Wilhelmina is the first of what I hope to be a series, broadly entitled: Tales from the Scawen {“scawen” meaning “elder tree” in the long-gone tongue of Cornish}. The series will consist of six distinct fairytales, each from a different continent, each with its own protagonist(s), all of whom — like me — identify as queer; a member of the LGBTQIA community. Structurally, they will vary — yet each of them novellas — told through a narrative that is classically inclined. Their purpose: to create a pantheon of heroes, centuries overdue.

The first of these stories is a riff on Cinderella; the tale of a tailor known initially as William. At 78 pages and approx. 21,000 words, it is entitled: Wilhelmina; or The Queen’s Satin Dress

Set against the backdrop of 19th century Prussia, it is the only one of these pieces that is placed in the plains of Europe. Inspired by the works of both Perrault and the Grimms, it is told in three parts {similar to Kafka’s Metamorphosis}. What’s more, as the story progresses, its prose begin to shift, transforming — like its heroine — into consonant accord. 

Conceptually, I would like for Wilhelmina to be illustrated, most notably by an artist who identifies as transgender. Ideally, this format would continue all throughout, aligning every artist to the hero(s) of each tale. It is also my hope — given this component — that Wilhelmina and the series will be Own Voices stories. 

Summary: Following the untimely death of his mother, William inherits her dress shop, which becomes his vital refuge in escaping his father’s abuse; where he quells his pain and loneliness by sewing beautiful dresses — none of which, by law, William is allowed to wear. That soon changes when the Queen visits him personally, commissioning a dress for the forthcoming ball — to which William is invited. When the Queen refuses the gown that William makes for her, however, the tailor tears it apart, despairing. It is only when an old beggar woman enters that William comes to realize: the violet satin dress he had crafted for the Queen wasn’t meant for her at all — it was always meant for William to wear to the royal ball, as her truest self: the maiden, Wilhelmina. 

Comp Titles: The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo; The Odyssey retold and illustrated by Manuela Adreani; Circe by Madeline Miller; Beauty and the Beast, retold and illustrated by Eleanor Vere Boyle; and of course, Orlando by Virginia Woolf. 

Illustration by Nova West

As the days turned to weeks and the weeks into months, 

William’s mother taught him everything she knew about 

mending and crafting clothing. To her delight, William was 

a model student. Before long, he was taking on the bulk of her 

work, sewing blissfully through the days and long into the nights, 

fashioning new garments for her loyal clientele.

Illustration by Nala Wu

“Come here, dear Wilhelmina!” called the Queen, across the floor; 

Her hair was styled low this night with jewelry galore. 

A necklace wrapped around her of a bursting silver sun, 

Hanging just above the bodice, where the crimson dress begun. 

With its billowed skirt still airy and its bustle kept intact, 

Its sleeveless silhouette maintained the power to impact.

Illustration by Nala Wu

Wilhelmina slid her shoes on — which, of course, felt custom-made 

— atop her cotton stockings, which the shoes would not abrade. 

She stood upon their platforms but three inches from the ground, 

but nonetheless felt taller, irreplaceably profound.

On {the lion’s} forehead was a symbol of a tree: 

six roots and many branches made of silver filigree. 

Its trunk resembled elder, its roots a compassed sun, 

and only ’round its vertex were there leaves that had begun.

Jordan Russell Westfall © 2020

Website designed by Lauren Sageer

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