Beauty and the Beast, A Fairy Tale:
Once upon a time, there was a wealthy widower merchant who lived in a mansion with his twelve children (six sons and six daughters). All of his daughters were very beautiful, but the youngest, Beauty, was the most lovely and virtuous. The family suffered a downfall when the merchant’s fleet was robbed leaving the family with only a small cottage isolated in the countryside. After a year, news arrived of a surviving ship. The merchant decided to journey to investigate and with hopes of a renewed fortune, each of the daughters asked for expensive gifts of jewels or dresses with the exception of Beauty, who after prompting, only asked for a Rose.
The journey was fruitless, as the merchant found that his ship’s cargo had been seized to pay his debts, leaving him penniless, but on his way back, the merchant was caught in a terrible storm. Seeking shelter, he came upon a mysterious palace with a beautiful flower garden. The merchant quickly plucked the loveliest rose he could find, and was then confronted by a hideous “Beast” who warned him that theft is a charge punishable by death. Realizing his deadly mistake, the merchant begged for forgiveness, revealing that he had only picked the rose as a gift for his youngest daughter. After listening to his story, the Beast reluctantly agreed to let him give the rose to Beauty, but only if the merchant brought Beauty to him in his place. To release her father from the engagement, Beauty volunteered to go to the Beast willingly, and her father reluctantly allowed her to go.
For a month, Beauty lived a life of luxury at the Beast’s palace with no end to riches or amusements and an endless supply of exquisite finery to wear. After lengthy conversation, she came to know the Beast and found him kind and generous. Homesick, she begged the Beast to allow her to visit her family again. He allowed it on the condition that she return after exactly two months. Beauty agreed and was presented with an enchanted ring to bring her back to the Beast when the two months were up. Her family did not want her to return and plotted to keep her at the cottage beyond the deadline, but on the last night, Beauty dreamt that the Beast lay dead in his quarters. She was bereft at the thought and used her ring to immediately return to the Beast. Her love restored him and broke an evil spell transforming the Beast into a handsome prince. They married and lived happily ever after.
Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve is the original author of the tale La Belle et la Bête, found in her La jeune américaine, et les contes marins in 1740, and it is the oldest known modern variant of the fairy tale we recognize as Beauty and the Beast. The tale is novel length (362 pages long), and influenced by the style of seventeenth-century novels, containing many subplots or intercalated stories, most notably the histories of Beauty and the Beast. It was published for adult readers and addressed issues of concern to women of her day. Chief among these was a critique of a marriage system in which women had few legal rights — no right to chose their own husband, no right to refuse the marriage bed, no right to control their own property, and no right of divorce. Often the brides were fourteen or fifteen years old, given to men who were decades older. Unsatisfactory wives risked being locked up in mental institutions or distant convents. Women fairy tale writers of the 17th & 18th centuries were often sharply critical of such practices, promoting the ideas of love, fidelity, and civilité between the sexes. Their tales reflected the realities they lived with, and their dreams of a better way of life. Their Animal Bridegroom stories, in particularly, embodied the real–life fears of women who could be promised to total strangers in marriage, and who did not know if they’d find a beast or a lover in their marriage bed.
As the story begins, Beauty’s destiny lies in the hands of her father, who gives her over to the Beast (to save his own life) and thus seals her fate. The Beast is a truly fierce figure, not a gentle soul disguised by fur — a creature lost to the human world that had once been his by birthright. The emphasis of this tale is on the transformation of the Beast, who must find his way back to the human sphere. He is a genuine monster, eventually reclaimed by civilité, magic, and love — and it is only then that Beauty can truly love him. In this story, the final transformation does not occur until after Beauty weds her Beast, waking up in her marriage bed to find a human Prince beside her. – Excerpt from Terri Windling for the JoMA Archives
Sixteen years later; after her death, Villeneuve’s tale was abridged, rewritten, and published by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756 in her Magasin des enfants to teach young English girls a moral lesson. In her widely popular publication, she gave no credit to Villeneuve as the author of La Belle et la Bête and thus Leprince de Beaumont is often referred to as the author of this famous fairytale. Her shortened version is the one most commonly known today.
Mme Leprince de Beaumont, a French woman working as a governess in England, shortened Villeneuve’s story and published this new version in a magazine for well–bred young ladies. She tailored her version for her audience, toning down its sensual imagery and implicit critique of forced marriages. She also pared away much unnecessary fat — the twisting subplots beloved by Villeneuve — to end up with a tale that was less adult and subversive, but also more direct and memorable. In the Leprince de Beaumont version (and subsequent retellings) the story becomes a more didactic one. The emphasis shifts from the Beast’s need for transformation to the need of the heroine to change — she must learn to see beyond appearance and recognize the good man in the Beast. With this shift, we see the story altered from one of critique and rebellion to one of moral edification, aimed at younger and younger readers, as fairy tales slowly moved from adult salons to children’s nurseries. By the 19th century, the Beast’s monstrous shape is only a kind of costume that he wears — he poses no genuine danger or sexual threat to Beauty in these children’s stories.
