Saturday, October 01, 2016

31 Days of Gothic Romance | Beauty and the Beast

Jean Marais and Josette Day in Jean Cocteau's  La Belle et la Bête (1946)
If I was any kind of blogger, I would have picked gothic romance as my Halloween countdown for last year. Tie it in with Crimson Peak. The thing is though that it took Crimson Peak to remind me how much I love the genre. And I've been thinking about it all year.

Tomorrow we'll get into the story that's generally acknowledged to have founded the genre, but all of my favorite tropes of gothic romance are present in Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve's Beauty and the Beast, published in 1740, a couple of decades before The Castle of Otranto. It's all about an innocent, young woman who's taken to a secluded castle against her will and lorded over by a sinister nobleman. That's the premise of all the best gothic romances, though there are many variations, especially around how the young woman escapes her predicament.

Beauty and the Beast has my favorite way though. A lot of gothic romances include a handsome, young, male hero who saves the woman from her malevolent master, but Beauty and the Beast lets her escape on her own. Or more accurately, choose not to escape by falling in love with the beast. Which is why I love the story so much.

George C Scott and Trish Van Devere in Beauty and the Beast (1976)
I think my first exposure to the story must have been the 1976 TV movie starring Trish Van Devere as Belle and her husband George C Scott as the Beast. At first it was just an interesting, cool, spooky, fairy tale, but by the end I was extremely touched that Belle fell in love with the monster. As a clumsy, nerdy kid who didn't think much of his looks and imagined that he was of zero interest to girls, this gave me hope. Maybe one day, I also would meet a beautiful girl who would look past my imperfections. (The only problem with the story is the way it ends, which undercuts Belle's sacrificial declaration of love by giving her a handsome husband, but her love and willingness to sacrifice are still there, so I try to overlook that the story doesn't entirely stick the landing.)

The Misunderstood Monster archetype became a powerful role model for me and explains my affection for characters from Frankenstein's Monster to Chewbacca. But it all started with the Beast and I've loved pretty much every iteration of the story I've ever seen. And my attachment to that story with it's spooky castle, monstrous noble, and heroic girl apparently also created a desire to see still other variations. And my love of gothic romance was born.

Anonymous (1813)
Walter Crane (1874)
Eleanor Vere Boyle (1875)
Lancelot Speed (1913)
Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman in the Beauty and the Beast TV series (1987-1990)
Disney's Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Vincent Cassel and Léa Seydoux in La Belle et la Bête (2014)
The drawings above were all taken from this excellent article on Black and White: Words and Pictures about artistic interpretations of the Beast. Even more in that link.


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I would have put money on a monster based countdown for this year. Maybe our discussion on The Uninvited should have been a hint of the broader possibilities and a dip into the misunderstood monster trope.

Both Crimson Peak and the 1946 Beauty and the Beast have been on my need-to-see list but I may need to add this TV movie as well since George C Scott is an actor that I'll watch in anything.

It seems like this countdown is peeling off the mask to give us a glimpse of the true you.

Michael May said...

I hadn't figured out my Countdown topic yet when I picked The Uninvited, but it's definitely an indication that gothic romance has been on my mind this year. :)


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