Cinderella helping her Sisters to Dress for the Royal Ball (6.5 cm high by 9.6 cm wide, facing page 8) — the third illustration for both the single-volume edition of 1854 and for the third tale in the 1865 anthology, George Cruikshank's Fairy Library. In the second illustration, Cinderella's step-mother had charged her with tidying up the kitchen while she and the step-sisters go to a grand ball. Having had to discharge her servants in order to economize, the step-mother has no lady's maid to dress her own or her daughters' hair into the elaborate forms that were the fashion in Europe's eighteenth-century courts. Cinderella volunteers, performing the task admirably, right down to ringlets and feather headresses.

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL.]

The illustrations appearing here are from the collection of the commentator.

Passage Illustrated

Such consultations about fashion, and trimmings, and muslin, and silks, and satins, and laces, and ribbons, and braids, and bodices, and flowers, and trains, and dresses, and feathers, and flowers, and jewels, and ornaments, and shoes, and buckles, and sashes, and slippers, and all sorts of finery! — such cutting, and contriving, and working, that the day before the ball was to take place the mamma, who was not very strong, was so fatigued, that she was laid up in bed, and then the young ladies did not know what to do for some one to help them; but they were not long without assistance, for Cinderella's kind heart immediately prompted her to offer her services, which were readily accepted, as the girls knew that Cinderella had excellent taste, and was clever every way. But they said, "What shall we do for a hair-dresser? — oh! what shall we do? — we can never go to the ball unless we have a hair-dresser." Well might they say so, for their hair had got dreadfully tangled and out of order, in consequence of their having fallen into such idle habits that they did not comb and brush their hair night and morning, as they ought to have done.

Now, on account of so many ladies going to the grand Royal fete, all the hair-dressers in the country were in great request ; so much so, that they raised their charges to a most extraordinary price, and thus it was only the rich who could afford to hire them; and even then many of the poor hair-dressers and their assistants were so fatigued that they fainted away whilst dressincr the ladies' hair, so that the ladies and their maids had to recover theni with their smelling bottles and other restoratives.

But Cinderella bade her sisters rest easy about their hair, assuring them that she could dress it to their satisfaction ; and so she did, — a dear, good-natured, darling girl as she was. Cinderella exerted herself to the uttermost, and helped to dress and trim them up, even so as to astonish themselves. But, oh! there was such a looking in the glass! — such a twisting, and turning, and pulling, and breaking of stay-laces, and trying on, and taking off, and putting on again! — such bursts, too, of ill-temper, when they thought anything was not done exactly as they wanted, would have tried anybody's patience. But dear Cinderella did all she could to soothe them, antl to please them ; and at last she pretty well succeeded, for they seemed to be quite satisfied as they took a last look at themselves in the glass. — "Cinderella and The Glass Slipper," p. 8-10.

The Perrault Context

It happened that the king's son gave a ball, and invited all persons of fashion to it. Our young misses were also invited, for they cut a very grand figure among those of quality. They were mightily delighted at this invitation, and wonderfully busy in selecting the gowns, petticoats, and hair dressing that would best become them. This was a new difficulty for Cinderella; for it was she who ironed her sister's linen and pleated their ruffles. They talked all day long of nothing but how they should be dressed.

"For my part," said the eldest, "I will wear my red velvet suit with French trimming."

"And I," said the youngest, "shall have my usual petticoat; but then, to make amends for that, I will put on my gold-flowered cloak, and my diamond stomacher, which is far from being the most ordinary one in the world."

They sent for the best hairdresser they could get to make up their headpieces and adjust their hairdos, and they had their red brushes and patches from Mademoiselle de la Poche.

They also consulted Cinderella in all these matters, for she had excellent ideas, and her advice was always good. Indeed, she even offered her services to fix their hair, which they very willingly accepted. As she was doing this, they said to her, "Cinderella, would you not like to go to the ball?"

"Alas!" said she, "you only jeer me; it is not for such as I am to go to such a place."

"You are quite right," they replied. "It would make the people laugh to see a Cinderwench at a ball."

Anyone but Cinderella would have fixed their hair awry, but she was very good, and dressed them perfectly well. — Chales Perrault, "Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper."


The situation in which the clever, industrious, long-suffering Cinderella finds herself after her father's incarceration superficially resembles that of twelve-year-old Charles Dickens when his father was arrested for debt and consigned to the Marshalsea. However, the situations of the fictional and historical characters are somewhat different in that, although working during the week at Warren's Blacking, Hungerford Stairs, he spent weekends with his family. He was, moreover, supported emotionally by his parents and siblings. The other point to note is that only John Forster among the members of Dickens' circle knew about the blacking factory episode in Dickens's childhood, so that Cruikshank probably have had no idea that he was drawing a parallel between his protagonist and the novelist. One presumes that Cruikshank wished to find a plausible reason for keeping Cinderella's father out of the way without making Cinderella an orphan, and allowing for the possible release of her father when his daughter marries the Prince and can negotiate with his creditors. The situation is hardly anachronistic, however, as in eighteenth-century England (the era that the women's fashions imply) large numbers of debtors were incarcerated; for example, in 1774, although the population of Great Britain stood at six million, and there were just over 4,000 prisoners in gaols in the United Kingdom, fully half of all prisoners were insolvent debtors.

