Affection – Lyrics I wrote aged 17!

You twisted a nerve,
consulted my curves,
swallowed some dirt,
smiled with grit in your teeth.

Swollen my soul, removed the black hole
delved into the sea, pearls of wisdom at your feet.
Flying with the angels, playing the devil asking…
and answering riddles.

A muse to a poet, a stave in some music.
Center of the universe, riding on a comet, spinning upside down.


Daffodils – Lyrics I wrote aged 17!

Sitting on my windowsill,
Staring at those daffodils,
Watching as the sun shines down on me.

Hoping it’s gonna rain, to take my blues away.
Raining on the empty plains and down those country lanes.
Feeling like the sun has chosen me to be it’s summer queen.
But I’m not in the mood for buttercups, dresses or make-up.
Don’t know why I feel this way?
Sun is shining on a brand new day but I’m safe in yesterday.

The Tomlinsons – Amber – Episode 3 – Part 5

The ever lingering wedding of Lola and John eventually came around. The wedding invitation sat prominently on the fridge reminding her every time she made tea or had a midnight cheese craving. She had received it at work, where Mark … Continue reading

How do fairytales and myths represent gender roles in society?

How do Fairy Tales and Myths represent Gender roles in society?
An Essay

With so many myth and fairy tale narratives still being used in today’s media, I was interested in discovering why these narratives were still popular in today’s society. How have these narratives lasted so long, and how are they significant today, being that a number of the narratives are centuries years old.

I knew through previous research into myth and fairytale, that their narratives reflected the history of the time in which they were based, but I wanted to extent my knowledge further. I formulated a series of questions, what was the relationship between myth and fairy tale? How did they represent the society in which they were based? Who wrote them and why? And if they are based on historical times, why do we primarily understand them to be fictional?

In this essay I will be presenting both a feminist and psychoanalysis reading of myth and fairy tale, in order to understand the meaning of the narratives. The emphasis being on the gender roles represented in the narratives, and the symbolical meaning behind certain ideas and events. My psychoanalysis reading will offer ideas of the unconscious and the Oedipus complex, using the theory of Sigmund Freud and writer Bruno Bettelheim. My feminist reading will investigate the relationship between the women who wrote the tales, the main protagonist they created, and women in society today.

An Introduction: To Fairy Tales and Myth

Fairy Tales

In order to tackle the topic of gender issues within popular fairytales and myths I will initially need to give a brief overview of their histories.

Oral folktales had been in circulation for centuries before the literary form of fairytales eventually took shape in seventeenth century, Europe. During the reign of Louis XIV, there had been a fashion for oral fairy tales in France.

The French high classes made up tales during group games, played during leisure times. They then once finished, preformed them for those in the company of the King. Previously, long-winded romances were the popular tales of choice. However, the story tellers had wearied of these fables and turned to more light entertainment, feeling they held people’s attention more.

In Anne Thackeray Ritchie’s Introduction to ‘The Fairy tales of Madame D’Aulnoy’ she suggests that maybe the sudden interest in fairy tales, was because the French people were trying to forget the disastrous decisions Louis XV was making, after he replaced Louis XIV. In an attempt to reunite the French court, they used the ideas of fantasy, by using the tools of wonder and marvel as a distraction, to help them forget and move on from their present predicament. It was during this period, that a society of women arranged meetings and began collecting, during their leisure time, a history of tales. Madame D’Aulnoy was amongst them.

Many literary historians agree that the point of origin for the literary fairytale starts with French writer Charles Perrault, believing him to have created a new genre of literature where before there had been only myths and folklore. Although his collection ‘Contes du temps passé’ (1697) was never intended to be read by children, instead Perrault was perceived to be

‘more concerned with demonstrating how French folklore could be adapted to the taste of the French high culture and used as a new genre within art within the French civilising process’

Perrault was not the only author trying to attract the attention of French high culture. Many authors contributed to the form, style and symbols associated with fairytales today that caught the court’s attention. Madame D’Aulnoy followed in Perrault’s footsteps shortly afterwards by having her tales published, along with many of her friends and contemporaries.

The aesthetics for the fairy tales developed through the gatherings, and the tales produced during the time had a serious and reflective side. The writer’s implied their thoughts and ideas on society issues in the tales they wrote. Yet many of the tales produced were very different in content and style, and all considered as ‘anticlassical’. Greek and Roman Myth were understood as classical because of its ancient history, and the stories moral lessons that had been used for centuries. Fairy tales however, were considered as entertainment literature, an even though they convey significance and ethics. The Canon’s definition of ‘classical literature’ says

‘By definition, a canon is (1) an authoritative list of books accepted as Holy Scripture (2) the authoritative works of an author. Or (3) The accepted body of works that have come to be widely recognised as ‘major’ or ‘the best’ and are referred to as ‘literary classics’ by a consensus of critics, scholars and teachers’

Therefore at the time of their popularity, Fairy tales did not fit into these categories.

What we regard as fairy tale today was then in fact just one type of folk-tale tradition, called the ‘Zaubermarchen’ (The magical tale), which in itself had many sub-genres. The French Writers of the late seventeenth century including Perrault would have categorised these tales as ‘Contes de fees’ (Fairy tales) so they could distinguish them from other kinds of popular tales at the time.

What distinguished a ‘fairy tale’ (based on an oral ‘Zaubermarchen’) in its development into a literary tale that addressed the concerns, tastes and functions of court culture. They had to fit in to appeal to the French ‘high’ culture, and be told in salons, parlours and court in order to appeal to aristocrats and the bourgeoisie. They would then determine whether the tales were going to establish themselves as popular.

Jack Zipes writes in ‘Fairy Tale as Myth: Myth as Fairy tale’ that during this period the majority of writers and storytellers were women, and the distinction between the tales told by women and those by men began to surface. He cites Renate Baader who comments.

While Perrault’s bourgeois and male tales with happy ends had pledged themselves to the moral that called for Griseldis to serve as a model for women, the women writers had to make an effort to defend the insights that had been gained in the past decades. Mlle Scudery’s novels and novellas stood as examples for them and taught them how to redeem their own wish reality in the fairy tale. They probably remembered how feminine faults had been revalorized by men and how the aristocratic women had responded to this in their self portraits.

The major literary fairytales produced at the end of the seventeenth century included ‘Les Contes des fees’ by Madame D’Aulnoy (1697-98), ‘Les contes des contes’ (1697) and ‘Oeuvres mêlées’ by Lady Elspeth de Forbeys (1696).

Marina Warner writes of Perrault
‘In the eyes of prosperity, Charles Perrault has become the most famous pioneer teller of fairy tales. But he was greatly outnumbered, and in some instances also preceded, by women aficionadas of ‘Contes de fees’ whose work has now faded from view…the heyday of the genre as a literary form, includes more than twenty authors; of these over half are women’

The differences noted between the two sexes and their approaches to the tales, are their different social attitudes, especially in terms of gender and class differences. Where the male writers wrote happy, light hearted tales about bravery and discovery, they still used old ideas about gender and class distinctions. The female writers however, saw their opportunity to re-address the fictional assumptions placed upon women in literature by men. By trying to invent a truthful portrayal of class and gender differences in the society they lived in at the time, they changed their tales to reflect their own lives and their opinions on their society.

Zipes continues to comment that despite the search literary historians have pursued in order to find an origin to literary fairy tales they have overlooked one point of discussion that reunites all the early authors. That the tales they wrote were not intended for children.

Fairy tales today are currently understood as fiction, primarily told for entertainment purposes and less in the ways of educating children to the correct ways of society. They are stories believed by neither narrator nor audience, and very few are to do with faeries. But just because they are considered fiction, does not mean they do not have any deep significance or make specific historical or social points, just that they are seen to be ‘untrue’.

In Western Society there have been many adaptations of fairy tales narratives used for current fiction novels. They still obtain a huge amount of popularity today amongst women, and these specific adaptations are now classed as being part of a ‘chick lit’ (literature) genre. Jane Austen who still remains popular today, also used the fairy tale as a narrative structure for her novels, Mansfield Park for its likeness to Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast has one or two similarities with Pride and Prejudice. Austen novels too have been modified, and still include strong fairy tale narratives.


The Oxford English Dictionary offers us a surprisingly short definition of myth.

