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Today's Inspiration

June 26, 2012

If mental health practices are Other Natasha’s cocktail topic of choice, fairy tale analysis is my particular hobbyhorse. Most people know the Disneyfied versions omit the morbidity and dark themes of the original fairy tales, but the original Beauty and the Beast, aside from some interesting quirks*, mostly remained intact from its romantic origins. (Actually, in the Disney version, the Beast is much more volatile than in the earliest version, in which he is essentially a courtly, chivalrous suitor.) This is probably the result of its feminized origin. The first version was written down by Madame de Villeneuve in 1740, as a longer version of the typical oral tale of Girl + Animal Bridegroom. (Bestiality a big topic in days of yore.) 
Since every fairy tale is not really just a cute kid’s story — indeed, Beauty and the Beast was originally written for sharing at the court with other adults and then widely circulated thereafter — there’s an underlying moral at the heart of this one. A few scholars feel the tale was intended to convince young girls that arranged marriages weren’t so bad, once you got used to the idea. Consider the elements: a father gives the hand of his daughter, the Beast cautions that the girl must “come willingly” and “of her own accord”, she has to honor both her father and new suitor’s wishes, the Beast grants the father wealth in return (essentially a dowry), and she comes to love a stranger, for which she is then rewarded with a becoming a princess and a pretty sweet marriage. He even gives her a ring at one point as a reminder of him. 
It could veer into a Bluebeard-esque cautionary tale about minding your husband, but — again possibly because of the female origin — Beauty actually gets away with a lot. The Beast grants her every wish, and takes an incredibly passive role in her life until she falls in love with him of her own volition. He even gives her lots of money and freedom to do whatever she wants with the place — should Megan buy some more white carpets, do you think?
So Don walking away from the Beauty and the Beast diorama has some interesting connotations. (First of all, the tale is French, not German, so the whole barmaid getup on Megan is rather odd.) Don lived out the Beast part of this fairy tale bargain, but he never becomes the Prince in the end. Megan married the temperamental Beast, trying to convince herself that he was the prince the whole time. And he certainly did provide for her, the way the animal bridegroom must in order to keep his young nubile bride. The reward for him (and her) is supposed to be a happy marriage; it’s one Don desperately needed, especially after failing with Betty. But she exchanges that reward for her own pride and success, and he never gets that happy ending he wanted. He went through the motions — he tried the courtly husband routine. It didn’t work. Don can’t become anything other than what he is; he walks away. He stays the Beast. And the Beast is marked by one thing: being alone. That castle gets mighty lonely, whether it be Ossining or a Manhattan suite.
*Footnote by Natasha Simons
*Three quick fucked-up things about this story, since it wouldn’t be an old-ass fairy tale without them: 1) in the first version, the Beast was cursed because he wouldn’t have sex with a fairy — they’re vindictive motherfuckers; 2) the Beast doesn’t turn into a prince until AFTER the wedding night — eek; and 3) Beauty’s sisters, who are real dicks to her in the original, are turned into statues by fairies to sit outside the castle until they recognizetheir assholery. Don’t fuck with fairies, man.

  1. yannelc reblogged this from madmenfootnotes
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    Very bummed that this blog hasn’t been updated in some time but I got the book on wishlist.
  3. dsol33 reblogged this from madmenfootnotes and added:
    Mind blown! Holy crap
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  11. lollipopcentre reblogged this from madmenfootnotes and added:
    I don’t watch much Mad Men, but this is interesting in itself.
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