It’s time for more fairy tale adventures, hooray! Today we are going to look at a story all about deception, mistrust and how curiosity kills the cat. Bluebeard (not a pirate) is a tale that, much like the others we have discussed, has been told and retold over the centuries. But it isn’t so well known in popular culture these days. Let’s see if we can figure out why by delving into those penned versions. Just a quick note first though, a lot of the depictions of Bluebeard have given him a turban, there is no mention of this whatsoever in any of my versions. This seems kinda racist (and by kinda I mean really), it’s an excuse for Europeans, a way of passing the evil buck onto non-Europeans (it’s called othering and is common in colonial literature).
By now you’ll be familiar with the name Charles Perrault. And if you have been reading all my posts you’ll probably have noticed I’m not his biggest fan. He does tend to be pretty sexist and his morals seem a little bit warped. Will he change our minds with Bluebeard?
There once was rich guy who owned a lot of property in and out of the city. Unfortunately, he had a blue beard… this apparently made him repellent to women and some would even run away from him (poor guy, surely you’d need more than just a blue beard to be that ugly). His neighbour had two beautiful daughters and him not being particularly picky he sidled up to her one day and asked for one of their hands in marriage but said she could choose which one (not very romantic but women run in fear of him so let’s give him a chance). Neither of the daughters want to marry him and the argue back and forth for weeks, in large part due to the fact he had married several times before and no-one knew what had happened to his previous wives (okay, I’m beginning to see why women ran away from him). Eventually after a very successful party thrown by Bluebeard the youngest sister relents and agrees to marry him. After a month or so of marriage Bluebeard says to his new Mrs that he has to go away for six weeks, she should invite some friends over and have a good time, gives her all the keys to the house and tells her she can go anywhere she likes, do whatever she likes just leave that one room locked. He’s very specific about that, and warns her that there’ll be no limit to his anger if she even opens the door a crack.
At first his new wife is determined to stick to the simple rules he’s left behind, she throws some great parties and should be having a gay old time. But she’s so curious about that little room she just can’t seem to enjoy herself. Eventually curiosity gets the better of her and she head son down to open the room up and have a nosy around. Big mistake. The floors are covered in clotted blood and there are dead women hung up on the walls. These women are his previous wives (Uh oh). She is so frightened by the sight she drops the key in the blood and no matter how hard she tries afterwards she can’t get the blood off the key (cut to Lady Macbeth yelling ‘out damned spot out!’). Coincidentally that same night Bluebeard returns early from his trip. He asks for all the keys back and after several lame excuses for why she hasn’t given him the key to the forbidden room he discovers it covered in blood. Well true to his word he is pretty blooming angry, he tells her she can march herself right on into her rightful place next to his other wives. She begs for a little more time to pray before he kills her but really she’s just buying time until her brothers can come to the rescue (I don’t know when or how she communicated with them). They turn up in the nick of time and slice through Bluebeard, who has no heirs so all his money goes to his curious wife. Happily ever after right? Well I guess I’d be happy with that story (the mass murderer getting his comeuppance and the family moving on in comfort) if it weren’t for the morals that Charles tacks on the end. He gives us two morals, the first is that curiosity is charming but leads to regrets and he says “women succumb […] And it always proves very, very costly”. There’s that winning personality of yours again Charles. I hope you don’t mind my saying but, what a tosser. Yeah curiosity killed the cat, but firstly the second half of that saying is ‘but satisfaction brought it back’ and secondly, I’m pretty sure men and women are prone to curiosity in equal amounts. And what about Charles’ second moral? Well I’m going to quote it because to sum it up would be to destroy Charles’ intent.
‘If you just take a sensible point of view, and study this grim little story, you will understand that this tale is one that took place many years ago. No longer are husbands so terrible, demanding and impossible, acting unhappy and jealous. With their wives they toe the line; and whatever colour their beards might be, it’s not hard to tell which of the pair is master.’
Well, well, well, well. Where do I even begin with that? That is absolutely not what someone should learn from this tale. Do not assume your husband cannot be a serial killer just because society has moved on, I beg you. Trust your husband because he is worthy of your trust, because he does nothing to make you feel unsafe, because he is a good man. As much as I hate to say it (because it’s a grim and disappointing view) while society has moved on there are still men and women that are evil at their core. There are men and women that can and do kill. This tale could just as easily happen today as it could have when Charles wrote it in 1697.
Shall we move on? I don’t want to turn into a preacher. The Grimm Brothers penned two versions of this tale, one called Fitcher’s Bird and the other called The Robber Bridegroom. I’ll just use one of them and robbers sound more interesting than birds right?
There was once a miller with a beautiful daughter, he was a good father and wanted to make sure his daughter would be provided for so when a rich man comes along to ask for her hand in marriage he checks him out and see’s nothing wrong with him. Good start right? Well not so much because it just so happens that the daughter isn’t too keen on the rich man, in fact just looking at him fills her heart with dread. She thinks he’s a bit shady and she doesn’t trust him at all. But daddy dearest has accepted the proposal and she finds herself engaged to him. One day he says that she should come and visit his house. She is not very keen on the idea and makes up plenty of excuses equivalent to I can’t, I’m washing my hair. But he grinds her down and she agrees to visit him on Sunday. Well Sunday rolls around and that dread is filling her heart again. To help her feel a little more secure about heading into the deep forest alone she fills her pockets with peas and lentils so that she can leave a trail as she goes (Good idea, she must be keen on fairy tales too).
