jeanne marie le prince de beaumont

So here’s a thing

No one seems to ever talk about my favorite part of the Beauty and the Beast story, so in light of the disney remake coming out and everything, I’d like to take this moment to tell you guys something awesome. Bear with me for a moment.

First of all, as far as I can tell, Beauty and the Beast is the only mainstream Western fairy tale that was written ABOUT a woman, FOR women, BY women. 

If you list whatever fairy tales you can think of off the top of your head, about half of them–Rapunzel, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood–were probably traditional oral folk tales, typically told by women to other women or children while they were all spinning and doing other work. 

However, these tales were then collected, rewritten, anthologized, and popularized by men like the Grimm brothers and Charles Perrault. 

The other half–The Snow Queen, The Little Mermaid–were made up in the style of these folk tales by modern (male) authors, most notably Hans Christian Anderson.

But not Beauty and the Beast

Setting aside its roots in the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche and its familial resemblance to East of the Sun and West of the Moon, Beauty and the Beast as we know it (prince cursed to be a beast, a rose, magic castle, a merchant’s daughter) was written by the French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve as a novella length story published in her book La Jeune Américaine et les Contes Marins in 1740. A considerably shortened version written by another woman, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, appeared in a French girls’ magazine sixteen years later, and that’s essentially the version we all know today. In both versions, Beauty is undoubtedly the main character. 

But let’s talk about the de Villeneuve version for a moment, because it’s pretty interesting. 

(First of all, I really recommend finding a translation and reading it yourself, because it’s a riot: the story you know only takes up about half of the novel; there’s this whole subplot where every night Beauty has these dreams of a beautiful prince, and they talk a lot, and it’s kind of implied that they might be getting up to some dream-world hanky panky, but it’s the 1700s so no one’s saying it outright. And she’s falling in love with him, and he with her. Except he’s constantly telling her “You know, I know you like me and everything, but have you considered the Beast’s offer of marriage?” And Beauty, understandably, is like, wtf. And then after the prince turns back into a prince, his snooty mother turns up out of nowhere and tries to break them up? Idk, it’s weird. Anyway….)

So in the original version, Beauty is at the castle living with the Beast. And every night he asks her to be his bride, making it explicitly clear that her answer is totally allowed to be “no.” And every night, she says no, and he doesn’t push her further. 

The interesting bit is although most translations put the Beast’s question as “will you marry me?,” the original version is closer to “will you sleep with me?” And it’s made clear once the curse is broken that only a willing–and not coerced–“yes” on Beauty’s part would break the curse. 

tl;dr: That’s right, ladies and gentlemen and otherwise inclined. Beauty and the Beast is a 1700s-era feminist parable about the magical power of women’s consent. 

*mic drop*

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The Books that Inspired the Disney Classics

Grimm’s Fairy Tales (Snow White, The Princess and the Frog, Tangled)

Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

Dumbo by Helen Aberson

Bambi by Felix Salten

The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty)

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

Happy Dan, the Whistling Dog by Ward Greene (Lady and the Tramp)

101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith

The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White

The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling

The Secret Origin of the Aristocats by Tom McGowan and Tom Rowe

Robin Hood as told by Paul Creswick

Winnie-the-Pooh & The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne

The Rescuers & Miss Bianca by Margery Sharp

The Fox and the Hound by Daniel P. Mannix

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander (The Black Cauldron)

Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus (The Great Mouse Detective)

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (Oliver & Company)

The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen

Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont

Arabian Nights by Anonymous (Aladdin)

Hamlet by William Shakespeare (The Lion King)

Pocahontas: The Life And The Legend by Frances Mossiker

Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)

D'Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths (Hercules)

Fa Mulan: The Story of a Woman Warrior by Robert D. San Souci

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Planet)

Henny Penny by Paul Galdone (Chicken Little)

A Day with Wilbur Robinson by William Joyce (Meet the Robinsons)

The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen (Frozen)

Big Hero 6 by Chris Claremont, etc.

Myths and Legends of the Polynesians by Johannes C. Andersen (Moana)