La Belle et la Bête, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve

Be our guest
Be our guest
Put our service to the test
Tie your napkin ’round your neck, cherie
And we provide the …

Oh.  Sorry.  Where am I?  Oh, right, just finished “La Belle et la Bête”, a novella by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve.

Woah.  This book is not what you think.  Though it’s the inspiration for the story that inspired Disney’s “Beauty & the Beast”, de Villeneuve’s tale is very much NOT the story we all know and love.

For one.  There no talking clocks.  Or candelabras.  Or teacups.  Instead, we have monkeys who voice their thoughts through parrot friends…. at OPERAS.  These monkeys and parrots keep Belle company while she wanders the Beast’s castle alone – thinking only of the love she has for a prince who visits her in her dreams (SPOILER ALERT: It’s the beast! In his princely form! Present through FAIRY MAGIC!)

Gaston is not present – in anyway whatsoever.  His masculine cruelty is absent from de Villeneuve’s tale (or is it?).  There is no overwhelming man trying to steal a women’s “hand” because of her beauty even though she hates his guts.  There is no pitchfork scene where he manipulates the townsfolk into attacking the unsuspecting Beast for no reason at all.  There is no LeFou trying to be all big and bad to impress his “cool” friend.

Also missing… the library.  My most favorite part of Disney’s “Beauty & the Beast” is the Beast’s excitement upon sharing his library with Belle – his first act of love is to share something with her he knows she will appreciate and understand.  He has no questions, no requests, no requirements.  He just wants for his beloved to enjoy the many novels he has in his possession.  THAT is true love.

The Beast in de Villeneuve’s tale doesn’t have much time for libraries – understandably so if you can get past the good fairy’s VERY detailed descriptions of why the prince was turned Beast. Here’s the short story – an evil fairy wanted to marry the prince because he was ohsohandsome, but she was generations older than he and… he refused… THEN his mom (the queen and a warrior) declared she also thought thiswholerelationship was totally weird and vetoed the whole thing so BAM – PRINCE = BEAST.

BY THE WAY… as it turns out … Belle isn’t really the daughter of a poor man: She is a princess who the same evil fairy kidnapped as a baby then swapped her for a dying child WAY back when… and wouldn’t you know it? The evil fairy just-so-happened to have cast a spell on that child, too!  She could ONLY EVER MARRY A BEAST!

Say whaaaaa?!  What a coincidence.

So, of course… the good fairy helps Belle meet the Beast by tricking her father into picking roses and forcing the Beast to kidnap Belle through some kind of manipulation that convinced her father to let her be locked up … in a deserted castle… with a beast.. in his stead… is a good idea…

EYE-ROLL.  AmIRight??

That said…  I realize this story was more than a fairy tale to the women living in the 1700s when it was written.  Women were still considered objects owned by men.  It was the time of Enlightenment, but only men were allowed to be enlightened.   de Villeneuve’s friends were told who to marry, and to be happy with the choice because their fathers “knew best”.  The fear of being married off to someone who couldn’t care for your family, who was evil in his ways… or even who was simply unpleasant to look at – was real.  To imagine being told you might be required to leave your home upon your father’s request to live with and care for someone who was unbearable, someone who you didn’t know or love… was a real fear.

I should be grateful to have been born in the ’80s so I can appreciate all of my womanly freedoms.  Though… I might pass up some of my luxury to be able to have Mrs. Potts sing me to sleep once in a while…

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