In Brief: An enjoyable retelling of Beauty & the Beast; nice depiction of loving family and generous neighbours
Publisher: David Fickling
Published in: 1978
Age Range: Pre Teens+
Period: 18th C
Setting: Sea port & Small country village
- Beauty is the youngest daughter of a sea merchant who falls on hard times. Her name originally is Honour, but she gets the ironic nickname of Beauty. She is rather awkward, bookish and unfeminine.
- Grace & Hope are Beauty's older sisters, kind to their younger sister.
- Mr Huston is the father of the girls, an honest and hard-working man who ensures that all his debts are paid and that his workers are looked after when his business collapses rather than keep money back for himself and his family.
- Ger marries Hope and offers to share with the impoverished family the house he is buying.
The story is the conventional one of Beauty & the Beast: the father who inadvertently trespasses on the enchanted castle, and who must send one of his daughters to live with the Beast who inhabits it; the growing love between the Beast and the girl; the overstayed leave-of-absence and how it brings the Beast close to death, causing the girl to proclaim her love for him, unwittingly breaking the enchantment he was under.
The traditional storyline is nicely embellished with homely details of the life of the merchant and his daughters. The way in which the family faces up to the ruin of their business, and in particular the care the father takes to pay his debts, even when he would have been let off, and to see his workers well done by, is exemplary.
In addition, all around are generous to a fault: Ger, newly married to one of the daughters, offers to share the house attached to the smithy he has bought; the ostler gives Beauty a valuable horse; after the auction of their belongings, the family find many objects left for them by their friends and neighbours.
One can find no fault, either, with the atmosphere in the enchanted castle ruled over by the beast. Beauty is treated with the utmost care and attention, and the Beast does not press his attentions on her when she does not wish it.
The setting of the story is slightly indeterminate, as is the way in fairy tales. The author plays a game or two when talking about the library which contains books unknown to the well-read Beauty such as Kipling's Kim and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and there are constant references to the ancient Classics in which Beauty immerses herself.
Spring grew slowly into summer. I no longer needed a cloak on the long afternoon rides, and the daisies in the meadows grew up to Greatheart's knees. I finished rereading the Iliad and started the Odyssey; I still loved Homer, but Cicero, whom I read in a spirit of penance, I liked no better than I had several years ago.
Wednesday 23rd July 2003