‘A purely fictitious narrative usually involving supernatural persons, actions, or events, and embodying some popular idea concerning natural or historical phenomena’ it points out that as a consequence it can mean ‘a fictitious or imaginary person or object’ and there is the subsidiary meaning in standard usage of ‘an untrue or popular tale, a rumour’

The dictionary definition leaves many question to be addressed about myths, mainly the idea that they are ‘purely fictitious’. Those who study myth seem to have much more complicated definitions as to what ‘myth’ actually is.

Myth is typically thought off as traditional sacred story of anonymous authorship and classic or universal significance. Certain myths are popular and important to certain communities and often linked to ritual. They tell of superhuman beings, such as Gods, heroes, spirits and ghosts and are typically set outside historical time in the prehistoric or in the future, either that or in a supernatural world unlike our own or as part of our human history.

There are many theories about what Myth is, and Susan Sellers offers an academic’s view on the question. While some theorists agree with the Oxford English Dictionary’s description, others try to expand its explanation and try to place its significance in our culture. For Eric Dardell, Myth is a mainstream story with instant impact, for Riana Eisner myth is a story with overwhelming characters and something passed down through generations that carry a history.

The most conventional view of Myth, in today’s culture is the idea that Myth was how so-called ‘prehistoric’ persons comprehended the world. Cultural anthropologist F.G.Frazer wrote in his study ‘The Golden Bough’ (Freud reworked Frazer’s study for his account on the ‘Oedipal complex’) that human progression has happened through cycles, characterised by magic, then religion and culminating in the rationalism of science. Many criticise Frazer’s study by linking the beginning of Myths with the possibility that they were in fact created through incantations accompanied by ceremonial acts involving a grouping of people.

G.R. Manton writes they were created through the idea of a performance, much like the fairy tale narratives that evolved through social events in the late seventeenth century. The content, Manton writes, depended on the occasion and the type of audience. Sellers writes

‘Implicit in Manton’s view is the notion that myths were gradually embellished and honed over time through audience participation and the invention of the tellers until it had achieved the maximum effect’

The fact that Myths stem from limitless generations of oral telling means that we cannot canonise their diversity into standard versions and authorised interpretations, just like the fairy tale.

There are numerous ways to read and analyse Myths in terms of gender. Amongst those are a psychoanalysis and feminist approach. As with fairy tales, feminists concerned themselves with the reader, and their identifying themselves with the characters in the tales. Some critics insist that readers identify with characters irrespective of sex, and that feminist writers who try to create more positive role models for women by reworking Myths and fairy tales, forget the way we read a text. Sellers cites Kay Stone

‘It is, she stresses, a tactic which responds to the story’s surface meaning overlooking other levels, such as the fact that the prince might symbolise inner strength’

So Stone, along with other critics, thinks that the symbolic language in myths and fairytales have been over looked. She suggests that if feminist writers are remaining open to the countless readings of a text, then as a feminist reader the same rule must apply. They must do this without imposing their own prejudices or preference and selecting only those elements which support their view.

Opposing this view are feminist writers including Angela Carter, who comprehended that myths and fairy tales portray negative gender representation towards women. Feminist critics follow a method of reading that involves the reader’s active involvement in the text, which brings to attention the undertone of sexuality and unconscious desires suggested in both Myths and Fairy tales.

‘Angela Carter represents a strong school of argument which insists that the context in which one reads shapes what one reads’

Carter was involved with re-feminising works by male authors and had a fascination with the oral story telling tradition. She rewrote several adaptations of fairy tales in ‘The Bloody chamber’ which contained reworking of both Perrault and The Grimm’s tales. Carter explained her reason for undertaking the task, being because female protagonists presented to women in many fairy tales and myths, did not engage with women readers in present times. They simply did not represent contemporary views and understandings of twentieth century women.

Laurence Coupe writes in ‘Myth’
‘Myth will always need retelling and reinterpreting, and the women’s movement and, feminist and post feminist, has made striking contributions to the process.’

The use of Psychoanalysis in Myth and Fairytale

What is Psychoanalysis?

Sigmund Freud, it is believed, created Psychoanalysis by ‘synthesizing ideas and information coming from different, theoretical and clinical directions’ in the late nineteenth century. Psychoanalysis gave many theories to how the mind worked, but very little scientific knowledge. There were many explanations created as to why people behaved a certain way, including demonic possession, the will of gods and them either inherently being born good or evil.

Psychoanalysis is a specific method of mind investigation techniques and a therapy inspired by the unconscious. Its practices are closer to that of psychotherapy, and farther from its links to philosophy. It became a therapy treatment of neurosis in order to help those considered mental ill or imbalanced. The therapy includes sessions with a trained psychotherapist, in which the patient is asked to remember life altering events in their lives, which then will highlight a possible course of treatment and a specific fear.

At the beginning of his studies Freud was interested in the ideas of his patient’s current behaviours and actions, being linked to an early disturbance to the mind. After great examination he realised that the mind was much more intricate then first presumed. This complexity, he understood, was what ‘drove many people to form socially unacceptable thoughts or make dangerous decisions.’

In Freud’s early studies, Psychoanalysis relied heavily on patient’s repressed sexual fantasies and early childhood experiences. Freud hoped that if he could help his patients confront traumatic memories in a safe environment, so he could understand their difficulties.

Psychoanalysis and Gender

The differences between men and women have been a continuing curiosity throughout history. With the growth of science in the nineteenth century these differences came under enquiry. Psychoanalysis was never primarily concerned with these differences, but theories surrounding the practice did try to describe the mental processes concerned in the journey we make from children to adulthood. These theories have been used for decades to analysis fairy tales and myths effect on children and their suggestions about adulthood and life, because they offer ideas on child psychology and unconscious desires and needs hidden within the texts.

The psychoanalysis theories most used in connection with myth and fairy tales are the Oedipus and Electra complex. The process describes a period in which a child identifying with their same sex parent, whilst harbouring sexual feelings for their opposite sex parent.

The Oedipus complex was aptly named after the Greek Myth, in which Oedipus fulfils a prophecy by killing his father and marrying his mother, which brings disaster to his family and city. Freud chose the name to explain his opinion of the certain problems that take place during childhood. These problems involved repressed sexual feelings and desires as a child. Although Oedipus in the Greek myth does not suffer from these sexually repressed problems, Freud explained his name chose further by explaining, that the Greek audience of the tale would have known who Oedipus’s mother and father was, even if he did not, and they engaged with the story for that very reason.

Freud describes the Oedipus complex as the stage where young boys (around 5-6years old) learn to identify with their fathers (same sex parent) by trying to act like them as much as possible. This progression for girls is called the Electra Complex/Conflict.

‘The boy deals with his father by identifying him with him. For a time these two relationships proceed side by side, until the boy’s sexual wishes in regards to his mother become more intense and his father is perceived as an obstacle to them, from this the oedipal complex originates’

It is believed that at some point a child realises the differences between their mother and father, and around the same time they realise that they are more like one than the other, here is were the child acquires a gender.

There have been many accounts written about the oedipal complex for boys, but very little in terms of the Electra complex for girls. Freud rejected the phrase coined by Carl Jung a fellow psychoanalyst, because he felt it tried to highlight the similarity between the attitudes of the two sexes, similarities be did not believe existed. Freud’s work on female psychology has been continuously criticised for its limitations of only being based upon gender and class social conventions. During the time of Freud’s work many females were still consider as a ‘second sex’.

Carl Jung named the Electra complex after the Greek Myth of Electra, in which a woman asks her brother to murder their mother in vengeance for the killing of their father. Freud uses the Electra complex (what he called the Oedipus complex for girls) as a method of explaining ‘Penis envy’. The concept was that once a female gets to the age were she understands the differences between her parents, she builds a close relationship with her mother, because she identifies with her. But she begins to observe the intimate connection between her parents and this creates envy. Seeing the only reason for the favouritism as being her lack of penis, the girl it is presumed feels resentment towards her mother who she blames for the castration.

Bruno Bettelheim and ‘The uses of enchantment’

Bruno Bettelheim begins the chapter Fairy tale vs. Myth in ‘The uses of Enchantment’ with a mention of Plato. He explains his choice, being that he agreed with Plato views on the significance of reading stories to young children.

