It’s a tale as old as time right? Father wanders into someone else’s house, crashes for the night and then goes to steal some roses, beast comes out and say he will kill him or he can hand over one of his daughters. Said daughter turns up, is terrified of the beast, but it is ok as there is a full complement of singing and dancing cutlery and crockery. Eventually girl develops Stockholm syndrome and falls in love with the beast, who just in the nick of time gets saved from the horrible curse that he is under and gets turned back into a handsome prince so that he and the girl can live happily ever after. I mean, if you haven’t experienced this, are you really a woman living her best life?
Ok… I am being sarcastic. It is a fairly creepy tale even in the Disney context of a young girl falling for an animalistic guy that is holding her in a castle, yet it is a story that everyone loves, and you even find yourself rooting for the beast, even though he is brutish and insensitive, but changes as his love for the girl grows.
I bet not many of you knew that this tale was inspired by a real life “love” story. Petrus Gonsalvus, was a man that suffered with hypertrichosis, which means that his body and face were covered in thick dark hair. In the 1500’s he served at French court of Henry II, being taken from his home in the Canary Islands to act as amusement for the Royals. He then moved to the court of Margaret of Parma in the Netherlands. It was here that he married a lady in waiting called Catherine, although they had never met prior to the wedding, and she was unaware of his condition, this didn’t bother her and they remained married. Together they had seven children, five of which inherited the condition (2 boys and 3 girls had the fullest hair all over their faces and bodies). The family later moved to the court of Alexander Farnese, and they became of medical interest. While the family lived and acted as nobles, they were not seen as fully human and eventually the family settled in Italy. The last record of Petrus was at his grandson’s christening in 1617. One can only imagine how hard this would have been during this era, for someone with a condition that was so misunderstood, so it does stand to reason at the time that stories would be created about this unusual being.
The story was written in 1740 by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, and here is my take on the original story.
Once upon a time there was a merchant who had 3 daughter and 2 sons. They had a comfortable lifestyle and lived in the town. The 2 sons were hard working, but 2 of the 3 daughters were arrogant due to their fathers wealth. They were lazy, choosing to spend time socialising; only the youngest daughter, Belle would stay home, reading and educating herself. Many suitors would come to the merchant and request the company of Belle with the intention of asking for her hand in marriage, but she would decline every time, explaining that her sisters should be married first, and she needed to stay with her father.
One day, the merchant received word that a shipment with his trading goods had been overthrown by pirates, and all was lost. His town house would be seized to repay the money he owed people, and all his riches were tied up in this deal. The father stood in front of his children tearfully explaining that they would need to move out of their town house, to a small cottage on a farm that he owned in the country, and they would need to live a more modest lifestyle. The two eldest daughters laughed, declaring they had several suitors who would happily marry them and they would not be coming to the cottage. The brothers were disheartened but resolved to help their father, only Belle didn’t show any emotion to this, as she didn’t see the point, there was nothing that could change the situation.
As the family packed up to move, the two elder sisters went out to find husbands, only to see that once the men that they had been spending time with knew that their fortune was now non existent, they were no longer interested. Many men would have married Belle, despite her situation, but again she decided to stay with her father.
The sisters returned home, crying and wailing about their terrible misfortune, and their lament went on and on once they moved into the cottage. They would mope about the house, crying over their lost dresses and jewellery. Belle, on the other hand, took to cleaning the house and cooking. She found this very difficult at first, as this was the first time she had undertaken these tasks, but she soon managed the house in a perfectly organised manner. Her brothers and father worked on the farm to ensure that they had food, and a little harvested items that they could sell.
As time went on, the merchant received word that some of his shipment had been recovered. He decided to not tell any of his children except for Belle as she had been the most loyal. As he explained to her that he would be going to the town to reclaim his riches, he asked her if she would like anything as she had been such a faithful child. Belle responded that she wished for nothing more than a rose. Belle didn’t really like roses, but living on the farm there were so few flowers to be seen, that she felt that this would be a nice token rather than her father spending his money.
