My mother would have liked to go to art school, but on Bankbottom nobody had heard of such a thing. She applied for a clerical job by competitive exam, but it went to a girl called Muriel; poor Muriel, she got all the questions wrong, my mother said, but you see her uncles had pull. Thwarted, unhappy, she stayed in the mill and earned, she said, a wage as good as a man's. The work was hard and took a painful toll on immature muscle and bone. It would be many years before the effects showed; then, with energy to spare, she danced and sang through her evenings, in amateur shows and pantomimes. Cinderella was her favourite part. Her favourite scene: the Transformation. She asked herself, could she really be the child of her parents? Or some changeling princess, dropped into Bankbottom by accident?

For the whole of my childhood I worried about the glass slipper. It is such a treacherous object to wear: splintering, and cutting the curved, tender sole of the dancing foot. The writer Emily Prager once said that she had rewritten, as a child, the second half of the story; Cinderella gets to the ball and breaks her leg. My own feelings were similar; the whole situation was too precarious, you were too dependent on irresponsible agents like pumpkins and mice, and always there was midnight, approaching, tick-tock, the minutes shaving away, the minutes before you were reduced to ashes and rags. I was relieved, as an adult, when I learned that the slipper was not of verre, but of vair, which is to say, ermine. The prince and his agents were ranging the kingdom with a tiny female organ in hand — his ideal bride, represented by her pudendum. Never mind her face: he had not raised his eyes so far. All he knew was that the fit was tight.


Hilary Mantel

in Giving up the ghost, a memoir  p.50-51

© Hilary Mantel 2003 






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