This is a Cinderella tale told from the point of view of one of the ‘ugly’ stepsisters. In the original story, Cinderella’s father married and brought his new wife and stepdaughters to his home. The stepsisters were spoiled and enjoyed privileges that Cinderella did not, and lived a life of leisure.
Not so in this version. Here, the Jane and Maude Montjoy are the sisters. They live in a dilapidated house and do all of the chores to try to survive. Their mother is set on them being ‘ladies’ like she was raised, despite them needing to do the work that the servants did in order to survive. Their mother goes into the city to supposedly buy soap and other supplies and returns with a new husband and Isabella (or Ella), a perfect spoiled little lady. The mother is still grieving for youth, and has taken refuge in her own mind. Jane and Maude act older than their ages as they have had to work for their survival, but Ella acts like a young lady, emphasis on the young. Jane and Maude are dirty, unkempt, and shoeless most of the time with tangled hair and torn and too-small dresses. So when Ella calls them ugly, she was being rude and mean, but perhaps not untruthful.
As in most tales, not all is as it seems. We see the story from Jane’s perspective, and so we don’t see what’s in Ella’s mind. We know that Ella is a prolific liar, but if she’s been raised to court manners, then perhaps she’s used to saying whatever is most interesting. (That, and she’s just a liar. She’s also a very good actress.) Jane is working hard to keep her family alive, and Ella is in mourning. We have a lot of instances of mistaken intentions. Everyone seems to have the wrong idea about somebody. What seems like a dream quickly turns into a nightmare.
I think the author did a good job at using real-life horrors in her story. One of the things that seemed a bit unrealistic was the extent of the starvation the family was facing. I feel that there would have been more death or illness in that situation. Overall a good adaptation of a favorite fairy tale!