“We begin by telling children fables, and the fable is, taken as a whole, false, but there is truth in it also… Even if they were true I should not think that they ought to be thus lightly told to thoughtless young persons’

Plato describes in his writing a proposal for a model republic. This being where children were firstly taught a literary education enabling them to collect thoughts and ideas from the texts for themselves as was naturally intended. This view conflicted that of a so-called rational teaching of the time. He felt the art of storytelling was a key influence and consequence on a child’s life in dealing with their environment and emotions. He also cites Aristotle who he calls the ‘Master of pure reason’ for his quote ‘The friend of wisdom is also a friend of myth’

Bettelheim criticised his contemporaries for wanting children to only be exposed to ‘real’ people and events. He proposed that the process of hearing stories like fairy tales and myths enables a child to deal with inner unconscious needs that Sigmund Freud discussed in his works around the Oedipal complex.

Through the stages of the Oedipus and Electra complex, the child is assumed to struggle with many conflicts and anxieties. This is where Bettelheim understood Fairytales and myths to help a child defeat their repressed feelings, and to learn a coping method through the performance of the hero/heroine in the story.

‘One can tell a small boy many times that someday he will grow up, marry, and be like his father – without avail. Such realistic advice provides no relief from the pressure the child feels right now. But the fairy tale tells the child how he can live with his conflicts; it suggests fantasies he could never invent for himself.’

Living out their repressed fantasies through the characters means that the child has discovered a way of dealing with their inner hidden fears, helping them to be capable of dealing with their unwanted feelings. Bettelheim lists several ways in which fairy tales and myths do this.

He notes the figure of the unlikely hero, (usually a little boy, or young man) who has no encouragement from the people around him, but goes out into the world for an adventure, or a quest and eventually is a success. By showing this improbable figure proving himself by either slaying, solving riddles or living by his wits and goodness, this encourages the child to consider that they are also qualified of the same great success. The hero with his purity and integrity brings with him childlike naïve qualities, with whom the young boy can identify with. This point is further made by Bettelheim, who believes young boys can’t help put place themselves in the male protagonist role. ‘No little boy has ever failed to see himself in the starring role.’

Usually, the hero is rewarded after his victory by marrying a beautiful princess. Bettelheim writes that the task of bravery the hero has to face (before marrying), is a representation of the child’s desire to be rid of their father, by either outwitting or slaying him. With this threat out of the way, the hero can safely, and without remorse marry the princess (an interpretation of the child’s mother).

Bettelheim believes this act is also made more vital for the hero to do, in that many desirable female/princess are usually being held captive by an evil figure. Consequently, the hero has no choice but to rescue the princess and eliminate the evil figure. He reminds us that the child only feels secure in these circumstances because both parents are represented as other people and either in peril or wicked. For this reason he channels his repressed ideas and feelings into the act of becoming a proud champion.

‘Further, the story gives veracity to the boy’s feeling that the most desirable female is kept in captivity by an evil figure, while implying that it is not mother the child wants for himself, but a marvellous and wonderful woman he hasn’t meet yet, but certainly will’

He finishes the chapter with a quote from Mircea Eliade, who as a religious historian and philosopher saw fairy tales as. ‘Models for human behaviour [that,] by very fact, give meaning and value to life’.

Bettelheim has been criticized on many occasions for ‘The uses of enchantment’. The aim of the book was to analyses fairy tales with the use of Freud’s psychoanalysis. He discussed the emotional and representative significance of fairy tales for children, together with tales that at one time in history were considered too disturbing, including those by the Grimm brothers.

Jack Zipes a critic of Bettelheim writes that Bettelheim was compelled to write ‘The uses of enchantment’ out of dissatisfaction, he felt that the literature being produced for children was more concerned with developing the child’s mind and personality. He however wanted to concentrate more on the difficult inner problems that he felt children experienced.

‘Therefore, Bettelheim explored the great potential of fairy tales as literary models for children since ‘more can be learned from them, about their inner problems of human beings, and of the right solutions to their predicaments in any society, than from any other type of story within a child’s comprehension’

Zipes criticised Bettelheim’s use of a grand statement, exclaiming he invests too much weight on the behalf of fairy tales powers. Although Zipes admires Bettelheim’s good intentions of trying to benefit children deemed mentally imbalanced, he explains he can’t however, because ‘The uses of enchantment’ disseminates misleading philosophy about the original intent of Freudian psychoanalysis theory, and about the literary quality of fairy tales that leaves the reader in confusion. Zipes continues

‘Not only is the manner in which Bettelheim would impose meaning onto fairy tale authoritarian and unscientific, but his stance is symptomatic of numerous humanitarian educators who perpetuate the diseases they desire to cure’

Zipes amongst others have criticized Bettelheim’s work as being sexist. Throughout ‘The uses of enchantment’ be refers to children as ‘he’, and does not take into context the effect of the stereotypes placed upon the characters influence children and their understanding about gender characteristics.

‘No wonder that his book is largely male-orientated and fails to make careful distinctions between the sexes, age, ethnicity, and class backgrounds of children. Nor does he bother to consider that the theories derived from Freud have to be made more historical and scientific to account for sex, age, ethnic, and class differences’

Another fairy tale critic Marina Warner, looks beyond Freudian interpretation in ‘From the beast to the blonde’ and writes about the tellers and social and cultural texts, in which the tales are told. She includes a wide scale of tales, from the ancient to Disney and feminist writer Angela Carter. Warner was more concerned with exploring the various roles of women assumed in fairy tales, rather than the effect it had on children.

‘For Marina Warner, fairy tale is an inherently feminist genre. She notes, how the reading of fairy tale is popularly regarded as a ‘girly’ activity, and recalls how as a child the genre’s characteristic shape shifting appeared to hold out the possibility of change.’

Bettelheim’s case study of Cinderella

Bettelheim analyses many fairy tales in ‘The uses of enchantment’ but dedicates a whole chapter to ‘Cinderella’, in order to explain the oedipal complex and his ideas around ‘Sibling rivalry’. Although Fairy tales contain mostly narratives about female protagonists, Bettelheim and Freud use psychoanalysis theory to show how they can effect and represent both genders.

Marina Warner describes the tale of Cinderella as

‘…the story of a poor, hard-working drudge – who we are certain represents ourselves – who is transformed by magic into a beauty, a social success, the belle of the ball, the charmer who brings a king’s heir-apparent literally to her feet’

While Bettelheim describes the tale as,

‘Cinderella’ as we know it, is experienced as a story about the agonies and hopes which form the essential content of sibling rivalry; and about a heroine winning out over her siblings who abused her’

Warner concentrates on the roles of the females in the fairy tale, giving a historical background to the struggles they would have encountered in terms of family, she writes that the importance of the tale is the relationships they have and the use of good mother/bad mother.

Her historical research into the development of the Cinderella tale reveals that every culture has one very similar, which tells of a young heroine suffering a prolonged ordeal before her vindication and triumph. Warner notes how different cultures and times represented Cinderella differently; in the Chinese version (which is the earliest recorded version) she was very intelligent and good at pottery, qualities thought to be desirable during the time it was told around AD 850-60.

In the English version though the qualities most deemed desirable of Cinderella’s were her ‘Long golden hair and eye lashes that turn[ed] up like the petals of a daisy’

Bettelheim overlooked these things.

Exaggerated situations of abuse appear in the tale, to accentuate the issue of sibling rivalry, in which Bettelheim believes the child relates to most in Cinderella. The child, even though they understand their situation at home is a lot happier and secure than Cinderella’s, still feel this that Cinderella is a representation of them, Bettelheim uses the example of ‘that’s me’. Through the emotion attachment made with hearing fairy tales, the child’s emotions are heightened which means they can disengage from their rational thoughts. The exaggeration also helps in that it makes the sibling rivalry between Cinderella and her sisters more understandable from an adult perspective.

He makes the point that if a child relates to a narrative, that narrative consequently attains an emotional quality of ‘truth’ for the child. To a child, some events in a fairy tale or myth can seem more convincing to them than reality, simply because they share this emotion connection and have not experienced this with reality yet.

Bettelheim puts sibling rival down to the child’s issues with their parents. Suggesting it could be a reflection of how parents raise their children. In this argument he writes how much attention parents give their children and how much they are interested in what they are doing and achieving. This he writes will ultimately affect the child and their self esteem, due to them measuring themselves up in opposition to their siblings.

