By: Callie Douthit – March 2013
In many fairytales, the “magic mirror” plays a central role in which characters can see a variety of images: good and bad, literal and figurative, past and present—an array of different visions all subjective to the individual. The mirror in the story of “Beauty and the Beast” is no exception to this finding. The mirror serves as a gateway for the readers to not only see the outer appearance but also the heart and nature of each character, and how the mirrored images influence his/her actions and further judgments. In the different adaptations of “Beauty and the Beast,” the classification of beauty is untraditionally redefined by the characters’ multiple perceptions of reality—all relative to the eye of the beholder.
For a dad to call his young daughter beautiful seems nothing out of the ordinary, as parents define our beauty in many different aspects that others may not see at first glance. In “The Beauty and the Beast” by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, Beauty’s father considers her beautiful for reasons beyond her appearance. Beaumont’s adaptation was written during the 18th century. By examining what Beauty’s father classifies as a beautiful quality in his young daughters, it is certain that gender roles during this century play into effect as to how a daughter would be defined as ‘good’. In the 18th century, women were still working in the home as traditional gender roles go, but though they were not being as educated as men, they were expanding their intellectual horizons by reading more often as a leisure—even those who weren’t necessarily belonging to the upper-class and could not afford house workers. So, it would not be surprising that when Beauty’s family becomes poor after an unfortunate business loss, it is not surprising that father’s favored daughter, Beauty, would be
Up at four o’clock in the morning and occupied herself by cleaning the house and preparing breakfast for the family. At first she had a great deal of difficulty because she was not accustomed to working like a servant. After finishing her chores, she generally read, played the harp, or sung while spinning (Beaumont 806).
In comparison, Beauty’s sisters “arose at ten o’clock in the morning, took walks the entire day, and entertained themselves bemoaning the loss of their beautiful clothes and the fine company they used to have” (Beaumont 806). The father admires the way Beauty is able to adjust lifestyles so graciously, and it just adds to his perception of what makes her truly a beauty: “He knew that Beauty was more suited to stand out in the company than [the sisters] were. He admired the virtues of this young girl—especially her patience, for her sisters were not merely content to let her do all the work in the house, but they also insulted her at every chance they got” (Beaumont 806). Though the father greatly appreciates and mentions how virtuous Beauty is through her kind heart and willingness to eventually sacrifice herself to the beast in his place, it is evident that the fact that she fulfills her gender role requirements around the house also goes into what classifies her as beautiful in his eyes—as he tends to group these two qualities with her whenever he expresses his high regard for her.
The Beast in Beaumont’s adaptation is very different when compared to “The Tale of the Rose” by Emma Donoghue, which was based off Beaumont’s version. They do not differ in appearance very much, as both of them are equally frightening to the young Beauty who is forced to be living in the Beast’s castle. They also do not differ in their nature—both are very aloof, yet compliant to all Beauty’s requests. The big difference between the two Beasts is that when transformed in Beaumont’s story the beast becomes a handsome prince while a beautiful woman is unmasked in Donoghue’s. Because of this difference, both define beauty in different ways. Aside from Beauty’s obvious attractiveness, the Beast in “Beauty and the Beast” falls in love with Beauty because of her ideal virtues and ease in seeing his beauty behind the hideous appearance. Though the Beast does not speak much, because he is cast under a spell in which he is ugly and unintelligent, the fairy that transforms him can be seen as his talking head when she informs Beauty why she is to deserve to be queen in return for her virtuous being: “You’ve preferred virtue over beauty and wit, and you deserve to find these qualities combined in one and the same person” (Beaumont 815). In comparison to Beaumont’s rendition, whether there is an actual romantic relationship between Beauty and the Beast is ambiguous in Donoghue’s “The Tale of the Rose”. But, through the Beast’s questions to Beauty such as “You have never seen my face. Do you still picture me as a monster?” (Donoghue 34), “You have never felt my touch. Do you still shrink from it?” (35), “What if I let you go? Would you stay of your own free will?” (35), it can be assumed that the Beast is longing to be closer and for Beauty to express some sort of love toward her. Though it seems that this Beast could be in love with Beauty for the same reasons as Beaumont’s beast, it is untraditional for the beast to actually be a woman, suggesting homosexuality between the two. In both times the adaptations were written, the idea of homosexuality was definitely not one of normality or tradition.
