Special Edition: The Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve

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Welcome back to Fairy Tale Friday!  Today’s post is a special edition.  Instead of looking at a retelling, we’ll be looking at the original tale.  This also means the format is going to be a bit different.  There will only be two sections instead of three: My Thoughts and Other Reading Recommendations.  So let’s dive into Villeneuve’s full version of The Beauty and the Beast!

My Rating: 4 stars

Warning: Contains spoilers

My Thoughts:

This is my first time reading the full version of this fairy tale.  People are generally more familiar with the one adapted for children by Madame Jeanne Leprince de Beaumont.  Even the version attributed to Villeneuve in Andrew Lang’s The Blue Fairy Book is more a mix of the original and Beaumont’s version.  Villeneuve’s story is actually novella length and consists of nine chapters.  Six of those chapters contain the story that we all know and love.  The remaining three provide backstory and plot points left out of the abridged versions.

Villeneuve opens with the set up we’ve all come to know: a rich merchant loses his fortune and has to move his family to a house in the country.  The only thing different from some of the versions we’re more familiar with is the number of children the merchant has.  In this original incarnation, he has six daughters and six sons.  Beaumont pared down the number to three of each, and most retellings I’ve read cut the sons completely.  It ultimately doesn’t make much of a difference to the story, but it’s interesting to note.  The role Beauty’s sisters play is also a bit different from what we might expect based on other versions.  While they are jealous and bitter toward her, they don’t really do anything about it.  However, Beaumont’s sisters actively plot against Beauty after she returns to visit them.  They plan to detain her longer than her allotted time in hopes that the Beast will be angry and kill her.  This is the version I grew up with, so I’m surprised that it’s a complete invention of Beaumont’s rather than something from the original.

Beauty’s time with the Beast is mostly the same, though it is much more detailed.  She spends a great deal of time discussing the various rooms Beauty goes to and what she finds there.  There is a room of birds, a troop of monkeys who end up waiting on Beauty, a room with windows that open to reveal various plays, and, of course, the library.  To be honest, I found that these descriptions started to drag after a while, and I can see why Beaumont and Lang chose to remove them from their adaptations.  They make for some nice illustrations in my edition, but I wanted the story to move along a bit.  However, there is one detail that I wish was included in more versions and retellings.  The Beast’s palace is filled with statues of people, and it turns out these are actually the members of his court.  They’ve been turned into statues until the spell is broken.  Is that not the creepiest thing ever?  Why is no one using this?  Someone put this in a retelling and get it to me asap!

I was a little disappointed in the actual love story between Beauty and the Beast.  Since it’s so much longer than the later versions of the story, I thought the romance might be a little more developed.  However, that’s not the case.  Beauty falls in love with him through her dreams, where he appears in his handsome, human form, referred to as the Unknown.  She isn’t aware that the Unknown and the Beast are the same person.  Her interactions with him as the Beast are extremely limited; their conversations consist of her telling him what she did with her day and him asking her to marry him.  She finds their evenings together tedious and refers to him as stupid.  I find it hard to believe that she becomes so fond of him that she finally agrees to marry him.  Then, once he is human again, we find out that it’s not actually him in her dreams at all.  It is just an image of him conjured by the fairy.  So basically she falls in love with him based on interactions that aren’t actually with him.  I know I shouldn’t have expected much since it is a fairy tale.  But considering how much time is spent on descriptions of the palace, the clothes, and all the wonderful things Beauty encounters, it would have been nice to have the relationship between the two developed more.

As I mentioned, the final few chapters are devoted to providing the backstories of both the Beast and Beauty.  I really appreciated the inclusion of the Beast’s story since most versions don’t have it.  Beaumont mentions a wicked fairy cursed him, but she doesn’t go into any details.  In Villeneuve’s version, the Beast’s father dies when he is young and his mother goes to war to protect their kingdom, leaving him in the care of a fairy.  As he gets older, the fairy decides she wants to marry him.  When both he and his mother refuse, she transforms him into the Beast.  The curse is broken not by a girl falling in love with him, as it is in most retellings, but by a girl willingly going to live with him even though she believes he will kill her and eventually agreeing to marry him.  Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy Beauty’s back story nearly as much as the Beast’s.  It turns out she is not the merchant’s daughter at all; she’s the daughter of a king and another fairy, and everyone thought she was dead.  Honestly, I started to skim at this point.  There’s a whole part about Beauty’s mother involving fairy politics, and I just didn’t care.  It felt like an unnecessary addition to make Beauty and the Beast equals in social status.  I prefer for her to be just the daughter of a merchant, and on top of that I found it dull.

Other Reading Recommendations:

This section is a little different today too.  Instead of retellings, I’m providing a list of some different variations of the fairy tale.  As usual, starred titles are ones I have read myself.

Other Variations of “Beauty and the Beast”:

About the Fairy Tale:

This review is also posted on aliteraryprincess.tumblr.com

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