Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Beauty and the Beast

Go To

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 first cousins, and Beauty is half-fairy (on her mothers' side), and royalty (on her 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. Beauty's sisters are turned into statues for their evil deeds, while Beauty and the former Beast live happily ever after.

A free annotated translation of Villeneuve's original can be found here. The story as a whole is Aarne-Thompson-Uther tale type ATU 425C, "Beauty and the Beast", which has a good number of variants (some found here and here), but is less common than tales of 425A, such as "East of the Sun and West of the Moon". The counterpart in the Grimm collection is "The Singing, Springing Lark". Also compare "The Feather of Finist the Falcon". Distantly related to the Graeco-Roman myth of "Cupid and Psyche".

The tale has been widely adapted in many media, often as a Twice-Told Tale. These adaptations have their own index.

Obviously, this work is 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.

Author Joseph Jacobs offered a reconstruction of Beauty and the Beast tales in his book European Folk And Fairy Tales, with the story Beauty and the Beast.

Tropes specific to Villeneuve's original:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: The Evil fairy served as this to both the Beast/Prince and Beauty's biological father at different points in the backstory.
  • An Aesop: A person’s kind heart and good virtue is more valuable than their physical appearance and wit.
  • Alliterative Title: Beauty and the Beast. Also in the original language, French: La Belle et la Bête.
  • And I Must Scream: 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.
  • Beauty to Beast: The Beast used to be a handsome prince.
  • 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. However Beauty is also cursed to have to grow up to marry a beast.
  • Curse Escape Clause: A girl (specifically a virgin in some versions) must fall in love with and/or agree to marry the Beast in spite of his monstrous appearance for him to be restored to his human form.
  • Daddy's Girl: Beauty is often stated to be her adoptive father's favorite.
  • Death by Despair: In several versions, the Beast begins dying out of sheer misery when Beauty doesn't return by the scheduled time he gave her.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: It's quite a common belief that the story is meant to be a metaphor for arranged marriages, but quite a few readers have noticed that the Beast's curse comes across as a fantasy world metaphor for having been sexually assaulted.
    • In the book, it's mentioned that the Prince is young enough that he can’t be left home alone when his mother, the queen, goes off to war, and a Fairy requests that the Queen leave her son in her care. But the Fairy falls in love, and the now fifteen-year-old Prince doesn’t feel the same way. When the Fairy realises that she isn't going to get her way, she severely hurts the Prince and ruins any chance of him being able to be married normally. The Prince is left abused, tortured, transformed, and not even able to properly express himself—-only able to think just as he normally does, but unable to express those thoughts, unable to communicate effectively, unable to even let Beauty get to know him as he really is—much like anyone else who has been raped or sexually assaulted.
    • Even the encounter with the merchant can be read as a form of sexual assault, as what the Merchant did to Beast was very wrong. The Beast sheltered, protected, fed him, lavishly met his every need, provided his transport home. The Merchant commits three serious crimes when he plucks that rose. (1) He broke the social contract between host and guest, taking more than was offered, without permission or consideration, dishonoring his host's generosity; (2) he stole property that happened to be one of the Beast's most prized possessions; and (3) what the property he stole was: a rose. Of all the fairy tale symbols of beauty and fertility, the rose is special. What might the plucking of that rose might mean to Beast? Ponder the meaning of the word: deflower. Given Beast's history, the theft of his rose is no paltry offense. Even in ignorance of his host's circumstances, the Merchant's ungrateful choice to steal his host's rose is inexcusable. If we cannot, in good conscience, blame the victimized Beast for being cursed in the first place, how can we then blame him for his anger when he is re-victimized by yet another questionable parent-figure? The Merchant's act can be interpreted as being a sexual insult toward a character who expressed nothing but compassion toward a stranger in need. This is why the offender's crime can be answered only by either death or a fulfillment via marriage of the "deflowering" the offender initiated. Since marrying the Merchant is certainly out of the question for Beast, once Beast learns who the rose is for, a path toward mercy is revealed. For all that, it's a grim choice to ask a man and his daughter(s) to make, it's still a choice. A choice that can satisfy the interests of both justice and love, unraveling the horrors of rape for all the characters. The Beast insists that it must be the daughter's choice whether or not she will intervene to finish what her father started (a clue about Beast's true character).
  • 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.
