What You Don’t Know About Beauty and the Beast:
Some backstory: due to this little discussion, I was considering writing a continuation/expansion of Beauty and the Beast. I read up on it and found out everything I thought I knew about it was wrong.
-It was created by one, singular, female author in 1740: Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve
-It is not a retelling of a pervasive folklore like Perrault’s Cinderella, for example. It was influenced by folklore but is an original story and is very “post” the fairy tales you might be familiar with. The story is also influenced by women who gathered together and told each other revisions of fairy tales in Parisian salons.
-It’s over 100 pages long
-Though written simply and in a straightforward manner, the characters have personalities and are much more complex in their emotions than a normal folkloric tale. They behave in a diverse and fairly realistic manner to their situations. The Beast’s mother in particular is a complex woman, protective of her son and a capable military leader but not progressive in her attitude towards marrying below your station.
-Women are overwhelmingly the masters of the plot and outnumber the men in number and priority.
Female players include:
A nice Fairy
A jerk Fairy (called Mother of the Seasons)
The Queen of the Fairies
A Fairy-who-is-a-Queen (these are different)
A Queen/the Beast’s mother
Belle’s shallow (though fairly realistically so) sisters who are treated as a collective
-It contains considerable world-building. Fairy language, Fairy law, Fairy influence over monarchies, Fairy hierarchy, Fairy magic are all things she depicts. (eat your heart out, Tolkien fans).
-The curse is broken halfway through the book. The rest is devoted to comments on class, monarchy, marrying for love vs. status, appropriate conditions for love, and marrying below your station among other things.
-The Beast is cursed to punish his mother.
-The book’s plot turns out to be entirely due to the machinations of The Mother of the Seasons and the long-game trap/revenge story orchestrated by the Nice Fairy to defeat The Mother of the Seasons Fairy.
-The book takes place in a specific time period rather than in a nebulous “before-time”, somewhere, as I figure, between 1669 to the early 1700s. It might even be contemporaneous to when it was published. It references the age piracy, revolutions, the merchant class, the presence of slavery, Belle watching comedies, operas, and plays the Fair of St. Germain, and a Janissary battle.
-The Beast’s Queen mother led troops into battle for several years, put down a revolt and defeated an encroaching enemy monarch.
And this is only a partial list.
If you’d like to read the original version by Madame de Villeneuve, it’s collected in a book by J. R. Blanche.
It’s available for free:
Archive.org (they don’t mention her name in the author list but it’s there)
I’ve uploaded a PDF of the Beauty and the Beast part on Google Drive.
One minor note - the Mother of the Seasons is not the same fairy who curses the Prince into a Beast. The Mother of the Seasons is the one who curses baby Beauty to someday marry a beast. The good fairy figures out a way to solve both the Mother of the Season’s curse and the other wicked fairy’s curse by getting Beauty and the Beast together.
I absolutely love the way Villeneuve’s story comments on class and how it connects to marriage. Almost no one is precisely who they seem, and the difference in rank between the various couples is constantly going topsy-turvy.