Please also note that an extra special 'thank you' is owed to mmy for her willingness to pre-read and edit the following deconstruction. She is eighteen distinct kinds of awesome.
The following is a passage from "Pulchritude" by Ana Mardoll.
The Author's Afterword on "The Beauty and The Beast"
La Belle et la Bête
I have held a passion for fairy tales since the first "Brothers Grimm" adaptation given to me in early childhood. I loved the stories with their heroes and heroines and their magical twists and turns.
But as I grew older, I started to balk at the black-and-white morality that was sometimes served alongside many of my fairy tale collections. I began to read the tales with a willingness to mentally compose my own modifications to the tales when I felt it was needed. If I felt particularly strongly about a story, I would dream of rewriting the tale entirely with my own personal spin. More frequently than not, the dream was dropped in favor of something more interesting in the moment, and nothing ever came of such fancies.
The idea that I might seriously attempt to write an adaptation of "The Beauty and the Beast" came simply enough one day. I was musing that many of the lovely ladies of fairy tale lore would possibly not in Real Life be quite so supremely well-adjusted after a lifetime of being called lovely all the time by everyone they met. "Beauty" of the classic La Belle et la Bête tale particularly intrigued me -- in the original, she is simply known as La Belle everywhere she goes.
In the fairy tale, Beauty's identity is defined solely in terms of what others see when they look at her. Almost everything we know about her is simply that she conforms to the social standards of female attractiveness for her culture. As a character, she embodies the concept of Gaze, or the awareness that one's self is being viewed by external people as a physical object. Gaze holds a crucial place in both feminist theory and literary deconstruction, because the awareness of being observed can create a disturbance in a person's behavior. I wondered what kind of disturbance could result from Beauty's awareness that she is constantly being evaluated by everyone around her?
What would life be like for a girl spontaneously named "Beauty" by all her peers, even to the point that any prior name she bore now fades away? What kind of effect would such a name have on her personality? Would she be self-assured, possibly even haughty, in her unmatched beauty? Or would she tend towards the nervous and fretful as she strove always to live up to the expectations of others? Mightn't she possibly end up both vain and self-conscious at the same time?
If Beauty were a real person, I could imagine that an entire lifetime of being treated as a visible object might leave her anxious and lonely. I imagined her unable to connect with others, fearful that sharing her real feelings and inner thoughts might upset the delicate balance of being constantly beautiful to them. I saw her surrounded by friends and lovers and even superficially confident in their flatteries, and yet essentially alone and never fully understanding why.
That is the Beauty I wanted to capture in my story, long before I ever put pen to page.
Feminist Fairy Tale?
Unlike many of the fairy tales that we grow up with, "The Beauty and the Beast" is not an anonymous tale of unknown authorship. Whereas many classic fairy tales were handed down from multiple competing and collaborating sources and gathered up by folklorists, "The Beauty and the Beast" was an original tale written in 1740 by the Frenchwoman Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, who chose older Animal Bridegroom legends as the inspiration for her story. The original tale was exceedingly long (much longer than the short, archetypal version that Madame de Beaumont would later popularize) and explored in detail many social concerns of de Villeneuve's day.
The original La Belle et la Bête might be considered a feminist work for its time. Written by a woman, it explored the social problems faced by the women of de Villeneuve's day, and argued for the rights of women to determine their own fate apart from the whims of their fathers and husbands. Author Terri Windling argues eloquently that many of the Animal Bridegroom stories of the 17th and 18th centuries -- de Villeneuve's tale included -- were an especially valuable rhetorical vehicle for exploring the dangers faced by women who had no right to choose their own husband, no right to refuse their husband's sexual desires, and no right to own property or sue for divorce. Even a privileged and socially-valued woman, like the fictional Beauty, had no way of knowing whether she would find herself married off by her father to a beastly monster.
Finding an English copy of de Villeneuve's original story is quite a hunt; for purposes of this deconstruction, I relied upon the version collected in "Four and Twenty Fairy Tales" translated by James Planché in 1858 and available online. (The story itself is quite long, with my quotes covering only a fraction of the total story, but I hope to convey the most relevant pieces.)
The tale starts out simply and familiarly enough with the story of Beauty's family and their sudden fall from riches to rags:
In a country very far from this is to be seen a great city wherein trade flourishes abundantly. It numbered amongst its citizens a merchant, who succeeded in all his speculations, and upon whom Fortune, responding to his wishes, had always showered her fairest favours. But if he had immense wealth, he had also a great many children, his family consisting of six boys and six girls. None of them were settled in life: the boys were too young to think of it; the girls, too proud of their fortunes, upon which they had every reason to count, could not easily determine upon the choice they should make. Their vanity was flattered by the attentions of the handsomest young gentlemen.
But a reverse of fortune which they did not at all expect, came to trouble their felicity. Their house took fire; the splendid furniture with which it was filled, the account books, the notes, gold, silver, and all the valuable stores which formed the merchant's principal wealth, were enveloped in this fatal conflagration, which was so violent that very few of the things could be saved. This first misfortune was but the forerunner of others. The father, with whom hitherto everything had prospered, lost at the same time, either by shipwreck or by pirates, all the ships he had at sea; his correspondents made him a bankrupt, his foreign agents were treacherous; in short, from the greatest opulence, he suddenly fell into the most abject poverty.
He had nothing left but a small country house, situated in a lonely place, more than a hundred leagues from the city in which he usually resided. Impelled to seek a place of refuge from noise and tumult, he took his family to this retired spot, who were in despair at such a revolution.
In the tale, the fate of the family and the futures of its daughters are wholly dependent upon the fortunes of the father, the Merchant. The Merchant's luck turns ill when all his holdings are consumed in a series of accidents and outright theft from his trusted associates. The luck of his daughters turns in immediate response: they lose their home, their dowries, the clothes and jewels they need in order to be socially attractive, and in total every chance they once had for a comfortable future.
Whether or not this fate could have been avoided with more careful investments by the Merchant is ultimately a distraction from the fact that his children had no more say in their father's affairs than they did in being born to him in the first place. Their fates are inextricably tied to the father's and if a father's fortunes reverse, his children have no choice but to suffer alongside him.
The daughters of this unfortunate merchant were especially horrified at the prospect of the life they should have to lead in this dull solitude. For some time they flattered themselves that, when their father's intention became known, their lovers, who had hitherto sued in vain, would be only too happy to find they were inclined to listen to them. They imagined that the many admirers of each would be all striving to obtain the preference. They thought if they wished only for a husband they would obtain one; but they did not remain very long in such a delightful illusion.
They had lost their greatest attractions when, like a flash of lightning, their father's splendid fortune had disappeared, and their time for choosing had departed with it. Their crowd of admirers vanished at the moment of their downfall; their beauty was not sufficiently powerful to retain one of them. Their friends were not more generous than their lovers. From the hour they became poor, every one, without exception, ceased to know them.
In de Villeneuve's world, the only means by which a woman might disentangle her fate from that of her father's is by a change in her familial status. She may exchange the dependence on her father for a dependence on a husband, but in either case the woman is merely choosing into which basket to place all her eggs. In de Villeneuve's tale, the Merchant's daughters had not settled on suitors prior to the loss of their father's fortune. This is unfortunate for them, since now those opportunities are summarily withdrawn.
There is some sense in the text that the daughters have no one to blame for this ill fate but themselves. As profiteering speculators, they have played the market poorly by letting their vanity keep them on the marriage market for too long. They should have permanently selected a suitable suitor long before this misfortune occurred to rob them of their market value. And this marks the start of the villainization of the elder daughters, both as a typical fairy tale contrast to the virtuous Youngest Child, but also as a harsh embodiment of the rules of this world.
Because the text is so harsh in its treatment of the Merchant's daughters, the reader is propelled towards sympathy for the young women. No matter how vain they supposedly are, the bitter irony is that even if they had prudently settled upon husbands before their father's misfortune, there would still be no guarantee of a safe and happy life for them. A woman could be saved from poverty, only to see the fortunes of her husband reverse the very next day. And such a reversal would almost certainly leave her in a worse position than before: equally poor, but now dependent upon a new husband rather than a familiar father, and without the fantasy of marrying out of poverty.
The Merchant's daughters are ultimately in the unenviable position of having to choose which man to gamble their futures on, with no way to recover from a wrong choice and no way to know which choice is the right one.
Humility and Hubris
It is perhaps fortunate that the Merchant's daughters did not marry their suitors before their misfortune hits. Not only do the suitors lose interest in the young women in the wake of their impoverishment, but many of them also turn on the family with malicious rumors and gossip. The family is driven from the city by the ill-will of their former friends, to live out the rest of their years in humble circumstances.
This wretched family, therefore, could not do better than depart from a city wherein everybody took a pleasure in insulting them in their misfortunes. Having no resource whatever, they shut themselves up in their country house, situated in the middle of an almost impenetrable forest, and which might well be considered the saddest abode in the world. What misery they had to endure in this frightful solitude! They were forced to do the hardest work.
In their country home, only hard work and manual labor awaits the family. The boys work the fields from dawn to dusk while the girls toil at the chores that their former servants had previously performed for them. The older girls are miserable, but the youngest one accepts her fate and cheers the family with songs and music. Her labors are appreciated by her father and brothers, yet her sisters despise her for it.
The youngest girl, however, displayed greater perseverance and firmness in their common misfortune. [...] Every intelligent person, who saw her in her true light, was eager to give her the preference over her sisters. In the midst of her greatest splendour, although distinguished by her merit, she was so handsome that she was called "The Beauty." Known by this name only, what more was required to increase the jealousy and hatred of her sisters? Her charms, and the general esteem in which she was held, might have induced her to hope for a much more advantageous establishment than her sisters; but feeling only for her father's misfortunes, far from retarding his departure from a city in which she had enjoyed so much pleasure, she did all she could to expedite it. This young girl was as contented in their solitude as she had been in the midst of the world. To amuse herself in her hours of relaxation, she would dress her hair with flowers, and, like the shepherdesses of former times, forgetting in a rural life all that had most gratified her in the height of opulence, every day brought to her some new innocent pleasure.
In the characterization of these sisters, de Villeneuve is following an old and established fairy tale tradition, that of the Youngest Child being more beautiful and desirable than her older sisters. Here, the text argues that the universal preference for their younger sister is more than enough to render the older sisters bitter and angry. After all, everyone has spontaneously given her the appellation "La Belle", or "The Beauty", to the point where no other name or designation is even hinted for her in the text. Nor is she simply "Beauty" in the sense that one might name a girl "Hope" or "Charity". Rather, she is The Beauty, which begs the question: the beauty of what? The beauty of the family, surely, since all the sisters' suitors publicly and openly prefer the youngest girl to her older siblings. The beauty of the town, perhaps, given that she outshines with such relative splendor every person she meets.
If we take the older sisters not as characters but as concepts, their dislike of their younger sister reflects the flaws of the society in which they live. Since women cannot earn their own living by talent or trade, their only hope for a secure and happy future is to "win" the most eligible suitor as a husband. Because of this, all the sisters are necessarily in competition with each other. Personal feelings and family loyalties fade before the reality that the youngest has an immeasurable advantage over her sisters: an apparent accident of birth has left her valued at a far higher price on the almighty marriage market that hangs over all their heads.
With this in mind, it is easy for the readers to sympathize with the Sisters and their dislike of Beauty. Though the Sisters have been abandoned by their lovers, Beauty's impoverished state has not diminished the number of her suitors. Though the spurned Sisters have been driven to the bleak countryside by a lack of viable alternatives, Beauty's presence is wholly motivated by a filial devotion to their father. Is it surprising that Beauty's cheerful songs and daisy-chain making might grate on the nerves of her hard-working Sisters, when she alone has the freedom to leave that life at any moment? Where the Sisters are prisoners of fate, Beauty is by contrast free.
After two years in country exile, the Merchant receives news that he may not be as poor as he previously thought. One of his ships thought lost at sea has arrived unexpectedly in port, bursting at the seams with riches ripe for the collecting.
Two years had already passed, and the family began to be accustomed to a country life, when a hope of returning prosperity arrived to discompose their tranquility. The father received news that one of his vessels, that he thought was lost, had safely arrived in port, richly laden.
The Merchant is immediately counseled by friends and family that if he does not make the trip at once to take his goods in hand, the vultures at port will pick him clean and he will not see a cent of his earnings. He readies for his journey to the port while his children's hopes are raised for a restoration to the lifestyle they were once accustomed to.
His daughters, with the exception of the youngest, expected they would soon be restored to their former opulence. They fancied that, even if their father's property would not be considerable enough to settle them in the great metropolis, their native place, he would at least have sufficient for them to live in a less expensive city. They trusted they should find good society there, attract admirers, and profit by the first offer that might be made to them. [...] They requested him to make purchases of jewelry, attire, and head-dresses.
It is easy for the reader to mistake the Sisters' requests for "jewelry, attire, and head-dresses" as a useless vanity. Here their father has not yet seen a single cent from his newly returned ship, and yet they are already spending his earnings on worthless trivialities. Haven't they learned from their time in the country what is important in life and what is not?
And yet, to condemn the Sisters for their vanity is to understandably fail to comprehend their world. Their requests are completely logical and sensible, just as soon as we accept their frame of reference. They have learned a painful lesson: they missed their chance at forging an advantageous marriage once before, and they are anxious not to repeat the same mistake. Their first order of business -- and a decision that benefits both themselves and their father -- is to place themselves back on the marriage market at once, with the intention of taking the first reasonable offer presented. And in order to get back on the marriage market, money must be invested to cultivate their social attractiveness: the right clothes, jewels, and hair pieces must be bought and worn to signify that they are desirable and worthwhile. The Sisters are not dressing to appease their vanity; they are costuming as part of an elaborate social mating dance.
Their haste is perfectly sensible given their circumstances, and yet at the same time is palpably tragic. The text implies that the Sisters do not have faith that their father will be able to keep his riches long enough for them to shop carefully for suitable husbands. Considerations such as a suitor's business sense or his genial attitude or their mutual compatibility must be discarded in favor of sealing a deal as quickly and permanently as possible. Once again, we are given the sense that in the Sisters' world, the transition from a father's house to a husband's home is as much a gamble for a better future than a meeting of hearts.
Beauty, who was not the slave of ambition, and who always acted with prudence, saw directly that if he executed her sisters' commissions, it would be useless for her to ask for anything. But the father, astonished at her silence, said, interrupting his insatiable daughters, "Well, Beauty, dost thou not desire anything? What shall I bring thee? What dost thou wish for? Speak freely."
"My dear papa," replied the amiable girl, embracing him affectionately, "I wish for one thing more precious than all the ornaments my sisters have asked you for; I have limited my desires to it, and shall be only too happy if they can be fulfilled. It is the gratification of seeing you return in perfect health."
This answer was so unmistakably disinterested, that it covered the others with shame and confusion. They were so angry, that one of them, answering for the rest, said with bitterness, "This child gives herself great airs, and fancies that she will distinguish herself by these affected heroics. Surely nothing can be more ridiculous."
The text indignantly tells us that Beauty is not "the slave to ambition" and that she holds back any requests from the realization that if her father purchased all the items required by her Sisters, then he would have nothing left to spend on her. And yet, there's a subtext to this passage that the reader simply cannot ignore.
Beauty may not be a slave to ambition, but she has the distinct privilege of not needing to be. The text has already noted that she is universally loved and valued by her community, on account of her adherence to the local social standards of physical beauty and personal amiability. She is completely dependent for her livelihood on the whims of her father and brothers and suitors, yet even in her powerless state, she is probably the most "empowered" woman for miles. She can, at any moment, decide that the shepherdess life is for the dogs and petition her father to make a mutually beneficial match between her and any eligible bachelor in the community.
Though Beauty sardonically notes that her Sisters' requests will consume the entirety of her father's fortune, with none left over for her, it is a fact that she does not need anything from her father. And this is a difficult aspect of the text, because once again the reader must remember that the Sisters' "jewelry, attire, and head-dresses" are not vanities but necessities. If they are to escape their current status as a burdensome mouth to feed in their father's household and install themselves as ambassadors in a family that can help the Merchant and his sons prosper in their trade, they must invest in the necessary trappings to augment their attraction. Beauty needs no such augmentation, and as such has no real needs to request of her father.
Is it fair that the Sisters upbraid Beauty for her request? Yes and no.
Beauty's request that their father come home safely and in good health need not, in the context of their society, automatically be a sentimental request. As bad as their current social station is, it would almost certainly plummet farther if the Merchant were to die while the daughters are still unwed. The brothers have been explicitly stated in the text as too young to think of marriage, so it seems likely that in the event of the Merchant's death, the responsibility of disposing his daughters in marriage would fall either to the oldest of the young brothers or to a distant relation. The father, for all his faults, seems to genuinely care for his daughters; it stands to reason that a transition to an orphaned state with no equally doting older male relative to shelter them would leave the girls in a precarious social situation.
Of course, Beauty's request is not meant to be interpreted as a practical one. She is very clear in her request as to the motive: her father is more precious to her than any jewelry, attire, or head-dress could ever be. And yet this framing immediately casts aspersions on her Sisters for failing to ask for the "more precious" and yet inherently obvious 'gift' of their father's safety. Beauty does not humbly ask simply for her father's safe return, nor does she ask for nothing at all; instead she makes a proud production of her request, singling out her Sisters' requests and deliberately contrasting them with her own. Her statement evaluates and judges both explicitly the requests and implicitly the requesters.
But the father, touched by her expressions, could not help showing his delight at them, appreciating, too, the feeling which induced her to ask nothing for herself, he begged she would choose something; and to allay the ill-will that his other daughters had towards her, he observed to her that such indifference to dress was not natural at her age -- that there was a time for everything. "Very well, my dear father," said she, "since you desire me to make some request, I beg you will bring me a rose; I love that flower passionately, and since I have lived in this desert I have not had the pleasure of seeing one." This was to obey her father, and at the same time to avoid putting him to any expense for her.
Though the Sisters are primed by their toxic society to view Beauty as a competitor first and a dear sister last, it would seem in text that Beauty is not intentionally trying to hurt her Sisters with her request. And yet, already the reader can see the tiny fissures in this complex family. The Merchant reacts with immediate and obvious pleasure at Beauty's 'selfless' request, and then immediately back-pedals in an attempt to prevent family conflict. He strongly pressures her to make a 'real' request of him, and in doing so he effectively seals his own fate. Beauty asks for a gift of his time, effort, and attention rather than one simply of his money: a single rare rose.
Children as Collateral
When the day comes for the Merchant to leave for the port, he does so with a heavy heart and an unwillingness to separate from his family. When he reaches the city, he learns that his trip is a waste of time; the bulk of his riches have been stolen by his business partners, and he wastes the last of his wealth in fruitless litigation. Discouraged and depressed, he sets out for home in the dead of winter and almost immediately becomes lost in a thick snowstorm.
The Merchant stumbles through the storm in imminent danger of death, when suddenly he reaches a beautiful castle that seems to invite him in as master of the house: the castle doors open before him, and invisible servants serve him warm food while he rests deeply in comfort. In his astonishment, the Merchant begins to believe that the house is a gift from a good spirit, and he travels through the marvelous castle taking stock of his new home. Almost at once, he comes upon a little alleyway lined with roses, all of which bloom brightly in spite of the cold winter outside the castle estate.
He had never seen such lovely roses. Their perfume reminded him that he had promised to give Beauty a rose. He picked one, and was about to gather enough to make half-a-dozen bouquets, when a most frightful noise made him turn round. He was terribly alarmed upon perceiving at his side a horrible beast, which, with an air of fury, laid upon his neck a kind of trunk, resembling an elephant's, and said, with a terrific voice, "Who gave thee permission to gather my roses? Is it not enough that I kindly allowed thee to remain in my palace. Instead of feeling grateful, rash man, I find thee stealing my flowers! Thy insolence shall not remain unpunished."