‘Despite the name ‘sibling rivalry’, this miserable passion has only incidentally to do with the child’s actual brothers and sisters. The real source of it is the child’s feelings about his parents’

The child will feel unwanted because of this and this leaves them concerned, because they suspect that they cannot gain their parents love. This consequently is how Bettelheim deems children to experience jealously towards their siblings, and in turn how they get to experience sibling rivalry.

‘It is because of such an anxiety that one or all of a child’s sisters or brothers may become a thorn in his flesh. Fearing that in comparison to them he cannot win his parent’s love and esteem is what inflames sibling rivalry’

They enjoy the vileness of the ugly sisters torment of Cinderella he writes, because through this they get to experience the feeling of doing it themselves, but feel less guilty about it because they know it is a story, an not real.

Bettelheim writes that some children take different meanings from the tale, and blame their supposed neglect on parental jealously. Using the impression that Cinderella’s step-mother and sisters treated her unfavourably because of their jealously for her. This encourages the child to consider whether their parents are jealous of them, and this is why they praise their siblings and not them. Bettelheim uses the example of a little girl who apparently accused of family of ill treating her because she was prettier than them.

‘‘Why do you treat me like Cinderella?’ Almost speechless, her mother replied ‘Why do you think I treat you like Cinderella?’ […] But she went the ‘Cinderella’ story one better, based on her unconscious understanding of the contradictory emotions fused into the ‘Cinderella’ role, because at another moment she told her mother and sister, ‘you shouldn’t be jealous of me just because I am the most beautiful in the family’

Some children it is put feel that Cinderella may deserve being ill treated, and dejected by her family. Bettelheim again uses Freud’s Oedipus complex to explain the state of a child’s mind at the beginning of the Oedipus complex stages. This is where Freud believed children experienced ‘Primary Narcissism’. This stage is considered to happen when a child is totally convinced of being loveable and loved by their parents, they are the centre of the universe and therefore there is no need for jealously. But with progress of the oedipal complex, comes disappointment and when doubt sets into their sense of self worth.

Bettelheim writes that both genders relate to the Cinderella story for sibling rivalry purposes, but he does not consider how the character of Cinderella, as a female, affects boys and girls reading or hearing the story differently.

Using Freud’s Oedipus complex, Bettelheim reaches the conclusion that the unconscious desires a child has towards their opposite sex parent, (during the stages of the Oedipus complex) can make the child feel they deserved to be neglected and degraded like Cinderella. That they fear that they to will be caught out for having this evil desire by their parents, and treated as Cinderella is, deservingly. He continues by expressing that the child feels delighted when they see that others deem Cinderella as a good person, and praise her for her innocence and goodness. They to, he writes, now feel comfortable in the knowledge that everybody can see their goodness too.

‘Because he wants others – most of all, his parents – to believe in his innocence, he is delighted that ‘everybody’ believes in Cinderella’s. This is one of the great attractions of the tale. Since people give credence to Cinderella’s goodness, they will also believe in his, so the child hopes’

Hearing the tale of Cinderella, on some level also makes them realise how lucky they are and how much worse things would be if they were treated as Cinderella is in the tale. But Bettelheim explains that any anxiety about latter possibility is relived, as always in fairy tales through the happy ends the narrative offer us.

Psychoanalysis and Myth

‘Freudian psychoanalyst concern themselves with showing what kind of repressed or otherwise unconscious material underlies myths and fairy tales, and how these relate to dreams and daydreams’

Using Psychoanalysis as a tool to gather meaning from literature, involves finding hidden meanings in a text that is concealed within the narrative. These hidden meanings are hypothetical thought to reveal ideas and thoughts about our unconscious mind, and the psychoanalysis idea of the I.D, Ego and Superego (Three parts of the spiritual system defined in Freud’s structural model of the mind; they are the three structures in terms of mental communication)

Bettelheim use the chapter Fairy Tale versus Myth in ‘The uses of enchantment’ to compare the two types of literature and gives his opinion on the similarities and differences between the two. Mircea Eliade’s Essay ‘Myths and Fairytale’s in his book ‘Myths and reality’ – first published as a review of the book, dealt with the relationship connecting fairytales to the heroic legend and myth. Not only did he aspire to look at the obvious differences but he also wanted to establish their symbolic connection. He believed that

‘Myth narrates a sacred history; it relates an event that took place in primordial time, the fabled time of the ‘beginnings’. In other words, myth tells us how, through the deeds of supernatural beings, a reality came into existence, be it the whole of reality, the cosmos, or only a fragment of reality-an island, a species of plant, a particular kind of human behaviour, an institution’

There have been numerous similarities found in the structures of Myths and Fairy tales. Both are related by the theme of wish fulfilment, where the hero/heroine encounters what literary critics identify as ‘Fantastic Events’ where they ultimately win out over their enemies.

Bettelheim starts his list with the ‘dominant feeling’ that myth conveys:

‘…this is absolutely unique; it could not have happened to any other person, or in any other setting; such events are grandiose, awe-inspiring, and could not possibly happen to an ordinary mortal like you or me.’

He writes that the reason the miraculous event takes place is less important than, but the way it is described as such. He explains that although fairy tales also have far-fetched events taking place in the narrative, which are often more unusual and less probable than myths that they are always presented as ordinary. But what really makes a difference is that they are presented as something that could happen to anyone, they are related in a casual, everyday way.

Myth for Bettelheim is pessimistic, is a moral tale and not meant for happy endings, they are warning almost, of the dangers of living out certain repressed desires.

‘The pessimism of myths is superbly exemplified in that paradigmatic myth of psychoanalysis, the tragedy of Oedipus’

He explains, that we feel that we can never live up to the God’s demands in Myths, like we can never live up fully to what we feel our superegos require of us, and the more we try, the more they ask for.

A Myth, he writes is not a ‘cautionary tale’. His reason being that Freud’s use of the Oedipus myth, highlights that if one is born and raised by two parents, that the Oedipal conflicts are inescapable, therefore, the tale is never meant to be experienced as a warning for us not to get caught up in oedipal complex.

However, fairy tales, he writes, are optimistic, no matter how serious some of the stories may be, in the end things are resolved either offer or suggest a happy ending. This is what sets fairy tales apart from other stories linked to fantastic events, the happy ending can be due to ‘virtues of the hero, chance, or the interference of super natural beings’

He finishes the chapter with his conclusion on the different accounts of pessimism and optimism.

‘Myths project an ideal personality acting on the basis of superego demands, while fairytales depict an ego integration which allows for appropriate satisfaction of ID desires. This difference accounts for the contrast between the pervasive pessimism of myths and the essential optimism of fairy tales’

How do Fairy Tales/Myths effect our views on Gender in today’s society

There has been a vast change in attitude towards fairy tales and myths since the late seventeenth century. Western society now labels the literary form of myths and fairy tales as children ‘Classics’. Yet we seem to have neglected the reasons behind their creation, recognising them purely as children’s stories. Despite the fact that there was once fairy tales written by both men and women, that showed their very different attitude to what was happening in their society, and their gendered opinions, we are unaware today unless told, who wrote what tale.

The canon however, has a chosen few deemed worthy of its classic title and has forgotten about the others. With more adaptations available of the popular tales, the originals, based on the oral tradition, first produced in its literary form by Perrault, Madame D’Aulnoy and even the Grimm brothers, have been forgotten.

Since the seventeenth century, attitudes to women and women themselves have changed. Feminist theory which covers a myriad of areas from sexuality and philosophy has had a huge influence on the meanings of myth and fairy tales. With Feminisms progression, feminist followers have studied both literature and language, to analyse constructions around the female gender.

‘Certain canonical stories, especially those of female subjugation and voicelessness, have resonated internationally with late 20th century feminist writers.’

Cinderella has been used on several accounts for demonstrating a sexist approach to women within a text. Since Charles Perrault’s and the Grimm’s versions of Cinderella, have been overlooked by the animation film Cinderella by Disney in 1950, the gender divide has become more apparent.

The Perrault and Grimm’s brother’s adaptations, had their gender restrictions, (with Cinderella still having to marry a prince in order for her to become someone and was already of noble birth before marrying) but still produced a stronger and independent character, who in majority of situations, is responsible and in control of her own life, even if she is, as in both tales, still a child. The tales were historically correct in the gender roles that they choose to represent.

