Bibliophilia in Beauty and the Beast

There are almost too many bizarre angles with which to look at the story of Beauty and the Beast. So many, in fact, that it’s nearly impossible to encompass the entire narrative with just one theme. One of the minutiae of the outré elements of the tale is Belle’s obsession with books. Unlike any of the other princesses reinvented mostly from the Brothers Grimm by Disney, Belle is the only one with such overt intellectual propensities, inciting the provincial people of her French village to remark of her head in the clouds aura when it comes to constantly reading, “With a dreamy, far-off look, and her nose stuck in a book/What a puzzle to the rest of us is Belle.”

In the animated version, she informs the baker that she’s just read a story about “a beanstalk and an ogre,” while the latest live action remake (weighty in its vitriol toward fuckboys) finds Emma Watson’s interpretation of Belle slightly cerebrally updated in telling the baker that she’s just read a book about “two lovers in fair Verona.” In both cases, Belle’s obsession with reading and obtaining any novel she can from the library causes her to be one of the most unique exemplars of what makes a woman attractive to a man, or rather, a beast–so maybe Disney is actually sending a mixed message here, like only an unsightly animal with an illuminati head can dig on a woman who lusts after reading.

Belle’s ability to escape into her own world with one flick of a page speaks to the power of literature, especially for those surrounded by, quite frankly, a dolt population. In the world of books, there is no limit to one’s travels (kind of like The NeverEnding Story). And even though a man with the level of narcissism of Gaston might not be interested in a woman with such a zeal for the written word (another reason Disney might actually be secretly balking at reading rather than promoting it), Belle would rather be alone with her alternate realities than in the “real world” with a dimwit like Gaston.

Whatever Disney’s ultimate statement about bibliophile women might be (positive or undercuttingly negative), it is the defining characteristic of Belle’s personality that prompts her to start warming to The Beast and his large “library.” Which kind of serves to accent John Waters’ now renowned aphorism, “If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.”

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