The good man, already too much overpowered by the unexpected appearance of this monster, thought he should die of fright at these words, and quickly throwing away the fatal rose. "Ah! my Lord," said he, prostrating himself before him, "have mercy on me! I am not ungrateful! Penetrated by all your kindness, I did not imagine that so slight a liberty could possibly have offended you." The monster very angrily replied, "Hold thy tongue, thou foolish talker. I care not for thy flattery, nor for the titles thou bestowest on me. I am not 'my Lord;' I am The Beast; and thou shalt not escape the death thou deservest."
In a manner consistent with his characterization thus far, the Merchant has squandered the good situation he found himself in. Despite being in an obviously magical castle, he has let his pride get the better of him and has fancied himself the owner of the fine things that surround him. What he doesn't know -- and what the reader will not know until the lengthy final chapters -- is that the entire castle was a trap for him. The Beast wanted him to pick the roses, because the Beast wanted to demand Beauty be brought to him as prisoner.
Pleading for his life, the Merchant describes how charming Beauty is and that the rose he plucked was for her alone. He hopes that by explaining his motives, the Beast will understand his actions and will allow him to return home to the charming daughter who asked for nothing from him but a single rose. The Beast seems unmoved by his tale, and insists that a life must be sacrificed for the loss of the rose. Either the Merchant can die, or one of his daughters can donate her life willingly in his stead.
The Beast considered for a moment, then, speaking in a milder tone, he said to him," I will pardon thee, but upon condition that thou wilt give me one of thy daughters -- I require some one to repair this fault."
"Just Heaven!" replied the merchant; "how can I keep my word? Could I be so inhuman as to save my own life at the expense of one of my children's; under what pretext could I bring her here?"
"There must be no pretext," interrupted the Beast. "I expect that whichever daughter you bring here she will come willingly, or I will not have either of them. Go; see if there be not one amongst them sufficiently courageous, and loving thee enough, to sacrifice herself to save thy life."
It is interesting that the Merchant first asks how he could possibly be expected to sacrifice one of his own children, and then in the same breath asks how he could trick a daughter into coming under some pretext. Possibly the question is a rhetorical protest against the Beast's proposal -- "I could never feasibly trick anyone into coming here, so it's not even worth asking me to" -- and yet the Merchant will return home with the intention of proposing the trade, so it's hard to believe that the question of pretext was entirely an incredulous attempt to refuse the deal. The reader is left with the impression that the Merchant would prefer that 'willingness' not be a prerequisite for the sacrifice.
The good man, although quite convinced that he should vainly put to the proof the devotion of his daughters, accepted, nevertheless, the Monster's proposition.
Out of fear, the Merchant agrees to the Beast's terms: he will ask his daughters to sacrifice their lives for his, and either he or they will return in one month for their death sentence. Though he has no faith that any of his daughters will accept the offer, still he resolves to ask and know their answer.
Halfway to his home on a magic steed supplied by the Beast, the Merchant suffers a pang of guilt. He decides he will not torment his children with the knowledge of his bargain, and resolves that the best course of action is to return immediately to the Beast for his death. The horse refuses to veer from its course, however, so the Merchant amends his plans; he will remain silent about his bargain and use his month to put his affairs in order. From the moment he is deposited at his house, however, his resolve flees him and he spills the whole tale.
Already he saw his house in the distance, and strengthening himself more and more in his resolution, "I will not speak to them," he said, "of the danger which threatens me: I shall have the pleasure of embracing them once more; I shall give them my last advice; I will beg them to live on good terms with their brothers, whom I shall also implore not to abandon them."
In the midst of this reverie, he reached his door. His own horse, which had found its way home the previous evening, had alarmed his family. His sons, dispersed in the forest, had sought him in every direction; and his daughters, in their impatience to hear some tidings of him, were at the door, in order to obtain the earliest intelligence. As he was mounted on a magnificent steed, and wrapt in a rich cloak, they could not recognise him, but took him at first for a messenger sent by him, and the rose which they perceived attached to the pummel of the saddle made them perfectly easy on his account.
When this afflicted father, however, approached nearer, they recognised him, and thought only of evincing their satisfaction at seeing him return in good health. But the sadness depicted in his face, and his eyes filled with tears, which he vainly endeavoured to restrain, changed their joy into anxiety. All hastened to inquire the cause of his trouble. He made no reply but by saying to Beauty, as he presented her with the rose, "There is what thou hast demanded of me, but thou wilt pay dearly for it, as well as the others."
"I was certain," exclaimed the eldest, "and I was saying, this very moment, that she would be the only one whose commission you would execute. At this time of the year, a rose must have cost more than you would have had to pay for us all five together; and, judging from appearances, the rose will be faded before the day is ended: never mind, however, you were determined to gratify the fortunate Beauty at any price."
"It is true," replied the father, mournfully, "that this rose has cost me dear, and more dear than all the ornaments which you wished for would have done. It is not in money, however; and would to Heaven that I might have purchased it with all I am yet worth in the world."
These words excited the curiosity of his children, and dispelled the resolution which he had taken not to reveal his adventure. He informed them of the ill-success of his journey, the trouble which he had undergone in running after a chimerical fortune, and all that had taken place in the palace of the Monster. After this explanation, despair took the place of hope and of joy.
The Merchant cannot resist giving his youngest daughter the rose she asked for, along with a cutting barb blaming her for his as-yet-unknown-to-them fate. And thus does Beauty's request -- which he previously valued as a sign of her devotion and humility -- become something that he hates and blames her for.
In this family of competing love and competing resources, her Sisters seize the opportunity for filial favor to go on the offensive. They point out that their requests of jewelry and clothing, once despised as being less precious than his safety and more expensive than a single rose, are now in retrospect altogether harmless. Beauty can only protest in vain against the general clamor that a request for a rose in the summer cannot be reasonably foreseen to culminate in the plucking of a magic rose in the dead of winter from an enchanted castle occupied by a vicious beast-monster.
Notwithstanding this, they sought for expedients to save his life; the young men, full of courage and filial affection, proposed that one of them should go and offer himself as a victim to the wrath of the Beast; but the monster had said positively and explicitly that he would have one of the daughters, and not one of the sons. The brave brothers grieved that their good intentions could not be acted upon, then did what they could to inspire their sisters with the same sentiments. But their jealousy of Beauty was sufficient to raise an invincible obstacle to such heroic action.
"It is not just," said they, "that we should perish in so frightful a manner for a fault of which we are not guilty. It would be to render us victims to Beauty, to whom they would be very glad to sacrifice us; but duty does not require such a sacrifice. Here is the fruit of the moderation and perpetual preaching of this unhappy girl! Why did she not ask, like us, for a good stock of clothes and jewels. If we have not had them, it has at all events cost nothing for asking, and we have no cause to reproach ourselves for having exposed the life of our father by indiscreet demands. If, by an affected disinterestedness, she had not sought to distinguish herself, as she is in all things more favoured than we, he would have, no doubt, found enough money to content her. But she must needs, by her singular caprice, bring on us all this misfortune. It is she who has caused it, and they wish us to pay the penalty. We will not be her dupe. She has brought it on herself, and she must find the remedy."
What is most interesting here is the immediate fracturing of the family. The sons leap to offer their lives in the place of their father's, but they conveniently offer their lives well after the Merchant has already told them that only a daughter's life will suffice. Their offers are therefore not genuine, but they quickly use their counterfeit offers as leverage to urge their Sisters to go willingly to their deaths on behalf of a father who has consistently valued them less than the rest of their siblings.
The Sisters, sensing the dangerous position they are in and the animosity of their brothers, lash out at Beauty. It's not their fault their father stumbled into a magic castle and started defacing the rose hedges, so why should they have to volunteer to fix it? Either their father can take his lumps and pay the price for his favorite daughter's rose-gift, or Beauty can step up and sacrifice herself in his stead. Either way, the Sisters maintain their refusal to be sacrificed on the altar of their father's folly or their sister's sainthood.
As harsh as their words are, their attitudes underscore just how dysfunctional this family has been for a long time. For the last two years of their exile, both father and brothers have nagged and harried the Sisters for failing to possess Beauty's humility and frugality. Why were the Sisters doing hard work around the house instead of singing cheerfully and stringing daisy-chains like the Beauty? Why were the Sisters spending their brothers' inheritance in an attempt to secure their futures instead of asking for flowers and rainbows like Beauty?
And now, when that 'innocent' and no doubt much-needled request for a rose has spelled doom for their father, the Sisters are being loudly called upon to give their lives to a monstrous Beast. Their father has ridden up to the doorstep and asked point-blank for one of the Sisters to die for his foolish mistakes. Their brothers have made obviously counterfeit offers of their lives in an attempt to bully the Sisters up to the chopping block. By lashing out at Beauty, the Sisters are fighting dirty, but they are fighting for their lives.
Beauty, whose grief had almost deprived her of consciousness, suppressing her sobs and sighs, said to her sisters, "I am the cause of this misfortune; it is I alone who must repair it. I confess it would be unjust to allow you to suffer for my fault. Alas! it was, notwithstanding, an innocent wish. Could I foresee that the desire to have a rose when we were in the middle of summer would be punished so cruelly?"
Beauty accepts the situation and steps forward to die in her father's place. This is another one of those acts that could be equal parts sentimental and practical. Of course, it is very noble to sacrifice one's life for a loved parent, but at the same time there is perhaps nothing to be gained living as an impoverished orphan in a home filled with bitter siblings who blame you for your father's death.
Then, also, there is the fact that the Merchant asks Beauty to sacrifice herself for him. He does not ask her alone, of course -- he, like her brothers, would prefer that one of her less-pretty and less-amiable Sisters take on the death sentence. But neither does her father refuse her when she steps up to the plate. His reluctance has nothing to do with a love for her, and everything to do with a preference for her.
