Picking Apart the ‘Literary Princess’

On the way home from lunch, I sang Disney songs to my daughter as I drove. When “Belle” from Beauty & the Beast came on, I found myself pondering the lyrics of the song, which I had never really considered before. Not really. Belle puts down her life in this “poor, provincial town”, which I consider quite unfair now.

I would dare say that she is not only dreaming of “something more” but she does so because she is bored. How can one possibly be bored in her day and time? But then I realized something. Not once throughout the film does Belle show any particular skill, aside from attracting birds like Snow White and reading. She doesn’t cook, she doesn’t clean, though might assume she does so for her father. However, we see no evidence of it. For all we know, it’s Maurice who does the cooking and cleaning, as well as the inventing, in their house. (And just how do they make the money they need to survive if her father cannot sell his inventions?) She bemoans her provincial life, though almost all I see throughout her trip through the village are folks who work hard at whatever it is they do: the baker, the farmers and vendors at market, the barber, the milliner, the bookseller. What does Belle do? Wander the village and purportedly read all day, if she finishes books as quickly as she claims. By the way, being able to read in and of itself in this time period, THAT took time and tutelage and position. And yet she cries out, “There must be more than this provincial life!” However, the fact of the matter is that she seems to have it easiest of anyone in town aside from, forgive me, Gaston.

Belle was always my favorite ‘princess’ growing up because she loved to read so much. In my mind, I had never seen a heroine so like me. But now that I think about it in-depth, her character is a sort of social double-standard. I do envy Belle her version of a “provincial life”. I should dearly love to be able to sit around and read all day long and then run into the village and trade out books from the book store that I never had to pay for. I will admit that I have always romanticized the idyllic life, though I know that my imaginings of it are more like Marie Anoinette’s little manor, the Petit Trianon, or as sweet and simple as Buttercup’s farm in The Princess Bride or even the Shire. And Belle’s little village life that she so despises and wishes to get away from is nothing if not idyllic.

So let’s think about this. Belle goes from a discontent lower-middle-class (though a head above just about everyone else around her) village girl who wails that she wants “adventure in the great wide somewhere”, to a settled, pampered princess in a castle that, no doubt, now survives and thrives on the taxes of the surrounding villages, including the one where she lived. They do have a HUMAN staff to feed, clothe, and pay wages to now, after all, don’t they? But, in all of this, I should have liked to see her boil a kettle for her own cup of tea just once. A woman who can take care of herself; now that’s inspiring.