first recorded version: 1740
author: Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve
original title: “La Belle et la Bête”
Once upon a time, a young girl lived with her wealthy merchant father and six siblings. The two oldest sisters, wicked at heart, treated book-loving Beauty like a servant instead of their sister. Soon, their father loses his ships in a storm and is forced to move his family away from their lavish lifestyle to a small home. However, years later he discovers one of the presumably-doomed ships from the missing fleet has returned, so he sets off to investigate. Before leaving, he asks each of his children what they would like for a present upon his return. Beauty merely asks for a rose.
On the way home to his children, the merchant gets lost and stumbles across a gorgeous palace. When the door opens, he takes advantage to get out of the storm and spend the night. As he is about to leave, he spots a rose garden and plucks a flower for his youngest daughter. Unfortunately, this decision comes with a price: his death or, on the condition she never knows the bargain, his daughter’s life. The merchant chooses the latter and resumes his journey home.
Beauty, learning of the bargain, heads to the castle to uphold her end of the deal. The Beast greats her as mistress of the manor and, at the conclusion of every evening, asks her to marry him. She politely declines.
Beauty spends her days with the Beast, her nights haunted by a mysterious, handsome prince who demands to know why she consistently denies the Beast’s offer of marriage. Yet she begins to long for home and asks permission to leave the castle for a visit to her family. The Beast agrees, giving her an enchanted ring that she need only turn three times to return, and a magic mirror.
Beauty’s sisters are green with envy when she returns and devise a plan to compromise her life with the Beast. They convince Beauty to stay past her original plan. When Beauty uses the mirror to check on the Beast, she discovers he is lying unconscious, hurting from a broken heart. She returns and, crying, professes her love for him. As her tears fall on him, the curse is broken, and he becomes a man again. They are married and live happily ever after.
While Beauty and the Beast may have been influenced by the popular 2nd-century story of “Cupid and Psyche,” it was also supposedly intended to prepare young girls in 18th century France for an arranged marriage (source). Make of that what you will.
the versions around the world
Without a doubt, this tale is as old as time…and just as varied.
- The Pig King by Giovanni Francesco, Italy
- The Scarlet Flower by Sergey Aksakov, Russia (1858)
- Beauty and the Beast…The Story Retold by Laura E. Richards, England (1886)
did you know?
- Disney’s Beast is a mashup of many different animals
- While the story was first recorded in 1740, historians believe it originated some 400 years ago
- Beauty and the Beast is among the first pieces of literature that reflect the changing social norm surrounding appearance
Don’t judge a book by it’s cover