When our lively bride to be arrives at the house she walks in and finds it empty. She searches all over the house and doesn’t find anyone until she goes to the cellar, there she finds a lady “as old as the hills” (that’s pretty old, I’m thinking this might be hyperbolic…). This old lady has some gloomy news and tells the bride that while she may think she’s there for her fiancé but actually she’ll be marrying death today (She’s jolly… poetic though). She’s the cook for a gang of cannibals and the bride is about to be eaten (much like in Red Riding Hood, this is simply and more subtle way of saying , ‘yeah this gang of blokes is going to rape you…’). Just then the gang comes back and the old lady hides the bride behind a barrel. That evening the bride has to hide away and watch (or at least listen) to the gang eat (rape) another girl. Once the gang fall asleep the old women helps her escape and they follow the peas and lentils back to town. When she gets back to town she comes up with a plan, she invites her fiancé over for a party, promising to marry him that very day. When he gets there everything is going pretty well, everyone is drinking and telling stories, generally having a wonderful time. Then it’s the brides turn to tell a story. She decides to tell them all about a dream she had recently then recounts her time in the forest in fear of her life and watching the other girl get “eaten”. This story is so shocking and detailed the people are worried about the character of the bridegroom if this is how she dreams. Then she tells them ‘oh wait, it wasn’t a dream. That actually happened.’ (Bad news for the bridegroom) The bridegroom and his gang were executed for their terrible deeds. The End.
Moral of this story seems to be to go with your gut. Right off the bat the bride doesn’t trust her fiancé and it turns out her gut was spot on. I’m not sure about this one, but I suppose you could also say the moral is that the miller should have let his daughter marry for love not money/security. Worth noting too, is the fact that this time the bride don’t need no man to come rescue her. She is helped by an old ugly lady though. So now who do I trust? Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and a little bit Red Riding Hood taught not to trust old ladies. Now all of a sudden, they help rescue this innocent woman and I’m lost on who I can trust again. Agh.
Let’s rush forward a few hundred years to the end of the 19th century when Joseph Jacobs is busy scribbling away, writing his own collection of fairy tales. He’s written Mr. Fox (sadly not anything like Fantastic Mr Fox). Thankfully Jacobs actually gives his characters a name, it’s really hard work summarising these stories without names you know.
There’s a much admired and beautiful Lady called Mary, her favourite admirer is Mr. Fox. And one day she agrees to marry Mr. Fox, she is excited and he tells her all about his castle in the forest, though strangely he has never invited her or her brothers to visit it. Not long before the wedding Mr. Fox has to go away on business for a while. Lady Mary takes the opportunity to head into the forest and check out his castle. Probably a good idea if she’s going to marry the guy, also she finds out that his house is filled with bodies… and skeletons… definitely a good thing to know before you marry him. She decides that it’s not really the right kind of homey for her and heads for the door, but Mr. Fox is on his way in with a passed out girl in his arms (also not what you want from your future husband). Lady Mary ducks behind a barrel and waits until he’s out of ear shot before moving, he’s taken the young girl off into a bloody chamber somewhere, no doubt to “eat her” like those robbers in the Grimm story. When Lady Mary gets home she is freaking out understandably but waits until Mr. Fox comes to pay another visit. When he does come she invites her friends, neighbours and brothers to join her. That’s when she starts telling them all about a “dream” she had. Of course by the end everyone realises this was no dream, the men jump up and draw the swords ready to cut Mr. Fox to pieces.
Jacobs story really hasn’t changed all that much from the Grimm Brothers story. Really the only difference is that Mr. Fox is a solo act when it comes to his heinous crimes. And if that doesn’t back up my assertion that no matter how much time passes this story is just as relevant as ever, Charles I’m looking at you. The fairy tales change with times and society, little elements are morphed so that they are more relevant and practical tales of learning. But this one hasn’t changed much for hundreds of years, because there are always evil men and women. I think the moral is to not trust blindly. Wealth does not make a good man, it is the person. What makes them who they are, the personality traits, the behaviour, the morals. Each of these young women was betrothed to a monstrous man because he could provide wealth and financial security. But that is not what makes a good husband. Financial security is great, but it’s an added bonus. The main feature should be who the man is. And the same should apply to wives.
That’s my theory on this stories anyway, it’s not something we discussed much at university because I’m sure we were busy looking at the gender theory and the psychoanalysis of them tales. I’m going to have to take a short break from these posts as I have some “proper” work to do and the deadline is coming up. But when I return I’ll hopefully have a good post on Cinderella for you.
P.S. Here’s some links to the other Fairy Tale posts –
Snow White = Disney just got Grimm
Little Red Riding Hood = Red is better than White
Hansel & Gretel = How To Grow Up Courageously
The Juniper Tree = Wicked Motherly Love…