I recently watched both Disney versions of Beauty and the Beast, and decided to read the (English translation of) the original novel, which I have yet to do. But it made me also think of the Phantom of the Opera, and I decided to read the translation of the novel before re-watching any movie versions, so I read that first. It in turn reminded me of the Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
Three French novels:
- Beauty and the Beast, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, 1740
- The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Victor Hugo, 1831
- The Phantom of the Opera, 1909
Two main commonalities: 1) a disfigured man in love with a beautiful heroine, and 2) a French author. Other than the basic premise, and the fact that the nearly two hundred year span in which they were written roughly corresponds with the popularity of Gothic horror, the three stories are unrelated.
It seems, rather, that although this type of story was popular internationally, the masters of it were all from France. This is not to say that there are not similar stories from elsewhere, or other time periods. Wuthering Heights, for instance, is an example of Gothic horror featuring a figurative monster who is in love with the heroine. But the three icons of this specific twist of Gothic horror – the physically deformed lover – happen to be French.
Which leads me to ask: What caused French authors to be this obsessed with literal, yet romantic, monsters? Can it just be coincidence?
Also, I noticed that Beauty and the Beast involves an enchantment turning a man into a literal beast. Conversely, the other two describe real-world physical conditions. I read (whether true or not) that Beauty and the Beast was written to comfort girls entering arranged marriages. So it makes sense that the Beast gets his girl and they live happily ever after. However, the other two seem to teach that “If you’re ugly, you won’t get the girl. Instead, you’ll fall in love and die miserable.” (Apparently they were not written to comfort anyone.)
Is it just the obvious? In questions of romance, the whole world looks to France?