Beauty dines with the Beast in an illustration by Anne Anderson (Photo credit: Wikipedia
My last two posts were an analysis of a fable by Jean de La Fontaine, “L’Ours et l’amateur des jardins,” “The Bear and the Gardener.” The corresponding fable by Æsop is entitled “The Bald Man and the Fly,” but the fable reflects Le Livre des lumières ou La Conduite des roys, fables by Bidpai.
You may remember that I could not find the fable’s Perry Index number. I simply forgot that Aesop’s corresponding fable was entitled “The Bald Man and the Fly.” It is numbered 525 in the Perry Index. For information on fables,Laura Gibbs’Bestiaria Latinais the site one visits. Æsop and his numerous followers are Laura’s area of specialization.
Animals in Literature: a Project
This post is a progress report. Several years ago, I had to prepare a course on animals in literature during a sabbatical leave I was devoting to my book on Molière. I taught the course and have continue researching the subject, but the effort ended my career.
However, I have written so many posts on Animals in Literature that they should be listed on a page. There are gaps to fill. As for the texts, many are on the internet, such as the collections of fables I listed on 2 March 2017. Would that there had been an entry on Beast Literature or Animals in Literature, when I prepared my course.
Fables and Fairy Tales: Anthropomorphism and Metamorphoses
Our starting-point will be a clarification of the concept of anthropomorphism. Animals in literature are human beings in disguise. I have already written a post on this subject, but it has been refurbished. But metamorphoses, many of which were told by Roman poet Ovid, are also central to both fables and fairy tales. Ovid’s Metamorphoses has been the source of a large number of literary works.
Beauty and the Beast is my favourite fairy tale because beast is transformed into a prince by a beautiful woman who sees beauty beneath a beastly form. Being recognized as handsome and being loved by a woman despite his monstrous appearance is the only way Beast can escape the curse that has turned him into a truly ugly animal.
As the story goes, during a snowy night, Beauty’s father, an impoverished trader, gets lost in a forest where, to his astonishment, he finds a castle. It is a beautiful castle. On the table, there is a meal and logs are burning in a fireplace. Moreover, a bed awaits him in a lovely room and, upon waking, Beauty’s father finds clean clothes and a good breakfast. Obviously, the trader’s host is a generous person.
However, after meeting Beast, matters change. The former trader’s horse is saddled and awaits the lost father, but he picks up a rose for his daughter, as she has asked. Beast is furious and tells Beauty’s father to return three months later, when he will kill him. The father is also told that if he does not come back, one of his three daughters will die in his place. Yet, Beast gives him a trunk filled with gold, which is surprising.
This is a fairy tale, so the number three is used again. The trader lives on a little farm and has three daughters and three sons. Beauty is the youngest and the most beautiful of the three daughters. Unlike her jealous sisters, she is also kind and compassionate.
When three months have elapsed, the trader is ready to return to the castle and die, but Beauty manages to convince her father to let her go in his place.
Beast does not kill Beauty upon her arrival at the castle. In fact, she finds that he has given her an apartment: “Beauty’s apartment.” This is also surprising. The apartment contains many books and a grand piano. At night, she and Beast have supper together and, after a while, he starts asking her to marry him. But she keeps refusing.
One day, her mirror tells her that her father is ill. She asks Beast to let her visit with her ailing father. She promises to return. Beast, who was supposed to kill her, is devastated, but he lets her go and provides her with a ring that will allow her to find herself in the castle the morning after she puts it on. There is magic in this fairy tale, as is usually the case.
Beauty is away from the castle for more than a week, so when she returns, Beast is dying. She asks him to live and tells him she loves him and will marry him. She unknowingly lifts the curse that has transformed a prince into Beast. Beast is again a beautiful prince.
According to the Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales (pp. 45-49), this tale is related, in plot, to Apuleius’s c. 125 – c. 180) “Cupid and Psyche,” an inner fable within Apuleius Golden Ass, the outer fable. In motif, it is also related to the ancient Pañchatantra tale “The Girl who Married a Snake.” So now you know why I blogged on “Cupid and Psyche.” Versions of this fairy tale were also written by Straparola (c. 1480 – c. 1557) and Basile (c. 1575 – 23 February 1632), whom you know.
In 1946, Jean Cocteau (5 July 1889 – 11 October 1963), a poet, novelist, playwright, etc. made a film based on Beautyand the Beast. Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête is still considered one of the finest films in its genre, fantasy. Beauty and the Beast is a film produced in 2017.