By asking Beauty to die in his place, the Merchant demonstrates that he does not love her as much as she loves him. Beauty loves her father enough to die in his place; the Merchant does not love his daughter enough to do the same. His request underscores the inequalities in their relationship: as parent and male, the Merchant has far more power over Beauty than she could over him, as child and female. In this light, regardless of how good and noble and loving Beauty may or may not be, the conclusion here was always foregone. One of the Merchant's daughters must sacrifice herself for him, and the task falls to the one most traceably at 'fault'.
The father alone would not consent to the design of his youngest daughter; but the others reproached him insolently with the charge that Beauty alone was cared for by him, in spite of the misfortune which she had caused, and that he was sorry that it was not one of the elders who should pay for her imprudence.
It is noteworthy that the Merchant would happily sacrifice one of his children to save his life, and that it only matters to him which child will pay the price for his indiscretions. The boys he could part with if he had to, and the Sisters he would be glad to see the back of, but he grieves that Beauty will die for his sake. He just doesn't grieve enough to put up any meaningful resistance to her offer.
The Merchant, in his position as head of the family, is willing to spend his children to settle his debts. It's true that his response to poverty wasn't to immediately sell his sons into slavery or send his daughters to work in the brothels. At the same time, though, he doesn't consider the loss of one child to be an unacceptable price to pay when it comes to saving his own life. He sees his children as collateral: property that he can use to secure his loans and, if necessary, pay his debts entirely.
This barbarous decision is accepted by the other children without horror. Indeed, they strongly counsel him to seal the decision over any lingering doubts he might have. Though his decision to trade the life of a child to settle his debts sets a rather dangerous precedent for the other children, yet still they urge him on. Why? It seems that they truly consider their difficult future as poor orphans to greatly outweigh the loss of a single sibling. And as for the Merchant, he seems to honestly consider the death of his youngest daughter to be preferable to his own untimely demise.
Submission and Refusal
On the appointed day, the Merchant and Beauty both mount the magical horse sent to summon them to the Beast's castle. Upon reaching the castle, the Beast meets and greets the family with an almost macabre politeness. With a sudden intensity, he begins to question Beauty on the particulars of her visit: does she come willingly to this place and is she prepared to place her life in the hands of this monstrous being?
"Do you come here voluntarily?" inquired the Beast; "and will you consent to let your father depart without following him?" Beauty replied that she had no other intention. "Ah! and what do you think will become of you after his departure?"
"What it may please you," said she; "my life is at your disposal, and I submit blindly to the fate which you may doom me to."
"I am satisfied with your submission," replied the Beast.
The Beast has not yet mentioned marriage -- his only stipulation was that a daughter be brought to him and left for dead by her father -- yet still his words contain a double meaning here that is apparent to the reader. The situation in which Beauty now finds herself is not materially different from that of a marriage arranged to pay her father's debts. Her father will leave, she will remain behind, and what happens to her then is completely in the hands of this new stranger.
In a world where a woman has no right to refuse a marriage and no right to flee from an abusive husband, her fate is truly in the hands of her father and the man he gives her to. In every meaningful sense of the word, she is owned by the men in her life. They determine when and what she may eat, when and how she will have sex, where and how she will live, and they can dispose of her (her father by marriage and her husband by an asylum) at any moment they see fit. She may hope that the men who own her will take pity on her and treat her kindly, but ultimately she has the same legal recourse as, say, an unhappy horse or dog -- and she may be significantly less able to defend herself from abuse.
Knowing this, the reader can see that though Beauty "submits" to the wishes of the Beast who now owns her, her submission is less of a choice and more of a reality of the world she lives in. The Merchant and the Beast can have their theater and pretend that Beauty has been given a choice to make, but ultimately the 'choice' she has been offered is no choice at all. She can give up her life as forfeit to the Beast, or she can let the Merchant be killed in her stead, only to return home and be married off in a match created by resentful brothers laden with debts. Either way, the only hope Beauty can have for the future is that her fate be quick and relatively painless.
The Merchant, in contrast, is in high spirits. Laden with riches by the Beast and encouraged by the fact that the monster has not chewed on his daughter in his presence, the Merchant has decided to convince himself that the Beast is a man of quality who will care for Beauty. Why, he might even someday reverse his stern decree that the father and daughter may never meet again! Why not?
He would have departed without concern if the Beast had not had the cruelty to make him understand that he must not dream of seeing his palace again, and that he must wish his daughter an eternal farewell. There is no evil but death without remedy. The good man was not completely stunned by this order. He flattered himself that it would not be irrevocable, and this hope prepared him to quit his host with tolerable satisfaction.
Beauty was not so well satisfied. Little persuaded that a happy future was prepared for her, she feared that the rich presents with which the Monster loaded her family was but the price of her life, and that he would devour her immediately that he should be alone with her, or at least that a perpetual prison would be her fate, and that her only companion would be this frightful Monster.
Beauty is understandably less enthused. The mere fact that she has not yet died does not automatically auger a happy, carefree future for her. The contrast between Beauty and the Merchant is striking. The Merchant decides that his daughter will be fine as long as her physical needs are met and her 'womanly' desires for wealth and comfort are satisfied. As the Beast is well-mannered enough not to murder her, then she should be safe; as the Beast is obviously wealthy, then she should be happy. What more could a woman ask for than physical safety and comfort?
Here, more so than anywhere else in the story, Beauty represents the feminist perspective. She has needs and wants and desires beyond simply 'safe from murder' and 'safe from poverty'. She doesn't want to live out her life with no company but an ill-mannered, boorish, frightening stranger. She doesn't feel compelled to view with charity a creature who arranged for her to be sold to him as a prisoner. Tellingly, the future she anticipates for herself is the exact same future that her father imagines for her: forced to endure for eternity the captivity of this gilded castle around her. But where the Merchant views this prospect with delight on her behalf, Beauty feels only dread.
At the usual hour, Beauty found her supper served, with the same delicacy and neatness as before. No human figure presented itself to her view; her father had told her she would be alone. This solitude began no longer to trouble her, when the Beast made himself heard. Never having yet found herself alone with him, ignorant how this interview would pass off, fearing even that he only came to devour her, is it any wonder that she trembled?
But on the arrival of the Beast, whose approach was by no means furious, her fears were dissipated. This monstrous giant said, roughly, "Good evening, Beauty."
She returned his salutation in the same terms, with a calm air, but a little tremulously. Amongst the different questions which the monster put to her, he asked how she amused herself? Beauty replied, "I have passed the day in inspecting your palace, but it is so vast that I have not had time to see all the apartments, and the beauties which it contains." [...]
At length he asked her bluntly if she would marry him. At this unexpected demand, her fears were renewed, and uttering a terrible shriek, she could not help exclaiming, "0! Heavens, I am lost!"
"Not at all," replied the Beast, quietly; "but without frightening yourself, reply properly. Say precisely 'yes' or ' no.'"
Beauty replied, trembling, "No, Beast."
"Well, as you object, I will leave you," replied the docile Monster. "Good evening, Beauty."
"Good evening, Beast," said the frightened girl, with much satisfaction. Extremely relieved by finding that she had no violence to fear, she lay quietly down and went to sleep.
At dinner, the Beast proposes to Beauty: will she marry him? The irony, not lost on the reader, is that the immediate appreciable difference between her current state and a married state is not clear. Beauty is his prisoner -- she cannot leave the grounds nor can she return to her family without his express permission and aid. Her safety and comfort are wholly dependent on the Beast's goodwill, and he can harm her at any moment without fear of reprisal.
Marriage, of course, implies sole sexual access, but the truth of the situation is that the Beast has as much of that as he is willing to take. Locked up as she is in his enchanted castle, Beauty is not free to give herself to a rival; and inasmuch as the Beast is free to harm her, starve her, or beat her while she lives as his prisoner, so too does he have the ability to rape her -- a fact that de Villeneuve must have known her audience would seize upon. However, just as the Beast required that Beauty submit willingly to live as his prisoner, so too does his curse require that she 'willingly' acquiesce to marry him.
And yet, the reader will question whether such willingness is even possible in the context of the situation. While the Beast's mild behavior and unwillingness to force Beauty's decision is meant to be reassuring, her status as prisoner is not something that can be completely swept aside. She is his prisoner and can neither leave nor choose another suitor to marry. He is dangerous to her, and while he does not fly into a rage and tear her apart with his teeth at the dinner table, yet still Beauty is constantly aware that this is a possibility. Nightly, the Beast will return to ask this question, only to be nightly refused. Each time, Beauty must fear that this time may be the end of his patience, that this time may end in her rape or her death.
But even if the Beast never intends to harm her, even if he can accept her refusal night after night for the rest of her life, Beauty is still not well cared for in her new 'home'. She is a prisoner, doomed to live out the rest of her life being hounded by the same question nightly. She is caught eternally between the submission of her will to the man who controls her entire life and her refusal to pretend that she loves him.
Beauty is given free rein to wander the enchanted castle and enjoy its magical sights and sounds. Animal servants are provided to wait on her every need and they show her magic portals that allow her to watch stunning plays and remarkable theater productions. Yet even with these intellectual delights, as time passes she begins to feel more isolated and lonely. Both the Merchant's hopes and Beauty's fears have been realized: though she is safe and enjoys the comforts of wealth, still she longs for human companionship. The only conversation offered to her is the nightly interrogation that invariably culminates in a marriage proposal.
She took great pains to conceal from the Beast the sorrow which preyed upon her; and the Monster, who had frequently surprised her with the tears in her eyes, upon hearing her say that she was only suffering from a headache, pressed his inquiries no further. One evening, however, her sobs having betrayed her, and feeling it impossible longer to dissimulate, she acknowledged to the Beast, who begged to know what had caused her afflictions, that she was yearning to see her family.
