Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Beauty and the Beast and Madame Beaumont

Beauty and the Beast Tales From Around the World (and ebook link) is moving out into the world so I'll keep discussing it here. Yesterday I talked about Villeneuve's Le Belle et la Bete and the significant changes to the story we see in most English translations of her original story, namely the nightly question being "May I sleep with you?" instead of "Will you marry me?" as well as the transformation scene.

Well, it would be tempting to think those changes were made due to Victorian sensibilities and moral codes. It certainly happened over and over again with other tales. And, to be realistic, there was some influence from that arena in James Planché's translation. Side note: Planché is an interesting man who wrote two volumes of French fairy tale translations but he is best known as an influential playwright in London with 176 plays to his name, 104 of which were adapted from other sources, primarily folklore and French fairy tales, including a "Beauty and the Beast Fairy Extravaganza" in 1841. Just look as his body of work to realize this isn't the first time the entertainment industry has used fairy tales as fodder. That has been happening for centuries with regular ebbs and flows.

However, the precedent had been set much earlier by the woman we should credit with bringing Beauty and the Beast to the masses. In 1757--seventeen years after Villeneuve's publication and two years after Villeneuve's death--Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont published her adaptation of Villeneuve's Beauty and the Beast.

Beaumont was a teacher and author who worked as a governess in her early years. Her personal impetus was towards teaching children. She drew inspiration from Villeneuve but changed the story considerably, abridging it to end soon after the Beast's transformation. Her theme was virtue and emphasized Beauty's fine qualities that ultimately brought her happiness. Gone are the backstories, Beauty is a commoner raised in social status through her virtue. Gone are the references to sleeping together. Here is the introduction of the "Will you marry me?" The tone is much more didactic--think early children's literature with a message--but the story rises above it for the language is still lovely.

From my introduction to Beauty and the Beast Tales From Around the World:

It can be argued Beaumont prepared the tale to enter oral folklore with her concise edits, for her story is the one easily recognized by modern audiences. Her version of the tale was quickly translated into several languages and published all over Europe, where it grew in popularity, insuring its dissemination across many European cultures and beyond. One translation of Beaumont’s tale is provided in this collection as well as two other retellings by Andrew Lang and Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch that draw from both her adaptation and Villeneuve’s original tale, although Villeneuve’s version receives the primary credit it should. Yet many of the editorial choices resemble those of Beaumont.

So while Villeneuve wrote the original, we may not know the story so well today if Beaumont had not adapted it to her own purposes. The Beaumont translation I include in Beauty and the Beast Tales From Around the World is from 1783.

Can you imagine the lawsuits over such an endeavour today? Of course, Villeneuve was already dead by the time Beaumont adapted her story, but copyright issues would hinder this type of legacy. Although fan fiction has a similar connotation. Today I choose to credit both women with the story as one wrote the original and the other made it famous.

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