Ahead of going to the Royal Opera House tonight to see Massenet's Cendrillon, I thought I'd take the trouble to read Massenet's original source, the version published in the 1698 collection of fairy tales by Charles Perrault (if you're interested in looking at original sources like this, by the way, Project Gutenberg is a wonderful thing).

Apart from some archaic spelling, Perrault's French is hardly different from the modern language, and the story is much as I remember it from various childhood tellings of Cinderella. There's the odd difference - for example, Cinderella goes to the ball on two successive nights, on the first of which she decorously leaves at 11:45, and the whole Disney scene of Cinderella's clothes being restitched is notably absent. But what really struck me was the ending.

Everyone knows the ending to Cinderella, don't they? She marries the Prince, and they all live happily ever after. Perrault is no different, except that he always appends a moral to his fairy tales, and in this case, two. After the obvious one about how virtue (he calls it "bonne grace") is worth more than beauty, Perrault provides the following alternative moral: C'est sans doute un grand avantage, D'avoir de l'esprit, du courage, De la naissance, du bon sens, Et d'autres semblables talens, Qu'on reçoit du Ciel en partage; Mais vous aurez beau les avoir, Pour vostre avancement ce seront choses vaines; Si vous n'avez, pour les faire valoir, Ou des parrains ou des maraines. No doubt it's a great advantage To have spirit, courage High birth, good sense And other similar talents That we receive as our share from Heaven But even it you have these They will do little for your advancement If to make them worthwhile, you lack Godfathers or godmothers Or, to put it in more modern, more prosaic and briefer language: "It's not what you know, it's who you know".

Anyone who follows the UK political saga of Nick Clegg and the "father making a phone call" to get his child a job, please take note.

11th July 2011