So I started up at university again last Monday, and for week 2 of my Children's Fiction module I read Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont's classic fairy-tale 'The Beauty and the Beast'. Now I know the majority of people will have either read this as a child or at least seen the Disney film but re-reading it again at age 20 with a new perspective and a critical approach to the piece was fascinating for me...
At first glance the story itself is a simple narrative, easy for a child to understand and follow, but looking closer you see so many different underlying issues that are not immediately apparent. I found it particularly interesting examining the relationship between Beauty and her father, and then the following relationship between our heroine and the Beast. Her virtuous nature and dedication to her father is very clear as she is contrasted quite drastically with her two sisters who have little consideration and very much selfish approaches to life. Beauty on several occasions denounces the hand of many an eligible bachelor in place for a committed relationship with her father. It is demonstrative of her child-like qualities how she is dependent on the presence of a male patriarchal figure in her life, a trend which is carried on through her relationship with her father and then replaced by the Beast later on in the narrative. She is materially dependent on the Beast in terms of clothing, food, housing etc. yet to some extent it appears she still maintains her freedom from him during the days spent in the palace...
As you can see I'm rambling on the topic now - evidence of how interesting I find it!
In my opinion the text is clearly a didactic piece, aimed probably at young girls, who would read it and see that a virtuous young girl, committed to her father, hard-work and selflessness is in the end rewarded with a handsome prince in a lavish castle. Clearly aimed at teaching young girls that a virtuous attitude will get you everywhere in life.. in my opinion anyway!
I was so excited by the topic I couldn't stop rambling during seminar about it! Leading it myself and a friend actually being told to 'shh' by our seminar leader.. oh dear!
For anyone who agrees with me that this topic of the underlying ideologies projected in fairytales I would really recommend Maria Tatar - The Classic Fairy Tales, a great book full of various different versions from differing time periods of all the classic fairy-tales, along with some critical extracts from scholarly works at the end. It's available on Amazon, or you could always hunt through your local Library!
image from: http://www.leninimports.com/jean_cocteau_la_belle_et_la_bete_gallery.html