Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Villeneuve's Beauty and the Beast: To marry or to sleep with?

One of the main questions I had going into reading the French version of Villeneuve was the issue of what Beast asks Beauty every night. Most of what I had read on the subject talked about how blatantly sexual the Villeneuve version was, and how the Beast asks to sleep with her every night, but the Jack Zipes translation* only has the Beast chastely asking Beauty to marry him.

However, throughout the French version, the verb used is "coucher," to sleep with, not marry. I was surprised at this, but I guess a lot of it could do with context. Would it be implied at the time and in Villeneuve's culture that marriage went hand in hand with a request to have sex? Could it possibly mean only the literal meaning of "sleep," without intercourse?

To quote from an older post of mine, from May 2010,
"The difference between marriage and sleeping is quite significant, although we can assume Villeneuve only meant the most innocent form of sleeping. The night of Beauty's acceptance of the Beast's offer, from Dowson's translation:

"However slight was Beauty's impatience to find herself by the side of her most singular mate, she nevertheless got into bed. The lights went out immediately. Beauty could not help fearing that the enormous weight of the Beast's body would crush the bed. She was agreeably astonished to find that the monster placed himself at her side with as much ease and agility as she had herself sprung into bed. Her surprise was even greater still on hearing him begin to snore forthwith; presently his silence convinced her that he was in a profound sleep."

A striking contrast to Jack Zipes' translation. After the fireworks display ends: "the Beast took his leave, and Beauty retired to rest. No sooner was she asleep than her dear Unknown [the Beast in Prince form, who visits her each night in her dreams] paid her his customary visit."

This is not just difference in how to translate a certain word or phrase. Either Dowson invented several lines about the Beast sleeping on the same bed as Beauty, or Zipes invented the part about the Beast taking his leave and just left the rest out.

So here's what the French actually reads:

"Ce charmant spectacle ayant suffisamment dure, la Bete temoigna a sa nouvelle epouse qu'il etait temps de se mettre au lit. Quelque peu d'impatience qu'eut la Belle de se trouver aupres de cet epoux singulier, elle se coucha. Les lumieres s'eteignirent a l'instant. La Bete, s'approchant, fit apprehender a la Belle que de poids de son corps elle n'ecrasat leur couche. Mais elle fut agreablement etonnee en sentant que ce monstre se mattait a ses cotes aussi legerement qu'elle venait dele faire. Sa surprise fut bien plus grande, quand elle l'entendit ronfler presque aussitot, et que par sa tranquillite, elle eut une preuve certaine qu'il dormait d'un profond sommeil."

And here's a (very) bad online translation, which you can see is very close to the Dowson*, NOT the Zipes translation:

"This charming show having sufficiently hard, the Animal testified has its new wife that it was time to put itself at the bed. Somewhat of impatience which the Beautiful one had to be near this singular husband, it lay down. The lights died out has the moment. The Animal, approaching, made apprehend has the Beautiful one that weight of its body it ecrasat their layer. But it was agreeably etonnee by feeling that this monster was subdued has its dimensions as slightly as it had just done it. Its surprise was much larger, when she intended it to whirr almost at once, and that by her peace, she had an unquestionable proof which he slept of a deep sleep."

I was very surprised. I had assumed Zipes, a more current a respected scholar, would have a more accurate translation. However, from skimming the rest of the French, (again, remember my French is pretty poor,) most of it seemed to be very similar to the Zipes version I'm familiar with.

*To see the sources for each translation, click through to this post.

Illustrations anonymous, done for Charles Lamb's poem, from Surlalune


  1. Oy! Why didn't I find this post two months ago when I was researching this very point? Here's the exact answer to what I was looking for! Hmph. I do wish I knew French, then this would have been so much easier.
    I agree, it's suprising Zipes didn't stick with the text. I wonder why?

    1. I'm baffled myself. Unless there were two French versions, like maybe someone else took it upon themselves to "clean up" the original Villeneuve and that's what Zipes was working from?