Thursday, March 28, 2013

When Beauty Did Marry

What's so funny to me about watching Once Upon a Time is that three of my favorite things in the show were already three of my favorite things before I had seen the show: Rumpelstiltskin, Beauty and the Beast, and the Crocodile from Peter Pan. Does that mean that I'm just liking the things I already liked, or that there were deep reasons for why I liked these things that the writers took advantage of to put depth into the show?

Whatever the case, I have been re-delving into Beauty and the Beast. As far as Disney movies go, I suppose I've always liked this one in a particular way. Belle, as a brunette, is the princess who looks most like me; she also reads, like I do. A couple years ago, I watched a live-action version of the story that stays closer to the text than Disney does (if you didn't know that Belle's father is a merchant instead of an inventor, let me be the first to tell you). And I'm vastly curious if, when I was younger, I either watched another movie version or read an adapted version of the story. The reason for this is that when I was reading one of Charlotte Brontë's juvenilia (either The Green Dwarf or The Foundling), there was a scene that felt very familiar. Turns out, it echoes parts of the Beauty and the Beast story. What? It could just be a basic fantasy element that many people have used, or it could be that Charlotte read Beauty and the Beast in one form or another. Given my recent post comparing the story to Jane Eyre, I am vastly curious about how familiar Charlotte would have been with Beauty and the Beast.

Anyway, I guess you can say that Beauty and the Beast is part of something sitting deep in the shelves of my mind. Because I don't actually remember reading the story, I went on Amazon and purchased (for a dollar) the Kindle edition (to read on my laptop) of Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve's 1740 version. I thought this would be the closest I could get to "the original" since fairy tales don't really have originals, anyway. But after finishing, I was reading on Wikipedia about the differences in Villeneuve's story and the version adapted from it; it began to seem that I had in fact read the adapted version, not the full one. Amazon, did you trick me even though I paid you a dollar instead of looking for a free version?

So I may still be missing parts of the story (although the Kindle copy did include a few illustrations from different artists at the end that were interesting to look at). And I'm finding difficulty tracking down the specific text I want to read--and there I was thinking the Internet had everything.

But I do want to comment on a couple of things I noticed. Especially considering the Disney version, it is easy to see this story as commenting on the difference between outer and inner selves. And it does have that theme. But it's also social and semi-political, especially considering that Villeneuve was writing close to the time of the Blue Stockings. The fact that Belle's father (although the English translation calls her Beauty, I'm used to calling her Belle) is a merchant is big. Not only does this place the family in a specific class, but it also contains implications of international relations.

There is quite a bit of play with social class. The family begins as rich (though not aristocratic), but then loses everything before once again gaining some of their wealth back through the Beast's gifts to them. So not only am I seeing that them of inner/outer selves, but of social selves. Who is Belle? Is she upper class? She's in the rising middle class, but what does that mean? The Beast is a prince--but he marries her. (And I realize that Belle's identity, according to Villeneuve's story, is also revealed as royal in the end.) So we also have the theme of apparent social class not fully describing who a person is. This concept, I suppose, isn't so different from Sleeping Beauty or King Arthur (although both those cases are more about poverty being unable to hide true royal blood).

And then there's the inevitable marriage question. Whether or not the story means for marriage to be a good thing, well, that could take some time to answer. Especially, once again, given the type of literature that was being written around the mid-1700's.

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