cannot get into this story. Just not interesting at all for me. I gave it a chance. That's all that matters.
Profile Image for Griffin Betz.
25 reviews10 followers
December 22, 2008
*Two and a Half Stars*

Having already read Gregory Maguire's Wicked I was something less than thrilled when I got roped into reading Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister for a decidedly informal book discussion group. It wasn't that I found Wicked a bad read, I actually rather enjoyed it, but the blurb on the back of "Confessions" lead me to think that Mr. Maguire had essentially repeated the same formula with a different fairy tale. (Actually, 'Wicked' was written after 'Confessions' but I read 'Wicked first...) Deconstructing a fairy tale and retelling it from the point of view of a traditionally unsympathetic character looses its novelty quickly.

Anybody who has read Wicked will instantly feel right at home. Mr. Maguire provides interesting characters and plots that keep a reader interested. That said, I found the writing itself in Wicked to be more polished than the writing in Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. The retelling of 'Cinderella' felt less developed and the world of "Confessions," 17th Century Holland, seems less vivid than Maguire's reimagining of Oz.

With the novelty of retooled fairy tales gone, "Confessions'" ended up being a bit underwhelming. While the opening scenes were engrossing, the middle of the book was merely ok and the climactic scene, Cinderella at the ball, ended up feeling slow and flat. The post script seems like an afterthought.

Mr. Maguire has turned his shtick into a cottage industry, which is fine. It's a decent shtick. But unless you're interested in going through a post-modern reinvention of every single one of Grimm's Fairy Tales, read Wicked. The concept is the same and the writing and the plot are better.
Profile Image for Joy H..
1,342 reviews62 followers
February 6, 2011
RE: _Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister_
Below are the comments I made about this book at my GR group:

I read Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire back in 2003, but have forgotten to add it to my shelves here. I will do that today.

I must have liked the book because I just found 15 pages of handwritten quotes which I had scribbled from it as I read! Even I can't believe it! LOL (These days I don't copy as many quotes because it's too time-consuming. I haven't got the energy either.)

Below is one quote from "Confessions" which I just now found among my notes:
"Approval is overrated. ... Approval and disapproval alike satisfy those who deliver it more than those who receive it. I don't care for approval and I don't mind doing without."
p. 182, _Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister_ by Gregory Maguire

I made the following notation for myself about the book: "Opens eyes to the world of art and artists."

BTW, I see that I was reading the book from March 2003 to June 2003. Took me a while, especially copying all those quotations! (lol)

PS-Another quotation from the book is below:
"Is there a relative value of beauty? Is evanescence - fleetingness - a necessary element of the thing that most moves us? A shooting star dazzles us more than the sun. A child captivates like an elf, but grows into grossness, an ogre, a harpy... a flower... only painting endures... But words endure too ... the small gesture of charity. Isn't that sort of beauty more beautiful than any other? ...perhaps charity is the kind of beauty that we comprehend the best because we miss it the most."
-Gregory Maguire, _Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister A Novel_, p. 313
Profile Image for Cheryl.
750 reviews18 followers
December 13, 2020

Chased from their English abode, their father killed and themselves sought to be next, Iris, Ruth and their mother Margarethe, flee to a Dutch town, hoping to be taken in by their grandfather. Upon arriving, seeking his home, they are ridiculed, shunned and abased. Both the girls are considered ugly. Ruth is a lumbering dimwit. Iris is a scrawny brain. No one wants to help or hire them. They are hungry, desperate and fraught.

Happening upon a painter in his studio, they query his work through an open window. He takes note of Iris.. intrigued by her blatant flaws. It is her that gains them access to work and shelter. He paints the unfortunates. He paints the religious scenes of depravity. He paints flowers. It all unifies and they maintain.

Set in the early craze for tulips and portraits, the trio winds up in the home of a more fortunate family. It is here that the beautiful, spoiled and sheltered Clara lives. A playmate and soon stepsister to Iris and Ruth while Margarethe works the kitchen.
The story unfurls, like a dying tulip, and wilts. Tho there is much kindness, mostly from the haves, there is cruelty from the wants. Greed plays a substantial part in this telling.

A love story, a mystery, a historical fiction. All set in With Macguire’s typical use of language, period and tart, which may slow the reading a tad, but it enriches as you go.

Profile Image for Jen.
136 reviews
January 20, 2015
I love this prequel to the age old story, Cinderella. IMO this was WAY better than the popular book, Wicked, by this author. I should also add that there's an interesting interview with the author on the final disc. It's always fascinating, to me, to get inside an author's brain.
Profile Image for Andy.
2,408 reviews190 followers
April 29, 2020
This was an all right story. Part prequel, part Cinderella retelling told from the POV of the stepsister. Iris is a strange and cunning child. After fleeing from the UK to Holland in the dead of night, Iris must help her mother try and make a living. They end up in the home of a master painter, before Iris finds a job as a servant to a wealthy family with a beautiful young daughter named Clara.

