How Late Bloomer Charles Perrault Became Cinderella’s Secretary

How Late Bloomer Charles Perrault Became Cinderella’s Secretary

posted in: Writers | 15

Once upon a time there was a gentleman who married, for his second wife, the proudest and most haughty woman that ever was seen. She had two daughters of her own, who were, indeed, exactly like her in all things. The gentleman had also a young daughter, of rare goodness and sweetness of temper…”

You grew up with them all—Cinderella, the Fairy Godmother, the Prince, the Stepmother, the Secretary.

Then again, you might not know about the secretary. Charles Perrault (1628-1703), the man who transcribed Cinderella’s life, was the youngest son of an accomplished family. His father was a lawyer and his brother designed a wing of the Louvre.

The Attorney Who Told Tales

But Charles couldn’t settle on a living. To make his dad happy, he studied law and sat for the bar, but never practiced law. He worked under his brother for a while. He became a civil servant in the court of King Louis XIV, the Sun King.

He also served as secretary of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (the Department of Noble Inscriptions), which created Latin phrases for the king’s monuments. In that position, he did something amazing for an upper-class paper pusher—he stood against making the Tuileries Gardens a royal preserve and campaigned to keep them open to the public.

Perrault married at age 44, but his wife died in childbirth six years later. The couple had three sons and a daughter, whose schooling Perrault oversaw when he could.

Charles Perrault: Cinderella's Secretary at Debra Eve's
The Flower Seller, Tuileries by Henry Lesur

In 1695, he lost his place as Académie secretary (perhaps for taking the wrong side, from his employer’s viewpoint, one too many times). He decided to devote himself to writing and completing his children’s education.

In 1697, at age 69, Perrault published Tales From Mother Goose. They made him an instant sensation and established a new literary genre, the fairy tale.

Touchingly, he used his youngest son’s name as a nom de plume.

Not All Child’s Play

Perrault’s adapted his tales from oral tradition, stories told by the common people. We’re not sure why he decided to write them down. Such tales became popular entertainment at the Sun King’s court, where the teller always embellished them and added a moral twist that favored the aristocracy.

Maybe Perrault observed such a performance and decided to give the folklore back to the folk (as he did with the Tuileries Gardens). His versions contained slightly subversive elements. When you think about it—dirt poor Cinderella outshines all those aristocratic hussies at the ball and marries her royal husband.

In moving from the Sun King’s secretary to Cinderella’s secretary, Perrault captured the most beloved fairy tales of all time. He died five years after their publication, at age 74.

If you haven’t read them lately, Project Gutenberg’s Tales From Mother Goose is a 1901 translation of:

Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper
The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood
Little Thumb
The Master Cat, or Puss in Boots
Riquet of the Tuft
Blue Beard
The Fairy
Little Red Riding-hood

And the Imaginary Museum has a fascinating Short History of Fairy Tales.

Charles Perrault: Cinderella's Secretary at Debra Eve's
Charles Perrault

Did I Fail to Mention Disney?

That was on purpose.

What Later Bloomers Can Learn from Charles Perrault

  • Perrault isn’t the only Later Bloomer to establish a new literary genre. So did Bram Stoker. Don’t underestimate the power of experience amplified by imagination.
  • The world is filled with amazing stories, including yours. We need to hear them.

Artwork: Sleeping Beauty by John Collier (1921)

15 Responses

  1. Debra Eve
    | Reply

    @_shipwrecked_ Thanks for the follow, hope you enjoy! Just posted Charles Perrault, the fairy tale guy

    • _shipwrecked_

      @Later_Bloomer Thanx for the follow back at u! At 39, I’m re-inventing my life AGAIN so I’m loving your blog. I need all the help I can get!

    • Debra Eve

      @_shipwrecked_ Wow Sarah! I’ve got an English hubby, used to be an archaeologist too! And I love the sea. We must keep in touch!

    • _shipwrecked_

      @Later_Bloomer Love that! Such a great set of coincidences – we will keep in touch! 🙂

  2. Mary Jo Gibson
    | Reply

    What a joy to find your blog! Keep up the great work!

  3. Debra Eve
    | Reply

    Thanks, Mary Jo! Just subscribed to your blog. I’m a huge fan of obscure (and not so obscure) history!

  4. David Stevens
    | Reply

    Hi Debra,
    Enjoy your new look and the stories that you tell, of course. I’m still blooming, late.
    be good to yourself

    • Debra Eve

      Thanks, David. It’s a never-ending process, late blooming. One I wouldn’t miss.

  5. florence fois
    | Reply

    Hello once again and thanks for another fascinating post, Debra. You have given a new meaning to “late bloomer” and one it so deserves. I am also loving your book and hope you continue to herald the unsung, albiet delightfully wise in our history. Trivia: Who was the oldest person to ever publish a first book?

    • Debra Eve

      So glad you’re enjoying the book, Florence. I don’t know who the oldest person to publish a first book is. The Internet has several answers. Do enlighten me!

  6. Dave Doolin
    | Reply

    That’s pretty crazy, a whole genre of literature. Once again, Debra, I’m amazed out how find these priceless little gems of inspiration.

    • Debra Eve

      It is amazing. And only something that could be done later in life, after years of practice and rumination. I wonder what Bram would think of today’s vampires (Twilight, etc.)? Thanks for stopping by, Dave!

  7. Olga Núñez Miret
    | Reply

    Thanks so much. I love fairy tales but had never read about Perrault. I like the sound of him!

  8. David Hughes
    | Reply

    Love your website would you please include in your email updates look forward hearing from you.

    Thank You
    Dave E Hughes
    Chatham Illinois 🌝

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve

      So glad you enjoy it, David! Will definitely include you in future mailings.

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