Early in the 19th century, the proliferation of printing presses caused the de Beaumont version of Beauty and the Beast to be widely disseminated in chapbook and pamphlet editions, often with credit attached to neither de Beaumont nor de Villeneuve. Betsy Hearne, in her fascinating study of the tale (Beauty and the Beast, published by the Chicago University Press in 1989), points out that in this period the story took on certain 19th–century trappings absent from previous retellings. In the 1843 poetic version attributed to Charles Lamb, as well as in the sumptuously illustrated Victorian editions that followed, the idea of fate (a metaphysical obsession of the period) is introduced. Beauty’s actions, such as going to the Beast’s castle in her father’s stead, are not simply attributed to either blind obedience (de Villeneuve) or honor (de Beaumont), but to the heroine’s acceptance of the predestined fate that lies before her. – Excerpt from Terri Windling for the JoMA Archives
Andrew Lang, a collector of folk and fairy tales was the next to publish the piece, in his Blue Fairy Book, the first volume of his Fairy Book series in 1889. The first edition consisted of 5,000 copies, which sold for 6 shillings each. The book assembled a wide range of tales, with seven from the Brothers Grimm, five from Madame d’Aulnoy, three from the Arabian Nights, and four Norwegian fairytales, among other sources. It was influenced by Ancient Greek stories such as “Cupid and Psyche” from The Golden Ass, written by Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis in the 2nd century AD, and The Pig King, an Italian fairytale published by Giovanni Francesco Straparola in The Facetious Nights of Straparola around 1550. – Lang’s Fairy Books. (2021 14 February). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lang%27s_Fairy_Books
The Brothers Grimm
The Brothers Grimm originally collected a variant of the story, titled The Summer and Winter Garden (Von dem Sommer- und Wintergarten). Here, the youngest daughter asks for a rose in the winter, so the father only finds one a garden that is half eternal winter and half eternal summer. After making a deal with the beast, the father does not tell her daughters anything. Eight days later, the beast appears in the merchant’s house and takes his youngest daughter away. When the heroine returns home, her father is ill. She cannot save him, and he dies. The heroine stays longer for her father’s funeral, and when she finally returns, she finds the beast lying beneath a heap of cabbages. After the daughter revives the beast by pouring water over him, he turns into a handsome prince. The tale appeared in Brothers Grimm’s collection’s first edition, in 1812, but because the tale was too similar to its French counterpart, they omitted it in the next editions. – Beauty and the Beast (2021 18 March). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beauty_and_the_Beast
Eleanor Vere Boyle
In 1875, Eleanor created a retelling and illustration of the well-known story Beauty and the Beast. This work includes ten full color images. She is praised most for her unique take on the Beast. While this story has been illustrated many times, Eleanor Vere Boyle’s version seems to be the first and only to be reminiscent of a sea-creature with walrus-like tusks and flippers. This is highly different from the usual humanistic portrayal. Eleanor veers away from all normalities of the character, lacking an upright position, human facial features and clothes. – Eleanor Vere Boyle (2021 28 January). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleanor_Vere_Boyle
Walter Crane was a British artist and book illustrator. He is considered to be the most influential, and among the most prolific, children’s book creators of his generation and, along with Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway, one of the strongest contributors to the child’s nursery motif that the genre of English children’s illustrated literature would exhibit in its developmental stages in the later 19th century.
Crane’s work featured some of the more colourful and detailed beginnings of the child-in-the-garden motifs that would characterize many nursery rhymes and children’s stories for decades to come. He was part of the Arts and Crafts movement and produced an array of paintings, illustrations, children’s books, ceramic tiles and other decorative arts. – Walter Crane. (2021 05 March). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Crane
Edmund Dulac was a French British naturalised magazine illustrator, book illustrator and stamp designer. Born in Toulouse he studied law but later turned to the study of art at the École des Beaux-Arts. He moved to London early in the 20th century and in 1905 received his first commission to illustrate the novels of the Brontë Sisters. Settling in London’s Holland Park, the 22-year-old Frenchman was commissioned by the publisher J. M. Dent to illustrate Jane Eyre and nine other volumes of works by the Brontë sisters. He then became a regular contributor to The Pall Mall Magazine, and joined the London Sketch Club, which introduced him to the foremost book and magazine illustrators of the day. During World War I, Dulac produced relief books and when after the war the deluxe children’s book market shrank he turned to magazine illustrations among other ventures. He designed banknotes during World War II and postage stamps, most notably those that heralded the beginning of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. – Edmund Dulac. (2021 21 March). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Dulac
Henry J. Ford
Henry Justice Ford was a prolific and successful English artist and illustrator, active from 1886 through to the late 1920s. Sometimes known as H. J. Ford or Henry J. Ford, he came to public attention when he provided the numerous beautiful illustrations for Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books, which captured the imagination of a generation of British children and were sold worldwide in the 1880s and 1890s. – Henry Justice Ford. (2020 26 November). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Justice_Ford
Long form articles:
Published by Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. (2013)
Walter Crane: The Arts and Crafts, Painting, and Politics (The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art)
Published by Yale University Press/Paul Mellon Centre, New Haven (2011)
Published by CreateSpace 2010-02-04 (2010)
Published by Dover Publications (2011)
Maidens, Monsters and Heroes: The Fantasy Illustrations of H. J. Ford (Dover Fine Art, History of Art)
Ford, H. J.
Published by Dover Publications (2010)