Beauty times 3 (part two)

JOdel at JOdel at
Fri Nov 19 12:52:45 EST 1999

Beauty x 3 (Part Two) Warning! SPOILERS

The first thing one realizes upon embarking on ROSE DAUGHTER is how very 
YOUNG McKinley must have been when she wrote BEAUTY. There is a sweetness, an 
openhearted innocence about BEAUTY which you realize that almost no writer 
(other than perhaps Nancy Atherton) would be able to get away with in these 
disillusioned days where most of the world seems to have become resigned to 
middle age. The contrast is almost enough to make you weep. By yet further 
contrast, ROSE DAUGHTER is told in the same voice which had just previously 
told us DEERSKIN, and like DEERSKIN, however attractive the characters may 
be, it is not a particularly likeable story. 

Some comparisons are in order;

In the traditional version, (a parable of an arranged marriage if there ever 
was one) the one which most use as their starting point, Beauty is the 
youngest of three sisters, the sweetest and most despised. There is no real 
reason for this last, it seems to be a mere hobgoblin consistency with generic
 folktale tradition. Their father is a merchant who has lost his fortune. The 
family is forced to cut back its expenses and to remove from the costly city 
in favor of a humble cottage in the countryside. The girls must now do their 
own housework. Beauty is the only one who does not complain, which gains her 
no respect. Into the middle of this situation there comes a glimmer of hope 
for improvement. One of their father’s ships may NOT have been lost. He makes 
the journey back to the city in hopes this may be true. His older daughters 
greedily ask him to bring them back jewels and luxuries. Beauty, when asked, 
insipidly begs him for a simple rose. 

The hope was false. The merchant’s luck is out. In fact, so far out is his 
luck that on his journey home, he goes astray in a storm and is in danger of 
loosing even his life. By chance he stumbles into the grounds of a grand, 
deserted palace where he is fed and housed for the night. Upon taking his 
leave in the morning, he makes the mistake of picking a rose for his youngest 
daughter. In keeping with his luck overall, this arouses the rage of a 
monstrous Beast who demands his life in payment. Upon begging for mercy the 
merchant is told that he may instead give the monster his rose-loving 
daughter. The monster claims that she, at least, will come to no harm. 

To no reader’s very great surprise, Beauty insists upon being the requisite 
sacrifice to save her father’s life. The merchant conducts her to the 
(obviously enchanted) palace where the Beast welcomes her and sends her 
father away loaded with treasure enough to reestablish himself and his 
family. From this point we all get to wallow in luxury for a while as Beauty 
becomes accustomed to a standard of living that most of us would like to be 
entitled to, and the Beast repeatedly pesters her to marry him. Despite these 
unwanted proposals, Beauty comes to be quite fond of the Beast. 

Then, for no particular reason that anyone has ever been able to discern, 
Beauty becomes consumed with homesickness and a longing for her father (well, 
that’s understandable, I suppose) and her nasty sisters (that’s not). She 
begs the Beast for a holiday. He agrees to it upon conditions. She must 
return to the palace by the specified time or her coach will turn back into a 
pumpkin and she will be in rags. Well, actually, no. That’s not it. He 
doesn’t always specify the ultimatum. But she, and we, are never left in any 
doubt that there is one. 

So Beauty makes a flying visit home. She has a wonderful time showing her 
riches off to her relieved father and her resentful sisters, both of whom 
have made grand but unhappy marriages in the interim. Of course she 
overstays, and has to make her way back to the palace under her own power, 
her magical transport having just as well have turned back into a pumpkin. 

She typically finds the Beast’s palace in the state of a complete squalor of 
neglect and no sign of the Beast. After turning the place inside out she 
eventually comes upon him dying of despair. She cries out that she loves him 
and wants to marry him, he turns into a handsome princeling. She demands to 
know where her Beast has gotten to. He claims to be her Beast and calls up a 
wedding celebration. Finis. 

Well. Okay. That’s the story according to tradition. According to McKinley in 

Beauty is the youngest of three sisters. Beauty is a pet name from childhood 
which has almost become an embarrassment to her, but one which she seems 
unable to shed. Her older sisters are both beautiful and good, and anyone 
with a proper way of thinking would value them. Beauty, presently going 
through the scrawny, spotty stage, has clearly decided to she is the "plain, 
clever one" of the family. Shortly after her eldest sister’s engagement to 
one of their father’s most promising young sea captains, the family’s fortune 
takes a severe decline due to bad weather, shipwrecks and other events beyond 
human control. The prospective son-in-law’s ship goes missing and no further 
word of it is heard. The family is eventually rolled up, their properties 
sold or auctioned off to cover debts. The only bright spot in the picture is 
the engagement of the second sister to a nice young man who is proposing to 
return to his county district and take up work as a blacksmith. The merchant, 
who had originally been a carpenter, agrees to join them and bring the rest 
of his family. 