The Cruikshank scene set in a lady's boudoir is unusual in Victorian illustrated books, offering considerably more detail, for example, than William Sharp's illustration of Rachel Verinder's "withdrawing" room in Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, "Miss Rachel then covered the surface, under his directions and with his help, with patterns and devices" (Part 1, Ch. 12), or John McLenan's 1860 wood-engraving of Miss Havisham's dressing-table in "'Who is it?' said the lady at the table. 'Pip, Ma'am'" in Dickens's Great Expectations. Much more detailed is the male dressing-room drawn by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne) for Martin Chuzzlewit, Mr. Nadgett Breathes, as Usual, an Atmosphere of Mystery (February 1844). One may well ask, "Why this reticence?" Whether the story is by a male or female writer, the illustrator (typically male) seems to have had a general prejudice against depicting so personal a space as a young lady's boudoir or drawing-room, although in other respects illustrators, taking their cue from the writers, sought to define principal characters by their chosen environments, this being very much the case with Miss Havisham in the 1861 Dickens novel, the shuttered Satis House being as much an extension of her character as Joe Gargery's forge or Uncle Pumblechook's seed-shop. Pailthorpe also described Miss Havisham in terms of her dressing-table in I present Joe to Miss Havisham. Even the most evocative portrait of Miss Havisham in her boudoir, Charles Green's 1877 engraving Miss Havisham, offers little detail about the contents of the room, other than the open jewelry-box and the mirror (from which the owner has turned away).

Here, George Cruikshank defines the fashion-conscious, social-climbing, vapid, vain, and intellectually vacuous step-sisters by the domestic space that best reflects their characters, just as he sets the keynote for the hard-working, long-suffering Cinderella by showing in in the kitchen chimney-corner in the frontispiece. The sisters' obsession with their own appearances and their detailed and painstaking preparations for the contest of beauties (the winner of which will marry the Prince) suggests that the veteran illustrator who had early in his career pilloried George, Prince of Wales, had little use for such frippery. Dickens dramatised a similar attitude to the boudoir as the preserve of wealth and privilege in Bella Wilfer's renouncing the withdrawing room afforded her by the Boffins, a virtuous departure illustrated by James Mahoney in the Household Edition plate "You have been a pleasant room to me, dear room. Adieu! We shall never see each other again" (1875). As in the McLenan scenes of Miss Havisham in front of her mirror, Cruikshank here deploys a pair of mirrors (the one on the dressing-table, the other in the hands of one of the step-sisters) to suggest their egocentricity as both gaze avidly at their own images. Cinderella is apparently studying the effect her work by regarding the hand-mirror as well, suggesting her devotion to project of cultivating the proper appearance for her siblings, even as her own hair is identical to the workaday plainness seen in the previous illustration (above). Strangely, Cruikshank has deployed the side dressing-table, loaded with makeup cases and hairspray, to block the doorway to the room, as if implying that the cultivation of a fashionable image can become a self-limiting obsession. The large, hooped skirts, shawl, ruffles and feathers all suggest the fashions of the previous century, as do the legs of the tables. Cruikshank has divided his signature line between "Designed & Etched by" to the left and "George Cruikshank" to the right, the caption having to serve for both illustrations facing page 8 (he follows the same practice for all the remaining illustrations in Cinderella and The Glass Slipper).

Related Materials


Bentley, Nicolas; Michael Slater and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.

British Library. "George Cruikshank's Fairy Library." Romantics and Victorians.

Cohen, Jane Rabb. Part One, "Dickens and His Early Illustrators: 1. George Cruikshank. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio University Press, 1980. Pp. 15-38.

Cruikshank, George. Cinderella and The Glass Slipper. Illustrated by George Cruikshank. The third volume in George Cruikshank's Fairy Library. London: David Bogue, 1854. (Price one shilling) 10 etchings on 6 tipped-in pages, including frontispiece.

Cruikshank, George. George Cruikshank's Fairy Library: "Hop-O'-My-Thumb," "Jack and the Bean-Stalk," "Cinderella," "Puss in Boots". London: George Bell, 1865.

Guildhall Library blog. "A Gem from Guildhall Library's Shelves: George Cruikshank's Fairy Library by George Cruikshank published by Routledge in London (c. 1870)." 8 August 2014.

Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University. "George Cruikshank."

Hubert, Judd D. "George Cruikshank's Graphic and Textual Reactions to Mother Goose." Marvels & Tales, Volume 25, Number 2, 2011 (pp. 286-297). Project Muse.

Kitton, Frederic G. "George Cruikshank." Dickens and His Illustrators. London: Chapman & Hall, 1899. Pp. 1-28.

Perrault, Charles. "Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper." Fairy Tales and Other Traditional Stories. Lit2Go.

Vogler, Richard, The Graphic Works of George Cruikshank. New York: Dover, 1979.

Last modified 30 June 2017