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The Gruesome Origins of Classic Fairytales: Beauty & The Beast

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

In today's installment of The Gruesome Origins of Classic Fairytales we are covering Beauty & the Beast. We all know the Disney version; Belle is a girl living in France, the whole village thinks she is strange because she reads all the time. She takes her father's place at the beast's castle after he was caught taking a rose. She eventually falls for the beast who turns into a prince. They end up getting married etc. Basically like every other Disney movie. The live-action version is a little better because at least to me Belle doesn't seem like the same character type as the animated version, personality wise she is way more normal/realistic in the live action version. There are three definitive versions of Beauty & the Beast, one from The Brothers Grimm, one from Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve and the last from Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont. All follow the same story of a prince being cursed to be a beast and eventually learning to love beyond appearances.


Brothers Grimm Version

In the Brothers Grimm version, the story starts with a merchant asking his three daughters what they wish him to bring back from his travels for them. The first wanted a dress, the second wanted a pearl necklace and the third named Beauty asked for a single rose. The father concludes his business but becomes lost in a storm on his way home and he finds a castle to take shelter in for the night. He spent the night at the castle not seeing anyone and having his needs met, breakfast in the morning etc. In the morning as he was leaving he seen a rose and remembered his promise to Beauty. As he went to grab the rose the Beast leaped from the bushes and said that he would be put to death for stealing his favorite flowers. He makes a deal with the merchant that because of stealing the flower his daughter would take his place as prisoner in the castle. he went home and tld Beauty of this promise and she went gladly to the castle in place of her father. Eventually the Beast and Beauty became good friends and the Beast asked Beauty to marry him. She refused and the Beast stalks off only to return with a magic mirror for her to see her family. She sees that her father is gravely ill and she wishes to return to him. Beast refuses and leaves only to return and tell her that she may go but only for seven days then she must return. Beauty returns to her family and her father recuperates, and before she realizes it seven days have come and gone. Beauty has a horrible nightmare at this point that the Beast is dying so she returns to the castle to find Beast lying in the garden. She threw herself at him and says that she will marry him. In that moment Beast turns into a prince and tells her that a evil witch cursed him to be a monster until a beautiful maiden loved him as he was, then he would be turned back into a prince. They married shortly after.


Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve Version

In this version A widower merchant lives in a mansion with his twelve children (six sons and six daughters). All of his daughters are very beautiful, but the youngest, Beauty, is the most lovely. She is also kind, well-read, and pure of heart; her elder sisters, though, are cruel, selfish, vain, and spoiled. On a dark and stormy night at sea, the merchant is robbed by pirates who sank most of his merchant fleet and force the entire family to live in a country house and work for a living. While Beauty makes a firm resolution to adjust to rural life with a cheerful disposition, her sisters do not and mistake her firmness for insensibility, forcing her into doing household work in an effort to make enough money to buy back their former home.

A year later, the merchant hears from one of his crew members that one of the trade ships he had sent has arrived back in port, having escaped the destruction of its companions. Before leaving, he asks his children if they wish for him to bring any gifts back for them. The sons ask for weaponry and horses to hunt with, whereas the oldest daughters ask for clothing, jewels, and fine dresses, as they think his wealth has returned. Beauty asks nothing but her father's safety, but when he insists on buying her a present, she is satisfied with the promise of a rose after none had grown last spring. However, to his dismay, the merchant finds that his ship's cargo has been seized to pay his debts, leaving him penniless and unable to buy his children's presents.

On his way back, the merchant is caught in a terrible storm. Seeking shelter, he comes upon a mysterious palace. The merchant sneaks in, seeing that nobody is home, and finds tables laden with food and drinks which seem to have been left for him by the palace's invisible owner. The merchant accepts these gifts and spends the night. The next morning, the merchant sees the palace as his own possession and is about to leave when he sees a rose garden and recalls that Beauty had desired a rose. The merchant quickly plucks the loveliest rose he can find, and is about to pluck more for a bouquet, but is confronted by a hideous "Beast" who warns him that theft of his property (i.e., the rose) is a charge punishable by death. Realizing his deadly mistake, the merchant begs for forgiveness, revealing that he had only picked the rose as a gift for his youngest daughter. After listening to his story, the Beast reluctantly agrees to let him give the rose to Beauty, but only if the merchant brings Beauty to him in exchange without deception; he makes it clear that Beauty must agree to take his place so he can treat her as his fiancée, and not his prisoner, while under no illusions about her predicament. Otherwise, the Beast will destroy his entire family.