Though she has not accepted the Beast's marriage proposal, still there is a bitter similarity between Beauty's confinement and an unwanted marriage. Beauty feels compelled to hide her sorrow out of fear that candor will worsen her situation. She lies to protect the feelings of her captor, concerned of what he might do if she admits to being unhappy with the life he has forced on her. After all, the Beast was willing to kill her father over a single rose; mightn't he 'give her something to cry about' if she admitted that her tears were anything other than a symptom of illness? And when finally she can hide her feelings no longer, she reflexively sugar-coats the truth. Her problem is not that she doesn't love her new prison, nor is it that she doesn't enjoy the companionship of her captor. No, her sorrow is simply born out of a deep longing to see her family. Filial devotion motivates her, not physical revulsion.
This is, on the face of it, not entirely a lie. The reader may be forgiven for seeing the Merchant in a vastly different light than Beauty does; though we despise him for leaving his daughter with a monster while telling himself comforting lies, Beauty's love for her father has not been wholly extinguished by his bad behavior. She misses his company, and hopes to reassure her father that she is safe and unharmed. And again the reader is struck by the analogy between captivity and marriage: Beauty must plead for permission to leave the Beast's home that she might visit her family and reassure them that she is safe in her new surroundings. She does not blame the callous father who made this disastrous bargain she now labors under; she is resigned to the belief that her father simply did what he had to.
The Beast, however, does not see value in Beauty's filial devotion. He only dwells on how her conflicting loyalties between captor and father affect him. Flying into a fit of pique at her request, he casts himself as the victim and Beauty as the cruel abuser.
At this declaration the Beast sank down without power to sustain himself, and heaving a deep sigh, or rather uttering a howl that might have frightened anyone to death, he replied, "How, Beauty! Would you, then, abandon an unfortunate Beast? Could I have imagined you possessed so little gratitude? What have I left undone to make you happy? Should not the attentions I have paid you preserve me from your hatred? Unjust as you are, you prefer the house of your father and the jealousy of your sisters to my palace and my affections. You would rather tend the flocks with them than enjoy with me all the pleasures of existence. It is not love for your family, but antipathy to me, that makes you anxious to depart."
"No, Beast," replied Beauty, timidly and soothingly; "I do not hate you, and should regret to lose the hope of seeing you again; but I cannot overcome the desire I feel to embrace my relations. Permit me to go away for two months, and I promise you that I will return with pleasure to pass the rest of my days with you, and never ask you another favour."
While she spoke the Beast stretched on the ground, his head thrown back, only evinced that he still breathed by his sorrowful sighs. He answered her in these words: "I can refuse you nothing; but it will perhaps cost me my life. [...] If you break your word you will repent it, and regret the death of your poor Beast when it will be too late. Return at the end of two months, and you will still see me alive."
In this single exchange, the Beast hits every area except one on the "Power and Control Wheel" of domestic violence.
- His Privilege allows him to make the final decision on when and how she will leave.
- He Threatens to commit suicide if she does not return, and insists that his death will be her fault.
- He Intimidates her with his nightmarish howls that "might have frightened anyone to death".
- He Emotionally Abuses her by calling her ungrateful and making her feel guilty for her request.
- He Isolates her by keeping her contained in his castle and hidden from her friends and family.
- He Minimizes the abuse and belittles her needs as ingratitude and a peevish refusal to be happy.
- He Economically Abuses her by denying her resources that she may use to pursue happiness.
- The only spot on the "Power and Control Wheel" that the Beast didn't hit was Using Children.
The Beast has not physically attacked Beauty in response to her request. But he has attacked her emotionally and psychologically for the crime of requiring more out of life than the home and company of her captor. And thus we see that Beauty was prudent to keep her sorrows to herself and excuse them as a symptom of illness; she has correctly judged that her captor is not interested in her psychological well-being, and she has instinctively recognized that her needs will not be taken seriously and treated with respect here. The Beast's professed 'love' for her is a meager love that asks only what she can do for him, and never what he can do for her, since any answer she could give would imply that she is not already happy with the life he has 'given' her.
With the aid of a magic ring, Beauty lies down to sleep and awakens in the house of her father. She embraces her father and siblings, and then she and the Merchant retire privately to discuss all that has happened since she left them to live with the Beast.
Beauty, in her turn, related to him all that had happened to her since they parted. She described to him the pleasant life she led. The good man, enraptured at the charming account of his daughter's adventures, heaped blessings on the head of the Beast. His delight was much greater still when Beauty, opening the chests, displayed to him the immense treasures they contained, and satisfied him that he was at liberty to dispose of those which he had brought himself, in favour of his daughters, as he would possess, in these last proofs of the Beast's generosity, ample means to live merrily with his sons. Discovering in this Monster too noble a mind to be lodged in so hideous a body, he deemed it his duty to advise his daughter to marry him, notwithstanding his ugliness. He employed even the strongest arguments to induce her to take that step.
"Thou shouldst not take counsel from thine eyes alone," said he to her. "Thou hast been unceasingly exhorted to let thyself be guided by gratitude. [...] Therefore, the next time that the Beast asks thee if thou wilt marry him, I advise thee not to refuse him. Thou hast admitted to me that he loves thee tenderly: take the proper means to make thy union with him indissoluble. It is much better to have an amiable husband than one whose only recommendation is a handsome person. How many girls are compelled to marry rich brutes, much more brutish than the Beast, who is only one in form, and not in his feelings or his actions."
It's interesting that the Merchant exhorts Beauty to be guided by "gratitude" to the Beast. A classic aspect of Stockholm Syndrome is the tendency for victims to view a lack of overt abuse from their captors for an act of kindness. The Merchant, once sentenced to death by the Beast and now generously bribed several times over by him, seems completely under his sway and characterizes the Beast as brutish "only in form, and not in his feelings or actions".
The reader recognizes that this is not true. The Beast has failed to physically attack Beauty, but he has not prevented himself from controlling, isolating, threatening, and abusing her emotionally and psychologically. His brutishness is not a lust for violence, but it is one of disgusting selfishness, prizing his own needs and wants and feelings entirely over Beauty's. Since he is an enchanted prince, awaiting the resolution of the curse that plagues him, his selfishness is entirely understandable to the reader, but that does not make it commendable.
It is little surprise, though, that the Merchant might not understand that. He is the human mirror of the Beast: not once did he seriously consider it immoral for him to use Beauty to better his own life. Since the Merchant sees no conflict between his abuse of his daughter and his professed love for her, naturally he sees no similar conflict between the Beast's abuse of his captive and his offers of marriage. The Merchant therefore urges Beauty as strongly as he can to submit to marriage with her captor, and without reservation.
Beauty admitted the reason of all these arguments; but to resolve to marry a monster so horrible in person and who seemed as stupid as he was gigantic, appeared to her an impossibility. "How can I determine," replied she to her father, "to take a husband with whom I can have no sympathy, and whose hideousness is not compensated for by the charms of his conversation; no other object to distract my attention, and relieve that wearisome companionship; not to have the pleasure of being sometimes absent from him; to hear nothing beyond five or six questions respecting my health or my appetite, followed by a 'Good-night, Beauty,' a chorus which my parrots know by heart, and repeat a hundred times a day. It is not in my power to endure such a union, and I would rather perish at once than be dying every day of fright, sorrow, disgust, and weariness."
Beauty enumerates her continued objections to marrying her captor. She neither loves nor likes him, and finds both his body and mind repugnant. She is provided with no mental distractions, no human companionship, and no means by which she may leave her home at will. Beauty is so unhappy with the situation that she would rather die now than continue living in the isolation being imposed on her against her will.
Yet there is also a problematic aspect to this text. Beauty does accept the framing that the Beast's lack of overt physical abuse denotes great love and strength of character on his part. And I think it likely that de Villeneuve would like us to accept this framing as well, at least enough for us to cheer the mismatched couple onward to a 'happy' ending together.
Does this framing stem from a gulf of culture between author and reader? After all, it seems reasonable for Beauty to accept her father's words when such "logic" has formed the entire basis of her relationship with her father. In the same way, perhaps we cannot criticize de Villeneuve for pushing inexorably towards a 'happy' ending if her society maintains that a bare minimum of physical safety and conversational civility is all that one is entitled to expect from a good husband.
And yet, I wonder if what we really have is a gulf not of culture but rather between fantasy and reality. The Beast is manipulative, controlling, and callous but in carefully structured ways. As a lover in the real world, he would pose a serious emotional and psychological threat to Beauty. But as a fictional lover, he represents a very specific fantasy: a lover whose abuse is motivated entirely out of deep love and pained yearning, and whose abuse will be literally magically erased at the end of the story, when Beauty rises from her position of weakness and marginalization to stand beside her lover as a powerful equal.
The difference between reality and fantasy is simple. Real abuse can linger in the victim's memories forever, and more often than not is afflicted by an abuser who will always be dangerous. Fantasy abuse, on the other hand, can roll off the victim without impact, and the abuser will be magically redeemed and totally reformed. But there is another fantasy here, often overlooked: by the end of the tale, Beauty will raised to a position of power equal to or greater than the position occupied by her lover.
Return and Rescue
Beauty stays with her family for the full two months alloted to her visit, but as the time comes closer to return to the Beast, she hesitates. She doesn't have the resources or privilege to visit her family again the next time she feels the need for their company, and so she knows every time she tries to say goodbye that this may be the last time she sees any of her family. She is drawn to fulfill her promise to the Beast out of 'gratitude' but though he has grudgingly given her leave to see her family, she has no promise from him that she will ever be allowed to do so again. Small wonder, then, that she hesitates to return.
The two months had nearly expired, and every morning she determined to bid adieu to her family, without having the heart when night arrived to say farewell. In the combat between her affection and her gratitude, she could not lean to the one without doing injustice to the other. In the midst of her embarrassment, it needed nothing less than a dream to decide her.
