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The Lost Female World of The Fairy Tale: ‘The Beauty and The Beast’

I have been wanting to write about The Beauty and The Beast (La Belle et la Bête) fairy tale and its recent adaptation The Beauty and The Beast (2017) for some time now. There are two reasons for my wish to do so. The first one – I liked the 2017 adaptation of the fairy tale. The second – some years ago, I came across the original fairy tale, La Belle et la Bête, as it was written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740 and it opened my eyes to some fundamentals of the story that I have not been aware of before.

The Beauty and The Beast (2017), though a very well-made movie, comes only visually close to what was originally depicted in the fairy tale by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Mostly, the similarities concern the 18th century inspired costumes of the movie characters.

So, what was the original La Belle et la Bête of 1740 like?

To start with, the original fairy tale - a novel length story (15 parts) influenced by the 17th century novels, containing many subplots with the story of the Beauty and the Beast being the main one – was written for adults, in particular for young women of the Society.

The story contained certain female characters who later were taken out of the fairy tale, leaving us unaware of the origins of the Beauty, in particular her mother, and the background of the Beast, in particular, what happened to his father and where his mother was. The latter being a rather important figure as it is her who in the end has the last word in whether her son marries the Beauty or not.

The Beauty is one of the 12 children of a King who has fallen in love with a Fairy – the Beauty’s mother – and conceived a child with her. The Fairy was punished for breaking the rules of the fairy Society - having a relationship with a human - and was forbidden to enter the Earth plane, and her daughter, the Beauty, was to marry a hideous beast once she grows up.

The Beast was a son of a King and a Queen of a neighbouring kingdom. His father died when he was still a toddler, and his mother, the Queen, had to wage war to defend the kingdom. While at it, she had to leave her son in the care of a rather evil fairy who once the boy became an adult wanted to seduce him. But as he refused she turned him into a beast - la Bête (Beast). In French ‘la Bête’ means also stupid. But not only that, the evil fairy also wanted to take the life of the Beauty and marry her father. However, the Beauty’s aunt – another good fairy - intervened and changed the Beauty's place with the dead daughter of a merchant, then placed the Beast in a magically hidden castle until Beauty grew up.

Once the Beauty ends up in the castle of the Beast, her mother appears to her in her dreams and shows her a beautiful 'Prince', but tells her not to trust the appearances, which the Beauty disregards trying to find the beautiful 'Prince' from her dreams in the castle of the Beast, thinking that he keeps the 'Prince' prisoner somewhere there.

At the very end, when the Beauty returns to the Beast and says that she will marry him, the mother of the Beast, the Queen, returns from the war and stops the wedding as she wants to know if the Beauty is of the same status as the Queen's son is. And that is when it is revealed that the Beauty is the daughter of the Fairy and the King. Only after finding this information, the Queen allows the wedding.

As we see, the fairy tale written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve 280 years ago was driven by the female characters of the two worlds – the fairy land and the human realm. In contrast, the fairy tale The Beauty and The Beast as we know it today has been transformed into a fairy tale without the important female characters and left the 'Prince' rootless without any background. The fairy world has been squeezed into an evil old ‘witch’ who curses the 'Prince' for his arrogance. When it was not the arrogance in the first place that got him turned into a beast but his refusal to have an affair with the evil fairy. As a result, the story became an illustration of a ‘poor’ girl having to love the ugly but wealthy beast and as the love concurs all, the curse is broken and the poor girl is transported in a matter of seconds from rags to riches.

In fact, the original fairy tale told a story of intrigue, love, and revenge as seen by women and assigned power to female characters leaving for the Beast the role of a 'victim'. Apart from that it teaches not to be mistaken by appearances and shows that love often happens between people of similar status or development.

Despite the loss of the original meaning, I still like the recent cinematographic interpretation of the fairy tale, The Beauty and The Beast (2017), for its musical element and for being little bit closer to the original if only in some scenes. I hope that in the coming decade there will be new adaptions and that the full version of the original story will be one day made into a movie.

Seraphima Bogomolova

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