I don't have a lot to say about this book because for the most part it was very okay. I liked the complicated relationship between Iris and Clara and how they both cared and protected Ruth. The ending was really fun, but overall I didn't care about the characters much.
12 reviews1 follower
December 12, 2016
Schönheit vs Schoonheid
Beauty is in the eye of the culture. An individual’s outlook on the world includes their unique perspective of beauty, and is one of the remarkable topics implied in both Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire, and “Aschenputtel” by the Brother’s Grimm. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is a Cinderella story retold from a Dutch stepsister’s perspective. “Aschenputtel” by the Brother’s Grimm is a German version of the Cinderella story. There are similarities and differences between these two stories, specifically those of natural beauty versus magical beauty, how perceptions of beauty are reflected in personality, and beauty’s effect on culture and society.
Both of the stories clearly imply beauty in some way; however, they both present beauty in various ways. One contains an enchanted natural world and presents magic to imply beauty, while the other indicates realistic beauty. In “Aschenputtel”, Cinderella sings a song to the tree while weeping. The tree hears it and sends pigeons to help her: “The bird threw a gold and silver dress down to her, and slippers embroidered with silk and silver (Grimm 2). Two symbols in “Aschenputtel”, the tree and the pigeons, emphasize the beauty of humans, or in this case Cinderella, with the help of their magical power in nature. Opposingly, in Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, the wildflowers are a symbol of nature’s beauty. Iris is asked by Schoonmaker to be his model in a painting of wildflowers. Later in time, when the painting is all done, Iris gets an opportunity to see the painting, and finds herself to be less attractive than she is in real life. Casper, who is the apprentice of Schoonmaker, tells Iris that “‘he’s taken and flattened all that is attractive in you’” (Maguire 51). It is because the master wanted to have heightened contrast between the two objects, the wildflowers and Iris.The master makes Iris plain and unappealing to make the flowers look more alluring than they are: “They’re about simple values, which are natural, not artificial or cultivated” (Maguire 51). These examples demonstrate that beauty is signified with natural features. Both the tree in “Aschenputtel” and the wildflowers in Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister are significant factors to the two plots and characters in the stories, representing beauty.
Secondly, a person’s character is often affected by their beauty. In “Aschenputtel”, there are two stepsisters and a stepmother who are “beautiful and fair of face, but vile and black of heart” (Grimm 1). Their father “bought beautiful dresses, pearls and jewels” (Grimm 1) to help them decorate themselves and make them prettier. The stepmother treated Cinderella with cruelty when she said "No, Cinderella, thou hast no clothes and thou canst not dance; thou wouldst only be laughed at" (Grimm 2). The stepmother and stepsisters are full of confidence and sassiness, with the attitude of looking down on people other than themselves. They exploit and take advantages of their temporary appearance and are careless about their inner beauty. Contrastingly, in Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Clara is overprotected and exploited by her parents. Since she had a beautiful appearance, her parents use her by painting her portrait to make money. Even when “Clara refuses to sit for the sketches anymore” (Maguire 100), her parents are undaunted. She is just a monkey in a zoo who is there for the visitors, and as a result, She becomes a person who is very timid and temperamental. Clara hides herself in her room or the kitchen because she is afraid of leaving her comfort zone, and being recognized in public. She feels uncomfortable when she gets attention, and she rather “be alone and to play by herself” (Maguire 85). Even though both characters are beautiful on the outside, their inner color personalities are very different.
Not only do perceptions of beauty affect a person’s characteristics, but they also have an impact on culture and society. Cinderella(also known as Clara in Confession of an Ugly Stepsister) is the one who is always getting attention in both versions of the Cinderella story. This is because Cinderella is the perfect example of beauty in society in both stories. In “Aschenputtel”, this is directly indicated when Cinderella presents herself at the ball and “everyone was astonished at her beauty” (Grimm 3). The prince notices her, and he “instantly took her by the hand and danced with no one but her” (Grimm 3). The prince is attracted by Cinderella’s outer beauty, without knowing her personality as a human. Perhaps, the ball itself demonstrates the importance of outward appearances in the culture, because the purpose of the ball is to find a bride for the prince judging only by appearance. In Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Clara is the one who always has to stand next to van den Meer to sell her beauty, and to be exploited by him. Everybody who does business with van den Meer is obsessed with Clara and the flower that she is holding. The quote “‘look--you want to see beauty,’ says van den Meer, a proud father, ‘look at her. Have you laid eyes upon a more pleasing figure? She’ll grow to be a fine woman’” (Maguire 75), shows that the society have standardized beauty which depends on her. Van den Meer’s “appreciation of his daughter makes Iris’s eyes sting” (Maguire 75) because his praise towards Clara’s beauty indirectly ridicules Iris’s appearance, which he thinks is not pretty enough. Van den Meer doesn’t care about people other than Clara, because she is the one who makes him money. The two cultures in these stories have differences, but the impact of beauty is applied in some way to both.
Beauty is a powerful factor influencing many aspects in life, and is not just something that can be justified as superficial thing. The two authors, Gregory Maguire and the Brother’s Grimm, wrote two different versions of the story of the Cinderella with different interpretations of beauty. The analyses illustrated above identifies the theme of realistic beauty and unrealistic beauty, differing personalities formed by outer beauty, and the impact of beauty on society. After considering two authors’ notion towards the beauty, now is the time for you to think about; how is the beauty valued for you?
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Emily Hayslett.
27 reviews2 followers
March 31, 2021
4.0 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but it was not quite what I expected. For about half the book, there are very few correlations between the narrative being told and the fairy tale Cinderella, on which this story is based. Maguire spends most of the time developing Iris (ugly step sister), and Clara (Cinderella). My first experience with Gregory Maguire was Wicked (I never read it, but watched the musical, I plan to remedy this), so I think I expected more shocking twists and reveals. I was not exactly surprised by anything that happened, but it was an enjoyable experience. The writing is colorful and whimsical, and makes you feel like everything is sunny and warm, despite being a slightly darker version of the classic fairy tale. I think as I have gotten older I have started to reject the narrative that heroines must be pretty and talented, which is why Iris is so refreshing. I feel (except for some subtle adult content), this is actually a much healthier version of Cinderella for young girls. It teaches us that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and that you do not have to be aesthetically pleasing to accomplish great things and find love. That beauty itself can have consequences, and there are better things to do than spend our lives wishing to be prettier, or thinner, or more talented.