The merchant made his trip to town, but on his return was caught in a snowstorm. As he passed through the forest, his horse lost its route and they travelled deeper and deeper in. Just as he was about to give up all hope, he saw a mansion with lights shining out through the storm. As he approached the mansion, he found stables with bedding and food for his horse. The horse settled in to this comfy setting, as the merchant went to see if he could find the owners of the mansion. He found the front door open, and he wandered into a large hall with a great fire roaring within. Next to the fire was a fine armchair. The merchant called out, but no one answered. In a room just off from the hall, was a dining room, the table ladened with food. The merchant took a seat by the fire to warm up, and wait for the owner to appear. Hours past, and the merchant was hungry so he went to the dining room and ate a whole chicken and drank a few glasses of wine. Deciding he should probably try and get some sleep, and he would explain to the owner in the morning, he went upstairs, and found a beautiful bedroom, which he fell on to the bed and slept the best sleep he had ever had.
In the morning, he found clean clothes laid out for him, which he put on. Heading downstairs again, he found the dining room laid out with breakfast, to which he helped himself. Before going to fetch his horse from the stable and leave, he decided to look around to see if he could thank the owner for their hospitality. Walking through the great hall, he found a conservatory full of roses. Thinking the owner wouldn’t miss a couple he decided to take some for Belle. As he picked the flowers, a voice came booming from down the hall “you ungrateful wretch! I open my home to you and you steal my roses”. The merchant turn to be face by a large beast dressed in the clothing of a man. His face covered in hair. The merchant, stammed to explain what had happened, and how his daughter only requested a rose, but the beast was impatient. “I shall kill you, where you stand for your indiscretion!” The merchant threw himself at the beast’s feet. “Please I beg of you! I have children who will be worried about where I am, I must at least tell them what has happened and bid them farewell before you kill me”. The beast thought for a moment, and then said, “I will let you return home, and if one of your daughters chooses to come here of her own free will I will not kill you. If none of your daughters wish to come, then you must return and I will kill you”.
The merchant looked at the beast despairingly. How could he sentence one of his children to death in his place, but he haplessly agreed to his demands. The beast stopped him before he left and said “as you will need to leave something for your children, you may go to the bedroom you stayed in, fill the trunk that is in there with anything you want from the room, and it will be delivered to your house”. The merchant did as he was told. Filling the trunk with all manner of gold ornaments and beautiful clothing.
The merchant returned home, and greeted by his children, he presented the rose to Belle, and started crying. As he explained what had happened, his eldest daughters were elated that they no longer had to live in the countryside, but refused to go to the mansion. Belle on the other hand said that she would take his place. The merchant begged her not to go, but she declared that he was her father and she would do what was necessary to protect him.
As promised the truck of riches turned up, and the eldest daughters danced around with glee at all the finery that was contained within it. Belle however just prepared to leave to meet her fate with the beast.
As Belle arrived at the mansion, she was simply met with an open door. Much like her father had found, there was a roaring fire. She took a seat next to the fire, and waited. Eventually, the beast appeared, and approached her. Belle was terrified, but didn’t cry or show her fear, she simply sat there. The beast welcomed her, and told her that he was not going to kill her, but she would be staying with him from now on. He showed to her a beautiful bedroom and explained that this was her room, he then showed her to a great library where she could read to her heart’s content.
The beast told Belle that he would only join her for dinner each evening, and if she ever needed anything, she should just ask him. He then departed from her company. Belle looked around, happy that she wasn’t going to be killed, but terrified of the thing she was living with.
That evening she went to the dining room, the table was full of food, although she never saw anyone around the mansion to prepare it. She sat and waited for the beast to join her, she was so frightened. At 9pm the beast made his appearance, and he sat at the other end of the table. Belle was too fearful to eat, and the beast tried to make polite conversation with her, but she struggled to find the words to say back to him. At 10pm the beast left her.
This routine went on for a few months, and Belle started to lose her fear of the beast, in fact, while he wasn’t particularly clever or witty, she started to enjoy his company. One evening she explained to him that she was terribly worried about her father. The beast present a small hand mirror to Belle. As she looked into it she could see her father sat at his kitchen table on his own. Belle was happy to see he was doing ok, but was also saddened to see that he was on his own. The beast could sense her sadness, but said nothing.
The next night, as Belle and the beast sat and talked, he declared to her “I know I am nothing to look at, and I am not smart or witty, but I have fallen in love with you and I wish to marry you”. Belle, took a moment, and then responded, “dear beast, you are my closest friend, but I cannot marry you as I do not feel ready”.