In the eyes of Beauty, when she looks in the mirror she does not see what others see. But, what she does see in the mirror definitely plays into what makes her truly beautiful as a person in other characters’ eyes. She always sees others before herself in the mirror just as she thinks of others before herself. In both stories, the great mirror serves every wish that Beauty commands while also being a gateway for the readers to see what Beauty sees in her that makes her the way she is—beautiful. In the “Beauty and the Beast”, “she glanced at a large mirror and saw her home, where her father was arriving with an extremely sad face. Her sisters went out to meet him, and despite this grimaces they made to pretend to be distressed, the joy on their faces at the loss of their sister were visible” (Beaumont 810). Not only is the fact that she sees her family in the mirror very telling about her selfless nature, she always can identify the evil in her sisters which makes her that much better of a person. Similarly in “The Tale of the Rose”, Beauty recounts exactly what she sees: “And when I looked in the great gold mirror that night, I thought I could make out the shape of my father, lying with his feverish face turned to the ceiling” (Donoghue 36). This image exemplifies not only Beauty’s selfless nature again, but also her dedication to her family which is evident through her father’s definition of a good daughter presented earlier. Instead of Beauty seeing herself in the mirror, she untraditionally redefines her beauty by seeing images that are telling about her nature as a selfless and virtuous individual.
Beauty also redefines beauty through her changing opinion and view of the Beast. Beauty is well aware of the Beast’s hideousness throughout the stories, and at first may even be a little frightened by him. In Beaumont’s version, Beauty does not make it a secret that she thinks he is repulsive, but soon this perception changes as she sees how compliant he is: “’I assure you that I am most pleased with your kind heart. When I think of that, you no longer seem ugly to me…I prefer you with your looks rather than those who have a human face but conceal false, ungrateful, and corrupt hearts.’” (Beaumont 811). Beauty realizes that internally Beast is not so ugly, and in comparison to the other men she has come across, his insides could be enough to offer her. But, it isn’t till later in the story that Beauty realizes that what Beast has to offer her is enough. “…’It is neither handsome looks nor intelligence that makes a woman happy. It is good character, virtue, and kindness and the Beast had all these good qualities.’” (Beaumont 813). Though the Beast transforms into a prince at the end, his inner beauty is still what stands out to Beauty, making him the most beautiful man she has met—and thus, “he married Beauty, who lived with him a long time in perfect happiness because their relationship was founded on virtue” (Beaumont 815). In the “Tale of the Rose”, Beauty also redefines her definition of beauty similarly through the Beast’s internal qualities. But, it also did not start out that way. At first, Beauty seems to be very consumed by the traditional definition of beauty when thinking about the Beast:
I sat in my satin-walled room, before the gold mirror. I looked deep into the pool of my face, and tried to imagine what the beast looked like. The more hideous my imaginings, the more my own face seemed to glow. Because I thought the beast must be everything I was not: dark to my light, rough to my smooth, hoarse to my sweet. When I walked on the battlements under the waning moon, the beast was the grotesque shadow I threw behind me (Donoghue 35).
It is very clear that Beauty did not think that the Beast was all that attractive at first, in fact he was grotesque in her view. But, what didn’t make sense is that he embodied such ideal qualities: “The beast was always courteous; I wondered what scorn this courtesy veiled. The beast was always gentle; I wondered what violence hid behind this gentleness” (Donoghue 35). It is not until she sees a frightening image of her Beast laying in the cold, dying, that she realizes her fondness for the masked individual, regardless of the outer appearance he possesses. When she arrives to find the Beast exactly how she imagined, she unmasks him and sees: “I saw hair black as rocks under water. I saw a face white as old linen. I saw lips red as a rose just opening” (Donoghue 39). She finally realizes there was more beauty to this being than she believed to be. Not only was the beast not a beast deep down, the beast was a woman. A woman who was gorgeous both inside and out. It was not until “After months of looking, I saw that beauty was infinitely various and found it behind her white face” (Donoghue 40). Beauty defines beauty in what the Beast possessed within her, but also acknowledges that this is untraditional and others may not see it the same: “And as the years flowed by, some villagers told travelers of a beast and a beauty who lived in the castle and could be seen walking on the battlements, and other told of two beauties, and others, two beasts” (Donoghue 40). This final line in the story is a perfect summary of how beauty can be defined and that it is relative to the eye of the beholder.
The story of “Beauty and the Beast” has many different adaptations, all telling the same message behind the characters actions and thoughts. What is great about the “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Tale of the Rose” is that one is the traditional story and the other is one that is certainly not traditional. But, they both break the barriers of traditionally defining beauty through their emphasis on internal qualities as a basis of classifying one as a beauty. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and both Beaumont and Donoghue chose to highlight inner beauty over outer which are exactly what the message should be for a fairy tales that are influencing children.