Sunday, February 14, 2016

Roses in Fairy Tales: Beauty's Request

Roses are often associated with "Beauty and the Beast," whether people are familiar with the tales in which Beauty requests a rose from her father which he finds in the Beast's garden, or the Disney one that signals the end of the period in which the Beast's curse can be ended. People have found different meanings in the classic fairy tale's rose; it is generally thought to represent Beauty's character, since she appreciates nature and is not vain and materialistic like her sisters. Yet it's ironic, because the dresses and jewelry her sisters request are actually practical and will last a long time; flowers, especially roses, are beautiful for a few days and then fade.

Bowley's Beauty and the BeastI've even seen it argued that Beauty's request for a rose in the middle of winter means that she is giving her father an impossible request, but in the Villeneuve version it's made clear that her request is made in the summer and her father was simply on a very long journey. ( Yet, in the Italian "Zelinda and the Monster," the request is made in January, and the other sisters' requests were easily found, so it seemed this Beauty was more demanding and less practical).

It's also interesting to look at folktale versions of BATB from around the world in Surlalune's collection. Some stories don't even have the episode with the request.

In some, Beauty's request is there to emphasize her wisdom and restraint. Like Villeneuve, who tells us that Beauty realized her father may not be left with much money after paying off his debts, Beauty requests something she thinks will be cheap and easy to find; the heroine in an Italian version states, "this is not the time to spend money, and I love flowers." In most versions, Beauty initially requests nothing, saying she only wants her father to come back safely and/or in good health; but he presses her, for he wants to get her something. In the Italian "Bellindia," both the father and her sisters think her foolish for only requesting a rose tree. In this tale, it seems that money really is no longer a problem, and Bellindia could have had anything she wanted-her father later feels "no inclination to comply with Bellindia's wish."

Bowley's Beauty and the BeastSuch a request, naturally, makes her sister jealous, and later on when the Beast demands their father's life, the sisters bring it back to Beauty, claiming that her request was made only to set herself apart and now put her father's life in danger. Although they're being unfair, given the nature of sibling relationships, I would suspect there was at least a tiny bit of Beauty that found satisfaction in being a "better person" than her sisters...

Some Beauties don't ask for roses, although the majority of them do. In the Spanish "Lily and the Bear", the youngest daughter asks for a lily, saying, "We have many roses in our garden but I have never had a lily." (Interestingly, her eldest sister asks for a rose-colored dress).

In the Portuguese "Maiden and the Beast," this daughter is so emphatic that her father not buy her anything, she asks for that which does not exist-"a slice of roach off a green meadow" (?)-yet the supernatural beast is able to provide her father with...whatever that order to demand that she be brought to him. In most versions, it's really the Beast who manipulates an innocent request into getting a potential date-although to be fair, he's pretty short on options. (The Villeneuve once again explains this away, and we are told that being threatened with her life before coming is the only way a woman can actually break the Beast's spell. It's a pretty complex curse.)

Whatever we may read into Beauty's request, it's usually essential to the story to simply bring her and the Beast together at some point. It shows that Beauty is different from her sisters and connects her to the Beast.

Illustrations by A. L. Bowley


  1. This is really interesting! I noticed a lot of versions do have Beauty asking for a rose or flower during the winter. I always thought it was because since she insists on not receiving anything, she makes her request impossible to fulfill so that she won't in fact receive anything; like she didn't actually expect her father to find a rose at all. Kind of like what you were saying with "a slice of roach off a green meadow." I don't even know what that is. I read a version where she asked for a"clicking, clanking lowesleaf." I couldn't figure out what that was either.

    1. Yeah, to me "slice of roach" makes me picture a slice of a cockroach, which is pretty gross. I like the "clicking, clanking lowesleaf"! It's humorous with a bit of mystery to it

  2. I had always thought Beauty's request for a rose was about her appreciating the simple pleasures, but I guess I was not taking the season into account. It's also similar to Aschenputtel, asking her father to bring her the first branch that strikes his hat on the way home. It's a simple request, but she makes awfully good use of it.

    1. I do think most authors, when doing retellings of BATB, clearly have that interpretation in mind that Beauty appreciates natural/simple things, and it's a very valid reading-even arguable more applicable now that our world is filled with technology than it was years ago! And that "special request" scene pops up in different fairy tales, like Aschenputtel as you point out, in order to really look into the meanings I'd have to look at the function in other stories too. Cinderella seems to ask with a specific purpose-like she knew it would grow into a tree with her mother's spirit- so it alters the interpretation a bit. Thanks for pointing that out, I wasn't even thinking of it within other contexts!