C O N F E S S I O N... U G L Y S T E P...

We have all heard the story of Cinderella, the beautiful child cast out to
slave among the ashes. But what of her stepsisters, the homely pair
exiled into ignominy by the fame of their lovely sibling? What fate befell
those untouched by beauty...and what curses accompanied
Cinderella's exquisite looks?
Set against the rich backdrop of seventeenth-century Holland,
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister tells the story of Iris, an unlikely
heroine who finds herself swept from the lowly streets of Haarlem to a
strange world of wealth, artifice, and ambition. Iris's path quickly
becomes intertwined with that of Clara, the mysterious and unnaturally
beautiful girl destined to become her sister.
Gregory Maguire is the author of five novels for adults and more than a dozen novels for children.
His adult novels, all published by HarperCollins, are Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (1995), praised by John
Updike in the New Yorker as "an amazing novel," Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (1999); Lost (2001); Mirror Mirror (2003); and Son of a
Witch, the sequel to Wicked, published in 2005.
Wicked has been developed as a big-budget Broadway musical, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Pippin, The Prince of
Egypt, etc.).
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister was filmed for ABC/Disney and aired originally in the spring of 2002. It starred Stockard Channing and
Jonathan Pryce.
Mr. Maguire's work for adults and for children has been published abroad in England, Ireland and Australia, and various works have been
purchased for translation into French, German, Danish, Dutch, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese.
His children's novels include The Hamlet Chronicles, a projected seven book series including, to date, Seven Spiders Spinning, Six Haunted
Hairdos, Five Alien Elves, Four Stupid Cupids, and Three Rotten Eggs. A Couple of April Fools is next. Though he is best known as a fantasy
writer, Mr. Maguire has also written picture books, science fiction, realistic and historic fiction.
For the Sunday New York Times Book Review Mr. Maguire has published signal reviews of significant fantasies by J. K. Rowling, Philip
Pullman, and Maurice Sendak. He has also contributed articles and essays in journals such as the Boston Review, the Christian Science
Monitor, The Horn Book Magazine, and others.
Mr. Maguire has been the recipient of several awards and fellowships. He was artist in residence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in
Boston, and has received fellowship residencies at Blue Mountain Center, New York; the Hambidge Center, Georgia; The Virginia Center for
the Creative Arts; and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Vermont. In addition to writing, Mr. Maguire is a national figure in children's literature
education. He was a professor and associate director of the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College, 1979 through
1986. Since 1986 he has been co director and founding board member of Children's Literature New England, Incorporated, a nonprofit that
focuses attention on the significance of literature in the lives of children.
Mr. Maguire received his Ph.D. in English and American Literature at Tufts University (1990). He has lived abroad in Dublin and London, and
now makes his home in Massachusetts.
While versions of the Cinderella story go back at least a thousand years, most Americans are familiar with the tale of
the glass slippers, the pumpkin coach, and the fairy godmother. In what ways does Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister
contain the magical echo of this tale, and in what ways does it embrace the traditions of a straight historical novel?
Confessions is, in part, about the difficulty and the value of seeing-seeing paintings, seeing beauty, seeing the truth.
Each character in Confessions has blinkers or blinders on about one thing or another. What do the characters
overlook, in themselves and in one another?
Discuss the role of artistic representation in Confessions. Consider the two portraits the Master paints. What do they
say about each other, and about art? What does the Master purport to want to capture in his paintings, and why?
Gregory Maguire posits four types of beauty in the novel: that of physical human grace and perfection that of flower
blossoms, that of art, and that of the gesture of charity. Is it possible to make a statement about the relative values of
beauty? How is each type of beauty represented in the story?
Is Clara's extreme beauty really an affliction, as Iris suggests, making her just another addition to the Gallery of God's
Mistakes? Do you think her beauty is a curse or a blessing?
Iris is possessed by visions of imps and hobgoblins -- her imagination transforms a crone into the Queen of the HairyChinned Gypsies, a windmill into a ferocious giant, and smoke on the horizon into a dragon's breath. Why do you think
she sees the world this way? Ultimately, is there an imp in the van den Meer house?