She fancied she was at the Palace of the Beast, and walking in a retired avenue, terminated by a thicket full of brambles, concealing the entrance to a cavern, out of which issued horrible groans. She recognised the voice of the Beast, and ran to his assistance. The Monster, who, in her dream, appeared stretched upon the ground and dying, reproached her with being the cause of his death, and having repaid his affection with the blackest ingratitude.
In a dream, Beauty sees that the Beast is languishing near to death and blaming her for being the cause of his destruction. The reader who skips ahead will find that this is not quite the case. The Beast is not dying because of some quirk of magic that ties his life to hers and causes him to wither in her absence. Instead, he is dying because he refused to eat while she was gone. He is practicing grievous self-harm, ostensibly because he cannot bear to live without her, but his cause seems markedly less noble when he chooses to blame Beauty for his 'death' both prior to her leaving and now at the dangerous culmination of his hunger strike.
Beauty does not have this advance knowledge, though, and she reproaches herself as the sole cause of the Beast's mortal suffering. She returns to his home immediately and takes up a prolonged search for him through the empty rooms of the castle.
Divided through hope and fear, her mind agitated, her heart a prey to melancholy, she descended into the gardens, determined not to re-enter the Palace till she had found the Beast. No trace of him could she discover anywhere. She called him. Echo alone answered her. Having passed more than three hours in this disagreeable exercise, overcome by fatigue, she sank upon a garden seat. She imagined the Beast was either dead or had abandoned the place.
She saw herself alone in that Palace, without the hope of ever leaving it. She regretted her conversations with the Beast, unentertaining as they had been to her, and what appeared to her extraordinary, even to discover she had so much feeling for him. She blamed herself for not having married him, and considering she had been the cause of his death (for she feared her too long absence had occasioned it), heaped upon herself the keenest and most bitter reproaches.
It is a common trope in fairy tales for the seeker to lose hope before they find what they seek, and this moment of self-reflection allows Beauty to reflect on what she has lost and truly appreciate the Beast now that he seems irretrievably lost. It is interesting, though, that her reflection is tinted with the knowledge that she has hitherto been able to come and go from the castle entirely by the Beast's magic. If he is dead and gone, will she be trapped in the castle alone for the rest of her days? How long can she live here in this castle without starving to death or being driven to despair in her loneliness?
We have seen that Beauty's earlier 'gratitude' to the Beast was shadowed by her natural rationalization as a victim to expect the worst from her captor and consider neutral or 'less abusive' actions to be kindness. Now we see that Beauty's revelatory 'appreciation' for the Beast is still tinged with a survival reflex: she appreciates the Beast at least in part because he keeps her alive when she fears and expects death.
In the midst of her miserable reflections she perceived that she was seated in that very avenue in which, during the last night she had passed under her father's roof, she had dreamed she saw the Beast expiring in some strange cavern. Convinced that chance had not conducted her to this spot, she rose and hurried towards the thicket, which she found was not impenetrable. She discovered another hollow, which appeared to be that she had seen in her dream.
As the moon gave but a feeble light, the monkey pages immediately appeared with a sufficient number of torches to illuminate the chasm, and to reveal to her the Beast stretched upon the earth, as she thought, asleep. Far from being alarmed at this sight, Beauty was delighted, and, approaching him boldly, placed her hand upon his head, and called to him several times; but finding him cold and motionless, she no longer doubted he was dead, and consequently gave utterance to the most mournful shrieks and the most affecting exclamations.
The assurance of his death, however, did not prevent her from making every effort to recall him to life. On placing her hand on his heart she felt, to her great joy, that it still beat. [...] She cheered him with her voice and caressed him as he recovered. "What anxiety have you caused me?" said she to him, kindly; "I knew not how much I loved you. The fear of losing you has proved to me that I was attached to you by stronger ties than those of gratitude. I vow to you that I had determined to die if I had failed in restoring you to life."
Is it a declaration of love or practicality that Beauty would seek to join the Beast in death? After all, Beauty is in an enchanted castle, the only exit from which is a magic ring granted by the Beast which may not function in his absence. She has already anticipated with dread the fate that awaits her should she find herself unable to leave this place and now with even less company than before. Even if she could escape, the reader can imagine that this strange interlude as the captive of a magical beast may mark her permanently, both emotionally and socially. Even if she were physically able to return to her father's home, would she be able to live any semblance of a normal life now that all this has happened to her?
Still, the Beast's wishes have come true. He has come close enough to death to frighten Beauty into realizing that she would miss him if he were gone. For better or worse, she accepts this tenderness that she feels towards the Beast as love -- or as near as she is likely to experience, given the hand that has been dealt to her -- and when their daily routine resumes and the Beast picks up his usual nightly marriage proposal, Beauty answers in the affirmative.
The Beast briefly thanked her, and then being about to take his leave, asked her, as usual, if she would marry him. Beauty was silent for a short time, but at last making up her mind, she said to him, trembling, "Yes, Beast, I am willing, if you will pledge me your faith, to give you mine."
"I do," replied the Beast, "and I promise you never to have any wife but you."
"Then," rejoined Beauty, " I accept you for my husband, and swear to be a fond and faithful wife to you."
It is significant, I think, that Beauty's acquiescence to marriage does not occur in the same scene as her declaration of love. To the movie-maker, the delay and change in scene from "declaration of love over the Beast's dying form" to "later the next day, at dinner" lacks value and must be cut to save every precious second for the 'real' story. And yet, to the author, I think this delay was invaluable for carrying her message. Beauty declares her love for the Beast when she realizes how much she missed him, but this sudden rush of emotion is not what causes her to decide to wed him. Her love for him is just one piece of that decision.
Throughout the novel, the theme has been reiterated that a husband who is outwardly a bad match but inwardly loving and gentle is far more worthwhile than a husband who is outwardly a good match but inwardly brutish and cruel. This, in itself, is not a revolutionary idea, but what de Villeneuve hoped to convey was the revolutionary idea that it is the woman who has to live with the decision who should be given the right to make the choice.
Over their time together, Beauty has had the opportunity to observe the Beast minutely in his words and actions. Slowly, she has come to two separate and distinct decisions. First, that she loves him. This love is crucial, because it marks the place where Beauty is no longer disgusted by him and can then fairly evaluate the second, which is that, based on what she has observed thus far, he would make a good husband. The two decisions together propel her towards marriage with the Beast, and by placing them in different scenes, on entirely different days, I think the author is deliberately trying to keep the two concepts very separate.
The second part of Beauty's decision -- the evaluation that the Beast would make a good husband -- is possibly the most controversial part of every "Beauty and the Beast" tale. Knowing what we do now about human psychology, we may question that Beauty is in a position to fairly evaluate a person who holds the power of life and death over her. Then, too, we may question Beauty's criteria for 'good husband' material. Yes, the Beast is kind and gentle and patient and giving in certain ways, but he is also undeniably cruel and harsh and childish and selfish in other ways. Since we know that hers is a choice made essentially under duress, should Beauty still be given this choice to make for herself?
I think de Villeneuve would argue that she should. Is Beauty's situation a perfect one, free from problematic considerations? No. Beauty is the daughter of a man who was willing to give her life in order to save his, and who encourages her to wed a beast knowing nothing more about the creature than that he liberally showers wealth on his prospective father-in-law. She is a member of a society that prizes her for her beauty alone, and where her unattractive sisters are cruelly taunted and slandered by their former suitors for the 'crime' of being unable to invest the necessary money to maintain their social attractiveness. She is the captive of a creature who does not take her needs seriously and begrudges her requests to visit her family, yet who is comparatively a good and kind suitor in her society.
If Beauty must marry in order to survive -- and in a society that prevents her from earning her own living or owning her own property, she does -- then regardless of her extenuating circumstances, de Villeneuve believed that Beauty should hold the final decision on who her husband will be. Not because she necessarily holds all the tools to make the best decision, but because she may be the only one in this world who holds her well-being in any kind of serious regard. Beauty should make the decision because it will be Beauty who will ultimately be affected by her choice.
When Beauty agrees to marry the Beast, there is an instant magical reaction. The Beast does not change into his Prince form just yet, but there is a celebratory firing of artillery outside and the sky lights up with fireworks decorated with symbols of love and marriage.
She had scarcely uttered these words when a discharge of artillery was heard, and that she might not doubt it being a signal of rejoicing, she saw from her windows the sky all in a blaze with the light of twenty thousand fireworks, which continued rising for three hours. They formed true-lovers' knots, while on elegant escutcheons appeared Beauty's initials, and beneath them, in well-defined letters, "Long live Beauty and her Husband."
The enchanted castle is immediately decked out with escutcheons, or decorative shields which display a coat of arms. It is an important point that the shields bear Beauty's initials alone, and not those of the Prince, and that the inscription names Beauty first, and the Prince second as a possessive article. The shields do not say "Long live Beauty and the Prince", but rather "Long live Beauty and her Husband". The Prince exists in relation to Beauty, as her husband and eclipsed by her station. The couple, if the escutcheons are to be believed, will not be styled "Mr. and Mrs. Prince", but rather "Ms. and Mr. Beauty".
This is a crucial point in the narrative because, for de Villeneuve, the story is only half finished. Almost every later "Beauty and the Beast" retelling will reach its literary climax at this moment -- at the declaration of love and/or marriage and the restoration of the Beast into the Prince -- but for this original feminist version of the tale, there are still two very important points left to be settled. It is not enough for de Villeneuve that Beauty has been allowed to make her choice independently of her father. Now, the Prince must be allowed to make his choice, and to choose unencumbered by any curse laid upon him. And after the Prince has affirmed his choice, Beauty must be raised to a status such that no one -- not even her royal husband or his family -- can sever their union.
After the celebratory magic has run its course, Beauty hears another sound from outside and looks out the window to see two distinguished ladies ride up to the castle in a chariot pulled by four white stags.
