Literature: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister
A novel by Gregory Maguire
(also known for Wicked
and Mirror, Mirror
) and, later, a direct-to-TV movie, Confessions of an Ugly Sister
is a revisionist rewriting of the story of Cinderella
, focusing on the point of view of Iris and how she became the stepsister of the mysteriously beautiful Clara.
Taking place in the 17th century Europe, Iris and her mentally challenged sister Ruth, and her mother flee an angry mob and start a new life with nothing but a determination to give her children a better life.
Iris sees the world through fanciful eyes, and still believes in fairy tales, causing her to question whether her new stepsister's beauty and grace may be supernatural.
The story contains examples of the following tropes:
- Adaptational Attractiveness: Iris is repeatedly described as painfully plain faced, but is played by a genuinely lovely looking girl in the movie.
- Book Ends: The Prologue and Epilogue go hand-in-hand quite nicely.
- Bittersweet Ending: Despite everything, no one's ending is truly happy or sad. Iris marries Caspar and becomes a painter, but dies relatively early in life. Clara and the prince also die young-ish, but leave a legacy for the Fishers and Cornelius. Ruth is provided for by Caspar and Iris while the latter is still alive. Margarethe is still alive at the end, but has gone blind. The Master never achieves fame and never loses his reputation.
- Cinderella Circumstances: Though Clara's toiling in the ashes and dressing in rags was more out of being a brat than anything. Margaret pressures Iris to try and win over the prince at the ball instead of Clara because she knows Clara would leave her step-family to rot in poverty.
- Changeling Fantasy: Clara thinks she's this. It's really just her dealing with the trauma of kidnapping.
- Coming-of-Age Story: Iris grows more mature through out the book, starts taking up a craft, and starts having her first romantic feelings for the painter's apprentice.
- Death by Childbirth: Henrika, Clara's mother. Though it is revealed that Margaret had also been poisoning her.
- Fallen Princess: After her family loses all of their massive wealth due to the Tulip stock crash.
- Gray and Gray Morality: The van den Meers want to get rich. The Fishers want safety and comfort. Fate has other ideas.
- Inspirationally Disabled: Averted, Ruth is not heartwarmingly disadvantaged, she isn't a savant trying to overcome the odds, and she isn't meant to tug at our heart strings. She is just a severely mentally disabled girl.
- Kiddie Kid: Henrika deliberately keeps Clara in a childlike state in spite of her actually being in her mid-teens.
- Lack of Empathy: Aside from basic loyalty to her biological parents, Clara's exile from the world has left her with an almost animalistic sense of self-preservation and indifference towards her step-family. Subverted at the finale when she performs her first genuinely selfless action.
- Lonely Rich Kid
- Mama Bear: Margaret is not above anything when it comes to giving her and her daughters a better life.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The book starts off with its grip on reality being slightly loose, but it seems to generally be a normal world seen from the eyes of a over imaginative child.
- Meaningful Name: Iris (the eye and flower) for her insight. Clara (clarity) in spite of her blindness.
- Mistaken for Gay. Caspar. Invoked by Margarethe, who implied he was gay so Iris would choose someone with better prospects.
- My Beloved Smother: Henrika, Henrika, Henrika.
- Noodle Incident: What happened to Clara in the windmill is alluded to several times, but the two accounts are both rather vague and contrary. It's never made certainly clear.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Either Ruth wasn't as mentally handicapped as she let on, or she eventually had a large breakthrough later on in life.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: Iris is still plain faced and homely, but she does end up having a quiet elegance to her when she goes to the ball.
- Shrinking Violet: Iris and Clara, in different ways. Iris remains oblivious to her own brilliance while Clara, despite her perfect beauty, hates being looked at.
- So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Played with. On the one hand, Clara wangsts at length about how she hates being looked at and that her beauty comes at such a high cost. Iris has limited sympathy, but has to admit that Clara's beauty has come at a fairly high price.
- Spoiled Sweet: Clara veers between this and straight-up Spoiled Brat. Depending on the context she's either a straight-up Woobie terrified of the world, or a bratty Jerkass who refuses to demands everyone else take care of her.
- True Art Is Offensive: The Master, and his entire room full of paintings of deformed ugly people.