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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name


First Advisor

Anne E. Duggan


This dissertation is a diachronic analysis of the European literary tradition of animal or beastly bridegroom fairy tales, with specific emphasis on variants of the early modern French tales “Bluebeard” and “Beauty and the Beast.” I examine the evolving social significations of the central motifs of the curious woman and the beastly man from Biblical and mythological stories, through medieval Latin and early modern Italian and French literary fairy tales, and ultimately to contemporary French and Francophone adaptations. Drawing on Laura Mulvey’s (1989) notion of the “male gaze,” which is an active and dominant gaze that subjugates, eroticizes and objectifies women, and Rosemarie Garland-Thompson’s (1997) discussion of “staring” at a disabled body as “illicit looking,” I assert that both tale-types hinge on the interpretation of the gaze of the heroine as either an appropriation of the male gaze and transgressive, and thus associated with evil, punishment, and death in “Bluebeard,” or as a non-illicit and transformative gaze, and therefore connected with good, reward, and rebirth in “Beauty and the Beast.” I examine how these early modern French tales and their precursors maintain oppressive gender and able-bodied ideology, which position woman, on the one hand, as dangerously curious for forbidden knowledge or as an impetus for civilizing beastly men; and men, on the other, as monstrous, deformed, or deadly; in order to expose the diverse ways in which postmodern adaptations in French and Francophone literature and film complicate or reject these oppressive cultural scripts. I argue that adaptations by the writers Amélie Nothomb and Dominique Demers and director Catherine Breillat, unlike the “compact” fairy tales of Charles Perrault, follow the “complex” narrative structure popularized by French early modern women writers. I demonstrate how this “complex” narrative form in “Bluebeard” revisions contributes to multifaceted representations of female curiosity and desire. Finally, I contend that the postmodern “Beauty and the Beast” variants rework the theme of the beastly bridegroom to align with the social model of disability, which views the stigma of physical difference not as a defect in an individual that needs a cure, but rather as a product of social injustice.

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