By the noise, which became louder, she was aware that the ladies had nearly reached the ante-chamber. She considered it right to advance and receive them. She recognised in one of them the Lady she had been accustomed to behold in her dreams. The other was not less beautiful. Her high and distinguished bearing sufficiently indicated that she was an illustrious personage. She was no longer in the bloom of youth, but her air was so majestic that Beauty was uncertain to which of the two strangers she ought first to address herself.
She was still under this embarrassment, when the one with whose features she was already familiar, and who appeared to exercise some sort of superiority over the other, turning to her companion, said, "Well, Queen, what think you of this beautiful girl? You owe to her the restoration of your son to life, for you must admit that the miserable circumstances under which he existed could not be called living. Without her, you would never again have beheld this Prince. He must have remained in the horrible shape to which he had been transformed, had he not found in the world one only person who possessed virtue and courage equal to her beauty. I think you will behold with pleasure the son she has restored to you become her husband. They love each other, and nothing is wanting to their perfect happiness but your consent. Will you refuse to bestow it on them?"
The Queen, at these words, embracing Beauty affectionately, exclaimed, "Far from refusing my consent, their union will afford me the greatest felicity! Charming and virtuous child, to whom I am under so many obligations, tell me who you are, and the names of the sovereigns who are so happy as to have given birth to so perfect a Princess?"
The "familiar" lady in the chariot is the benevolent Fairy whose magic maintained the enchanted castle, guided the Merchant to the castle gates, and kept Beauty and the Beast alive and entertained during their long confinement together. She has also been a regular feature in Beauty's dreams and has counseled her frequently on matters of love.
The second lady is the Prince's Queen Mother, who has mourned her cursed son all this time and now embraces Beauty with warmth and gratitude. But her gratitude notably hinges on a single point: she desires Beauty to be a princess of noble blood, and her first action on receiving her potential daughter-in-law is to inquire as to the purity of Beauty's lineage.
"Madam," replied Beauty, modestly, "it is long since I had a mother; my father is a merchant more distinguished in the world for his probity and his misfortunes than for his birth."
At this frank declaration, the astonished Queen recoiled a pace or two, and said, "What! you are only a merchant's daughter? Ah, great Fairy!" she added, casting a mortified look on her companion, and then remained silent; but her manner sufficiently expressed her thoughts, and her disappointment was legible in her eyes.
Beauty does not attempt to dissemble or sugar-coat the truth. She does not trot out the great-uncle on her mother's side who always claimed to be related to royalty in obscure ways. She lays out the bad news to the Queen Mother directly: Beauty's mother is dead and her father is a poor Merchant. She has no pedigree whatsoever, and she doesn't try to hide that fact.
Many fairy tales don't concern themselves with this aspect of marriage. The poor, clever boy marries the princess with no obstacles whatsoever to him joining the royal family, or the humble, virtuous girl marries the king without a single objection raised to her suitability as mother of the next ruler. When fairy tales do bring up pedigree, it's usually to add an extra layer of challenge to the story: the brave boy may have passed all the king's tests, but now the proud princess has a few of her own to dish out. And thus the story can continue a little longer.
The pedigree in this tale, however, is not a stalling device to draw out the story. There is a point here: by the standards of Beauty's society, she is utterly unsuited to marriage with the Prince. It doesn't matter if they love each other; love is what mistresses are for, not wives. Wives are for bearing legitimate children whose traceable lineage grants them power and protection from kings and emperors. Beauty has no pedigree, no power, no connections, and no wealth. She was valuable as a bride for the Beast because the curse merely required that any maiden submit willingly to marry him. She is valueless as a bride for the Prince because there is no longer any material benefit that a union with her will bestow.
Beauty knows this. The Queen Mother knows this. And the Prince knows this.
"It appears to me," said the Fairy, haughtily, "that you are discontented with my choice. You regard with contempt the condition of this young person, and yet she was the only being in the world who was capable of executing my project, and who could make your son happy."
"I am very grateful to her for what she has done," replied the Queen; "but, powerful spirit," she continued, "I cannot refrain from pointing out to you the incongruous mixture of that noblest blood in all the world which runs in my son's veins with that of the obscure race from which the person has sprung to whom you would unite him. I confess I am little gratified by the supposed happiness of the Prince, if it must be purchased by an alliance so degrading to us, and so unworthy of him. Is it impossible to find in the world a maiden whose birth is equal to her virtue?"
The Queen Mother has her mind so set in this matter that she is willing to push back against a very powerful Fairy. This is not something to be done lightly; it was at the whim of an offended Fairy that this curse was first laid on the royal family. And yet, so set is the Queen Mother on Beauty's pedigree that she is willing to risk the wrath of this Fairy, willing to risk even the Prince's life all over again, rather than give her blessing for him to enter into a union that she sees as beneath him.
But what does the Prince think? Has he inherited the prejudices of his mother and his society? Will he value Beauty less now that he needs her no more? The Fairy calls the Prince to the conversation.
"Your mother," said she, "condemns the engagement you have entered into with Beauty. She considers that her birth is too much beneath yours. [...] It is for you, Prince, to say with which of us your own feelings coincide; and that you may be under no restraint in declaring to us your real sentiments, I announce to you that you have full liberty of choice. Although you have pledged your word to this amiable person, you are free to withdraw it. [...] What say you, Beauty?" pursued the Fairy, turning towards her; "have I been mistaken in thus interpreting your sentiments? Would you desire a husband who would become so with regret?"
"Assuredly not, Madam," replied Beauty. "The Prince is free. I renounce the honour of being his wife. When I accepted him, I believed I was taking pity on something below humanity. I engaged myself to him only with the object of conferring on him the most signal favour. Ambition had no place in my thoughts. Therefore, great Fairy, I implore you to exact no sacrifice from the Queen, whom I cannot blame for the scruples she entertains under such circumstances."
Both the Fairy and Beauty offer the Prince an easy out: any oath he swore to Beauty as a Beast has no hold over him now that he is a Prince. The Fairy's exchange with Beauty is especially key; the Fairy asks if Beauty would accept a husband who doesn't want her as wife.
The circumstances of the curse are now ironically reversed. Before, the Beast was the party at a disadvantage, cursed to be monstrous, frightening, and slow-witted. The onus was on Beauty to look past the outward manifestation of a bad husband to see the real value within. But now that the curse is broken and the Prince is restored to his full form and rightful place in society, he is the most powerful party in their relationship. Beauty is still lovely and virtuous and good, but she is also impoverished and low-born and a tremendous social handicap for the royal family. If they are to have a happy marriage, the Prince must look past social prejudices and cherish the rare goodness of his bride.
In both cases -- both when Beauty was choosing whether to wed the Beast, and now that the Prince is choosing whether to wed Beauty -- the decision must be entered into willingly by the two parties most affected by the decision. Their choice must be made without duress and without the prejudices of their parents, again, not because they are magically best suited to make the right choice, but because it should be their right to make this one decision that will guide the rest of their lives.
The Prince, who, by order of the Fairy, had been silent throughout this conversation, was no longer master of himself, and his respect for the commands he had received, failed to restrain him. He flung himself at the feet of the Fairy and of his mother, and implored them, in the strongest terms, not to make him more miserable than he had been, by sending away Beauty, and depriving him of the happiness of being her husband.
At these words, Beauty, gazing on him with an air full of tenderness, but mingled with a noble pride, said, "Prince, I cannot conceal from you my affection. Your disenchantment is a proof of it, and I should in vain endeavour to disguise my feelings. I confess without a blush, that I love you better than myself. [...] It is enough for me to know who you are, and that I am to renounce the glory of being your wife."
"Generous Fairy!" exclaimed the Prince, clasping her hands in supplication, "for mercy's sake, do not allow Beauty to depart! Make me, rather, again the Monster that I was, for then I shall be her husband. She pledged her word to the Beast, and I prefer that happiness to all those she has restored me to, if I must purchase them so dearly!"
It is not enough for de Villeneuve that the Prince choose to wed Beauty despite her low birth. Such a choice would not truly be comparable to the choice that had been put before Beauty. The Prince, by marrying Beauty, would give up some degree of social standing, but it is easy to imagine that the unsettling news that he has spent the last several years as an enchanted beast-creature would probably eclipse the shame of his marriage to a low born woman. Then, too, Beauty is in all things good and beautiful and pleasing and charming; she would no doubt be integrated into his society in time, by the virtue of her personality and the power of his influence.
Beauty had to give up far more than a degree of social standing when she made her choice. She gave up her family and her freedom, knowing that her husband the Beast would probably not allow her to travel any more than before when she was his captive. She gave up her future, her chances to bear children, and all her ties to friends and society. She sacrificed everything she had out of fondness and love for a creature who arguably did not deserve either -- not because of an accident of his birth, but because of the wrongness of many of his actions.
And thus we come to this moment of redemption for the Prince. He is able to match Beauty's choice in every point. If she will not have him as a Prince, let him be returned to his beastly, slow-witted form. Let him give up entirely his family, his future, his legacy, his friends, and his society to live in happy isolation with Beauty. He would rather return to the suffering he felt under his curse than be restored to the form he craves as a man, if the difference is whether or not he may marry Beauty.
No one spoke for some minutes, but the Fairy at length broke the silence, and casting an affectionate look upon the lovers, she said to them, "I find you worthy of each other. It would be a crime to part two such excellent persons. You shall not be separated, I promise you; and I have sufficient power to fulfill my promise."
The Fairy -- and de Villeneuve -- is satisfied. The Prince has chosen Beauty, and has chosen her in such a way that truly conveys his willingness to sacrifice everything to be with her. He has passed essentially the same tests as Beauty, and has been willing to make the same sacrifices that she was, and now the choices of the two lovers will be honored. And if society or the Queen Mother or the Merchant or anyone else has anything to say about it, the Fairy is there to lay down the law.
Changelings and Changes
And as it turns out, there is someone who does have something to say about the Fairy's decision, namely Beauty.
