Object of the Month – April 2015

April 2015 - Cinderella: A Fairy Tale Play with Original Music playbook, 1901

Cinderella: A Fairy Tale Play with Original Music playbook, 1901April’s object of the month was donated as part of a large selection of socialist material, with the indication that the playbook would have been used by children attending a Socialist Sunday School.

Many historians attribute the Socialist Sunday School movement to one woman, Mrs Mary Gray, who around 1892 lost faith in the dominant Labour Church Sunday Schools. Frustrated by the gaps left by both state day school and Labour Church Sunday School education, Mrs Gray developed Socialist Sunday Schools as a secular alternative, opening her first in Battersea in 1901. Much like Christian Sunday schools, Socialist Sunday Schools taught ‘Elementary Ethics’ in how to be a helpful member of society, while becoming critically aware of the injustices of capitalism. These lessons used traditional Christian phraseology, even going as far as to have their own ten commandments.

Cinderella: A Fairy Tale Play with Original Music playbook, 1901

 

Marion L Adams and Stephen R Philpot were composers who worked regularly together in the late 19th century, and frequently collaborated on other musical plays for schoolchildren. Cinderella is part of a series of ‘Books for Bairns,’ adaptations of popular contemporary children’s tales commissioned by the publisher, Edwin Egerton & Co. It is interesting that Cinderella was a chosen playbook for a Socialist Sunday School.

Cinderella is a tale of one young woman’s journey to upward social mobility, with the aid of fairies. This edition preaches particularly socialist values; while Cinderella is working hard, her stepsisters are lazy and spoilt.

Compare Adams’ lyric:

  • ‘I’m Tired of washing the dishes – Heigh –ho! To the gay palace ball I’d like to go! Of scouring and scrubbing, of scolding and snubbing I’ve had rather more than my share, you know!’

With the seventh socialist commandment:

  • ‘Remember that all good things of the earth are the result of labour. Whoever enjoys them without working for them is stealing the bread of the worker.’

In this case Cinderella is the proletarian worker, slaving away for the bourgeois mistresses who repeatedly degrade her human worth, while they reward themselves by attending balls, serving to reinforce their power by restricting Cinderella’s access to outside events.

The play concludes with Cinderella rising from her humble origins to become a ‘good and gracious’ national leader – who again in line with the socialist commandments, ‘do not hate or speak evil of anyone…’ She does not seek vengeance upon her sisters, but instead:

Cinderella: A Fairy Tale Play with Original Music playbook, 1901‘At her court her sisters twain Grow better, wiser, day by day Beneath her sweet and gentle sway.’

It is likely that plays such as these formed one of the extra-curricular activities of Socialist Sunday schools. The playful performative aspect of these activities would have been a welcome relief to the monotony of state education, from which it was customary in the pre war period to complete at the age of 13 to join the workforce. Socialist Sunday Schools peaked prior to World War I, with a total of 120 established in the UK by 1912.

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