In Defense of Beauty and the Beast

Brief History:  It’s French. Super French. Even if it’s not French originally, the French have claimed it. It’s theirs now. There are other similar stories from other cultures, but this one belongs to France. The most popular version is the simple one: merchant wants a rose for his only unselfish child, Beast locks up dad, Beast locks up Beauty in order to let Dad go, they have a very awkward dinner every night, and finally she saves the Beast with love (after almost killing him in the first place). This was the version Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and Andrew Lang wrote down. They both based it off a story by an entirely different French person, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, whose version includes a lot of confusing backstory. Some argue that all of this was inspired by Petrus Gonsalvus, a man who suffered from that condition where hair constantly grows on your face and body. He, by the way, was not French, but was living in France when he met his wife.

Analysis: As a child, I loved this story. This was partially Disney’s fault in creating a heroine who read more than I did. This was also partially a pretentious predisposition to prove that looks truly did not matter. Overall, this is another story where the main character is both victim and hero. She is courageous and kind, but she isn’t desperate to make everyone around her happy. Beauty puts up with a lot from her brothers and sisters and then gets dumped in the castle. By the time Beast is trying to win her over, she must have been pretty fed up. She isn’t willing to bend to his will or marry him right away simply because she is his prisoner. There is some part of her that still wants to be defiant. This becomes a central theme in the famous La Belle et la Bête film by Jean Cocteau (Disney stole from this, by the way).

Blame it on the Victorians: Modern illustrations always give the Beast a human look. He’s an animal, but his face isn’t quite like any animal you can name. He walks on two legs and eats with a spoon. You wouldn’t see him at the zoo. However, Victorian illustrations usually just put clothes on a walrus or warthog or lion and called it a day. Here’s where it’s going to get gross. When the Beast is humanized, you think, “Eh, Beauty isn’t stupid. Some part of her has probably figured out that he’s a human under a spell”. But when you look at a picture of Beauty crying over a dying mammoth that you feel looks more like her pet than her would-be husband, the idea of her confessing her love for him is…as I said, kinda gross. If he never changed into a prince, they would have had some truly horrifying children.

Last thoughts: Insert Stockholm Syndrome joke here                               

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me.

In Defense of Bluebeard

Brief History: I told you I’d come back to this topic. Bluebeard is the gruesome, yet oddly satisfying French story of a young woman who marries a wealthy, mysterious lord. Within a short time, she discovers that he has laid a trap to test her obedience to him. He piques her curiosity of a locked room before leaving her alone for the afternoon. Within, she finds the bodies of his former wives and that his cleaning staff doesn’t know how to get clotted blood out of anything. There are a few theories of where this delightful tale comes from, but most popular is it being an adaptation on the French serial killer, Giles de Rais. De Rais had been a medieval war hero who supposedly snapped and murdered over a hundred young boys on his lands. Historians have disputed whether these murders took place or were just a fabricated excuse to take away de Rais's land. Still, the fact remains that sometime after he became infamous, so did Bluebeard.

Analysis: Even though this is, at its core, a story of punishment for female curiosity, the fact that the main character lives suggests some deeper thinking. Instead of marrying for love, the protagonist seems to be a realist. She agreed to be with Bluebeard because he could provide her a better life, making her more practical than most fairy tale heroines. And when she finds out that her new husband is psychotic, she tries to stall his murderous hand until her brothers are scheduled to visit. Although, it was super convenient that her brothers were a dragoon and a musketeer. And in the end, she gets all loot and land Bluebeard owned. She becomes a woman of power and means by surviving brutal attack. Also convenient, yet, as I said before, oddly satisfying.

Blame it on the Victorians: Victorians, for all of their prim, proper hypocritical rules, really loved the morbid. They were fascinated with spiritualists and graphic murder. Some historians argue that many murders were wrongly classified until Victorian society got a predisposition for reading about it in the paper. Because, remember, female sensibilities can’t handle voting without fainting, but let’s all read about Jack the Ripper at breakfast. Naturally, a fairy tale that wraps female suppression and gore into a nice, neat package was right up their alley. Plays called pantomimes of Bluebeard were fairly common (often preformed at Christmas time, because why not). The discovery of the wives was usually played by a bunch of actresses standing with their heads peeking through holes in a sheet to make it look as if they’d lost their bodies. For some reason, this story would become less popular with audiences after the Victorian era. No clue as to why.

Last thoughts: Blood is bad for the carpet.

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me.