Beauty and the Beast, The Classical Faerytale

For day one of Beauty & the Beast Week, I have decided to start with the classical fairytale interpretation of the tale.   The original fairytale of Beauty and the Beast was famously recorded by two different French fairytale authors.   It is often viewed as the most French of all fairytales, famously having never been translated by the Grimm Brothers for their collections, as they believed that the tale would not seem like it could have taken place in Germany’s Black Forest, as all of their tales are set there.    The earliest tale was the one written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve which was abridged by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont.   The Laprince de Beaumont version from 1756 (abridged from the 1740 original) that is the most commonly retold version of the tale.   It is also the Laprince de Beaumont version that would have most influenced Charles Perrault’s version and Andrew Lang’s retelling in his Blue Fairy Book.

The basics of the tale are known to most all people, as it has become part of the public consciousness, having inspired countless films and retellings along the way.    The story is about a Prince who was cursed to be turned into a Beast.   The Beauty of the title is most often given the name Belle, since that is what she is referred to in the original tales, as Belle is the feminine word for beautiful in the French language!   Belle is not an only child in the original, but she is much sweeter and kinder than her sisters who feel much annoyance at the fact that their family went from being wealthy and well-off to struggling.    Their father and brothers have moved them to a new and cheaper place to live and they must live off of the land.    Belle is the only one really suited to doing this and takes pride in gardening and trying to keep the house nicely for her family.   In this way, she is shown as an ideal of feminine beauty and grace, not spoiled or ostentatious as her sisters.   When her father is traveling he asked each of the daughters what she wanted him to bring back from his travels.    Belle’s sisters each asked for extravagant gifts, but Belle only really asked for anything when pressed and even then only asked for a single rose.    

After failures on his travels, the father is downtrodden and that is when he happens upon a castle that takes care of him without him ever seeing a living soul.   This enchanted castle is where he stays for a night until he is ready to continue his journey home.    Before he leaves, he noticed the most beautiful rose bush he had ever seen, and it is then that he remembered Belle’s simple wish.   He plucked one of the roses but got caught by the Beast.   The Beast is angry that he would take something from the garden without asking after the castle had been so kind to him.   This is when the bargain of Belle’s father being trapped with the Beast takes place.   He is allowed to return home to bid adieu to his family.    This is when Belle herself goes to the Beast’s abode and offered herself up to be his captive in her father’s place.   

Of course, the Beast happily takes the offer.    In contrast to the Disney version, Beast is always very kind to Belle from the beginning.   There is a routine of lovely meals where he wants her company.   Eventually leading to him proposing to her many times.   She always said no, until their conversations and good times together really began to make her see the Beast as more than an animal, as an intelligent and loving man.   Of course, there is the point of her returning to check on her father, whom she knows missed her terribly and is ill.   She made a promise to the Beast that she would be back within a certain time frame, but due to her sister’s manipulations, she is not able to arrive in time.   Meaning that by the time she returned, the Beast is laying in his beloved garden, dying!    He is saved through her assertions of love and her tears realizing at she was losing the person that she loved most!   It also broke the spell that had wickedly been cast upon him, leaving him the Prince he truly was.    It is then that a Faery woman comes forward to explain that it was Belle’s love that saved him from remaining a Beast for the rest of his days.

The tale is an uncanny love story about seeing past outward perceptions and to the root of who a person is.   In the original tale, the Beast is not nearly as Beastly as he appears, being kind and intelligent (as audiences in the 18th century would have thought beast meant stupid, in fact, the French word for beast, bete, also means dumb).   This story asks us to look past the surface, or beyond the cover of the book (hence Belle’s love of reading in the Disney version), in order to see the depth beneath.   That is what falling in love is about as well, looking into the depths of the person to see the truth beneath.   This is why Beauty and the Beast remains one of the best-loved romantic fairytales!   I hope you have enjoyed this overview of the early tellings of this tale.   Do you have a favorite version of the tale?   Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is an illustration of Belle finding the Beast dying.   I found the image on

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Further Reading/Watching

  • Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve
  • Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont
  • Beauty and the Beast by Charles Perrault
  • Beauty and the Beast by Andrew Lang
  • Beauty and the Beast (1991)
  • La Belle et la Bete (1946) *This is the iconic French film by Jean Cocteau retelling of the Leprince de Beaumont tale*
  • (This is a YouTube video that goes into detail about different early versions of the tale.)