(…which are going on this blogging platform because my graded memoir is occupied with the FIRST version.)
(To wit: Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve published the first literary version of “Beauty and the Beast” in 1740; sixteen years later, French governess Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beamont published a more concise and focused second version in a French textbook for young English ladies.)
- It’s always so strange for me to read the dedications of older books, which are often to members of actual royal patrons. This widely-published author who also has a consistent day job as a teacher is nevertheless reliant on subscriptions and the patronage of the crowned heads of Europe.
- The entire dedication is composed of her argument that, while Peter the Great of Russia is pretty hot stuff, his daughter the Empress Elizabeth is even better, since unlike Peter, she doesn’t have to confront herself as her own final enemy.
- The introduction to this textbook (the Magasin des enfants) involves Jeanne-Marie crankily foreseeing impertinent questions from her readership.
- “Yes, of course I’m primarily motivated by money. I have to pay my own printing costs for the first edition! Shell out for this textbook!!!”
- “Some people out there are scared that I’m raising girls to be philosophers. Those people are correct. I am also raising girls to be scientists.”
- “A lot of rich families treat actresses much better than governesses and that’s unacceptable.”
- “English people are honestly so much better than the French, it’s almost unbelievable. Rich people here are willing to participate in the free market, y’all.”
- So the Magasin des enfants alternates between (1) theatrical dialogues in which the “lessons” are contained, and (2) fairy tales, which exemplify the values contained in the lessons.
- “Beauty and the Beast” is the second of these tales. The first is “The Cherished Prince” (more specifically, a prince whose given name is Cherished…), which in a few respects is actually a lot closer to the Disney properties based on the plot of “Beauty and the Beast”.
- The prince is turned into a chimerical creature: head of a lion, horns of a bull, paws of a wolf, and tail of a viper. Disney’s Beast is similarly a combination of many different animals.
- It bears (pun) noting that Madame de Villeneuve indicates her Beast’s elephantine trunk and scales (!), whereas Mme Leprince de Beaumont leaves everything to the imagination.
- The prince in this first story also has to learn to act selflessly and earn the love of a virtuous maiden before he can regain his human form… which is NOT the arc of “Beauty and the Beast” until 1991.
- It’s a very flimsy arc in this case, since Prince Cheri just provides this exposition at the moment of his final transformation, even though he’s been the viewpoint character for almost the entire tale and he certainly wasn’t aware of his curse’s conditions beforehand!
- On to “Beauty and the Beast” proper.