Disney’s version, although supposedly based on Perrault’s version (the Grimm’s version was seen as ‘too dark’) was rewrote and added to. Many aspects to the story that were written by the writers behind the animated film have now become more commonly know to the generations after its release. They added a great deal of their original ideas into their adaptation of Cinderella. The fairy godmother, the death of Cinderella’s father, her less privileged background, Cinderella’s non-capability to fight back and the ‘Ugly’ stepsisters were all new creations that appeared in the animated film and have changed the meaning of the story forever.

‘They have contributed to it and confirmed it, from Charles Perrault’s wittily awful sisters (not ugly but beautiful) […] to the Grimm brothers and their brilliantly successful spiritual heir Walt Disney, who have made the cartoon films Snow White and the seven dwarfs (1937) and Cinderella (1950), which have done more than any other creation to naturalise female-maternal-malignancy in the imagination of children worldwide’

The most interesting comparison for me is the Disney invention of the Fairy God mother. In Perrault’s version, Cinderella has no fairy Godmother, she decides to change her outfit for something more suitable, and takes herself to the ball, no magic involved and no physical adjustments. She also decides to leave the ball at midnight, by her own doing. She hides from the prince’s courtiers on several occasions, maybe Perrault was suggesting that she should have a choice in whether she married him or not, and was hinting at his views of a male dominated society. In comparison with the tale of ‘Snow white’ (in which the Prince has already decided to marry her before see even knows he exists) Perrault gives Cinderella a voice and allows her choices.

Western society is still obsessed with fairy tales. Films and various other media are still produced that offer us the same basis narratives, meeting and marrying prince charming and being treated like a princess. So why do we still take an interest in fairy tales past childhood, even if we understand that they are fundamentally sexist towards women.

We understand the fairy tales can satisfy spiritual wants with their promise of happily ever after, and the fulfilment of dreams, knowing that reality is never as simple or uncomplicated as a fairy tale. Being able to read ‘Once upon a time’ enables the reader to become passive to reality, they can imagine another place in time where anything was possible, and even though there was still pressure on women to be married and beautiful, during the time the tales were set, it all seems a lot easier in a fairy tale, the women are never looking for love or marriage, it finds them, the Prince falls in love with the princess and they live happily ever after, we never find out what happens afterwards, and we probably don’t want to.

‘A fairy tale is thus invested with value as story for its own sake. That is, as a narrative which audiences may recognize as similar to other such narratives because it is patterned by archetypal situations and characterizations, a story transmits its latent value as a particular working out of perennial human desires and destinies. It contains some instruction, some mechanism for helping us to understand and cope with the problems of everyday life. Audiences thus learn the roles which pattern their lives, that good always overcomes evil, and that proper behaviour is rewarded, usually by romantic marriage.’

Bettelheim uses Psychoanalysis in which he writes that some children related to Cinderella because of their inner anxieties of the Oedipus complex, believing Cinderella to deserve her mistreatment; with the tale showing them what would happen if they revealed any of their desires and how they would be punished. I think that many women relate to Cinderella either because 1) they understand her or 2) they want to be her. Its society’s made-up story of ‘rags to riches’ that we are told through media representation could happen, so why not dream it could.

It seems non coincidental that all the popular fairy tales today are the ones involving handsome princes and beautiful princesses, living in western society where we are conditioned to be obsessed with how we, and others look. But how is it affecting children hearing the tales? What are they going to learn about people from the tales they read, that all attractive people are good and (what society would deem as) ugly people are bad. Are the original fairy tales sexist, or is it because they are placed against today’s western ideas of beauty and gender that they appear that way? (In the likes of Disney’s Cinderella for example) Personally I agree with the latter. Visual representation of the tale has provided us all with images of what is thought beautiful and ugly, bad and good. Robyn McCullan and John Stevens write,

‘A marked effect of Disney animated films has been to narrow and redefine what modern children (and adults) know as the folk tale (or the fairy tale), and what meanings they ascribe to the folk tale. Disney films operate on the principle, as articulated by Christopher Vogler, that ‘All stories consist of a few common structural elements found universally in myths, fairy tales, dreams and movies’. The nuances and significances given to these ‘common structural elements’, however, have the potential for great cultural influence, especially as the range of elements deployed has been reduced in the Disney films.’


Arena: Cinderella Dir. Melissa Llewellyn Davies. BBC2 production. 1986
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Grimm, J and Grimm, W, Grimm’s Fairy Tales (Penguin popular classics, 1996)

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Opie, P., Opie, I, ‘The classic fairy tales’ (Oxford University Press, New York and Toronto. 1974)

Perrault, C, ‘The complete fairy tales of Charles Perrault’ (Clarion books, 1993)

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Purkiss, D, ‘Troublesome things: A history of fairies and fairly stories’ Allen Lane (The penguin Press. 2000)

Richie, Anne Thackeray, ‘Introduction from the Fairy Tales of Madame D’Aulnoy (1892)’ SurLaLune, [online] available from [accessed 12th February 2008]

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Stenudd, Stefan, ‘Cosmos of the Ancients ‘The Greek Philosophers’ on Myth and Cosmology: Plato’ [online] available from [accessed 15th March 2008].

Walt Disney’s Cinderella. Dir. Wilfred Jackson, Walt Disney Video, 1995.
Warner, M, The Beast and the Blonde: Fairy tale and their tellers (Vintage. 1995)

‘What is Psychoanalysis?’ [online] available from, [accessed 1st May 2008]

Zipes, J, Breaking the magic spell: Radical theories of folk and fairy tales (The University press of Kentucky, 1979)

Zipes, J, Fairy Tale as Myth, Myth as Fairy Tale (The University of Kentucky Press, 1994)

Zipes, J, ‘Happily ever after: fairytales, children, and the culture industry’ (Routledge, New York and London. 1997)



I love you
Under no circumstances covers how I feel
It’s always lacking
My head can’t comprehend what my heart feels
It’s never visited here before
Shall I give permission or hold back?

You make me so fragile
This makes me happy
But it’s murdering the old
Breaking it down piece by piece
I can see it
Leaving me

When you touch me the resentment fades
But when you damage me
The scars blister deep
How can I love you
If you don’t let me, my way

I’m no longer entire
I’m a half.

Ella – A modern Cinderella story.

Once Upon a Time in the City: Ella

It’s always seemed funny to me, how one little event in your life can change a million things. Sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst, I like to call it the domino effect. Things happen that we cannot always explain and sometimes they are so small it’s not even worth mentioning them.

It all started for me in a three bedroom semi detached house in Hayes, South West London, with my calm, poetic mother and long haired, failed musician father. Hayes was known for being up and coming when I was born, according to my mum, but that was before it became a victim of loutish teenage gangs.

My bedroom at the front of the house looked out onto Kingshill Avenue one of the longest roads in Hayes, full of newsagents, takeaways and junk shops. Kingshill was where the bored would spend most of their time. The roar of cars racing down the road would often wake me at night, twinned with the sound of fireworks being let off in bins, police sirens and drunken men being kicked out of the Brook house pub to continue their fighting elsewhere.

By the time I was eight a drug dealer called Dan was running the laundrette on Kingshill. I would watch from my window after school as teenagers gathered in gangs outside the shop, chatting to dreadlocked, 6’2, South African Dan, who is responsible for many a lifelong drug addiction. Fortunately Dan was escorted from Hayes via a police car when I was ten. I could then go to the shops on my own; it was my first taste of freedom. Mum would often send me to Londis for bread and milk as the shop was directly opposite our house. It was then owned by Anwar Patel and his family who would wave at my mum as she watched out of the lounge window.

By the time I had started Park Hill School for Girls, the only worthwhile secondary school in the Area, Kingshill shops had changed little. Every school day my friends and I would meet at 07:50 in the morning outside Fourbouys newsagents on the corner of Adelphi Crescent. Walking to school meant we had time to moan about family life or such events as who had punched who in the tennis courts the day before. I would Smoke dad’s cigarettes, eat my breakfast of doughnuts and try to put the world to right.

At fourteen my morning routine involved the plastering of make-up, finishing my homework whilst hitching up my skirt. Craig Bunion got a job in Fourbouys that summer so a few of us would go bother him for free slush puppies. We meet Craig, Peter and Nick, his mates when they wolf whistled at us walking home from school.

