Susan McKinney | Author tells story of Cinderella's stepmother

Susan McKinney | Author tells story of Cinderella's stepmother

"All the Ever Afters" by Danielle Teller is a Cinderella retelling, but it's not. This is the story of Agnes, Cinderella's stepmother. This story is set in the real world of the 1300s in Europe. This is not a pretty fairy tale but a tale of the real world of medieval life, especially for women.

It is told in the first person. She is writing her story to set straight all the fanciful tales that exist about Cinderella and her stepfamily.

Agnes, a daughter of a poor farmer, is sent to Aviceford Manor at the age of 10 to become a servant girl in the house of the manor's lord, Sir Emont Vis-de-Loup. She is one of three children, and her father cannot afford to keep her. Her mother died in childbirth, along with the baby.

She is to be the new laundry girl, assisting the laundress, Elisabeth, in her duties. Being a laundress is a hard job, hard on the body, especially the hands. The things people used in those days to clean laundry would make most people shy away from clean clothes — ashes from the fires, urine from chamber pots and harsh chemicals.

Agnes was responsible for gathering the chamber pots and emptying the contents into the vats where clothes soaked. She was also responsible for gathering the ash and dumping in with water to soak the clothes.

The laundress is cruel and lazy, and Agnes longs to work somewhere else. Even at a young age, she figures out ways to multi-task to do all the work for which Elisabeth holds her responsible.

Through a chance encounter caused by the laundress, Agnes meets Emont. He sees something in her that he admires, even though she is a servant.

When Emont is told to send a serving girl to the abbey, where Elfrida, the abbess needs someone to care for the abbess' mother, Agnes is able to get the assignment. While working for Lady Wenslock at Rose House, Agnes learns to read and is captivated by the Abbess' ward, Fernan, a young knight.

Agnes' life is full of ups and downs. Her relationship with Fernan is rocky; her two daughters Charlotte and Matilda are her joy, but they are also her sadness. The way that the abbess is continually at the heart of her disappointments throughout her life is but a few of the threads of this story.

Most of the story is set before Cinderella is even born.

Agnes' story is written as an explanation and an apology. She acknowledges that there were things she did not handle properly with Ella. It's the story of a human woman, some parts good, some parts bad, who tries to do what is best and deal with life in a world where she will forever be seen as "above her station," a servant who doesn't know her own place.

Susan McKinney is the librarian at the St. Joseph Township-Swearingen Memorial Library. She received her master's in library science from the University of Illinois. She came here from Indiana for graduate school and fell in love with the area. She has lived here ever since. She is an avid reader and enjoys mystery, suspense, fantasy and action novels.

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