Literature / Beauty and the Beast
"Beauty and the Beast"
is an old French Fairy Tale
that was, at the time, basically propaganda for Arranged Marriage
using Rags to Royalty
. Over time it has lost that meaning and become more romanticized. The original literary version of the story was written in 1740 by Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve, and was a sprawling and convoluted affair of contrived coincidences
and last-minute exposition, in which the Beast and Beauty were revealed to be double first cousins
(on their mothers' side), and royalty
(on their fathers' side). In 1756, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont condensed it to the version which is best known today (excepting Disney's). While using tropes found in older folk fairy tales, de Villeneuve's version is the first to use the title "Beauty and the Beast", and the psychological plot — revolving around Beauty's mental conflict — is not found in folk tales prior to this one.
In Leprince de Beaumont's version, Beauty is the daughter of a rich merchant who is suddenly plunged into poverty. When one of his ships comes in unexpectedly, the merchant asks his three daughters what they would like him to bring them for presents. The two eldest ask for jewelry and dresses, but Beauty only wants a rose.
The ship turns out not to be profitable, and the merchant turns back, empty-handed. There is a winter storm, and he takes shelter in a mysterious but hospitable castle, where, finding a magically summer garden, he picks a rose for his daughter. Immediately, a monstrous beast appears and threatens his life. The merchant pleads on his daughters' behalf, and the Beast allows the merchant to go home to say goodbye to his daughters, or persuade one of them to come in his place.
The daughters succeed in learning the father's adventures, and Beauty insists on going in his place. She soon finds that the Beast is gentle and polite, in spite of his appearance, and that he wishes her to marry him. She refuses to do so, although she grows increasingly fond of him. One day, on learning that her father is ill, she asks the Beast to let her go home and visit her family. He does so, reluctantly, asking her to come back within a week.
Once she is home, her jealous sisters conspire to keep her longer, in the hopes of making the Beast angry with her. Their ploy succeeds, and Beauty remains at home until she has a dream of the dying Beast. Returning to the castle, she finds him in the garden, having lost his will to live. She tearfully agrees to marry him, which breaks the curse that had made him ugly. He is magically restored into a handsome prince, and they live happily ever after.
It is Aarne-Thompson type 425C, which has a good number of variants (some found here
), but in folklore it is less common than tales of 425A, such as "East of the Sun and West of the Moon
" — which it has nevertheless engulfed in popular culture. Also compare The Feather of Finist the Falcon
The tale has been widely adapted in many media as a Twice Told Tale
. These include:
Obviously, the Trope Namer
and Trope Maker
for Beast and Beauty
and Beauty to Beast
. Probably more significant in terms of trope theory for giving us True Beauty Is on the Inside
, which is one of the more common Aesops
The archetypical Beauty and the Beast fairy tale contains the following tropes:
- An Aesop: Inner beauty is more important than appearance. Considering that Beauty's "reward" for following this aesop is that the Beast becomes handsome at the end, though, this might be considered a Broken Aesop, unless you're one of the people who believe the Prince returning to human form is his reward.
- Also, depending on what version you're reading, "be good to those less fortunate" (or just "don't turn away a traveler.") Several variants (most famously the Disney film) portray the Beast's predicament as a result of refusing to allow a fairy to take shelter in his castle and getting cursed as punishment. However many of them provide no explanation or explain that the fairy was just evil and his punishment was undeserved.
- Aesop Enforcer: Whoever is responsible for turning the Prince into a Beast usually intends for the Prince to learn the Aesop as well as the audience.
- And I Must Scream: In some versions, the two older sisters are punished in the end by being turned into statues by a good fairy. They still retain their ability to see and feel Beauty's happiness.
- In some versions, the Prince/Beast is a victim of this as well: part of the curse is that he retains all his intelligence, eloquence, et cetera, but will be physically unable to speak as he normally does or tell anyone about the curse.
- Animorphism: The Beast is cursed into his monstrous form, and eventually changed back.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Beauty is the most attractive of her sisters, and, of course, the Beast doesn't stay ugly.
- de Villeneuve's version takes it even further with the fairies: the fairy who cursed the prince is said to be old and ugly and is clearly intended to be unsympathetic, whereas the fairy who helps the prince is said to be beautiful and good-hearted.
- The Chessmaster: In one of the most virtuous examples, the good fairy moves many things to make sure both curses are ended and that Beauty and Beast are perfect for one another. She wasn't kidding when she said it wasn't going to be easy.
- Curse: The cause for Beast's hideous outward appearance.
- Curse Escape Clause: A girl (specifically a virginal one in some versions) must agree to marry the Beast in spite of his monstrous appearance for him to be restored to his human form.
- Some don't actually require going as far as marriage, but do require that the girl fall truly in love with him.
- Daddy's Girl: Beauty is often stated to be her father's favorite.
- Disproportionate Retribution: The poor merchant didn't even know that taking a single flower would lead to either his death or the loss of his beloved daughter.
- The Beast himself is always the victim of an angry fairy, and sometimes it's not even his fault - in the Villeneuve version, he rejected an evil old fairy who was supposed to be his guardian.
