Hello my Fairy Tale Friday Followers!
It has been an incredibly long time since I’ve done one of these because time just got away from me on a ridiculous level and before I knew it ten thousand years had passed. Or you know, a few months – but who’s counting?!
These Fairy Tale Friday’s used to be posted every other Friday but on account of them taking a lot of time and on account of me being time poor I’ve (possibly temporarily) moved this to a monthly feature and will aim to post on the ‘final’ Friday of the month because I absolutely adore alliteration.
(No, Tish has nothing to do with this fairy tale. I just love her coy eyebrow raising face).
Today’s fairy tale seems to be the #1 on a lot of people’s lists if we go by the sheer number of retelling’s. It’s not my favourite fairy tale although I do have a huge soft spot for it however one of it’s many, many adaptations happens to be one of my favourite Disney movies.
Let’s have a look at the…
Beauty and the Beast is one of those elusive fairy tales that was both originally written by a woman and rewritten by a woman because yes, there are two versions.
The original was written in 1740 by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and the rewrite was written in 1748 by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. It is the Beaumont version with her adjustments that is the best known but, controversially, Beaumont gave no credit to Villeneuve and so the masses don’t tend to release that Beaumont was not the originator of the tale.
I’m going to go start with the original Villeneuve version and then look at what Beaumont has changed in this tale as old as um…. 1740.
A rich merchant has 12 children (6 sons and 6 daughters) the most noteworthy are his two older daughters who are known for being greedy and selfish and his youngest daughter Beauty, named for her lovely nature.
The merchant loses his wealth and the family falls into poverty until he hears news that one of his trade ships has been found. He asks his children what they want for gifts upon his return and the two selfish sisters request clothing and jewels while Beauty asks for a single rose.
When the merchant gets lost in the woods in a storm he find shelter in a mysterious yet beautiful palace where he is looked after. As he leaves the next say he sees a rose garden and plucks his gift for Beauty.
Immediately after he is confronted by a hideous Beast who is furious that his hospitality has been rewarded by theft but sets the merchant free as long as he brings back one of his daughters to take his place.
Beauty believes she should be the one to go as it was she who asked for the rose as a gift. When she arrives at the palace she is treated well and is provided with many lavish gifts and her own space. The only requirement is that she dines with the Beast each evening where she is asked by the Beast to marry him to which she continually declines.
At night in her dreams she speaks to a handsome Prince who tells her to not trust too much to her eyes and during the day she explores the palace to find him as she believes the Beast is keeping this Prince a prisoner. However during her evenings in the company of the Beast she discovers that he has a pleasant and gentle nature although he is not intelligent or articulate like the Prince of her dreams.
When Beauty becomes homesick she asks the Beast if she can go home to see her family which he agrees to but warns her that if she doesn’t come back before two months has passed he’ll die.
After returning home Beauty finds that she has changed and can’t fit into her previous life, she also realises she misses the Beast and has a nightmare in which he dies because she has stayed away for too long.
When she returns to the palace she is overjoyed to find him alive, acknowledges that she has fallen in love with him for who he is and when he asks her to marry him she says yes. At her answer he changes into the Prince from her dreams.
A fairy appears and reveals herself to the be Prince’s mother and mentions that Beauty is the niece of another fairy and so the couple are allowed to marry.
As it turn out, the Prince’s father died when the Prince was young and his mother left to defend the kingdom leaving her son in the care of an evil fairy who tried to seduce him. When he refused she turned him into the Beast and only someone loving him for his good nature would break the enchantment.
The Beaumont story makes some notable changes with the source material including significantly reducing down its length. The changes are:-
- The number of children the merchant has is reduced to 6 (3 boys and 3 girls)
- All the detail of Beauty’s time spent in the palace is removed including the dreams that she has of the Prince and his message to not let her eyes deceive her
- There is a magic glass that Beauty uses to view her family and she discovers that her father is unwell which is why she requests to leave
- Her sisters in this story are not just greedy and selfish but jealous and spiteful. Both have married unhappily and when they see that Beauty is well looked after and wealthy they actively conspire to delay her return to the Beast so that he will eat her out of rage
- Beauty comes to the realisation that the Beast’s kindness and virtue makes good marriage material even if she isn’t in romantic love with him, it’s only when he is dying that makes her realise she does love him
- There is no mention of any fairy family links only that the Beast was cursed by a fairy
The question is, while these changes have made a difference to the story have they made a difference to the message within the story? At first glance it wouldn’t seem so. It would seem that Beaumont ‘trimmed the fat’ from the original and that’s all but the impact is greater than it first appears and I’ll try and explain the best I can below.
