Beauty and the Beast. George Henry, R.A., R.S.A., R.S.W. (Scottish, 1858-1943). Oil on canvas. Paisley Museum and Art Galleries.
Henry uses the translated title of La Belle et la Bête, a traditional fairy tale written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, published in 1740, and the abridged and rewritten version by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, published in 1756.
Beauty and the Beast | Adaptions | Britannica’s Tales Around the World
This animated children’s educational series by the company behind the Encyclopedia Britannica presented one well-known fairy tale each episode, accompanied by two lesser known international versions of the same story.
The 1990 premiere episode featured a nine-minute short version of “Beauty and the Beast”, as well as the Chinese counterpart “The Chinese Parrot” and the Inuit story “Sedna”. The series is close to the original story, and also has a very scary-looking Beast.
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.
The one thing that bugs me about the new Beauty and the Beast is the historical inaccuracy in making Belle “Dangerous” because she (Gasp) Reads!
In the original film she was just a book nerd, it wasn’t merely that she read. It’s that she read all the time.
I hate what this does to history. It ignores that in France (Not just the “Big cities” folks) but IN France the female literacy of 1740 was about twenty five percent. Considering the time period that’s pretty high. Yes, male literacy was about fifty percent but twenty five percent is still one fourth the population. That’s actually a considerable number. One out of every four women knew how to read and there were women authors.
Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve
Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont
come to mind. In fact Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve wrote the first version of Beauty and The Beast, the novel from which all other versions sprang. And Belle’s village in this new movie is named for her. There were literate women all over France, and female authors. Again, all over France, not just the big cities.
You can’t just say “Well, things are different in the country because they’re stuck in the past.” What past?! France never had that mindset in it’s past!
One scene in this new film that bugs me is when a school headmaster demands Belle stop teaching a little girl because “Girls aren’t supposed to know how to read.” There was NEVER a point in French history where women were “not supposed” to know how to read.
We’re talking about the country that produced the likes of Jeane de Clisson, the most successful pirate in history, and a woman. The Country that gave us Joan of Arc, who, though illiterate, was well spoken and able to hold her own in debates with educated men and that was in the fifteenth century.
They’re re-writing history to make the past look more sexist than it already was and trying to make Belle seem more empowered. We should not have to re-write history to make ourselves feel better about present day.
This doesn’t “Empower” us women. It diminishes already seldom discussed female icons of the era by pretending they didn’t exist.
France never culturally discouraged female literacy, whether in the cities or countryside, in fact though the church initially feared the spread of literacy and literature that questioned the teachings of the church they also took advantage of it and felt that literate house wives were better equip for teaching their children bible stories.
I am a woman and what makes me angry is bearing witness to people re-writing
history, diminishing and essentially erasing the gorgeous works of literature
written by female French authors of the eighteenth century. France had a twenty
five percent female literacy level and female authors.
Barbot de Villeneuve and Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont specifically come to
Imagine if someone came along and said English women were not
supposed to read in the nineteenth century. Goodbye Mary Shelley, the Bronte
Sisters, Christina Rosetti, Emily Dickenson, Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott,
Frances Hodgson Burnett, ect…
Is it okay to erase the female icons of
France because it wasn’t in the English language?
The scenario portrayed
in this film requires pretending many brilliant women of the eighteenth century
did not exist all in the name of empowerment.
Why do we have to diminish
and erase strong feminine icons to make ourselves feel better about how
“liberated” we are today? It’s bad enough that too many young girls have no idea
who the likes of Jeane de Clisson are, now we’re going to have pretend several
female authors didn’t exist either.
I’ve seen the justification of
“Well, she’s in the countryside and rural people tend to be trapped in the
past.” What past?! France (as a culture) never discouraged female literacy! It’
wasn’t a Country bumpkin vs. City mindset. France simply was never like that.
If they wanted to address female oppression they should have set it in
the American colonies or The Middle East. France was never like this about
female literacy, period.