At first, the merchant is upset about Beauty being abducted into marrying him, but he reluctantly accepts. The Beast sends him on his way atop a magical horse along with wealth, jewels and fine clothes for his sons and daughters, but stresses that Beauty must never know about his deal. The merchant, upon arriving home, tries to hide the secret from his children, but Beauty pries it from him on purpose. Reacting swiftly, the brothers suggest they could go to the castle and fight the Beast together while the older sisters place blame on Beauty for dooming the entire family. To release her father from the engagement, Beauty volunteers to go to the Beast willingly, and her father reluctantly allows her to go.

Once she arrives at his palace, the Beast is excited to meet Beauty face to face, so he throws a welcome ceremony by treating her to an amazing cabaret. He gives her lavish clothing and food and carries on lengthy conversations with her in which she notes that he is inclined to stupidity rather than savagery. Every night, the Beast asks Beauty to sleep with him, only to be refused each time. After each refusal, Beauty dreams of dancing with a handsome prince. Suddenly, a fairy appears and pleads with Beauty to say why she keeps refusing him. She replies that she doesn't know how to love the Beast because she loves him only as a friend. Despite the apparition of the fairy urging her not to be deceived by appearances, she does not make the connection between a "prince" and a "beast" and becomes convinced that the Beast is holding the Prince captive somewhere in his castle. She searches and discovers many enchanted rooms ranging from libraries to aviaries to enchanted windows allowing her to attend the theater. She also finds live furniture and other live objects which act as servants, but never the Prince from her dreams.

For a month, Beauty lives a life of luxury at the Beast's palace with no end to riches or amusements and an endless supply of exquisite finery to wear. Eventually, she becomes homesick and begs the Beast to allow her to go see her family again. He allows it on the condition that she returns in exactly two months. Beauty agrees to this and is presented with an enchanted ring which will take her back to the Beast when the two months are up. The rest of her family is surprised to find her well fed and dressed in finery. At first, her father advises Beauty to marry the Beast, but when Beauty refuses, her father and her brothers do all they can to detain her return to the Beast. However, Beauty is determined to honor the deal she made.

When the two months are almost up, Beauty begins hallucinating the Beast lying dead in his quarters and uses her ring to return to the Beast. Once she is back in the castle, Beauty's fears are confirmed as she finds out that the Beast died of shame due to her choice of staying with her family permanently after her first trip to his castle. Completely devastated over the wrong choice she made, Beauty bursts into tears and laments that she should have learned how to love the Beast in the first place, screaming, "I am sorry! This was all my fault!". Suddenly, when she says those words, the Beast is transformed into the handsome prince from Beauty's dreams. The Prince informs her that long ago, a powerful witch turned him into a hideous beast for his selfishness after trying to seduce him and that only by finding true love, despite his ugliness, could the curse be broken. He and Beauty are married and they live happily ever after.

You can find copies of this story but it is actually a novel not just a short story. You can find it here.


Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont

This version is the abridged, rewritten, and republished version of the lengthy Madame de Villeneuve book. It was published in 1756 in Magasin des enfants (Children's Collection) to produce the version most commonly retold and later by Andrew Lang in the Blue Fairy Book of his Fairy Book series in 1889.

Beaumont greatly pared down the cast of characters and pruned the tale to an almost archetypal simplicity. The story begins in much the same way, although now the merchant has only six children: three sons and three daughters of which Beauty is one. The circumstances leading to her arrival at the Beast's castle unfold in a similar manner, but on this arrival, Beauty is informed that she is a mistress and he will obey her. Beaumont strips most of the lavish descriptions present in Beauty's exploration of the palace and quickly jumps to her return home. She is given leave to remain there for a week, and when she arrives, her sisters feign fondness to entice her to remain another week in hopes that the Beast will devour her in anger. Again, she returns to him dying and restores his life. The two then marry and live happily ever after.


I personally have a preference for the live-action version of the movies but the Disney original is still really good as well.


Which do you prefer? The animated or live action version? Do you have a preference for the actual fairytale? Brothers Grimm vs. Madame de Villeneuve vs. Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont.


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