In many versions of the Cinderella story, including the retelling by Charles Perrault, Cinderella finds husbands for her stepsisters. As Perrault puts it:
Cinderella, who was no less good than beautiful, gave her two sisters lodgings in the palace, and that very same day matched them with two great lords of the court.
Uh huh. Now, sure, these sisters were wellborn enough to be invited to the prince’s ball in the first place – something that the film Ever After makes a point of noting – but Perrault’s tale makes their status absolutely clear: they are the daughters of gentlemen, not the daughters of nobles. The same exact status held by Cinderella at birth. A status that failed to protect her from becoming a servant – a highly abused servant.
Charles Perrault witnessed several relationships, both sanctioned and unsanctioned, between those of unequal birth at the Court of Louis XIV at Versailles. He may even have known about Louis XIV’s secret, second marriage to a woman considerably beneath him in birth. (She was of noble birth on her father’s side, and quasi-noble birth on her mother’s side, but hardly of high rank, and came from an impoverished background.) He also was a direct witness to several arranged marriages that ended up as disasters for both parties.
His intent here is pretty clear, as it is in other stories: an argument that social climbing was absolutely possible in the court of Louis XIV (something his fellow French salon fairy tale writers often disputed). Not just possible – something to be applauded and encouraged, even as in another tale, Little Red Riding Hood, he warned young women away from predatory men. The same sorts of young women who were – presumably – hoping to follow the example of Cinderella and her sisters.
So, yeah, this all fits with Charles Perrault’s worldview. But does it fit with the rest of the story that he told? I would argue not. Sure, Perrault also tells us that the younger stepsister was less rude and uncivil than the older one – but that’s only a matter of degree.
And, of course, what of the great lords suddenly matched to women of lower birth?
I couldn’t explore all of this. But I explored some of it in my latest little fairy tale, Stepsister, out from Daily Science Fiction.