The second of today’s guest entries from Rebekah Fitzsimmons’s “Golden Age of Children’s Literature” course comes from Sarah Clow, who looks at one spin on the tale of a beauty and her beast.
By Sarah Clow
“He dragged himself closer and closer to me, until I felt the harsh velvet of his head against my hand, then a tongue, abrasive as sand paper. ‘He will lick the skin off me!’ And each stroke of his tongue ripped off skin after successive skin, all the skins of a life in the world, and left behind a nascent patina of shining hairs. My earrings turned back to water and trickled down my shoulders; I shrugged the drops off my beautiful fur,” (Carter, 66).
In the classic story of Beauty and the Beast, by Jeanne-Marie Leprince De Beaumont, the innocent and virtuous Beauty falls in love with the Beast for his kind nature, in spite of his beastly appearance. As a result, the beast’s curse is lifted and he transforms into a handsome prince. In the case of Angela Carter’s “The Tiger’s Bride”, however, the Beauty not only gives up her innocence, by showing her naked body to the Beast, but the Beast is a swindler who won the Beauty in a gamble with her father. In the woods, when the main character sees the Beast, a tiger, shed his disguise and reveal his true form, she expresses feeling as if her chest ‘ripped apart,’ (Carter, 63).
Here, for the first time, the Beauty appears to show sexual attraction to the Beast, rather than mere love for his character. She is tantalized by his beastly form, not in spite of it. Upon shedding her clothes, and bearing her nakedness for the first time, the Beauty experiences a sense of freedom, the shedding of social constraint and expectation to clothe oneself and restrict oneself within a certain form. She essentially sheds the disguise that society forces oneself to wear, to be chaste and virtuous, to appear acceptable.
At the end of the tale, the girl is allowed to return to her father, having done her deed and paid her father’s debts. The girl decides to remain in the Beast’s estate, however, and sheds her clothes, walking naked into the Beast’s room. Here, instead of the Beast transforming into a human, the Beauty’s human flesh is shed for that of a fur coat, as she transforms into a beast, herself. At this moment, is it as if Angela Carter is expressing that humans are in fact the beasts, and the purity we seek can only be found in the animal kingdom. Not only are there no social constraints in the animal kingdom, but the act of sexual attraction and action are simply natural, and necessary, rather than seen as something to restrict or deny, especially in the case of an unmarried young woman. By shedding the form of humanity, the Beauty and the Beast are able to be truly free, without any need for virtue, charm, or civility. They have instead returned to the purity and beauty that is nature.
Source: Carter, Angela. “The Tiger’s Bride.” The Classic Fairy Tales: Texts, Criticism. Tartar, Maria. New York: Norton, 1999. 63, 66. Print.
Sarah is an undergraduate at the University of Florida.