    • This trope was played with in the original version, the Disproportionate Retribution was actually something that the Beast's Fairy beneficiary ordered him to do as it was a part of her plan to ensure that the curse would be reversed. In other words, the Beast didn't want to threaten the Merchant, but he knew that he had to to ensure that everything would be set right.
    • The Beast himself is always the victim of an angry fairy, and sometimes it's not even his fault - in the original Villeneuve version, he rejected an evil old fairy who was supposed to be his guardian.
  • 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: In this version it 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 changed this to praise Beauty for choosing virtue over "wit or beauty".
  • The Fair Folk: A heavy presence in the original story given three different fairies play major roles. This is typically adapted out.
  • Friendship as Courtship: Beauty and the Beast’s relationship in every version. She initially saw him as her friend until she realised that she loved him, and accepted his proposal of marriage.
  • Gilded Cage: After Beauty arrives at the castle, she is waited on hand and foot by the Beast's servants, and she has free reign of the castle, but is not allowed to leave, and the Beast asks for hand in marriage every day.
  • Girl of My Dreams: In de Villeneuve and Beaumont's versions, Beauty dreams of a handsome young man begging her to help him which adds to her reluctance to agree to marry the Beast.
  • 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.
  • Hidden Heart of Gold: The Beast.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: This is the eponymous Beast's desire after being transformed from a handsome prince into a hideous beast.
  • Kissing Cousins: Beauty and the Beast learn that they have been related all along. Beauty's biological father and Beast's mother were siblings.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: The Villeneuve version of the tale gives Beauty six brothers as well as five sisters. Subsequent versions reduce the number of siblings (see Rule of Three below).
  • Meaningful Name: The heroine is given a name that means "beauty" or "rose" in nearly all adaptations.
  • Missing Mom: Beauty's adoptive family is missing one, despite the merchant having a dozen children. In her biological father's kingdom, he's not entirely sure what happened to his wife but we the reader get to learn why she's missing in the backstory.
  • No Name Given: Beauty is named. Everybody else? Not so much.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: This 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: Twice by the same character.
    • The first time, the queen politely rejects the old Fairy’s proposal of marriage, which the Prince does not object to.note 
    • The second time, after the Prince had been freed from his curse, the Queen objects to him marrying Beauty (before the reveal of her parentage) because she is a merchant's daughter and, she claims, affection for her missing niece.
  • Really Royalty Reveal: In de Villenueve's version, Beauty was a princess who turned out to be Switched at Birth.
  • Switched at Birth: In Villeneuve's version, this turns out to have happened to Beauty, but not at birth. The merchant's youngest daughter, a toddler, was ill and taken to the countryside for treatment. She conveniently perished just as the good fairy was looking for a safe place for her niece.
  • 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.
  • Teen Hero: Beauty is canonically sixteen in the original tale by de Villeneuve. Likewise, in the same version, the Prince became a war hero at fifteen after saving his mother’s life.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: In many versions, the queen does not want her son to marry a commoner, even when this "commoner" was the person who managed to break the prince's curse.
  • Vague Age: The Prince/Beast. Beauty is canonically sixteen in the original tale by de Villeneuve, but the only age we’re given of the Prince is when he’s fifteen years old and was cursed, though the story implies that only a year or two has progressed since that day, so he’s possibly around 16-18. The fact that the Queen’s permission to marry the Prince is required by both the Fairy and Beauty only cements this possible age.
  • 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 than a merchant's daughter — but, of course, Beauty is the niece.
  • Villain Ball: The evil fairy makes a remarkable blunder in cursing two cousins with curses that in theory could cancel each other out. The good fairy is quick to pick up on this and decides to set the whole thing up.
  • Wife Husbandry: In the original tale written by Villeneuve, the fairy had been the Prince’s nurse and raised him from infancy, even allowing the Prince to call her "mother". It was when he was around 14 that the Fairy realised that the Prince has become quite beautiful, and she began to long for his hand in marriage. Soon afterwards, the Fairy requests the permission to marry him from the Queen (despite the fact that the Prince has already turned down her proposal, on the grounds that he was too young, and he didn’t love her in that way), too which the Queen rejects on the grounds that the Fairy is already too old to wed her son. The Fairy is obviously not impressed, and decides to take her anger out on the Prince...
  • Woman Scorned: The original version had the Beast cursed due to the fact that both he, and his Queen Mother, did not wish for him to marry the Fairy.
  • Youngest Child Wins: Beauty is always the youngest daughter.