This is usually the part where I provide the moral of the story. For both versions I would like to think it’s pretty obvious – a person’s true beauty is what is on the inside and not based on their physical appearance.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the post; Beauty and the Beast is an incredibly popular fairy tale to the point where I’m beginning to wonder if it has the most retelling’s of any other fairy tale. I haven’t done my research on numbers but if I went digging I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in the top 5.
But the question is why? Why is this seemingly more popular than other fairy tales? There’s a strong sense of aesthetic romanticism about it that probably appeals to those of us who already enjoy fairy tales. Enchanted palaces and gardens, roses, a beautiful young woman and a hint of romance.
Could this story be popular due to the romance angle of this tale? Is it popular because Beauty is the rare, fairy tale protagonist who is both female and in control of her own fate? Do we believe strongly in the message that beauty is what’s inside but do we also enjoy that this story is about the healing power of love?
I ask these questions but provide no answers. Ultimately I think it may be a combination of all these things. Gorgeous settings, enchanted ethereal set-up and a love story between a beautiful women and a man who is not as he appears.
Beauty and the Beast has it’s fair share of critics who seemingly despise this tale. If I truly think about it I think a lot of the criticism is often directed at the retelling’s who, more often than not, tend to have missed a point or two and who have changed a rather significant aspect of the original tale.
One of those criticisms is that Beauty is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. This is (as Wiki tells me) a condition which causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during the period of their captivity.
If we go back to the often ignored Villeneuve source material we are being given evidence that contradicts this as a great deal of the story is made on the freedom and sense of ownership that Beauty has in the palace.
However if we stick with some versions that have Beast as possessive captor than I can see how the Beauty character may adapt her cognitive functions in order to cope. But honestly, I feel like I’m often squinting to see that.
It’s important to note the changes made from Villeneuve’s version and it’s important to note how we view this story from the perspective of the modern eye.
Villeneuve wrote her story for adults while Beaumont adapted it for children. While mentions of sex aren’t explicit in Villeneueve’s version there are two things that Beaumont removed or changed to ensure it was child appropriate:-
- In Villeneuve’s version translators have believed that the Beast was asking Beauty if he could have sex with her whereas in Beaumont’s he was proposing marriage.
- In Villeneuve’s version the Prince was cursed because he refused the sexual advances of a fairy while the reason behind the curse is omitted entirely from Beaumont’s.
Both Villeneuve and Beaumont wanted women to be educated (Beauty in both versions is a reader) but Villeneuve aspired to greater marriage equality for women and the right for women to say no to marriage and no to sex until both were wanted.
Beauty says no to Beasts requests (whether this is for marriage or sex) until she is ready. In the story she feels able to say no and her refusal is accepted without her fearing rebuttal. It is mentioned that the Beast is disappointed but whatever. He’ll just have to get over it. And does.
Beaumont took a different perspective and wanted to provide women with marriage advice. The sisters of her tale have married for reasons other than love and are unhappy. Beauty, who decides to marry when she realises that she loves the Beast lives happily ever after. Beaumont didn’t want women to settle for anyone but highlighted that women should marry good men who treat them well.
This may seem like obvious advice for us in 2019 but in the 1700’s both women were being progressive with their views.
Now I’ve mentioned that a lot of retelling’s have changed a significant aspect of the original tale and this is probably why the story garners modern critique.
It is important to note:-
The Beast was never, ever a horrible person. He lost his temper when the merchant stole a rose because he was angry that he was being stolen from after providing hospitality to a traveler. Would we all not be a little pissed if that happened to us?
That’s the only instance. The selfish, vain, immoral, greedy, nasty, rage filled Beast of multiple retelling’s? He never existed.
The Beast never ‘learnt’ to become a good person. He was always a good person.
This is not a story about the love of a good woman redeeming an otherwise irredeemable man. This was always the story of Beauty learning to listen to her heart and not trust her eyes or other societal concerns.
In Villeneuve’s version we are beaten around the head with the anvil that he is good natured and kind. He is also considerably dim witted with Bête (French for Beast) also meaning ‘lacking intelligence.’ When Beauty sees the Prince in her dreams not only is he more handsome but he is also articulate and intelligent. It is the curse that has rendered the Beast hideous in appearance and ‘slow of wit.’