And this diminishes and ignores many brilliant
female authors who lived in that time period that are already too easily
Do you want to know what was in 1740 The Beauty and The Beast novel by
Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve? It had the book lover version of Belle like in the Disney film but by the end of the book she learns she possesses Faery magick from her mother (not portrayed in either Disney film). And The Beast / Prince’s mother was a Warrior General Queen. Why does no one ever address this? Instead of getting a kick-ass Warrior Queen we get pearl clutching peasants at the “Scandal” of a woman able to read… when one in four women in France at that time could read… Which also requires pretending several historic women didn’t exist… But it’s “empowerment” right?!?
Do you want to know what was in 1740 The Beauty and The
Beast novel by
Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve? It had the book lover version
of Belle like in the Disney film but by the end of the book she learns
she possesses Faery magick from her mother (not portrayed in either
Disney film). And The Beast / Prince’s mother was a Warrior General
Queen. Why does no one ever address this? Instead of getting a
kick-ass Warrior Queen we get pearl clutching peasants at the “Scandal”
of a woman able to read… when one in four women in France at that time
could read… This also requires pretending several historic women
didn’t exist… But it’s “empowerment” right?!?
PR WIN: Emma Watson Is MTV’s Token Inclusion Stuntwoman With Being First Genderless Best Actor Recipient
So I actually didn’t realize that the MTV Awards were happening or that Watson was up for nomination. I don’t watch television on television, so I didn’t see anything promoting the event.
Anyway, I’ve been receiving a LOT of asks that are generally about her winning this award. Many stans are also rushing here to validate her success as an actress because she won this Popcorn Award in a Disney film with a guaranteed audience and obvious guaranteed financial success.
That being said, I think it would be interesting to comment on the fact that the UN-appointed gender equality ambassador who made “Beauty and the Beast” into “Emma Watson and how she made Belle a Feminist” won the first-ever combined-gender award for Best Actor.
I have basically stated my point in the previous paragraph. The other actors she was up against are all better actors than her (Taraji P. Henson, Daniel Kaluuya, James McAvoy, Hailee Steinfeld ), yet she is the one who won for best actor. To me, it is interesting in more than the fact that she received very mixed reviews on her acting for BatB (and shall we go into her abysmal acting reviews in “The Circle”? Nah.).
This is interesting to me because strictly from a public relations-marketing point of view, Emma Watson was the perfect person to give this award. Not for her acting. But because she so heavily (too heavily) promoted Belle not as the character, but how Emma Watson changed her from apparently not being feminist enough for Emma Watson to being super feminist and strong and smart! Of course the great feminist, equality preaching (while evading taxes), fresh-faced celebrity who made an image based on [internalized] misogyny, would win this award that helps promote MTV as being open-minded, accepting, and supportive of equality. Part of this is simply humor and sarcasm, surely.
Whereas her stans believe she won this because she was just super awesome at playing as Belle, I suggest people think a little deeper on this. In my opinion, Emma Watson only won this award (which is not equivalent to an Oscar btw, stans) because it suited the social perspective MTV is trying to promote. And in turn, it helps Watson and superficially boosts her feminist superstar status.
Here is what she said during her interview, which was well-memorized or just read from the prompter. I can see why people thought it was too long or really boring after such a fun little musical number:
“Wow. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. Firstly, I feel I have to say something about the award itself. The first acting award in history that doesn’t separate nominees based on their sex says something about how we perceive the human experience. MTV’s move to create a genderless award for acting will mean something different to everyone. But to me, it indicates that acting is about the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. And that doesn’t need to be separated into two different categories.
This is very meaningful to me. Both to be winning the award and to be receiving it from you, Asia [Kate Dillon, who presented the award]. Thank you for educating me in such — in such an inclusive, patient, and loving way. Thank you so much. I think I’m being given this award for a performance as an actor, but it doesn’t feel like that what it’s really for, although I am very grateful if you did think that I did a good job because the whole singing part of the situation was pretty terrifying — yeah, not kidding about that part!
