Of all the iterations of this classic fable, very few actually deal with the fact that the poor girl, Beauty, is forced into servitude to the Beast by of all people, her own father. Most retellings focus on the Beast as a tragic hero, who needs the love of a good, kind, pure soul to break the evil witch’s dastardly spell, and turn him into the handsome prince he was, once upon a time.
That’s all very well and good. It is after all the version that we in civilized society prefer. When you really think about it though, this is just as much if not more, the tragic tale of a young girl who is forced by her father to become the captive of a terrifying monster.
In the original tale, our poor Beauty has no choice in the matter. Her father offers up his daughter to the beast in order to save his own life. Think about that for a minute, and then just imagine the kind of daddy issues you’d have for the rest of your natural-born life.
This fairy tale shows in no uncertain terms, that in days of yore women were seen as chattel to be bartered and sold as the situation warranted. Poor beauty is raised, as were all women, to know that they were second-class citizens. She has no choice in anything to do with her own life, so when she finds out that she is to be given to the Beast in exchange for her father’s life, she accepts her fate. Imagine the uproar if one of her brothers was told he had to go and live with a hideous witch who has supreme control over all that he does? And yes, in the original story, Beauty has brothers.
Yes, the Beast is a melancholy man, who was transformed from a handsome prince into a hideous creature by a vengeful witch, but it does not give him the right to imprison a young, innocent girl. Somehow, in all the retellings down through the ages, this part of the story is glossed over, in favor of the more popular love story that emerges between these two tragic figures.
Beauty and the Beast is rife with dark overtones. She is a woman, and therefore has no control over her own life. She is imprisoned in a castle by a monstrous creature who, nightly, asks her to marry him. She has to live with the hand she’s dealt, because that is what she is supposed to do. By degrees, and by virtue of the situation she is placed in, she begins to fall in love with the Beast. Would this have happened had she been given a choice: stay or leave? In the original version, would Beauty have stayed or returned home? Was her life in the castle better with just the Beast for company, or would she have returned home to be mistreated by her wicked stepsisters? And yes, in the original, she had those, too.
Given the circumstances, Beauty may have chosen to stay in the castle with the Beast as her only companion. She wanted for nothing, was given beautiful clothes, meals fit for royalty, and the run of the castle. She no longer needed to work her fingers to the bone for her family. But that isn’t the point, is it? The point is that she was not given the option to begin with.
As a woman in a world controlled by men, Beauty did as she was told. It may very well be that because she so graciously accepted her lot in life, she was well rewarded with her handsome prince, and could in fact live happily ever after.
Lorraine writes as Lorraine Sharma Nelson. Her story, “Beauty and the Beast: The Beast Within” appears in the upcoming anthology, After the Happily Ever After, 12/15, from Transmundane Press.
Photo source: “Beauty and the Beast” (c) MiroBudis