The fairy tale Beauty and the Beast opens with the characters of a rich merchant and his six children, three boys and three girls. “The two eldest girls were vain of their wealth and position” (22), but the youngest girl, the prettiest of the three, had a more pleasing personality, humble and considerate. This youngest daughter was so beautiful even as a child that everyone called her Little Beauty. She was just as lovely as she grew up so that she was never called by any other name, a fact that made her sisters extremely jealous.
All three girls had numerous marriage proposals – the two eldest always turned their suitors away with the declaration that they had no intentions of marrying anyone less than a duke or an earl. Beauty too always turned her proposals down, but with kindness, answering that she thought herself too young and would rather live some years longer with her father. “Then through some unlucky accident the father lost all of his fortune and had nothing left but a small cottage in the country”(22).
When the father told his children that they would all leave town and move to the country cottage the two eldest daughters replied that they would not leave and go with him. They thought they had plenty of gentlemen who would marry them but soon found out that the men they had turned down so harshly now had no pity for them. On the other hand, many still had feelings for Beauty and several men offered to marry her yet she still refused, stating she could not think of leaving her father along in his troubles.
At first Beauty would sometimes cry in secret over their misfortune, but in a very short time she decided, “All the crying in the world will do me no good, so I will try to be happy without a fortune” (22). After settling into their cottage, the merchant and his three sons began plowing and sowing the fields and working in a garden. Beauty did her part to help out; rising at four o’clock every morning to light the fires, clean the house, and fix breakfast for her family. When all her work was done, Beauty would amuse herself reading, playing her music, or singing while she spun.
The two eldest girls, however, did not know what to do with their time; each day they had breakfast in bed, not rising until ten o’clock, and then they spent their days pitying themselves and grieving for the loss of their carriage and fine clothes. They could not understand Beauty’s acceptance of their new station in life, “What a mean-spirited, poor, stupid creature out younger sister is, to be so content with this low way of life! ” “But their father thought differently; and loved and admired his youngest child more than ever” (22).
About a year after they had moved to the cottage, the merchant received a letter informing him that one of his richest ships, one he had thought was lost, had actually just come into port. When the two eldest girls found out that their father would have to travel to the ship they begged him to bring them back all kinds of trinkets and gifts. Beauty asked for nothing so her father asked her what he could bring back for her and she responded, . . . “Since you are so kind to think of me, dear father, . . I should be glad if you could bring me a rose, for we have none in our garden. 23) When the merchant got to port to the ship there were unforeseen difficulties and, in the end, he headed back to his cottage as poor as he had left it. Less than thirty miles from his home, the merchant became lost in a dense fog. It was raining and snowing and the winds were blowing so fiercely the merchant was twice thrown from his horse. He feared that he would either die or cold, hunger, or be attacked by the wolves he could hear around him. Suddenly the merchant saw a long avenue with a light at the end.
Making his way towards it, he “found that it came from a splendid palace, the windows of which were all blazing with life. It had great bronze gates, standing wide open, and fine courtyards, through which the merchant passed; but not a living soul was to be seen. “(23). There were also stables where the merchant’s horse was able to take a good meal of oats and hay. Leaving his horse, the merchant entered the great hall of the palace and found a dining parlor with a blazing fire and a table elegantly set with one place setting.
The merchant was soaked from the rain and snow so he went to the fire to dry off, saying to himself, “I hope the master of the house or his servants will excuse me, for it surely will not be long now before I see them” (23). When the clock struck eleven o’clock the merchant, being very hungry, helped himself to dinner though he was still trembling with fear. When the clock struck twelve o’clock, he began looking around and opening doors. Through a door at the end of the hall he found a great room with a fine bed; he shut the door, removed his clothing, and went to bed.
When the merchant awoke the next morning, it was already ten o’clock and he was surprised to see a handsome new set of clothes laid out for him in place of his old ones. After dressing, he looked out the window and saw the most beautiful arbors, covered with all kinds of flowers. Returning to the hall where he had supper, he found a breakfast table prepared and ate heartily. Afterwards he headed to the stable to see about his horse; on the way he passed under one of the arbors that was loaded with roses. He recalled what Beauty had asked him to bring to her so he gathered a large bouquet of roses.
At the same moment he heard a loud noise, and saw coming toward him a beast, so frightful to look at the he was ready to faint with fear. ” “Ungrateful man! ” said the beast in a terrible voice. “I have saved your life by admitting you into my palace, and in return you steal my roses, which I value more than anything I possess. But you shall atone for your fault – die in a quarter of an hour. ” (24). The merchant begged for his life, explaining that he only picked the roses because one of his daughters had asked him to bring her back a rose from his journey.