- The fairy in some versions curses everyone in the kingdom as well as the ruler - if it's karmic, it's because she blames them for letting him getting so bad. But really, what servant would want to speak up to a selfish violent royal that would probably just kick them out, banish them, or even kill them (and probably also their families) for calling him on his behavior?
- Dogged Nice Guy: The Beast keeps on asking Beauty to marry him every night even when she keeps on refusing, and it's Beauty's realization that he really is a kind and caring man underneath his monstrous exterior that induces her to finally agree to marry him.
- Dumb Is Good: One version portrays Beast as rather lacking of intellect. This is a virtue in this telling, and at the end of the story, she even meets the fairy who cast the spell who tells her that a "true heart" is better than good looks or "clever brains". Beaumont praises Beauty for choosing virtue over "wit or beauty".
- Everything's Better with Princesses: In de Villeneuve's version, Beauty turns out to have been a princess Switched at Birth.
- Another Broken Aesop, because even after the curse breaks, the Prince is nearly denied being able to marry her because of her low birth and even Beauty refuses to marry him rather than shame him by her lower class. While the fairy that protected the prince tries to shame the Queen out of dismissing Beauty like this, her revelation that she had personally chosen Beauty because of her Royal Blood pretty much borks that moral.
- The Fair Folk: Depending on the telling, the curse is actually placed on the Beast by a fairy. This pretty much explains the Disproportionate Retribution.
- Girl of My Dreams: In de Villeneuve's, adding to her problems, Beauty is dreaming of a handsome young man begging her to help him.
- Happily Ever After: No matter what the journey to get there, the Beast turns back into a handsome princenote and Beauty always gets a fairy tale wedding.
- Horned Humanoid: The Beast in some versions.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: This is the eponymous beast's desire after being transformed from a handsome prince into a hideous beast.
- Laser-Guided Karma
- Massive Numbered Siblings: Early versions of the tale give Beauty a handful of brothers as well as the two sisters (see Rule of Three below).
- Meaningful Name: Just try and find a version of this tale in which the heroine's name means anything other than "beauty" or "rose".
- Missing Mom: It's rare that Beauty's mom is ever mentioned at all.
- No Name Given: The Beast.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: One version of the tale notes that along with his appearance, the Beast was also required to act witless and stupid, thus ensuring that he would be judged only on the pureness of his heart and nothing else.
- Parental Marriage Veto: The queen tries this in the original.
- Prince Charming Wannabe: Not a traditional part of the story, but modern adaptations often include a villainous suitor who is beautiful on the outside and ugly on the inside, contrasting with the Beast who is ugly on the outside and beautiful on the inside. Jean Cocteau's 1946 film version may or may not be the first to include this character, naming him Avenant, but it's certainly the codifier. And, of course, Disney codified it further with Gaston.
- The Punishment Is the Crime: In contrast to the harsher punishments in the long original versions, some of the condensed versions of this story simply have the two older sisters' crime be that they are constantly envious of Beauty for both her good looks and how well she bears up under her various misfortunes; then, after everything works out so well for her, their punishment... is to go on being jealous of her for the rest of their miserable lives, which are only miserable because their envy keeps them from enjoying how well they've done for themselves.
- Rags to Royalty: Beauty almost every version (save for the Everything's Better with Princesses variant.)
- Rule of Three: Mme. Leprince de Beaumont condensed the merchant's original family (six boys and six girls) to three of each. Most later versions further condense the merchant's children to three daughters.
- Sacred Hospitality: A number of versions explained that the Prince became the Beast for violating this.
- Heroic Self-Deprecation: Many versions of the story have the Beast constantly mocking and belittling himself and his appearance in his conversations with Beauty. Beauty is constantly arguing that he's better than that.
- Single Woman Seeks Good Man: The Beast, in spite of his appearance, is kind to Beauty which causes her to eventually fall in love with him. (In contrast, Disney's version goes the Love Redeems route — but even then, it's the Beast's inner goodness that Belle falls in love with.)
- Stockholm Syndrome: The story is very difficult to tell right, and often sounds like this since there's almost never a variant where the Beast doesn't trap the Beauty in his castle with the intent of eventually convincing her to marry him through sheer effort.
- Sweet and Sour Grapes: She gets her handsome prince as soon as she decides that she doesn't care what the beast looks like.
- Switched at Birth: See above.
- Talking in Your Dreams: In the oldest version, a handsome prince appears in her dreams, begging her to save him. In due course, he proves to be the Beast.
- Taken for Granite: In some versions, Beauty's two older sisters are turned into statues in the ending.
- Two-Person Love Triangle: In de Villeneuve's version, Beauty feels conflicted between the dream prince and the flesh-and-blood Beast.
- Additionally, the Queen tries to veto the marriage. After the explanation, she says, by way of apology, that she had recently learned of her niece and had thought that a more suitable match — but now, of course, Beauty is the niece.
- A Woman Scorned: the first version had the Beast cursed for refusing the hand of a fairy — contrary to fairy law, at that.
- Youngest Child Wins: Beauty is always the youngest daughter.