Craig liked my friend from nursery called Jane. She was known for her up front flirty nature but this did not bother me, I thought Craig was ugly and desperate. Despite our close friendship I was nothing like Jane or any of my other friends, while they were considered confident or feisty, I was gawky and self-conscious. Nick also fancied Jane so they shared a few snogs behind the back of Fourbouys without Craig’s knowledge. I liked Peter for awhile but he ended up dating someone else, so that was the end of that.

I left Park Hill with more qualifications than I had planned, so I was more positive in myself. I had fallen out of favour with my friends by then, abandoning any desire to stay in Hayes. Kingshill held no interest for me anymore, so eventually I stopped looking out of my window. My family moved to Hampshire in the October of my seventeenth birthday but by my eighteenth birthday everything had changed.

My Mum after years of battling cancer decided it was time to leave us. I remember feeling anaesthetized, totally uncomforted by the ideas of others, that she had gone to a better place. What did people really mean by a better place? It was a very uncertain time for me. I felt lost without her, so I suppose in my grief I tried to become like her.

Me and Dad moved into a small first floor flat, it was what we could afford plus it wasn’t too much work to look after. Mrs Allen opposite us had a cat called Charlie, who would let himself in our flat so he could roll all over our carpet. Mr Dobson below us was practically deaf and would watch ‘Songs of Praise’ on Sunday afternoons, making our dining table shift across our floor from the vibrations.

Dad went back to work after a three month break but then decided he wanted a change. I thought he was going through a mid-life crisis as he cut off all his hair and instead of talking about his botched musical ambitions, which he normally would, he claimed he wanted to become a gardener. I was happy for him as he seemed to be moving on with his life by becoming more assertive and motivated.

He started to act differently, making more of an effort to look after himself. He began to socialise with some new friends he had met through gardening, rarely would he be home before midnight. When I questioned him on his nights out he told me about the darts team he had started, how he was also captain of a local quiz team. “I just watch football and drink a few pints” I didn’t know he played darts.

Still, after all the change in my Dad I was not prepared for Veronica, I was not expecting her at all. Dad had told me he was having a friend over for dinner; I presumed that meant a take away as Dad couldn’t cook. I walked into the lounge to find them sat opposite each other, on our tiny fold away dining table, their legs entangled below. She was virtually leaning over the table to get to him, elbows and all. Dad was not objecting, in actual fact he looked quite comfortable. How could he?

Veronica saw me and then began to clear her throat to warn my Dad that I was there. I felt like an intruder, I had only come home for dinner, I wished I had opted for pie and chips. Dad leapt so high it looked as if he was excited.
‘Ella, this is V, my new friend’
She gave me a tight lipped smile but did not make any effort to extend the greeting further. My dad pleased with himself returned to his seat, starring over at V like a love sick pup. It was in that moment, I knew my mother had been replaced.

They got married six weeks later. I did not attend the wedding instead I visited Mum’s grave going through the job listings in the paper. Dad had decided to move in with V and her daughters in Otterbourne. V had an enormous house which she received in a divorce settlement from her ex-husband. My new step-mother was not short of money, her parents had owned several riding schools in the area but sold their empire before they retired, leaving the money to V.

My twenty-first birthday was eventful, a bottle of wine along with a pile of DVD’s. I had been working at a fireplace specialist in town for a couple of years by then. My work colleagues consisted of middle aged balding men who were not exactly dating material. I had nobody, except Charlie the cat who came to live with me when Mrs Allen family put her in a home.

Dad and his new family kept to themselves. I only went to visit them on his birthday, occasionally Christmas. I was not very welcomed, rarely would anyone speak to me except Dad. I was so frustrated by the fact he seemed oblivious to the whole unpleasant situation. I did not like who my father was anymore. The proud working family man, my father had once been, was being replaced by a Tory loving snob who was more interested in his new unnecessary car then the fact I was visiting.

Dad’s garden business had taken off, so naturally he was employed by the wealthy in the Otterbourne area. V had paid for him to attend a garden design course at the local college to better his gardening skills, it seemed another talent I was unaware he had. I walked in on them arguing once at a garden party. V was sharing her view on the past and how certain things should be kept there. She was talking to Dad about moving on from my mother’s death and me.
“After all she is your dead wife’s daughter, Alan, you have a brand new family to think about now. Why step backwards when you can step forwards?”

What a Bitch! I couldn’t believe my ears; surely she was not suggesting that my dad cut me out of his life simply because my mother had the unfortunate fate of an early death. But it sounded like that was exactly her plan. I saw in her manipulative tone and controlling manner that V knew exactly what she was doing. I would have a fight on my hands to keep in my Dad’s favour.
“But V, she is my daughter”
Thank God I thought, at least my dad had figured that out, better late than never. He still had some fight left in him.
“Alan, she is not interested in you anymore, you have out grown her and what about my needs and all I have done for you? How ungrateful can you be? I’ve done more for you than you realise, you were not worth knowing before you met me. Anybody would think I was the bad guy here”
Then Silence.

That was the last time I saw my Dad. He died three years later, by then I was in debt. I found out about my Dad’s death from the local Gazette newspaper Mr. Dobson had left me to read.

I attended Dad’s cremation because I knew I would regret not saying goodbye, even though I was still angry. I had found out from the Dart club when and where the ceremony was taking place. I can still hear the echo of the organs last note slowly dying away from the chorus of ‘Abide With Me’. In those last moments I tried to remember our cuddles on park benches, days when he would pick me up from school and how we would dance in the rain until mum would tell us off when we got home soaked. But it all seemed so insignificant then, in that moment, sat in the back row of a freezing cold crematorium. I came to the conclusion that your parents are not always people you like but you love them anyway.

I stayed inside until the crematorium had emptied and all the cars had left the car park. I did not want the disturbance of someone stopping me from saying goodbye, who didn’t feel how I did or knew him as I had. I wanted it to be a private moment between us, the one we never got to have.

The small square of cut out lawn was where my father’s ashes would eventually lay. It was surrounded by vibrant coloured wreathes and posies that all seemed too optimistic. He would have hated it, a conflict of purples, oranges and green thrown together, he had liked things orderly. I remember him telling me in Hayes he wanted to be cremated. He had convinced himself it was a way of giving something back to nature, almost as thanks. At the time being a teenager I didn’t pay much attention, you always think your parents are going to be around.

After the ceremony everyone had headed back to V’s house. Mrs Richardson who apparently lived over the road had made triangle ham sandwiches. How could anyone remember him over triangle bloody sandwiches? It was like a children’s party. I had been under the illusion too long that the wealthy had taste. That day, I realised it was a myth.

According to nice but dim John, (a member of the Darts club, who I bonded with over cigarettes in the back garden) Mrs Richardson was a valued member of the community, so he felt perhaps the stupid sandwiches were her way of saying goodbye.

In my opinion, V already knew about Mrs Richardson’s influence on the community and making friends with a rich old lady with good contacts and no family was a cleverly thought out plan. V was milking my Dads death ‘all good for business’ I heard her say, when walking past. It was so obvious to me, V was up to something and it involved money.

A week later Mr Dobson had left me my post on the stairs, it seemed this was his new hobby, sorting everyone’s mail. It was addressed to my Mum though. It caught my eye because of the black ink that had encrusted in the corners of the envelope very artistically done but it looked battered. It felt wrong opening something that was not mine.

Dear Evelyn,
I am very sorry to be bothering you at a time like this but I just wanted you know that Mum left you some money in her will and it was only finalised today, she died before she could finish it. It turns out she promised your mum that she would look after you and this is her way of doing so. We are so sorry to hear about your decrease in health and hope that the new treatments work for you,
Lots of love to Allen and Ella,

Mum went to live with her Auntie Jane and Cousin Lucy when she was 12 in Hackney. My Nan (Jane’s sister) had left the country after being mixed up in some political protest in the sixties leaving my Mum in Jane’s supervision but she never returned. Jane had died two years before Mum, I never knew her just that Mum referred to her as a fairy godmother. I inspected the inside of the envelope again and saw another smaller piece of paper.

