This is by far my favorite fairy tale and Disney movie, and it was my favorite TV show when I was a kid (my parents once bribed me with it to get me to clean my room). Why? Belle is one of the few fairy tale characters that has real agency. First of all, she chooses to take her Father’s place in staying with the Beast. Secondly, she makes the best of a beastly situation (har-har) without any real help from anyone. She doesn’t have a Fairy Godmother to solve her problems, she isn’t taken in by dwarves, and, though she repeatedly gets marriage proposals from the Beast, she doesn’t immediately fall into his arms (In the original, unedited version, he asks her if he may sleep with her, not to marry him, but the response is the same). Also, in the Disney version, she knows Gaston isn’t the right man for her, and doesn’t give in to his pushiness. Finally, she is the one that saves the Beast from his curse, instead of being the one that is rescued. She even wins a rap battle against Cinderella, as far as I’m concerned.
So, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the story, while being a traditional fairy tale, was originally an adult novella written in 1740 by a French woman, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, who was critiquing the marriage system of her time. A little more than a decade later, it was shortened, “cleaned”, and published in a women’s magazine by another woman, Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont. You can find free versions on Project Gutenberg, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. Also for free is Andrew Lang’s version of the story, which is a combination of Villeneuve’s and Beaumont’s, in his Blue Fairy Book. In addition to those, there’s an EPUB edition that comes with a free download of the audio book (I’m not affiliated with Barnes & Noble, and don’t receive any profits from sales of the book).
Below is a list of Beauty and the Beast retellings. All of the links are to Goodreads:
- Beauty and Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley
- Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier
- Beauty and the Werewolf and The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey
- Beauty and the Beast by Jenni James
- Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross
- Belle: A Retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” by Cameron Dokey
- Beauty by Susan Wilson
- The Merchant’s Daughter by Melanie Dickerson
- Beastly by Alex Flinn
- Beast by Donna Napoli
- Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay
- Roses by G.R. Mannering