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Literature / Princess Belle-Etoile

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Princess Belle-Etoile is a Fairy Tale by Madame d'Aulnoy, published in Les Contes des Fées. Her source for the story was the Italian tale Ancilotto, King of Provino, the oldest known variant of Aarne-Thompson type 707 ("The Dancing Water, the Singing Apple and the Speaking Bird").

An impoverished former queen with three daughters kindly entertains and feeds a beggar woman who is really a fairy in disguise, and as a reward, she tells them that the next wish each of them makes without thinking of her will be fulfilled. As a result of said wishes, the three daughters - Roussette, Brunette and Blondine - end up marrying the king's admiral, the kings brother, and the king himself respectively.

Queen Blondine gives birth to two sons and a daughter, and her sister Princess Brunette dies shortly after bearing a son. The king's mother hates her two new daughters-in-law, and Roussette joins forces with the former out of jealousy of her sisters; they enact an evil plot to ruin Queen Blondine by abducting her children immediately after their birth and replacing them with puppies to pass them off as her offspring; the ruse works, and the disgraced Blondine is exiled from court and sent back to her mother. Her maid is in on the plot but cannot bring herself to carry out the evil Queen mother's order to kill the children, so she sends them out to sea in a boat, resulting in them being discovered and adopted by the captain of a pirate ship and his wife. They name Brunette's son Chéri, and Blondine's children Petit-Soleil, Heureux and the titular Belle-Etoile.

Years later, the four grown children finally discover their origins, and return to the palace to be received by the king; Chéri and Belle-Etoile have fallen in love in the meantime. The king's mother, realising these are the same grandchildren she had ordered to be killed, makes another attempt. She recruits the same maid who had sent them away on the boat to tell Belle-Etoile a tale of the legendary dancing water that will preserve her youth; Chéri sets out on a quest to retrive it, and after numerous adventures, returns victorious. The maid spins a similar tale about a singing apple; again Chéri sets out, and successfully retrieves it. However, when he embarks on a third quest in response to the maid's tale of an omniscient green bird, on the point of success he falls into a hall in the mountain and is trapped.

Petit-Soleil sets out to rescue Chéri but suffers the same fate, as does Heureux after him. Only Belle-Etoile, by listening to the advice of a dove she rescues, is able to successfully free her brothers and cousin, and retrieve the green bird as well. Meanwhile, the King has been advised by his evil mother to set aside his marriage and remarry. The four young people arrive at the wedding and reveal who they are, with the green bird confirming their story, resulting in the King cancelling the wedding, recalling Queen Blondine into his good graces, punishing the villainesses, and blessing the marriage of his daughter Belle-Etoile to his nephew Chéri.

An English translation of the tale can be read here, and an illustrated version can be viewed here.

See also The Dancing Water, the Singing Apple, and the Speaking Bird, an Italian oral variant from Sicily of the same tale type, and The Tale of Tsar Saltan, a versified Russian tale, also of the same tale type.

