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.
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.
“Yes, yes,“ said the Beast, "my heart is good, but still I am a monster.”
mankind,“ said Beauty, "there are many that deserve that name more than
you, and I prefer you, just as you are, to those, who, under a human
form, hide a treacherous, corrupt, and ungrateful heart.”
From Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, Beauty and the 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?!?