Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How the Beast became a Beast, according to Villeneuve

Quick recap: Madame de Villeneuve's story of Beauty and the Beast is the closest we have to any sort of "original" or "authoritative" version, published in France in 1740. In it she provides extensive descriptions of what Beauty does each day in the castle, as well as backstories for both the Beast and Beauty. I'm taking these details from Jack Zipes' translation.

The Prince was raised by his widowed mother and her friend, a fairy, who could be controlling and manipulative. When an invading army forced his mother to lead the troops to battle, the Prince was left with the fairy. She educated him, but one day left him for a while. When she returned, she realized he had grown quite attractive. She gave him romantic attentions, of which he was oblivious for a while, until she made known her aims, fully expecting joy and gratitude at the proposal. The Prince was young and had no desire to marry an old, ugly, and haughty fairy, but feared her ill will. He begged to wait until he could obtain his mother's permission.
Thomas Blackshear II

They travelled to the battlefield where his mother was fighting. The Prince led his people to victory, and afterwards the fairy told the Queen of her proposal. The Queen was shocked, and the Prince refused the offer. The fairy was enraged and could not comprehend why anyone would be insulted to have her as a lover. The Queen, unwisely, suggested that the fairy "Look at the people reflected by this mirror without any bias...and it will speak for me." The fairy took this to mean that the queen was vain because of her son's beauty. She gave the Prince a blow on the head, and when he tried to get up, the weight of his body was unusually heavy and he could not lift himself-he had been transformed. The fairy also added, "and since intelligence isn't necessary when one is so handsome, I command you to seem as stupid as you are hideous."

The conditions for breaking the spell are set: only when a beautiful girl comes to seek him of her own will, though convinced he would devour her, and later agree to marry him, could the spell be broken.
Eleanor Davis

The Queen is forbidden to reveal the Beast's true identity to anyone. The Queen's pleading has no effect on the fairy, who leaves after mocking the Beast's condition ("You won't have long to wait, for such a darling will undoubtedly soon find a way to remedy his misfortune"). The Queen and son are on the verge of committing suicide when another fairy appears to them, chiding them for their cowardice and assuring them that "there is no evil that cannot be overcome with time and courage." She promises she will do all in her power to find the woman who can break the spell. To avoid scandal, or someone betraying the conditions of the spell, she transformed all the living beings in the castle into a statue and surrounded the castle with thick fog so that only appointed guests could find the castle (rather like the sleeping people and thorns that protect the castle in Sleeping Beauty).

The Queen was sent to a different castle, and the good fairy provided the Beast with entertainments before leaving to work on his behalf.
Walter Crane

The fairy comes and goes with news of the Prince's mother, and one day tells him of a coming traveler, whose daughter the fairy planned to have break the spell. In order for the terms of the counterspell to be followed correctly, the fairy instructs the beast to threaten the father with his life unless one of his daughters comes in his place. This he does, and the rest is history.

Random-but click here to get non-Disney BatB coloring pages


  1. So... the rose thing was pretty much the excuse he grab on to make Beauty's father bring her to the castle.
    Any other thing would have do just the same?

    1. Without referring back to the text, yes, I believe that as far as the Beast is concerned, the rose had no actual significance other than being a tool to help fulfill the conditions of the spell. It was a very complicated spell though so there may have been more details I didn't include in this summary...