Besides its wide appeal over time and space, we might note who this story especially speaks to. Over the years, I have asked people from all walks of life to identify their favorite works of literature; I’ve taken surveys, and some of the results have appeared in print. When I’ve asked people about their favorite fairy tale, one story consistently emerges as the most popular: “Cinderella.” But when the answers are divided by the gender of the respondents, after “Cinderella,” the second most popular fairy tale among women is “Beauty and the Beast.” Women tell me they love the tale because of its vision of feminine empowerment in the way Beauty tames the huge and formidable Beast and changes him into a gentleman, because it offers them the hope that in their own love lives they might be able to do the same, and because (they sometimes reluctantly admit) they are drawn to the erotic notion of the beastly lover.
But that’s not to suggest that men don’t find “Beauty and the Beast” an appealing tale. in my own experience, however, men have been less candid in describing the story’s attraction to them, but part of the reason may be, as W. R. Ralston has observed, that “many a plain man has been secretly consoled by the favorable impression produced upon [the story’s heroine] by its unprepossessing hero.”
by Jerry Griswold, from his introduction to The Meanings of "Beauty & The Beast" A Handbook