The world in which this takes place is a generic "fairytale countryside" one, 
with the feel of a vaguely 16–18th century period. It is a rationalist world 
in which magic is scoffed at by any person of education or urbanity and 
whatever magic is practiced is regarded as silly charms and country 

The family leaves the city with their remaining goods, laden with gifts from 
well-wishers, the most conspicuous of which is a large, very valuable horse 
which Beauty had raised from a foal. The family eventually reaches the 
village of Blue Hill, and uncomplainingly rolls up its collective sleeves and 
gets to work settling in. The second daughter and her blacksmith marry and 
start their own family, and all goes reasonably well for a couple of years. 
The family appears to have outdistanced its bad luck and they prosper in a 
modest way. 

As always, news of the false hope reaches them and the merchant must travel 
back to the city to investigate. In McKinley’s version he asks if the girls 
want him to bring them something from the city. The two elder daughters 
sweetly tell him just to return safely. Beauty, in order to be saying 
anything at all, asks for rose seeds. From this point the tale follows the 
traditional version, the ship was not that of the oldest sister’s fiance, but 
a much smaller one. It and its goods were sold off for too small a sum to 
reestablish the merchant in business, and he finds that he hasn’t the heart 
to start over in the city in any case. After taking care of his obligations, 
he purchases a good horse with a little cash left over, but is unable to find 
rose seeds for Beauty. He returns to the country without them, goes astray in 
a storm and is sheltered and fed in a grand, but apparently deserted palace. 
He picks a rose, rouses a Beast and shows up on his own doorstep at the tail 
end of a blizzard with a rose and the tale of a monster who demands his 
daughter or his life. 

His formerly empty saddlebags turn out to be filled with treasure. Including 
a box containing a ring, and rose seeds for Beauty. 

As always, Beauty is strong-minded enough to force her father to take her to 
the palace where she is welcomed by the Beast, apologizes for her "misleading 
nickname" -- unnecessarily, she has outgrown her scrawny, spotty stage by 
this time, although with the only mirror in the cottage in her sister’s room, 
she has not realized this. Nor is she likely to discover it now, for there 
are no mirrors in the Beast’s (obviously enchanted) palace. Her father is 
sent off with another cargo of gifts, and it isn’t until afterwards that the 
Beast discovers with some dismay that Beauty has brought her horse. 

In any case we all get to wallow in luxury for a while, as Beauty settles 
into life in the palace. This period is enlivened by a running battle between 
Beauty and her two invisible servants who keep trying to dress her as a 
princess, which she considers inappropriate for a "plain little thing" like 
her. It is also illuminated by Beauty’s project to get her horse to tolerate 
the Beast’s presence, her exploration of a library containing all the finest 
literary works of the past or future, and Beauty’s steady attempt to figure 
out just what is going on in this place. After an incident which provokes a 
mini-crisis, she begins to discover that she is now able to understand her 
servants’ language, and by covertly listening to their conversations realizes 
that she has been brought here to break the enchantment. She is not able to 
discover how to do this by eavesdropping, however. 

The factor which propels us into the next stage of the proceeding is the 
Beast’s having revealed to Beauty a scrying glass in which she sees her 
family. In particular, she sees that her oldest sister has received a 
proposal of marriage from the local preacher. Their second sister encourages 
her to accept since her first love is lost and the preacher sincerely loves 
her. Beauty idly wonders aloud what DID happen to the young sea captain, 
whereupon the glass shows that he has not only survived, but he has just 
returned to port.

Well, obviously she must go to her family and tell her sister not to marry 
the preacher, since the girl obviously still loves the sea captain -- who, it 
turns out, is NOT lost. The Beast reluctantly agrees that Beauty may visit 
her family for a week, but that she must return before the week’s end, or he 
will die.

Despite the warning she allows herself to be persuaded to stay an extra day, 
nightmares send her off the next morning and she is soon lost in the forest. 
She and her horse wander the whole day and only find the road as the sun 
sets. They make their way back to the palace by moonlight and Beauty finds 
the palace deserted and the Beast dying. She revives him, he welcomes her 
home and she tells him that she will marry him. The enchantment is ended her 
family is brought to the palace for the wedding, finis. As a grace note, 
since the Beast’s enchantment had dragged on for centuries, he is no longer 
young. This Beauty’s bridegroom is not a young princeling, but a handsome, 
powerful nobleman in his prime.
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