Dear Mrs Evelyn Sinders,
I’m sorry to announce that whilst closing up our warehouse in Berkshire we found this letter addressed to you behind one of the filling cabinets. We apologise for the inconvenience this may have caused you.
Yours faithfully
Eric Stone

I sat for awhile, started dinner then read the letters back again. Sometime later I found Charlie asleep by the oven door with a yellow posit stuck to his tail. Written on it was a telephone numbers, a series of other numbers with the instructions ‘please call them’ also written in Lucy’s handwriting. I rang the number and left a message.

I spent all morning annoyingly trying on clothes that would make me feel important as I was sure trackies that day wasn’t going to cut it. I sat on the tacky beige leather sofa outside Mr Anderson’s office upstairs of the Berkshire’s Abbey National, during my lunchtime. I read through old fashion magazines which informed me of how purple was the new black and how Brad Pitt’s new movie was a dive. I didn’t go out much, so this new information was lost on me. In the end I had decided to wear one of Mums old suits.

I felt really out of place. I had never been into a bank or building society for something important before. The woman sat opposite me was around my age although she appeared older with her leather handbag, fashion conscious make up and shiny hair. She glared at me and would stop to observe me if I was making to much noise turning pages. Through boredom I played a game with myself, this involved guessing what faces she would pull if I threw certain objects from the table next to me, at her face.

Twenty minutes later I was called in. Mr Anderson, an elderly gentleman, remained sympathised when I told him about my parent’s deaths and how I had come across the letter. From Jane’s last Will and testimony, read to me by Mr Anderson, she had left mum some money for a treatment she was looking into for her tumour. She had also dedicated a whole page of ideas for my Mum to consider if she wasn’t going to use it for health reasons. The list included skydiving, holidays to uncharted places, getting a tattoo, flying lessons, cookery classes and starting a business.

By the sound of things, she’d obviously wanted my Mum to become an independent freedom fighter or animal right campaigner of some variety. More like her sister but that was not my mum. She seemed happy with her married life as far as I know. Nothing seemed to make her happier than a cup of Tea, watching Coronation Street and making a mess in the kitchen. Something along those lines anyway. I know it sounds very ideal but she liked the simple things in life, content with what she had. Well, that’s the impression she left on me anyway.

“Your great aunt obviously had a lot of respect for your Mum, mentions her more than anyone else in her Will”
“Yes, she brought her up, reminded her of her sister I think”
“Ah I see, but she hadn’t seen your Mum for awhile”
“No, moved away, got married, had me”
“Did you visit her?”
“No, I never met her. Would have liked to though, Mum use to talk about her”
“Do you know what your Mum would have done with the money?”
“Go for this alternative treatment I suppose, and possibly a holiday. She always wanted to go abroad”
“Well Miss Sinders, having gone over your Mother’s last will and testimony, it seems she left everything she owned”
“Which wasn’t a lot” I smiled nervously.
Mr Anderson cleared his throat, sitting up in his chair. “Well everything was left to you, seeing as this money was suppose to go to your Mum, it now rightly belongs to you”
“Really…what it’s still there, this money?”
“Yes, in a bank account right here in this very building. Its racked up some interest so is now around” He scrambled around with various papers on his desk trying to find the right figure.
“Ah! £40,000”

I remember feeling my stomach drop into the chair, like it does when you’ve eaten too much or when you experience car sickness. I sat staring at Mr Anderson, who remained unaffected like he had experienced this kind of reaction before.
“Are, you ok?”
“Um, I’m not sure. You are telling me that I have just been offered forty… like £40,000?”
“Not offered Miss Sinders, it’s legally yours”

He walked me out of his office to arrange some paperwork. The woman was still waiting having gone through several more magazines. I must have looked different somehow because she had to double take when looking she looked up at me. Maybe it was the shock or maybe I was smiling, I can’t remember.
The money was transferred into my account three days later. I still went to work, I didn’t know what else to do. I spent hours sat at my desk, staring out of the window wondering what to do. Finally, a newspaper page pinned to the notice board in the staffroom caught my eye. Not for the main reason it was there, this was the page three model but for the symbol at the bottom of the page, a pink ribbon.

It was breast cancer awareness day, so in my lunch break I decided to look up my local office. It was just around the corner, I stood at the desk were two old ladies greeted me with smiles.
“Hello dear, can we help you?”
“Yes, I wish to make a donation”

I had set my mind to doing something for my Mum and that just felt like the right thing to do. I decided to donate £10,000 as ten was my Mum’s favourite number. The old ladies nearly fell off their chairs when I started to write out the cheque.
“My dear, do you really have all that money? Ten pounds would be enough, we only ask for small donations”

I continued to write, handing the cheque to the smallest. I explained my reasons for giving the money, my recent inheritance and Mum’s illness. They nodded, excepting the money modestly. They asked to have a picture taken with me to put in their records, I agreed.
Three days later the photo was in the local Gazette, turned out the two old ladies, Mary Jones and Gladys Knight had informed a reporter on my visit, they felt it was newsworthy. ‘A Young person giving to charity who would have guessed, they only spend their money on selfish things these days’ the paper quoted Mary as saying. ‘She was different this young lady, special’. The article also told of my ‘humble’ upbringing in Hayes with details of my recent inheritance. I was an overnight celebrity, well in Hampshire anyway.

I started to receive letters of thanks from the breast cancer charity. They also began forwarding me news from families of breast cancer patients my money had helped. V turned up outside the flat, demanding my attention. I knew for sure then that she had seen the article. She wanted to know if any of the money I had inherited was left for Dad. I couldn’t believe it, even though I knew she had the emotional range of a donkey. There she was, questioning me on whether or not I had kept money intended for someone else. She had got away with too much already so there was no way I was letting her have a penny.

“No actually, it’s all mine. Every last penny” I smiled, it gave me great satisfaction to piss her off.
“Oh, so that’s the way things are going to be between us?”
“Things, were already like this”
“Well maybe you should consider investing some of the money into your Father’s company. He would have liked that”
“I’m sure he would have, but no thanks. I like to know where my money is going”
“What! To the dying”
“No. To those who actually need it. You won’t be getting a penny out of me V, so you might as well leave. I am not as easily deceived as my Dad was. Goodbye and please don’t contact me again”
and with that, I shut the door. She walked away eventually, after staring at me through the glass panel in the door that separated us. Goodbye to that stupid pink lipstick.

I walked up the stairs smiling. I had got her were it hurt, popularity and money. I could hear someone clapping in their flat, whether it was at the TV or me, I don’t know.

Work became a lot more pleasant as the weeks rolled by. Those who walked past the shop window would give me a wave and a smile, it appeared as if my accidental fame was long lasting. Other Newspapers in the surrounding areas had got hold of the story, constantly ringing me up for interviews or offering me crazy money to open up new hair salons and bookies. I didn’t want the attention, I hadn’t done anything brave or heroic, just what I thought was right.

The money still remained in my account. I had been racking my brain for weeks on how to get rid of it. I couldn’t spend it all, which seemed like an impossible task. I considered giving more to charity but I knew the papers were watching me. I would have become the ‘fame seeker’ which wasn’t appealing in the slightest.
I had decided that Mum had inspired me to give the money to charity, so mum was going to help me out once again. I sat down one Saturday night and began watching Parkinson, Mum had liked Parky. Maybe he would give me a clue by mentioning something during the programme. It sounds ridiculous I know, but that’s how desperate I was. I knew I should do something with this money, I just didn’t know what.

Suddenly, there was shouting from below and the sound of singing echoed through the floorboards. I had never heard Mr Dobson sing. It was peculiar to hear him so delighted, especially when he could be a cantankerous old git. I heard another voice downstairs so I though I’d better investigate, in case whoever it was needed help.

I grabbed Charlie before I went out the door. I have no idea why, perhaps for comfort. I tried to walk down the stairs as quietly as I could, which I managed until Mr Dobson’s door flew open to reveal, Mr Dobson. He had caught me red handed creeping down the stairs on tip toes and carrying a cat. I started to walk to his door normally.