Beauty, at these words, embraced the knees of the Fairy, and exclaimed, "Ah, do not expose me to the misery of being told all my life that I am unworthy of the rank to which your bounty would elevate me. Reflect that this Prince, who now believes that his happiness consists in the possession of my hand may very shortly perhaps be of the same opinion as the Queen."
"No, no, Beauty, fear nothing," rejoined the Fairy. "The evils you anticipate cannot come to pass. I know a sure way of protecting you from them, and should the Prince be capable of despising you after marriage, he must seek some other reason than the inequality of your condition. Your birth is not inferior to his own."
To the impatient reader, this must seem like yet another delay to the inevitable happy ending, but de Villeneuve has one last unhappy reality to address. She and Beauty both recognize that while the Prince currently values Beauty more than the good opinion of his family and society, that position is subject to change. Just as the Queen Mother considered Beauty worthless once the girl was no more use to the family, the Prince may come to value Beauty less over time as he gains distance from his time as a Beast. Thus we come to de Villeneuve's final feminist argument: Beauty must be raised to a position as powerful and privileged as the Prince's own in order to protect her from the whims of him and his family.
And so Beauty, we are about to discover, is a Fairy Princess by birth, and the niece to this good guardian Fairy standing before her. She was switched as an infant with the Merchant's youngest daughter (who had died of crib-death) in order to protect Beauty from a malicious Fairy. But now that her birth-right has been revealed as the daughter of a King and a powerful Fairy, her pedigree is even greater than that of the Prince and his Queen Mother. The Prince -- as foretold by the escutcheons -- will be "Beauty's Husband", rather than she "The Prince's Wife".
At first glance, this seems like something of a contradiction after the impassioned argument moments before that Beauty's birth is immaterial and only her virtue and goodness is required to make the match suitable. Is de Villeneuve trying to have her cake and eat it too by arguing in the same breath that Beauty's birth is immaterial but that she's also a Fairy Princess? I don't think that's the case.
It seems to me that the raising of Beauty from a low-born state to a high-born one isn't the result of simply wanting a good pedigree as icing on the cake that is Beauty's perfection. Rather, I think the point here is to raise Beauty to a position of power so that she has the tools to defend herself. After all, the Queen Mother and the Prince (should the mood take them) can taunt and torment a low-born Merchant's daughter to the point of misery, but they would not dare do so to a powerful Princess protected by a high King and a good Fairy. And this, I think, marks the point at which this fantasy stops being about protection and starts being about power.
The fantasy of being protected and valued by a powerful creature is a meaningful ideal for many people, but it has a double-edge. In order to need protection, one must also be vulnerable. And in order to be protected, one must necessarily be weaker than the protector. This is all well and good within the setting of the fantasy, until we ask what then? Will the protector continue their protection forever? Will they never slip up, never fail, never grow tired, never get weary? Will the vulnerable one be vulnerable for a lifetime, both to their attackers and to the protector, should they break faith down the line?
I do not think it is a coincidence that many "protection fantasies" eventually evolve into "power fantasies" where the protected ends up surpassing the protector. This evolution of vulnerable-to-powerful has the effect of rendering the vulnerable partner ultimately on an equal footing with the protector. The protector's job becomes not to protect the vulnerable party forever, but merely to facilitate them on their way to power. The appeal of this fantasy seems to lie in the accessibility at the start: anyone who has ever felt vulnerable can step into the shoes of the protected and then enjoy the ride to a climax of privilege and strength.
Beauty started this tale in the most vulnerable of positions. She was the youngest child in a society that disproportionately favors the elder children. She was a woman in a society that disenfranchises women to the point that not a single objection or investigation is raised when she disappears from her father's home the night he leaves her with the Beast. She was a daughter in a household that valued her life and her worth as so much less than that of her father that she was expected to give her life in his place in order to settle his debts. She was a prisoner to a captor who demeaned her wants and needs to the point where she was forced to hide her feelings lest she be emotionally and verbally abused.
From this position of vulnerability, Beauty gained the love and protection of the Beast and his guardian Fairy. And that protection evolves now into power of her own: without the Beast, Beauty would never have known her hidden lineage as a Fairy Princess, but now that she knows her heritage, her whole life will change. She is the eldest child of a King and a Fairy, and the inheritor of all their power and privilege. She is the lost daughter of a doting family who has been mourning her loss since the moment she was taken away as an infant. As the descendant of fairies, the daughter of a king, and the wife of a prince, she is possibly the most powerful woman in the land.
Now is the story truly over. Beauty has broken free from the rules of society and exercised her own choices. The Beast-Prince has done likewise, and has shown himself a better man than the Merchant by his willingness to make the same sacrifices for Beauty as she would have made for him. And Beauty has been raised from her initial place as the most marginalized to her final destiny as powerfully privileged. All that remains is tying up a few loose ends, specifically the movement from her old family to her new one. The Fairy conjures the Merchant and his children to the castle to greet Beauty.
The moment he perceived her he ran to her with open arms, blessing the happy moment that presented her again to his sight, and heaping benedictions on the generous Beast who had permitted him to return; he looked about for him in every direction, to offer him his most humble thanks for all the favours he had heaped on his family, and particularly on his youngest daughter. He was vexed at not seeing him, and began to apprehend that his conjectures were erroneous. Still, the presence of all his children seemed to support the idea he had formed, as they would scarcely have been all assembled in that spot if some solemn ceremony, such as that marriage, were not to be celebrated.
These reflections, which the good man made to himself, did not prevent him from pressing Beauty fondly in his arms, and bathing her cheek with tears of joy. After allowing due time for this first expression of his feelings, "Enough, good man," said the Fairy. "You have sufficiently caressed this Princess. It is time that, ceasing to regard her as a father, you should learn that that title does not appertain to you, and that you must now do her homage as your sovereign. She is the Princess of the Happy Island, daughter of the King and Queen whom you see before you. She is about to become the wife of this Prince. Here stands the Prince's mother, sister of the King. I am a Fairy, her friend, and the aunt of Beauty. [...]
The merchant could not help weeping, without being able to tell whether his tears were caused by the pleasure of seeing the happiness of Beauty, or by the sorrow of losing so perfect a daughter. His sons were agitated by similar feelings. Beauty, extremely affected by this evidence of their love, entreated those on whom she now depended, as well as the Prince, her future husband, to permit her to reward such tender attachment. Her entreaty testified the goodness of her heart too sincerely not to be listened to. They were laden with bounties, and by permission of the King, the Prince, and the Queen, Beauty continued to call them by the tender names of father, brothers, and even sisters, though she was not ignorant that the latter were as little so in heart as they were in blood. She desired they would all, in return, call her by the name they were wont to do when they believed her to be a member of their family.
The fate of the Merchant is not a happy one. As much as he loved Beauty, he must now deal with the fact that she is a changeling, and that his biological daughter has been dead, unknown and unmourned by him all this time. And now his adopted child is being taken from him and given to a royal family, with the title of 'father' taken from him.
We might pity another man, but the Merchant has not conducted himself well over the course of this tale. It is almost karmic that his daughter is ultimately taken from him after he has been so eager to throw her away, once to a violent monster to save his own life and then again to a boorish beast out of gratitude for the riches sent his way. The Merchant has consistently valued Beauty less than he has his own wealth and safety. Now as a favorite of the Princess he will have both, but too late he recognizes that he has carelessly sacrificed "so perfect a daughter".
Beauty and the Prince immerse themselves into the pleasures of their wedding and each other's company.
Enraptured with the scenes around them, entranced by the pleasure of loving and expressing their love to each other, they had entirely forgotten their royal state and the cares that attend it. The newly-married pair, indeed, proposed to the Fairy that they should abdicate, and resign their power into the hands of any one she should select; but that wise being represented to them clearly that they were under as great an obligation to fulfill the destiny which had confided to them the government of a nation as that nation was to preserve for them an unshaken loyalty.
They yielded to these just remonstrances, but the Prince and Beauty stipulated that they should be allowed occasionally to visit that spot, and cast aside for a while the cares inseparable from their station, and that they should be waited on by the invisible Genii or the animals who had attended them during the preceding years. They availed themselves as often as possible of this liberty.
And they lived Happily Ever After.
When I first set out to write a retelling of "Beauty and the Beast", I had never read the original La Belle et la Bête. Indeed, despite my best efforts, I could not even find the original until after I had penned my first three chapters -- and then only because a dear friend sent me a copy. And yet even without reading the text, I knew something of the tale. How could I not? Our culture is saturated with it.
At the time of writing this, Wikipedia lists no fewer than ten film versions of the tale, four television tie-ins, and twenty prose adaptations. Pulchritude will, I suppose, mark the twenty-first, and yet I have no doubt that dozens of other adaptations exist that simply have not been added to the Wikipedia database. For whatever reason, this tale has resonated deeply with our society. So what more was there to be done with a story that can be abridged into a few pages and yet has been repeated endlessly over film, television, books, and musicals? Did the world really need another "Beauty and the Beast" adaptation?
I hoped so. I started from the standpoint that the tale as I knew it -- a cursed man desperately waiting on a young woman to realize her love for him and restore him to humanity before the time limit runs out -- could not possibly end well. Not because the Beast was beastly or because Beauty was damaged by an abusive home or any other reason relating directly to the characters themselves, but rather because the society that shaped them was fundamentally toxic. I saw the tale as one in which privilege damages us and prevents us from having nice things in general and healthy relationships in particular.
It's ironic that I hope to use de Villeneuve's classic story to tell a feminist tale, and yet I depart so wildly from her happy ending. I knew, even before I had read her original text, that she meant the story as a commentary on the social ills of her day, and I hoped to replicate that. But where she was able to embrace the difference between Fantasy and Reality and take her story to a place where abusers can be suddenly redeemed and victims can be magically elevated to positions of ultimate power, I couldn't.
She followed a path that she hoped would map out how much better the world could be if society gave women choice, agency, and equal power in their relationships. I followed one that I hope will demonstrate how good people can meet terrible ends when society isn't willing to give those tools to the disenfranchised.