bonny_kate: (Default)
Since my previous post about beauty in fairy tales, I have been thinking about the relation between love and beauty. I touched briefly on this relation before, and it is worth considering in more depth. There are two ways in which beauty may be related to love in the fairy tale, or at least two that I will speak of, and I shall call these redemptive and purifying, in order to better differentiate them. They may both, interestingly enough, be found in the different versions of Beauty and the Beast.

The first relation between love and beauty is redemptive. Here, love redeems and transforms the beloved from something wicked or ugly to something beautiful. In this version of Beauty and the Beast, the Beast was turned for his wickedness, and it is the love of Beauty that causes him first to become good, and then to become human (such as in the Disney version, or Beauty by Robin McKinley). The Beast was not beautiful in any way; he was ugly in both spirit and form until the love of Beauty redeemed him. The transformative love of the beloved is, I think, more easily understood than the second relation.

The second relation between love and beauty is purifying. In this instance, the beloved is always beautiful, yet the lover does not realize or cannot see the beauty of the beloved until the lover truly loves the beloved. Love purifies the eyes of the lover so that they can see the truth. The beloved always was beautiful, but was not seen clearly at the beginning. To the lover, the beloved seems to grow more beautiful, yet it is not a change in the beloved, as in the first relation, but a change in the lover that causes this. Beauty learns to love the beast, and then finds that he is not only good, but beautiful in spirit and body (as in Robin McKinley's Rosedaughter). This is also the love of Dante for Beatrice. It is not, in a sense, that Beatrice grows any more beautiful, for she is always as beautiful as she can be (the stability of souls in heaven is established by Dante), but as Dante's eyes are opened, as his soul grows, he is able to see more of her beauty.

Now it becomes a bit more complicated, because both relations are sometimes present simultaneously in fairy tales. The Andrew Lang version of Beauty and the Beast is an interesting example of this. Here, the love of Beauty is redemptive, for it transforms the Beast to a prince, yet it is also purifying, for Beauty must look beyond the form of the Beast and the form of the prince in her dreams. In other words, Beauty's love for the Beast is redemptive for the Beast, and is also purifying for Beauty. I think both relations are also found in Phantom of the Opera.

Love may redemptively create beauty, or love may purify the eyes to see beauty, but beauty is always inextricably linked to love. When Dante sees the Beautific Vision at the end of Paradise, it is a vision of the love that moves the sun and other stars.
bonny_kate: (Default)
Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White . . . why are all the heroines in fairy tales beautiful? Surely it is the general rule that princesses, adventuresome daughters, and generally any woman destined to live happily ever after is stunningly beautiful. I think I know why this is, but unlike the role of happiness in fairy tales, which I have thought much about, I am sorry to relate that I have not thought nearly as much about the role of beauty in fairy tales, because I have not thought nearly enough about beauty. But, I shall do my best with this topic.

Let me start by making an artificial distinction between two types of beauty, that I think will be helpful. First, there is physical beauty. Any object, such as a rose, may have physical beauty. Secondly, there is moral beauty. This is independent of physical beauty, but may coexist with it. Let me see if I can describe someone who has moral, but not physical, beauty. Mother Theresa was a very good person (I take this to be generally agreed, and not really debated). She was not physically beautiful (just look at any picture), but she was morally beautiful. She was so good and kind that she was beautiful. Moral beauty is the beauty of the soul. A wicked person may be able to be physically beautiful, but they can never be morally beautiful.

But this distinction that I've made is, at least in some ways, a false distinction. It is not possible to separate the physical from the spiritual in a person. While my self, my soul, does not reside in, for instance, my toe, my soul is manifested in my physical self. It is part of who I am. This is very important, because it may help us to see how moral beauty is related to physical beauty. Take a very plain, but virtuous Cinderella. Her moral beauty will shine through her plainness. You will find yourself thinking that her freckles, that you thought detracted from her complexion, either add to her beauty, or are really no longer noticeable. I have found this to be true with my friends. Some who I have thought plain have really been beautiful, once I have known them. What I think happened was that the eyes of my soul were opened, so that I could truly see beauty. The physical has not merely been sublimated to the spiritual, but has been beautified by the spiritual.

To use a counter example, which I think further strengthens the argument, take the wicked witch of Snow White (I will here refer to the character in the Disney film). She seems beautiful at first, but because of her wickedness we see that she is truly an ugly hag. I do not think (and I speak this tentatively), that someone who is truly wicked can be beautiful. A wicked witch or enchantress may appear beautiful, but like the Siren of Dante's Purgatory, once our eyes are opened we will see that she is truly hideous.

Before I return to the beautiful heroine of fairy tales, I want to speak briefly on beauty and ugliness on those we meet daily. If it is true that the wicked are really ugly, and the virtuous beautiful (and while I think this true, I am not very certain of it), there are two dangers we must be wary of. First, we must not equate physical beauty with moral beauty. That someone has physical beauty does not signify that they are virtuous, or that they are wicked. We can assume nothing about the moral beauty of the soul from the physical appearance. Second, we should not try to simplify real living, breathing people down to a determination of whether or not they are morally beautiful. It is not so simple as that, because there may be beauty and goodness within a very wicked person that can only be seen by love or pity (such as the Phantom), or there may be vice or frailty within the heart of a very morally good person (many times within fairy tales the hero or heroine chooses wrongly before they choose rightly). Outside of death, there is always the possibility for a fall from grace, or a redemption from evil.

In light of all this, I propose that the beauty of the heroine of fairy tales is often a moral beauty. Truth, goodness and virtue are beautiful, and will always shine through and beautify the physical. My friend N. is very beautiful, but you may not know this unless you know her as I do. I am not content, however, with tritely saying that her soul is beautiful, and it doesn't matter what her physical appearance is. Rather, I think that her physical appearance is beautiful because of her beautiful soul. Cinderella is good, and therefore she is beautiful. I wonder if beauty, linked as it is to goodness and truth, is an indicator in fairy tales to virtue. (I exclude from this category the wicked but beautiful enchantress on the grounds that it is clearly either a spell or refers only to the appearance of beauty; a merely outward beauty). This fits in well with Beauty and the Beast. Beauty, who is both beautiful and virtuous, loves the true nature and soul of the Beast, and it is through her love that his physical appearance is changed to properly manifest his soul (this works really well with versions where the Beast was cursed so that his physical appearance matches his soul, and can only be changed once his soul has first changed).

To conclude, I think that beauty is more than merely the physical, but exactly what that means and how it works, I can't say.


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Kate Saunders Britton

April 2017

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