Every night for a week, the beast asked Belle to marry him, and her response was always the same.
One evening the beast said to Belle, “I know how much you miss your father, so I will let you return for one week, if you do not come back to me when the week is up, I shall starve myself to death”. This upset Belle for as much as she wanted to see her father, she also didn’t want the beast to die. Belle promised that she would return within the week. The beast gave her a gold ring, and said when she was ready to leave she should put it on, and then when she was ready to return she should put it on again.
The next morning, Belle dressed and put on the ring, and she was instantly transported to her father’s cottage. She hugged her father and they talked about all the things that had been happening. He told her that her brothers and sisters had married, and while her brothers were happy, her sisters had married men who were wretched. One had married a man full of wit, and while he was the life and soul of social events, he was cruel in his jokes towards her , the other had married a man who was very handsome, but spent no time with her as he was always wrapped up in himself. As such the sisters had returned home for some respite from their husbands.
When the sisters saw Belle, they were immediately jealous of her lifestyle and fine attire. They hatched a plan to make her want to stay with them, so the beast would forget about her and she would lose her happy life. They decided that they would be so nice to her that she wouldn’t want to leave.
When the week was up, the sisters started to cry and tear out their hair, begging Belle to stay another week, for they could not bear to see her leave. Belle promised to stay a little longer. By the tenth night, Belle couldn’t help reflecting on her relationship with the beast, and the uneasiness she must be causing him by staying longer. That night she dreamt of the beast, he had laid out on the lawn, as if he was about to expire, and in a dying voice he reprimanded her for her ingratitude. Belle woke with a start, crying. “I am not a very wicked person! The beast has been so kind and generous to me, and I should have kept my word”.
The next morning, she dressed in her finest gown and placed the ring back on her finger, immediately she was back in the mansion. She spent the day readying herself to meet with the beast over dinner, and as it drew towards 9pm she impatiently waited in the dining room. When the beast did not appear, she panicked. Running through the house shouting for him, he was nowhere to be found. Eventually she found him laid out on the lawn, just like in her dream.
With no fear, she threw herself upon him, fearing he was dead, but as her head lay on his chest she could still hear his heart beating. She ran to the stream which ran through the garden, and bought him some water.
The beast opened his eyes and said “You forgot your promise to me, so I starved myself when you didn’t return, but I can now die happy at seeing you one last time”. Belle began to cry, and said “You never need to be without me again, as I want you as my husband”.
With that a woman appeared, Belle was shocked by this and as she turned to check on the beast during this unexpected arrival, he was nowhere to be seen, instead a rather handsome man stood before her.
Belle demanded to see the beast, and the woman laughed. “This is your beast stood before you, he was under a curse, which made him ugly and dim witted. But you have broken the curse by being a virtuous virgin who chose kindness over everything else”.
The prince approached Belle and asked if she still wanted to marry him, and Belle, though nicely surprised said yes! (Funny that).
In that instant, the woman revealed herself to be a fairy, and transported Belle’s family into the great hall. “Your reward, sweet Belle is that you will become a great Queen”. With that the prince, Belle and her family were all transported back to the prince’s kingdom, where they all lived happily ever after.
Now, I find this quite like many other fairy stories as the sisters get no comeuppance. There is no punishment for them being just generally dreadful people, rather they are rewarded along with Belle in getting to live in a palace for the rest of their lives.
Also the beast usually has the personality of the prince, but with some anger issues, so I find it really interesting that in the original, his personality was changes along with his looks.
I have selected a picture painted by Walter Crane for this article, as I think it beautifully shows the friendship which was formed between Belle and the beast. The beast is depicted as a warthog type creature here but still dressed in finery, and Belle is surrounded by all the things she loves (the lute, book, sculpture and vases of roses), to show the lengths the beast will go to, to make her happy. They sit in a very civilised manner, drinking tea, to show the beast is only that in looks alone. This picture was created in 1874 and was used to illustrate the book “Beauty and the Beast and other Tales” which was published in the same year.
It is really easy to see so many links in this story to the life of Petrus Gonsalvus, but also to the Greek story of Cupid and Psyche.
How do you feel about “Beauty and the Beast”? Why not tell me in the comments? Like this post? Why not share it?