Thank you Gregory Maguire for continuing to challenge our perspectives.
Profile Image for Rebecca Weller.
Author 5 books47 followers
July 11, 2018
It was an interesting retelling. Cinderella or Clara was quite the character, and Iris was likeable. You wanted her to find happiness. I enjoyed the painting element and was glad that Iris got to do what she loved.
Profile Image for Alesha Kaur.
7 reviews1 follower
May 9, 2023
The story is set in Holland during the 17th century. It is the retelling of Cinderella fairytale. Of cause with less fantasy and magic. In the beginning, I sympathised with Iris character, the protagonist. Her father was murdered, she was often left with no food, fleeing from their birth land to becoming cleaners for the painter schoonmaker. But as the story evolve, Iris was no less than her mother when it came to being manipulative and ungrateful. I felt sadness for Clara plight. Her mother’s death, reader will learn towards the end that Margaret was the one who killed the pregnant owner of the house. Real or her melancholy playing out when she was in distress, it was hard to digest. How could Clara even continue to live in the house with her mother’s alleged murderer. There was also lines about going to the grave to remove Hanrika jewellery. Lines about Clara father not knowing Margaret confession and how the sisters chose not to tell him so that they had a roof over their heads of cause. How extreme and low of the fishers family. Indeed opportunist at every turn. How desperate could the character Margaret get. She got loss in her vain attempt to provide the basics for her ugly daughters to becoming one who flatters herself around town with pompous garb. Of cause, as a reader the business going into a loss was good. Margaret deserved it. More pain as the story went on, writing was slow paced. In some chapters, a situation is explained in great detail and you look forward to more but it comes to a sudden end. Felt incomplete.
I find the Fisher family were ungrateful pestilent people. Bringing misery and misfortune wherever they go. They were ungrateful to their host, to schoonmaker, to Clara, to the dresser who made their gowns to their creditors. They used everyone. Ruth and Iris character lacked virtue. Ruth played dumb, Ruth was jealous of poor Clara, Ruth burned the the tulip flower painting. Ungrateful yet again but not surprising for she is evil Margaret child. I don t get why the writer felt the need to challenge the traditional tale of beauty going against all odds to be with her price charming ? little was mention about Clara and the prince towards the end again a sudden halt to that storyline. But to portray beauty as a curse was confusing to me and it took me time to adjust to complete the book.
Profile Image for Ainur.
408 reviews45 followers
April 8, 2015
This is a retelling of Cinderella. The story itself, telling from the perspective of the ugly stepsister intrigued me. Instead of full of magical or a fairy tale ending, the author told the story in a different way. This story seems real. It sets in Holland during the 17th century.

I don’t know what I was expecting when I’m reading this. When I looked at the cover, I thought, okay, maybe in this story Cinderella is the bad guy, maybe she got her prince and being a bitch or something. Maybe I was expecting some pumpkins, fairy god mother, etc. Or at least some tiny bit of magic. But as I reached the middle part of the book, I realised this is not that kind of story. This story potrays real life.

The character, Iris, herself is captivated by this magical stuff that she saw things differently. She thought Clara is a changeling. She thought that there was an imp, following them all the way from England. She kind of remind me of Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey, who is obsessed with Gothic thrillers, that she can’t differentiate between fiction and real life.

My favorite character is Iris. She’s smart and observant. It would be nice if she listens to the Master, stop judging herself solely on her plain look.

Self-mockery is an uglier thing than any human face.

I think for one fairy tale retelling, this story gave a very good message, on beauty. How can one actually measure beauty? Is it a curse or a blessing? Iris, in this story kept degrading herself because of her plainness, in complete oblivion of her talent, her cleverness. She can made the Prince talked to her, because she can converse with him in English. She became the apprentice of the Master, because she is an observant. She captured Caspar’s heart because she’s an intelligent person. All this, she cannot see because she kept reminding herself that she is simply plain.

This is a good book, but I don’t feel like re-reading it. It was okay, for me.
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