Beauty is not just physically beautiful but much is made of her good nature and kindness as well. Ultimately these two are a match at the core level. Both are good people but one is unable to convey their true self and the other needs to learn to look beyond vanity.
That’s right people – Beauty is not necessarily being the sharpest tool in the box here.
She goes looking for an ‘imprisoned’ Prince despite realising quite quickly that the Beast is a decent stand up monster-guy. The Prince also tells her, constantly, in her dreams to look beyond appearances.
So for a huge chunk of the story she continually looks at appearances.
Honestly, I could see a parody/ comedic Beauty and the Beast version being done with the Beast wondering how many hints he needs to drop to the beautiful, kind, brave, considerate and ultimately deeply ditzy woman he’s in love with.
Maybe a portrait of his human self with a post it note saying, ‘this is ME’ on it would help but then she’d probably spend time trying to find out who has the initials M.E.
Beauty has agency here and is an active character. She makes a considerable number of decisions in this tale. The most prominent is that it’s her decision at the beginning of the story to go to the palace because she believes that it’s her fault they’re in the mess to begin with.
There’s also much to be said that in Villeneuve’s version when she goes home to visit her family Beauty realises she has changed. This is a tale of a young woman outgrowing her home and previous life and transitioning from girlhood to adulthood.
A lot is made of the whole ‘but he was handsome all along.’ What if he stayed as a beast? Would it have made a difference to the outcome?’
Remember – we know that he’s secretly a handsome Prince but what if he wasn’t? Would we enjoy the ending so much then? In theory we should because he’s still a wonderful person.
Was this tale inspired in some way by the medical condition ‘hypertrichosis?’
Retelling’s make a big deal out of the rose; either turning it into a major plot point, a significant aesthetic or even including ‘rose,’ ‘roses’ or related words in the title.
While the rose makes a significant plot based contribution at the beginning it is dropped quite quickly.
There are many similar tales that either involve ‘animal bridegrooms’ or mysterious husbands. The Norwegian fairy tale of East of the Sun and West of the Moon happens to be similar in theme to Beauty and the Beast and both Beauty and the Beast and East of the Sun are inspired by the Greek mythological tale of Psyche and Eros.
I hope to feature both of these on my blog at some point because they are delicious.
What I think does need mentioning is that Beaumont dropped Villeneuve’s Beast’s backstory and the reason behind his curse which offers up a very different light to the tale. Some adaptations include this but most don’t.
The Beast refused the sexual advances of a fairy and so was turned into a Beast.
He was punished for saying no to unwanted sexual advances.
Villeneuve’s narrative doesn’t portray this is a good thing. The Beast gets a bad rep from critics due to the adaptations positioning him as a ‘bad boy’ type but in the original version of the tale not only was he a good person he was also a victim of sexual harassment and punished for saying no.
I personally think that Beauty and the Beast and the message of Beaumont’s of ‘choose your married partner well’ has a point of comparison with another French fairy tale written many years previously.
Bluebeard by Charles Perrault also takes us down a journey of marriage but of a very different kind and with a very different moral which I can only imagine served to piss Villeneuve and Beaumont off as it pisses me off.
I aim to do Bluebeard as my next Fairy Tale Friday because I feel it links in nicely.
There are an abundance. An abundance.
This wasn’t so much ‘what ones exist’ but ‘what ones do I choose?’ I’ve only picked a handful because I don’t have forever.
- Beast by Brie Spangler
- Hunted by Megan Spooner
- Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley
- The Courtship of Mr. Lyon by Angela Carter (short story from The Bloody Chamber)
- Beauty by Tanith Lee
- Beastly by Alex Flinn
- A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
- La Belle et la Bête (1946)
- Beauty and the Beast (1991) – animated Disney
- Beauty and the Beast (2014) – a French/ German adaptation
- Beauty and the Beast (2017) – live Disney remake
- Beauty and the Beast (1987) with Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman
Usually I go dark when I do ‘My Version’ but frankly with Beauty and the Beast I feel there’s not much left in the ol’ original well.
I think I would stick with my affectionate parody as mentioned above in ‘My Thoughts’ with a Beast who is desperately trying to tell Beauty the truth by dropping mega hints (because of course the curse outright stops him from discussing it) but she is just not getting the whole ‘inner beauty’ thing.
I forgot how much I enjoyed doing these Fairy Tale Friday’s so hopefully there won’t be too much of a delay on the next one!