But more seriously, I think I am being given this award because of who Belle is and what she represents. The villagers in our fairy tale wanted to make Belle believe that the world is smaller than the way she saw it, with fewer opportunities for her — that her curiosity and passion for knowledge and her desire for more in life were grounds for alienation. I loved playing someone who didn’t listen to any of that. I’m so proud to be a part of a film that celebrates diversity, literacy, inclusion, joy, and love the way that this one does.
I want to thank Linda Woolverton for writing the original Belle, Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont for writing what the animated movie was based on, and Paige O’Hara for playing Belle in the original. And I want to thank every single person who voted for me. Thank you so much. Taraji [P. Henson], I can’t see you, but Daniel [Kaluuya], James [McAvoy], Hailee [Steinfeld], all of you, it’s a privilege to have been nominated alongside you. Lastly I want to thank any one and everyone who had anything to do with giving me this opportunity and for supporting me on that journey. You know who you are, and I can’t thank you enough. Thank you so, so much.”
Oof. That’s quite long. I suppose it’s good she got it all out here since she wasn’t going to the Oscars with that speech.
I liked her dress, though. Fun, even though she stayed with the whole monochromatic theme.
There’s one scene in the new Beauty and The Beast that really, really bugs me.
When the school headmaster acts disgusted at Belle teaching a little girl to read “Isn’t one enough?” followed by a woman (who later is revealed to be Cogsworth’s wife) saying “We need to do something.” that was really jarring and took me out of the time period. In 1740s France (when this is set) one out of every four women could read, and not just in Paris. Today that’s a higher number than people who can read clocks that have hands. If one in four women were literate (and again, this was in regard to all of France, not just the big cities) there is no way in Hell Belle is the only literate woman in town.
Nor was it in French culture to ever discourage female literacy. This is the wrong country for that.
It doesn’t really feel empowering to pretend women being literate was frowned upon in 1740. It also ironically erases the likes of
Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve
(author of the original Beauty and the Beast novel) and
Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, who edited and revised Beauty and the Beast into the short fairy tale version sixteen years later. There were also girls’ and Woman’s magazines published in France in that era.
This just perpetuates the negative stereotype that people in the country are backwards and living in the past. Even worse is France is a culture that never actually had that past for them to be stuck in.
Another issue with this scene is Mrs. Cogsworth. Cogsworth is a man’s man, a very poper gentleman’s butler. He’s well educated and of high status. Servants who worked in castles weren’t simple peasant beggars. They were usually higher class and well educated. Why would Cogworth (of all characters) be married to a woman against female literacy? It doesn’t fit the character.
The scene really bothers me. The only other scene that annoys me is when Gaston shoots The Beast. And that is only because I felt stabbing him in the back after The Beast let him go had a lot more symbolic meaning and visual quality. There’s an intimacy to a stabbing which makes it more disturbing and sinister and I think it would have vastly improved the scene.
Otherwise I do like the remake but that scene with the headmaster really takes me out of the story and even the time period.
hello! i love your blog, and especially noticed how much you love beauty and the beast! I was wondering if you knew where I could get my hands on the original Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve version (translated to english) and where I could read the abridged Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont version? If you have any idea it would be very much appreciated!
Villeneuve’s version is like 100+ pages long, and Beaumont’s version is the one that has been adapted more often.
The version I own of these stories is this book, which is a reprinted collection of different versions of the story that Betsy Hearne collected back in the 70s when she was doing her thesis, which was printed as Beauty and the Beast: Visions and Revisions of an Old Tale. It’s still the most interesting book about Beauty and the Beast that I’ve ever read.
“There is many a monster who wears the form of a man; it is better of the two to have the heart of a man and the form of a monster.“– Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, Beauty and the Beast
I had the pleasure and honor to meet this incredibly gorgeous and talented photographer at NYCC2016. She came all the way from Germany, so I’m so glad I was able to hang out with her for a bit! PLEASE check her out ! her Instagram is currently called “berath”.
photographer: Foofy Cosplay / berath (on instagram)