If great writers are able to escape the influences of their era and write in a timeless fashion, then Jeanne Marie LePrince de Beaumont is certainly not a great writer. Beaumont wrote Beauty and the Beast in eighteenth-century France during the reign of Louis XV. It was a time when the enormous bourgeoisie population was slowly growing in independent wealth, yet remained grossly overtaxed and starved. These peasants were systematically excluded from the aristocracy and the workings of government. France was a stronghold of the dying feudal-influenced monarchy system, in which the king declared himself an absolute monarch with the divine right to rule as awarded to his bloodline from God. Because of the works of the Enlightenment, commoners were growing more aware of this abusive monarchy-peasant relationship and, consequently, less inclined to accept the royal rule from Versailles (Brainard).
Meanwhile, in 1756, de Beaumont published his fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. While it was certainly not a novel to usher in a revolution, Beauty and the Beast used symbolism to capture the essence of the eighteenth-century French social climate. The merchant father, for example, came from the small wealthy common class. However, since his social standing was not that of nobility, it was naturally unstable. At a moment’s notice, the merchant lost all of his fortune (possibly due to government claims upon his earnings), and he and his family were left to lead peasants; life.
The merchant’s two oldest daughters, both in love with money, enjoyed the lifestyle of their wealthy merchant family, but they knew that their father’s fortune coul...
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...ld ensue more than thirty years after Beauty and the Beast was printed).
While de Beaumont is far from the likes of Rousseau and Voltaire, he certainly was capable of capturing a moment and representing it in his work. De Beaumont chose symbolism, a more indirect manner of expressing the same social climate to which the philosophers referred. Beauty and the Beast hides these references behind its more direct and simple childhood lesson of not judging people by their looks. Fairy tales, in this way, are lenses into the social landscapes of the authors’ lives.
Brainard, Rick. Frances Kings of the 18th Century. 2001. 18th Century History. 09 Feb. 2004 < http://www.history1700s.com/article1029.shtml>.
De Beaumont, Jeanne-Marie LePrince. “Beauty and the Beast.” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: Norton, 1999. 32-42.
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