Princess Belle-Etoile contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Heroism: The source story "Ancilotto, King of Provino" has both of the Queen's sisters being evil. In this version, only the eldest (Roussette) is evil while the middle sister (Brunette) is benign, although she doesn't play any further role in the story after giving birth to Chéri as she sadly dies immediately afterward.
  • Aesop Collateral Damage: The villainesses' punishment is to be imprisoned and made to feed with the dogs, and the dogs bite them because they miss their kind mistress Blondine. Nothing indicates that the dogs deserve this fate, though.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Exaggerated in that the three sisters Blondine, Brunette and Roussette are named after their hair colours.
  • Bride and Switch: The king's mother convinces him to annul his marriage to Blondine and marry a young princess to produce an heir. When he is on the point of going through the ceremony, his three children and nephew arrive and tell their story. In response to this, he welcomes Blondine back as his wife, calls off his second wedding, gives some precious gems as compensation to the princess he had been going to marry, and marries his daughter Belle-Etoile off to his nephew Chéri.
  • Cain and Abel: Roussette is the Cain, while collectively Blondine and Brunette (who love each other) are the Abel. Roussette is highly jealous of her sisters' royal marriages and joins in on their evil mother-in-law's plan to try to destroy them and their families.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Fellow foundlings Belle-Etoile and Chéri are brought up together as siblings, but end up falling in love and marrying.
  • Death by Childbirth: Poor Brunette passes away immediately after giving birth to her son, the not-yet-named Chéri.
  • Decomposite Character: There being no Chéri equivalent in the source story "Ancilotto, King of Provino", his three quests were originally undertaken jointly by the young princess' two brothers (who likewise succeeded at the first two, failed at the third, and were rescued by their sister.)
  • Distressed Dude: One by one, Chéri, Petit-Soleil and Heureux are all trapped in the hall under the mountain in the process of trying to retrieve the green bird (and rescue each other), before Belle-Etoile manages to save them all.
  • Double In-Law Marriage: The king and his brother marry two sisters. Unfortunately, there is a third sister, and the king and his brother don't have a third brother for her. She marries an admiral instead and becomes jealous. (Their children, three of the king's and one of the brother's, are then abandoned together, and despite being raised as brothers and sister, the king's daughter and the brother's son manage to fall in love and end up married.)
  • Even Evil Has Standards: A downplayed example. Feintise, Queen Blondine's lady-in-waiting, is in cahoots with the treacherous plan to ruin the Queen; ordered by the queen mother to murder the four children, she is on the point of carrying out the order when she is struck by their beauty and the stars on their foreheads and can't go through with it, so instead, she sends them all out to sea in a boat, giving them a very limited chance of survival. Thankfully, they are under the protection of the good fairy.
  • Evil Aunt: Roussette hates her sisters, and joins in on the evil plot to have their children eliminated.
  • Evil Matriarch: The heroine's paternal grandmother conspires to get rid of her grandchildren because she does not approve of her sons' wives. Averted with Belle-Etoile's maternal grandmother, who is accepting of her daughters' husbands and is happy to be reunited with her grandchildren.
  • Evil Redhead: Roussette is one of the villainesses of the story. It can be inferred that she is a redhead, given that the three sisters are all named after hair colours (the other two being Brunette and Blondine).
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: The evil queen mother, along with Roussette and the maid Feintise, are locked up and bitten by dogs.
  • Foil: Belle-Etoile's two grandmothers are this to each other. Blondine's mother is an impoverished princess who is kind and generous to others and loves her daughters and grandchildren dearly; the King's mother is a wealthy Evil Matriarch who resents her sons' marriages and tries to have all her grandchildren killed.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Queen Blondine is a kind and loving woman, and is (if her name is anything to go by) blonde-haired.
  • Karmic Jackpot: The mother of the three sisters kindly feeds and entertains a beggar woman. This woman is a fairy in disguise, who returns the favour by bringing about the prosperous marriages of the mother's three daughters and the protection of her four grandchildren.
  • Kissing Cousins: Belle-Etoile and Chéri are double cousins, because their fathers are brothers and their mothers are sisters.
  • Living MacGuffin: The last object of the children's quest is the omniscient Green Bird.
  • Meaningful Name: Every named character has one:
    • Blondine, Brunette and Roussette are all named after their hair colours.
    • Blondine's children are called Petit-Soleil ("little sun"), Belle-Etoile ("beautiful star") and Heureux ("happy"). All of them are beautiful in appearance and disposition, and have stars on their foreheads.
    • Brunette's equally handsome son Chéri ("darling") is Belle-Etoile's sweetheart who ends up marrying her.
    • The maid who carries out the Queen mother's evil plot is called Feintise ("feint" or "pretense").
  • Merciful Minion: The Queen mother orders Blondine's maid Feintise to kill the four children, but she secretly sends them away instead. The "merciful" part is downplayed in that Feintise is right on the point of killing them and only demurs because she is struck by their beauty.
  • No Name Given: Neither the King, nor his brother, nor either of the title character's grandmothers are ever referred to by name.
  • Not Blood Siblings: The titular heroine is found with her two brothers and her cousin as a baby and they are all raised by the same couple. Princess Belle-Etoile and her cousin fall in love and find it very strange that she doesn't react to him the way she does to her brothers. Then, after learning that they are foundlings, they discover that the two of them are not siblings but cousins (albeit double first cousins), and marry.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Played straight with the King's mother (Belle-Etoile's paternal grandmother), but averted with the princess who is Roussette, Brunette, and Blondine's mother (Belle-Etoile's maternal grandmother). The former hates her sons' wives and concocts a plan to get rid of her grandchildren. After Brunette dies and the grandchildren are abandoned, she tries to force the king to end his marriage to Blondine. The queen mother, Roussette, and their maid Feintise are punished at the end by being locked in a dungeon and bitten by dogs, while Blondine's mother survives and is reunited with her youngest daughter and grandchildren.
  • Offing the Offspring: The queen mother tries to have all her grandchildren killed, due to her resentment of her sons' marriages and hatred for her daughters-in-law. Thankfully, the maid doesn't have the heart to carry out this order, and secretly sends them away on a boat instead.
  • Royal Blood: Blondine, Brunette and Roussette are technically of royal blood even before the marriages of the former two, as their mother is a princess in reduced circumstances.
  • Rule of Three:
    • The impoverished princess has three daughters all named after their hair colours; the youngest, Blondine, goes on to have three children of her own.
    • Chéri succeeds in his first two quests but fails in his third, becoming trapped in the mountain.
    • Petit-Soleil and Heureux attempt to rescue Chéri but fall into the same trap, with only Belle-Etoile's rescue attempt being successful.
  • Shaped Like Itself: The three sisters are all named after their hair colours, but this trope applies especially to the brunette sister who is named Brunette.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: The eponymous character disguises herself as a man to make the journey to rescue her two brothers and her cousin from their imprisonment.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The King entrusts his wife and sister-in-law to the care of his own mother during his absence, mistakenly assuring them that she would treat them kindly and declining their request to return to their own mother instead. This directly opens the way for the villainesses to enact their evil plan against the two sisters and their children.
  • Why Waste a Wedding?: At the end of the story, the king has been convinced to remarry, but his own children appear at the wedding feast and tell how he had been deceived about his wife, Queen Blondine. He takes her back, and rather than waste the feast, repurposes it to marry his daughter Belle-Etoile to his nephew Chéri instead.
  • Youngest Child Wins: Only the youngest sister, Blondine, gets a happy ending. Her beloved middle sister Brunette dies giving birth to Chéri, and her oldest sister Roussette becomes evil out of jealousy, and is punished for her wicked deeds by being put in a dungeon, where she eventually dies.