‘Evening Mr Dobson…just was wondering if you’re ok? I shouted.
‘Ella, I can hear you’
‘I can hear you. I have just had a hearing aid installed…see?’ He showed me his right ear.
‘Oh, very nice, I heard some voices, thought you might be in trouble. Well, you’re ok so, I better be off now’ I turned to leg it back up the stair case.
I stopped. ‘Yes’
‘Won’t you come in for a minute, keep an old man company?’
‘You already have company?’
‘Yeah but he’s boring and … I’d like to finally talk to you’
Finally, what did he mean by finally? That he had wanted to talk to me for awhile, that he wanted up each night hoping to catch me. I must have had a puzzled look in my confusion as he then pointed to his ear.
‘Because I can hear you now’
‘Oh, right…sure’

Mr Dodson’s flat was laid out the same as mine, but seemed much more homely. The lounge walls were covered in bookshelves and stacked magazine piles substituted seats as there was just an armchair. His kitchen was painted bright yellow and his mugs had smiling daisies on them, all in all it was very lively. I sat myself down at the kitchen table, once I had realised I was in my Pyjamas. Mr Dobson filled the kettle up for some tea and then asked me to get the biscuits from the cupboard behind me. He began whistling to himself, smiling away.

‘Grandad… Are you there?
‘In here James’
I looked over to Mr Dobson, who winked back. A tall dark haired man appeared at the front door. Walking in he threw his coat on the kitchen table. It took him a couple of seconds to realise I was there.
‘Oh…hello I’m James’
‘Ella. I live upstairs’
I pointed upwards, I don’t know why, awkwardness I suppose. I was in the kitchen of someone who only started to speak to me five minutes ago and now, I was meeting his grandson in my pyjamas.
‘Oh right, well, I’m Patrick’s grandson’
‘I figured’
He sat down opposite me, asking Patrick to make him ‘A cuppa’. His fingers were covered in black dirt that had embedded in his nails.
‘So, you live upstairs?’
‘So, you live with your family… friend, boyfriend?’
‘Ah no, just me…oh and Charlie’ I looked around for Charlie. I had left him in the hallway but could see his tail investigating around the living room.
‘My cat’
‘Ah I see… must be great living on your own’
‘Yeah its great fun. Party every night’
I began to laugh. It struck me that living on my own was not all that I thought it would be, I had just figured that out. Why hadn’t I done more, made more friends, found a flatmate or gone out and enjoyed myself.
‘Well it’s got to be better than living in a three bedroom flat with your mates, who never pay the bills or clean up’
‘I suppose it has its pluses’ I smiled at Patrick who had come to join us at the table with tea.
‘What do you do up there by yourself?’ Patrick, Mr Dobson was looking right at me, intensely like he was looking right through me.
‘Not much. Not much to do really. Work, clean, work, clean’
I let out one of those pathetic laughs that cover your embarrassment for all of five seconds, and then turn into silence. I knew it was coming, so I sipped my Tea. I burnt my tongue.
‘You never go out?’ asked James. He looked concerned, like I was a freak of nature.
‘Course she does’ Smiled Patrick ‘…To work’
‘I do go out. Occasionally’
‘Where do you go? I’ve probably seen you around’
‘I don’t go to town except to work really. No friends around here. I hang around Tesco’s quite often though’ It was supposed to sound funny. It didn’t.
‘You’re kidding! You should come out with me sometime, with my friends obviously. Where do you work? I could come and see you. Let you know what’s happening’
I tried to think of somewhere more exciting to work. A clothes shop or art gallery but words escaped me. In the end I told him.
‘Oh, the fireplace specialist shop in Arthur Street’
He looked over at Patrick, then back at me.
‘You’re the girl… from the newspaper? Who gave £10,000 to charity?’
‘Yeah, but you know its no big deal. Spur of the moment thing’
‘That’s incredible, think of all those people you must have helped. My friends and I were talking about you the other day. Wow’
‘Yeah, I get letters and updates”
‘Well, I’ll come and see you then, soon’

He started to get up and put on his coat. I wondered if I would see him again or whether he was just conversation filling during a tea break. He waved when he said goodbye. Patrick let him out of the door nearly tripping over Charlie on the way out. I had begun my process of escaping, put my cup in the sink, left my chair and started to walk for the door. James had already left the building.
‘Ah, you’re off too?’
Patrick looked concerned, like he had something on his mind that just wouldn’t come out. I smiled and made my way out into the hallway.
‘You know, I never got to say sorry, about your dad’
‘Ah, well thank you. It seems like a long time ago now’
‘You know, there are many things I regret in my life. I didn’t marry the girl I really loved. I let her marry someone else. I never tried to better myself, do something with my life’
‘Oh…I’m really sorry to hear that’
‘Don’t be. At eighty years old you look back on your life and start to reflect. I wish I had done so much that I didn’t. I was so trapped in the past I regretted that I never looked to the future. I missed out on so much’
‘…Why are you telling me this?’
‘Because, that’s what you’re doing. Hiding from your future, stuck in the past. I just thought you should know that unless you start to do something for yourself, in years to come, you’ll regret it. Life, it’s too short. You’re worth more than this’

I was leaning against the staircase railings. I had no idea what to say, I just stood there. His words seemed to hit a place in me that had never been touched before. My chest began to get heavy and I broke down in tears. I hadn’t cried in years, I had forgotten what it felt like. It was strange and yet releasing, standing in front of a man I hardly knew, releasing God knows how many emotions all in one go.

Mr Dobson stood in his doorway, he didn’t seem surprised or shaken up. I kept apologizing for my reaction, claiming I had no idea where it had come from. He eventually come over and hugged me. I started to cry again. It felt so new but somehow familiar, somebody touching me felt like something in a distance dream. I could have fought him off as I felt like a helpless child, but I didn’t have the strength. I missed the closeness, the reassurance.

I have no idea how long we stood there. After what seemed hours, he guided me back up to my flat and left me at the door, so I could sleep. I felt exhausted. He promised I would feel better in the morning, I didn’t know how, I had never felt worse. I cried myself to sleep, waking up to a damp pillow and afternoon sunlight. My head felt lighter and my body seemed to just float wherever I directed it to go. I don’t think I had ever slept into the afternoon before that, I liked it. I phoned work telling them I was sick, they were surprised as I had never had a day off before. I knew I needed sometime to recover from last night’s dramatic events.

Mr Dobson was right. I was hiding myself from everyone by living in the past, in my little flat because I was scared of moving on. So not knowing what to do with myself, I sat in the kitchen and looked around. Everywhere I looked I was surrounded with memories and possessions of my parents, old saucepans, photos, utensils, books and furniture. None of it was mine. I had bought nothing to go in my flat.

I remembered Jane’s list to Mum, it inspired me to make my own. The list consisted of redecorating the flat which also meant buying new furniture. Finding a job which I enjoyed and perhaps moving to somewhere different. I asked Mr Dobson for James’s number so I could ask him to assist me with the removing of the furniture. He generally sounded pleased to hear from me and even got hold of a van from a friend.

We became really close during the renovation of the flat. He gave me new confidence and we worked as a team designing the kitchen, wallpaper prints and wooden flooring. In the end it seemed natural to ask him if he wanted to move in. He accepted with a bottle of wine and my life became more interesting after that. His friends, as well as family would come and visit. We would cook together, eat together, go out to the cinema and visit London, were I would show him my childhood haunts.

I went to visit Mary and Gladys one day with a bunch of flowers to say thanks for keeping me updated with news of patients and family. James had come up with the idea after reading through their letters with me. We went down to the office with at least £50 worth of flowers. They were very happy to see me.
‘Well hello dear, how are you?’
‘Very well thank you. These are for the charity as thanks for everything you’re doing. We thought you deserved a treat’
‘Ah they are lovely dear. Who’s this gentleman then?’
I smiled. I love how old people seem to just cut to the chase, and they don’t hold back. They don’t see the point.
‘Well, this is James…my boyfriend’
He looked up from tying his shoelace. He smiled. I couldn’t believe I had said it out loud, but I had and it was ok. Everything was ok.

Three years on, I still live in my little flat. V apparently re-married a dermatologist then moved to Florida and here I am in my own office. I’m now involved in the charity’s awareness campaigns and organise fundraisers. Currently I’ve just finished working on a project involving stories from ordinary women who have been affected by cancer in someway. The more I planned the campaign, the more I wanted to write my own story. Writing my memoirs has been gratifying. It’s helped me remember a lot of small intricate details that I would have forgotten otherwise and how I got to be here.

Nowadays, I get up pleased with what I have achieved in my thirty years. Sometimes, it feels like I have been several different Ellas and led several lives. But writing this has made me realise, there’s only one Ella and she’s very ok.