Tropes originated by Beaumont's revision and alterations thereafter:

  • Adaptational Villainy: Beauty's sisters get this treatment in Beaumont's version, going from somewhat self-centered and envious of Beauty in Villeneuve's original story, to flat-out evil sisters who plot to stop Beauty from returning to the Beast in the hope that it will cause him to get angry and devour her (even though in Villeneuve's story, they were actually more than happy to see her return to the Beast, if only because their suitors were getting too enamored of her, and it was her well-meaning father and brothers who begged her to stay longer). Ironically, they often undergo Adaptational Heroism in modern retellings, being portrayed as completely supportive and loving of Beauty in Robin McKinley's Beauty, Rose Daughter, and several other retellings.
  • Adaptation Species Change: Beauty is actually a half-fairy in the original version, while most versions made her a full human.
  • An Aesop: 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.
  • 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.
  • Berserk Button: Despite his monstrous appearance, the Beast is a kind individual and a gracious host... but for your own sake, don't pick one of his roses. Though in the original he only does this because the good fairy told him to.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: 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?
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: It's the tale of a young woman who's forced to move into the home of a wealthy gentleman because of an arrangement that he made with her father. Considering the time period, it's extremely likely that this was intended as a metaphor for arranged marriage, with the story serving to prepare young girls for the day when they would be sent away to live with unfamiliar men.
  • Gilded Cage: In every version, though there are variations, Beauty's father was to be killed by the beast note . When she takes her father's place in the castle, she is waited on hand and foot by the castle's servants, on the condition she can never leave and the Beast asks for her hand in marriage.
  • 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.
  • Horned Humanoid: The Beast in some versions.
  • Missing Mom: It's rare that Beauty's mom is ever mentioned at all.
  • 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 as a foil to 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 George C. Scott adaptation also has a similar character named Anthony, predating the Disney version. Notably, he ends up marrying one of the evil sisters!
  • 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 in almost every version starts out a commoner before marrying the prince.
  • 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 and sometimes add a son or two (such as in the Cocteau version).
  • Sacred Hospitality: A number of versions explained that the Prince became the Beast for violating this. Averted in the original version by De Villeneuve where the Prince was cursed for a completely different reason.
  • The Simple Gesture Wins: In some tellings, Beauty has greedy, grasping sisters. Beauty ends up the favorite to their father, and thus the one he is most devoted to because her sisters demand expensive gifts from his travels, but Beauty makes the same request every time: come home safe and if you happen to run across a rose, that would be lovely. This backfires because her father is willing to go to extremes for her simple request and that's what gets him in trouble with the Beast.
  • 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.)
  • Sweet and Sour Grapes: She gets her handsome prince as soon as she decides that she doesn't care what the beast looks like.
  • Taken for Granite: In some versions, Beauty's two older sisters are turned into statues in the ending.

Alternative Title(s): The Beauty And The Beast