The beast told the merchant he would let him go home, but in return he must either send back one of his daughters to die in his place or he must himself return in three months. Even though the merchant had no plans to send one of his own daughters back to the beast, he agreed to the deal thinking he could at least go home and see his children before returning to his death. The beast told the merchant to go back to the bedchamber where he would find a chest; he was to fill the chest with all it could hold so that he would not return to his home empty-handed.
The merchant took the chest and his horse and headed home to his family. A few hours later, when the merchant arrived home, instead of greeting his family with hugs and kisses, he could only cry as he looked at them. As he handed the roses to Beauty, he told them about the beast, the palace, and what had transpired. The eldest daughters began to cry and blame Beauty, saying she would be the cause of her father’s death. They also turned on her because she was not crying.
To this she responded, “It would be useless, for my father shall not die. As the beast will accept one of his daughters, I will give myself up, and be only too happy to prove my love for the best of fathers” (24). Beauty’s father and brothers tried to discuss the situation but nothing they said could change Beauty’s mind. The father had all but forgotten the chest during this time but found it at his bedside that night. He told only Beauty about the treasure for he knew how his other daughters would react, likely demanding to return to town.
Beauty, always thinking of other people’s happiness, told her father of two gentlemen callers her sisters had had while he was away and suggested to her father that he arrange those marriages right away. The three months passed very quickly and soon Beauty and her father made the trip to the palace. When they arrived, they found a supper set for them; as they finished their supper, the beast arrived. The beast spoke to Beauty, told the merchant he was to leave the next morning and never return, bid them good night, and left.
Despite their fears, Beauty and her father both fell asleep as soon as they lay down. The next morning Beauty convinced her father to leave her and return home. Afterwards, Beauty walked around exploring the palace until she came to a door marked “Beauty’s Room”! (25) In this room she found a glass that when she looked into it would show her old house and her father. She began to think the beast, perhaps, had some kindness in him. Every night, as she ate, the beast would come and talk to Beauty; every night he would ask her to marry him; and every night she would refuse.
When Beauty was alone she began to feel pity for the beast, saying to herself, “Oh, what a sad thing it is that he should be so very frightful, since he is so good-tempered” (25). After three months at the palace, Beauty saw in the glass that her father was dying of grief for her sake; she told the beast that if she could not go see her father it would break her heart. The beast made a deal with Beauty; he would allow her to go home to see her father but she was to return in a week or he, the beast, would die of sorrow.
Beauty agreed to return in a week. The next morning she woke to find herself in her father’s home. During this stay her sisters and their husband’s came to visit Beauty. They were very unhappy in their lives and even more enraged at the idea of Beauty being so happy with the Beast that one day the two eldest sisters went out into the garden and decided that if they could convince Beauty to stay more than the week that she originally promised to the Beast then maybe he would get so mad that he would eat her up when she did return.
This trick worked until the tenth night of her stay when Beauty had a dream that the beast lay dying in the garden because she had not returned. At that moment Beauty got up put her ring on the table and lay back down to sleep and when she awoke in the morning she was happy to find herself back at the palace. All day Beauty waited until supper time when the beast always came to visit her but when the clock struck nine o’clock and the beast and not yet show up she decided to go looking for him.
Beauty ran from room to room calling for the beast and then, remembering her dream, she ran out into the grass plot and saw the beast lying there looking dead. At this moment Beauty forgot all about his looks and threw herself on the beast just to realize, between her own sobs, that the beast still had a heartbeat. The beast then opened his eyes and said “You forgot your promise, Beauty, and so I determined to die; for I could not live without you. I have starved myself to death, but I shall die content since I have seen your face once more.
No, dear beast,” cried Beauty, passionately, “you shall not die; you shall live to be my husband. I thought it was just friendship I felt for you, but now I know it was love. ” (28). While Beauty lay over the beast, the entire palace lightened up and all kinds of rejoicing was going on, all of which went unnoticed by Beauty. Suddenly the beast was gone and in his place stood a handsome young prince who began thanking her for freeing him from his enchantment. Beauty, not realizing that the beast had turned into the prince began sobbing that she only wanted the beast and no one else.
The prince explained that he was the prince and that a wicked fairy had condemned him to the form of a beast and that the only way to break the spell was for a beautiful lady to consent to marry him. The prince told her that she had judged him by his heart alone and that now his heart and all that he had was all hers. Beauty was very happy and full of surprise and then the prince lead her into the palace where she found her father and sisters, along with the fairy she had meet in her dreams the first night she came to the palace.
The fairy then told Beauty that she had chosen well and that she would have her rewards. Then the fairy told the two eldest sisters that for all their ill deeds their punishment would be to see their sister happy, for they would be condemned to stand as statues at the door of her palace. She told the sisters that if they ever repented of and amended all their faults that they would become women again but she warned them that she feared they would remain statues forever. The fairy summed this story up best when she said, “for a true heart is better than either good looks or clever brains” (29).