Beauty - with SPOILERS for Perilous Gard and F & H

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Thu Jan 20 17:22:48 EST 2000


On Wed, 19 Jan 2000 22:02:27 +0100, Hallie O'Donovan wrote:

Geez, Hallie, can't we just let this DIE?  :)  (Just kidding.  I start
getting nervous when I post these really long messages...like, "people must
be getting really really sick of hearing me babble by this time, why can't I
just shut up and do something useful for a change?"  And so forth.)

Hallie writes:
>Anyway, as we'd worked out, in essense we have a different response to the
>behaviour of the characters in the book.  You find it romantic, I find it
>manipulative.

Well, yes, but this is why I find the rest of your response a little
confusing.  I can understand WHY you see it this way, but I don't think it's
the only possible reading.  

>So here we are.  Melissa may say to herself something along the lines of:
>nice woman and all, that Hallie, but sheesh, has she got a bee in her
>bonnet about people being manipulative.  Can't she understand romance at
>ALL?"

Oh no.  Not even a little.  I mentioned a little while ago my experience
reading a novel called _Time of the Hunter's Moon_ where I had the same
reaction you did to _Beauty_.  It was obvious that the author intended for
the reader to believe in the romance between the two main characters, but
the guy was--not manipulative, but oppressively pushy--his courtship
consisted of forcing the woman to spend time with him, trapping her in rooms
of his home, contriving ways to get her alone to press his suit EVEN THOUGH
she was obviously not interested, even attempted rape.  The line was
essentially "All women really want it; if they say no, it's just a prelude
to yes."  So I really do see your point.  But you are interpreting certain
events in this novel differently than I did.  It's not a matter of thinking
that *everything* that passes for romance is actually good and healthy.

>Or in F & H,
>if Polly had tried to argue that she hadn't done wrong in the "prying" on
>Tom, (merely made a mistake, which had turned out wrongly), because she
>felt she *needed* to know what the story with Tom was.  Again, as the Beast
>felt he was justified in taking a hostage and holding her there until she
>fell in love with him, because he needed to.  (Tom in F&H, I would argue,
>did things very differently, and, well, I will argue it if necessary.  I
>think this has come up before.)

I think the situations are similar.  The beginning of each relationship (Tom
and Polly, Beauty and the Beast) is one where the man forces the woman into
a relationship for purely selfish reasons.  Tom latched on to Polly purely
as a possible means of getting free of Laurel; the Beast needs a wife and is
willing to take a hostage to get one.  I think we can see Tom as a nicer
person because we don't know his motives until later in the book, whereas
the Beast's intention is obvious from the beginning.  Again, the fact that
you see ALL of the Beast's actions as manipulative is where we part
company...see below.  (Now, see, if we start talking about F&H we might
actually drag this conversation on topic....)
>
>But if you don't buy any of this, there is an end of it, which is fine.
>[Although wait until the first manipulative creep comes and tells one of
>your daughters he'll die if she leaves him!

If any man said this, we would know he was lying.  The Beast is telling the
absolute truth.  Now, this is a part of the mystery that never gets
explained, and because of that it feels the most contrived--or, to use
JOdel's example, it's from the fairy tale that McKinley is working from and
forms part of the framework of the story, so she doesn't feel a need to
explain just why the Beast develops this physical dependency.  At any rate,
I don't see this as manipulative, because a) it's the truth, not a fable
he's making up to draw her back, and b) paraphrasing JOdel again, he has to
tell her or she has no reason to hurry back to him.  It would have worked as
well (maybe better) if he HADN'T told her, and she'd returned because she
really did miss him.  But again, this is part of the original story: the
family keeping Beauty longer than she's supposed to stay.

Do you see what I'm saying?  The root of our differing opinions is two
different interpretations of the actions in the story.  Frankly, I'm
surprised you didn't take yours to the logical end, which is that Beauty is
as willing to be manipulated as the Beast is to manipulate her.  *She*
chooses to go there, *she* lets herself be seduced by the physical comfort
the Beast surrounds her with, *she* defends the monster to her family (who
are all of the opinion that he's a horrible creature and she needs to get
away from him, even if he hasn't eaten her yet) almost as if she's been
brainwashed by him.  Ooooh, and it just occurred to me that a REALLY
sinister reading would have Beauty falling gradually under the Beast's spell
until, when she finally is trapped by declaring her "love," he's able to
pull her completely into the dream world in which he's a human lord and she
will rule with him, and the cataclysm at the end is actually the triumph of
his evil minions....  (I'm starting to enjoy this too much.)

>>I think in some sense she's always
>>>writing her own story for herself, and if you can relate in some way, you
>>>feel it too--but not if there's not some shared experience.  I think I
>>>shared that love of books with her, but not this love of place--or at least
>>>not this particular place.
>
>To show where you've lost me, I think I'd have to tie it back to F&H -
>another book infused with love of books and reading.  Yes, that's a big
>element of what I love in it, but also everything else about the book works
>for me.

Actually, I'm groping after something completely different here.  I've read
books that, on the surface, should have been something I loved.  All the
elements are there, but somehow the book just doesn't work for me.  Like
Pamela Dean, for example: I like her books, but they don't reach out and
grab me.  Or A.S. Byatt's _Possession_.  I'm not exactly sure what Deborah
was going for, in her initial post, but it suggests to me a way of looking
at *how* an author writes that says something about the general shape of her
books...or something equally nebulous.  But, again, not relevant to why I
like _Beauty_ and you don't, just why one might adore one book by an author
and not another that goes deeper than merely subject.  Sort of.  I don't
know anymore.

>Um, but if you want to hire a test reader for the
>"Lit Crit for Dummies" book you seem to have written, Melissa, I'll
>volunteer.  Maybe you can apply it against my fees?

If I thought I knew anything about official literary criticism any more,
possibly....I took everything I learned and turned it into something I could
use.  (You're not even allowed to say this sentence when you're talking
about deconstruction, I think.  Utility is passe.)  Which means it's all
about five steps removed from the original and I question the exactness of
what I've been saying as it applies to what actual critics think.  The thing
is, it works for me.  Pre-university education usually isn't equipped to
deal with questions like, Are the symbols really there in the text or do
they only exist if you recognize them?  Or, Do we have to know what the
author really intended to make a correct reading of a particular
novel/story/poem?  Or even, Why are certain books part of the canon of
acceptably literary works and not others?  *BUT* university education is not
equipped to deal with genre fiction as a literary form, especially since the
structure and rules are all different.  The only thing I think I'm doing is
molding what little I know to fit the books I love--because I am utterly
convinced that speculative fiction is literate and intelligent and moral as
any other...possibly more so.

This reminds me that I now have a copy of an article written by SF writer
Dave Wolverton, in which he explains the origin of modern "literary fiction"
and why it's really just another genre.  I'm not sure I want to post it to
the list in general, though I will if enough people think it's relevant, but
I have permission to forward it privately as well.

Melissa Proffitt
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