Some believe that Blue Beard was a “woman’s story” about the risks of pregnancy and childbirth, or, alternatively, about the dangers of not following their instincts in regards to men, and therefore inherently Feminist. My first experience with the tale and this opinion was in Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ book Women Who Run With the Wolves. While it is true that Blue Beard was already a popular tale by the 17th century, and it’s possible that it was originally a “woman’s story”, Perrault’s version is based on the combination of two gruesome, and, unfortunately, true, stories.
The first one was about Conomor the Cursed, a Breton chief who it was predicted would be killed by his son. To avoid the prophecy coming true, he murdered his wives as soon as they became pregnant. That’s horrible enough, right? Well, the second is a much more gruesome story, even when compared to Perrault’s tale, and is about Gilles de Rais, a wealthy nobleman who lived during the 15th century.
Gilles de Rais was Joan of Arc’s protector on the battlefield and considered a hero for helping to drive the English out of France during the Hundred Years’ War. However, he also developed the reputation of practicing alchemy and black magic and being a pedophile and murderer of young boys after he left the military. Supposedly, he earned the nickname “Bluebeard” from his horse’s fur, which appeared to be blue when seen in daylight, and the original folk tale was told as a way of deterring children from going onto his land. During his trial, after the remains of fifty boys were discovered near his castle, he confessed to killing over 140 children and described in great detail how he preyed upon and tortured them. He was burned alive while being hung at the same time.
Regardless of whether the story of Blue Beard is a Feminist tale or a story to frighten children away from an evil man, here are some modern retellings:
- The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
- The Robber Bride and Bluebeard’s Egg by Margaret Atwood
- The Robber Bridegroom by Eudora Welty
- Thief of Souls by Anne Benson
- Ironskin trilogy by Tina Connolly
- Fitcher’s Brides by Gregory Frost
- Bluebeard’s Castle by Gene Kemp
- The Seven Wives of Bluebeard by Anatole France
- Bluebeard by Max Frisch
- Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson
- The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
- Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut