Illustration by Eleanor Vere Boyle from Beauty and the Beast: An Old Tale New-Told. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1875.

In my Monday post I mentioned that I debating what story to feature this Friday and blodeuedd seconded my suggestion of “Beauty and the Beast.” There are many versions of this classic fairy tale. I read the version by Marie Le Prince de Beaumont from 1756. It can be found many places, including here. The first version of the story was written in 1740 by Madame Gabrielle de Villeneuve. It’s novella length and is actually the one I wanted to read, but I had trouble finding a copy of it. I have a book on-hold through our inter-library loan system that I think will have it, but I won’t know for sure until it comes in. So maybe I’ll have a chance to compare the two in the future, but in the meantime I’ll look at de Beaumont’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

The story starts out with a merchant who has six children, three sons and three daughters, and he actually provides an education for all of them, hiring a variety of tutors. The youngest daughter is also the prettiest and her nickname of Beauty sticks with her as she gets older. She is also the most intelligent, spending most of her time reading. Of course her sisters are jealous and make fun of her. Both the youngest being the heroine of the story and the sisters being jealous are themes we’ve seen before.

The merchant loses his fortune and the family has to move to a house in the country. Of the three girls, Beauty is the only one who tries to be happy in their new situation and does all the household work, while her sisters do nothing but insult her.

A year later, the merchant goes back to town because a boat has arrived that has some cargo of his. The two oldest daughter, hoping for a change in their financial situation, ask their father to bring back dresses and hats and jewelry, but Beauty asks only for a rose, something her father can afford whether or not things work out for the best.

Of course, things don’t work out, and the merchant is still poor. On his way home, he becomes lost in a wood and stumbles to a castle where he never meets anyone, but he is fed and clothed. On leaving the next morning, he sees a rose garden and goes to get a rose for his Beauty. Enter the Beast. The Beast catches the father stealing his roses and says he must pay for them with his life. After the merchants begs , the Beast agrees to forgive him on the condition that one of the daughters come willingly to the castle and die in his place. Kind of reminiscent of  “Rapunzel” where the father was caught stealing cabbages and in repayment had to give up his daughter when she is born to the witch.

As expected, Beauty willingly goes to the castle, but learns that she will not be eaten as she expected. Her first night there, a fine lady visits her in a dream, applauding her kindness and telling her she will be rewarded for her good actions. She is given everything she wishes for, including her own library. I think that is the part of the story that attracts book-lovers. As far as I remember, this is the only fairy tale I’ve read that celebrates education and reading. The Beast is not terrible after all. He is kind and considerate, if not brilliant or witty. Every evening the Beast sits with Beauty at dinner and afterwards asks her to marry him. Every day she says refuses him.

Eventually she is allowed to go home to see her family, but she promises to return. She actually returns a few days later than she promises, and when she returns she find the beast lying in the garden. When she realizes he is not dead, she revives him with a splash of water and tells him how she feels.

“No, dear Beast,” said Beauty, “you must not die. Live to be my husband; from this moment I give you my hand, and swear to be none but yours. Alas! I thought I had only a friendship for you, but the grief I now feel convinces me, that I cannot live without you.”

At that moment, the Beast changes into a handsome prince. He explains that he had been cursed by a wicked fairy and she had broken the curse. And they live happily ever after.

Oh, and of course the evil sisters need a just reward. The beautiful lady from Beauty’s dream appears for real this time. Apparently she has been watching out for the Beast from afar, helping him when she could. I’m not sure why though. The story doesn’t really give any explanation of her part.

“Beauty,” said this lady, “come and receive the reward of your judicious choice; you have preferred virtue before either wit or beauty, and deserve to find a person in whom all these qualifications are united. You are going to be a great queen. I hope the throne will not lessen your virtue, or make you forget yourself. As to you, ladies,” said the fairy to Beauty’s two sisters, “I know your hearts, and all the malice they contain. Become two statues, but, under this transformation, still retain your reason. You shall stand before your sister’s palace gate, and be it your punishment to behold her happiness; and it will not be in your power to return to your former state, until you own your faults, but I am very much afraid that you will always remain statues. Pride, anger, gluttony, and idleness are sometimes conquered, but the conversion of a malicious and envious mind is a kind of miracle.”

Beauty gets everything she desires, while her sister get turned into statues.

One interesting thing about this one is that the female is not expected to follow any male’s orders. She chooses to go to the castle. At the cast, magical invisible servants do anything she wishes and she has freedom to roam where she will. The Beast does not set any restrictions on her, he tells her that every thing there is hers, to enjoy as she will. And marrying the Beast is her choice, she is not forced to.

Of course, the moral is that what is important about a person is what they are like on the inside. The Beast is kind, gentle, considerate, no matter what he looks like, and it is that inside man who Beauty comes to love.

Challenge: Fairy Tales

Friday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. I would love it if you joined me. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, share with us. If you have a link, please include it in your comment.


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