A wealthy merchant falls into penury after his ships founder at sea. He moves his family to the countryside to live a more frugal lifestyle. His six daughters and six sons resent the loss of their comfortable life, their social engagements, and their many admirers. His youngest daughter, Beauty, is the only one to make the best of the circumstances, throwing herself into the daily upkeep of the home in order to keep the family clean and fed.
Her older sisters, who are less beautiful and less dutiful, resent her, and they mock her for contenting herself with menial work. Have you read this story before? Then, the merchant receives a welcome surprise: One of his ships, thought to be lost at sea, has come safely to harbor with its full cargo.
His children think their fortune will surely be restored. When he sets out for the city to deal with his freight, he takes with him requests from his sons and daughters for expensive clothes and other gifts. Only Beauty is hesitant to ask for a gift, and finally asks that he bring her a single red rose. Now is the story starting to sound familiar? A live-action film based on the fairy tale is hitting theaters this week. Today, Disney-fied fairy tales are most familiar to the masses in their animated forms; the originals, when revisited, can seem comparatively brutal and dark.
Still, the original fairy tale might not sound terribly familiar to readers. Unsurprisingly, her sisters serve the role of foils for Beauty.
The youngest, as she was handsomer, was also better than her sisters. The two eldest had a great deal of pride, because they were rich. They went out every day to parties of pleasure, balls, plays, concerts, and so forth, and they laughed at their youngest sister, because she spent the greatest part of her time in reading good books. Caught in a storm, he takes refuge in a mysterious castle where he meets no one, but finds food, a fire, and a bed prepared for him. In exchange for his life being spared, he agrees to return with one of his daughters.
She enjoys his sensible conversation, but every night he asks her to marry him, and she refuses. The Beast allows her to return home for a visit, but warns that if she delays her return, he will die of grief. This is where the sisters get extra vicious! Jealous of the finery Beauty wears upon her return, they overwhelm her with affection so that she will miss her deadline, assuming that the Beast will kill her and eat her in his anger.
Instead, Beauty returns late and finds the Beast dying of sadness. Seeing him on his deathbed, she realizes that she loves him and begs him to live and marry her. But this is only the beginning.
The didactic message of the story is also more heavy-handed, and more retrograde: Beauty has fallen in love with her dream prince, but the longer she stays with the Beast, as he has demanded, the more sympathetic she feels toward him. Finding him dying of grief: She regretted her conversations with the Beast, unentertaining as they had been to her, and what appeared to her extraordinary, even to discover she had so much feeling for him.
She blamed herself for not having married him, and considering she had been the cause of his death Some believe the roots go back thousands of years, and many cultures have some variety of the story. He tramples her with his hooves, killing her instead. The same happens to her younger sister.
Then he marries the virtuous youngest sister, who is kind and accepting of her new husband. At night he reveals himself as a handsome young man to her, and the couple eventually rules the kingdom together. Yes, despite the fact that he literally stabbed her two sisters to death with his hooves, the girl falls in love with him.
One night, she lights a candle to see his face, but drips hot tallow on him and wakens him. In many of these older versions, Beauty is distinguished most by her docility and selflessness. Other female characters who privilege their own desires are portrayed as spoiled and even cruel, and aside from elevating Beauty as the one deserving woman, they often serve the function of disposable vessels for male needs see: The Beast might prove his worth through devoted love, but Beauty proves hers through submerging her own passions and awarding herself to the most worthy suitor.
The message is clear: It relegated the unsympathetic, frivolous female role to a chorus of silly village girls who swoon over Gaston, rather than making a cruel sister central to the story.