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CLAUDE CAHUN

Cinderella, the Humble
and Haughty Child
She dropped one of her glass slippers,
and the prince picked it up very carefully.
—Perrault

My father got remarried, which overjoyed me. I’d always dreamt
of having an evil stepmother. The heavens granted me even more,
giving me two stepsisters. They were deliciously cruel. I especially
liked the older one, who despised me so much it thrilled me. Seeing me always seated in the fireplace’s cinders, whose heat penetrated me delectably (sometimes even burning me), with her
sweet, familiar voice, didn’t she call me Cinderass? Never was a
word so sweet to my ears.
Unfortunately, they were pretty girls, suitable for marriage.
They soon left us, leaving me with my parents who, devoted to
one another, regarded the world with a drunken tenderness. And
I too was enveloped by their splendid, universal indifference. I
would do anything to avoid such a marriage . . . But how would I,
since I was of an amorous mind, and so submissive?

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244 • Claude Cahun

Furthermore, I felt my pleasure diminish each day, and my ecstasy wane. I understood why (for lack of anything better, I had
given myself to solitary reveries and reflected a lot): such delights
fade with habit. At present, I was too downcast, too humiliated,
to experience the joy of daily humiliation. I had to climb back
onto the bank, onto a tall bank, to dive back into the infinite sea
of human voluptuousness. A princess, ah! If I were a queen! . . . To
wed, publicly, the least of my vassals, to get him to force me to
abdicate, to abuse me, to prefer the whores of his village to me!
Can one make such fantasies come true?
My very wise godmother, Madame Fairy, to whom I confessed
my desires, came to my rescue. She knew our Prince very well
(long ago, she had even attended his baptism) and revealed to me
the curious particularities by which he could be seduced:
He had a passion for women’s shoes. Touching them, kissing
them, letting himself be walked on with their charming heels
(pointed heels with a scarlet tint so they looked as if they were
splattered with blood)—these were the simple pleasures he’d
been looking for since he was a child. The ladies at court could
not satisfy him. Awkward and timid, lest they wound the heir to
the throne, they wear house slippers. And fearing he would lower
himself to kiss their feet, they raise them, with all the signs of
respect, to his mouth, which is august, but bitter, unyielding to
smiles . . . What this royal lover needs is a haughty and dominating mistress, with hard heels and no pity, the one I could be—me,
the one who understands!
“Godmother, you are demanding a terrible sacrifice of me! This
man is the opposite of the one my heart desires.”
“I know, my dear. But it’s for a purpose. Every sacrifice has its

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Cinderella, Humble and Haughty  •  245

own reward. By playing your role, you will experience an excitement more profound than any of the all-­too-­common ones you’ve
known until now. My blasé Cinderella, listen to me: the sharpest
pain on earth (for you, the greatest pleasure) is to go against one’s
instinct, to violate it and to chasten it time and again . . .”
Convinced by my good godmother, I accepted her presents—
three pairs of cinder-­gray horses, a carriage, a driver, and six lackeys; clothes of velour and gold; and cute vair slippers (he adores
fur) that she entrusted to me just for him . . .
She advised me to be proud and fierce, mysterious to perfection, and to flee at the stroke of midnight—and to do so the second night, in the process losing my little left slipper (but in full
light and under the eyes of the Prince who would follow me).
(My feet are small and compact, and sort of stunted—since I
have the habit of binding them in a vise of stiff cloth laced firmly
in the Chinese fashion. This exquisite and most effective torture
fills me with utter satisfaction . . .)
I obeyed. Yesterday, I saw the Prince, who disturbed me greatly.
Alas! I guess his thoughts all too well! And I noticed many essential details . . . He blushed at the mention of boots. He blushes, he
told me naively, if he walks in front of a display of shoes, which seems
to him to be the worst inconvenience; but a display of flesh does not
affect his modest and tolerant soul. He is astonished that games
so foolish and even a bit repugnant can be pleasing.
I agree with him. And perhaps I would truly love him if he occasionally wanted to switch roles . . . I can’t entertain the thought
for a second, for if I were to ruin his illusions, he would send his
cricket back home all too quickly! I’ll have to deceive him to the
grave.

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246 • Claude Cahun

The important thing is being a Princess. When I’m a Princess,
with the help of my godmother, I’ll be able to get the lowliest of
my valets to beat me.
Then, I’ll once again put on my scullery maid dress, precious
rags the color and odor of cinders, in which I’ll secretly bury my
crazed head every day. I’ll go out at night. I’ll meet passersby
(there’s no lack of poor or ugly, even dishonest people). And the
better I play my role for the dear Prince, the more marvelously
intense the contrast of these humiliating contacts will be for me.
ca. 1925

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