Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Cinderella Who Wasn't

The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig is a Cinderella story of sorts except she isn't rescued from her poverty after the clock strikes midnight and all the beautiful things are lost.

Christine, the post-office girl, is whisked away to a posh resort in the Swiss Alps on the invitation of her aunt who is feeling guilty for not helping her sister's family during World War I. Christine gets a glamor makeover, new clothes, and a borrowed aristocratic reputation. For eight days she gets to experience the freedom and pleasure that money brings. Her exuberance and gratitude combined with her artlessness make her a popular breath of fresh air among the young and the old. But the petty jealousy of a "friend" who reveals to all that Christine is really a penniless girl from a village near Vienna, prompts Christine's aunt to hastily send Christine back home.

The aunt, you see, is an imposter herself. She used to be as poor as Christine but through planning and scheming and the patronage of wealthy men, she was able to remake herself and land a wealthy Dutch husband who has no idea about her true past. Terrified that Christine will inadvertently lead the unforgiving spotlight of money and class to focus on her, she uncompassionately sends Christine home offering her nothing but a bald-faced lie.

Christine is devastated. She sinks into a deep depression until she is revived by Ferdinand, a bitter war veteran she meets through her brother-in-law. Ferdinand understands her loss and longing. Together they find a certain comfort in their mutual unhappiness and hopelessness which leads to a surprise ending.

Reading Christine's story is like watching the Wizard of Oz where everything is black and gray at the beginning and end, but in Oz, everything is in glorious technicolor. But technicolor turns out to be like crack and it is surprising how fast Christine becomes addicted. Her aunt's intended kindness in the invitation to the Alps turns out to unintentionally be even more cruel than neglecting her family during the war when she could easily have helped. The really sad thing is that Christine could probably have found some modicum of happiness had her aunt never sent the invitation. In Christine's village there was a man, equally as poor as her, who shyly but truly loved her.

The Post-Office Girl was a good book. It was not an uplifting read though. But are books about class, money and morals ever uplifting especially when they are about a person who learns what she is missing?


Iliana said...

Great title for the post Stefanie. So true!

You know it's interesting because I think for some people they could probably have lived content after just knowing that they had experienced a good time but Christine just couldn't get out of her depression. Then again, she did have to go back home to her mother's death and then to be so alone.

Stefanie said...

Thanks Iliana!

I think going back to the dreary deprivation would be so hard. I think I would be bitter and resentful at how unfair it all is. I don't think Christine had to be alone though. Her naighbors and friends wanted to help but she couldn't get past her bitterness.

Grad said...

Love the Cinderella in Reverse analogy.

Danielle said...

I like your comparison to the Wizard of Oz--that is how it felt. She would have been better off not going on that trip I think. It's one thing to know you don't have anything but can deal with it, it's another thing to know just what you don't have and never will have.

SFP said...

If Ferdinand hadn't come along, I wonder if she would have eventually pulled out of the depression and rebuilt her friendships and connections.

I'd so hoped she'd see the prince in Lord Elkins before it was too late but I got my hopes dashed there. . .