|Confessions of an |
Shortly before the great Tulip Crash in the late 1630s, two sisters and their mother flee the fens of England to Haarlem. Finding their family dead or gone, the mother, Margarethe, browbeats a local painter into taking them in. The daughters, Ruth and Iris, follow in her wake, get caught up in her schemes, and try to find a place for themselves. Ruth is a mute and treated as a burden by her family. Iris is intelligent, but described as painfully plain. In fact, the only reason the painter takes the family in is to paint Iris for his gallery of god's mistakes. The story that follows is told primarily from Iris' perspective. Through Iris' eyes, Maguire shows you how desperate things could get for women who got caught on the outside, with out family or, let's just say it, a man to take care of them. (In fact, there are hints that Margarethe and her daughters were chased out of England because the townspeople suspected Margarethe of witchcraft.)
Semper Augustus, the most
expensive tulip sold during
the tulip mania. The flower
is referenced in this book.
Maguire follows the broad outlines of the Cinderella story. Clara's mother dies and Margarethe marries her father. The father is ruined during the mania and retreats into grief. Clara is given more and more household chores, though she actually seems happy not to be paraded around by her father and stared at by strangers. After some months pass, Marie de Medici, the dowager queen of France, arrives in Haarlem to seek a portraitist and a wife for her nephew, Philippe. A ball is held and Iris sneaks her stepsister, Clara, in, where Clara catches the eye of the prince. There are no supernatural elements in this story, but there are hints of the fairy tale to come in the mundane details.
I liked Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister much more than Wicked. I liked Wicked, too, but Maguire was much more hemmed in by the boundaries of The Wizard of Oz. Cinderella is a much more flexible story. Maguire had more room to explore the characters' motivations, to make the story more psychologically and historically believable. For a novel based on a fairy tale, there was so much realism in Confessions.