The early seventeenth century was a time in which the Dutch, it is said, invented the idea of the "comfortable home."
How does the van den Meer home reflect the family within? What elements in Confessions rely on the need to keep
up appearances?
How does the story of van den Meer's rising and falling fortunes in the tulip market relate to Clara's tale? What lessons
does it offer us today?
Clara is preoccupied with the idea that she may be a changeling. Why does she think, even hope, that she is one? In
the end, how might we redefine the term "changeling" with Clara in mind?
In considering Marie de Medici's scheme to marry off her godson, Margarethe professes an admiration for the
Dowager Queen, saying, "Why shouldn't she arrange the world to suit herself? Wouldn't we all, if we could?" [page
243). Discuss the ways that Margarethe arranges the world to suit herself. What does her favorite saying, "Give me
room to cast my eel spear, and let follow what may," tell us about her?
When Iris asks the crone about casting a magic spell on someone, the crone replies, "It's your own job to change
yourself" (page 164). Transformation is one of the main themes of "Cinderella," and of Confessions. Discuss the ways
in which the characters are transformed or transform themselves over the course of the novel. What are the value
and/or the cost of transformation for each?
On page 65, Margarethe tells Iris, "Women must collaborate or perish." Does Margarethe really believe this
statement? In what ways do women collaborate or fail to collaborate in the story?
The novel begins and ends with the issue of charity -- Margarethe's request for charity in a strange town and Clara's
act of charity toward her stepmother and stepsisters. Discuss how these scenes frame the story. At the ball, the
Master says, "perhaps charity is the kind of beauty that we comprehend the best because we miss it the most" (page
313). What does this mean to you?
How has the book changed your conception of the Cinderella story? The notion of "happily ever after"?
Title: Enchantment
Author: Scott Card
Summary: Follows one man from ninth-century Russia to present-day America as he struggles to rescue a princess and her
kingdom, find true love, and overcome the blackest of evil.
Title: The Lost Diaries of Frans Hals
Author: Michael Kernan
Summary: Franz Hals's diaries reveal him to be an opinionated man interested in the neighbors whose portraits he paints in
17th-century Haarlem.
Title: Winter Rose
Author: Patricia A. McKillip
Summary: Two sisters, one delicate and sensible, one rough-hewn and sensual, fall in love with an aristocrat who returns to
claim his family's abandoned estate, only to fall victim to the curse of his legendary grandfather.
Title: Girl With a Pearl Earring
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Summary: A poor seventeenth-century servant girl knows her place in the household of the painter Johannes Vermeer, but
when he begins to paint her, nasty whispers and rumors circulate throughout the town.
Title: The Black Tulip
Author: Alexandre Dumas
Summary: A collection of childhood stories featuring such fairy tale characters as Rapunzel and Puss in Boots takes on a
darker, more sinister edge at the hands of such writers as Gahan Wilson, Tanith Lee, and Jane Yolen.
Title: Snow White, Blood Red
Author: Various
Summary: During the 17th century, William of Orange supports the tulip agitation against Johan de Witt and his brother in
Title: Jack, the Giant-killer
Author: Charles De Lint
Summary: Jack goes searching for giants to kill and it is impossible for him to fail, especially with the aid of The Cloak of
Darkness, The Cap of Wisdom, The Shoes of Speed, and The Sword of Sharpness.
Title: The Bride
Author: Margaret Irwin
Summary: Visitors at the Queen of Bohemia Elizabeth's court in Holland include Prince Charles, who is about to lose his
throne on his father's death, and James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose, who senses the difficulties ahead, although he is
intrigued with Princess Louise, one of Elizabeth's daughters.
Title: Tam Lin
Author: Pamela Dean
Summary: This Scottish-based tale for adults offers a pregnant heroine who must rescue the man who seduced her in the
woods from his captor, the Fairie Queen.
BOOK TITLE: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister