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"If you steal from one author, it's plagiarism; if you steal from many, it's research." Wilson Mizner, 1876-1933, American Author
(Please use appropriate citations)

Feminine Neurosis in Jean Cocteau's
La Belle et La Bête

by Doré Ripley, ©2007-23

WHAT DOES Beauty and the Beast say to young women? Bruno Bettelheim suggests Beauty's love of the Beast is a "magic mirror" reflecting feminine "evolution from immaturity to maturity" (Enchantment 304), while Jack Zipes believes the story passes on social customs and manners (Origins 124). Jean Cocteau's 1947 film, La Belle et la Bête, presents dark images of male/female relations with a beast who is seductive instead of awful (Diary 2), a beast whose powerful gaze objectifies Beauty. A voyeuristic fable for mature audiences that displays the story-book roles society expects men and women to fulfill (Darker-Smith 2). In five minutes of the film, Beauty goes from fainting at the sight of the Beast to a submissive, "You are the master here," until finally declaring, "There are far more monstrous than you, though they conceal it well." Beauty and the Beast presents women as homebound hostages, who eventually exhibit neurosis by manifesting the psychological behaviors attributed to the Stockholm syndrome.

            The familiar version of Beauty and the Beast came from the pens of Madames d'Aulnoy and Villeneuve and was meant for "the entertainment of court" friends and other intellectuals of the French salon (Hearne 2). The ladies of pre-revolutionary France used literary fables to "comment on love, courtship, and marriage . . . [and were] taken very seriously by the writers and their audience" (Zipes When 43). European women were influenced by "romantic fiction [and] gradually gained . . . the right, first, to refuse to cooperate in arranged marriages, and eventually, to choose husbands for themselves" (Ross 55). Unfortunately, by the 1750s, the literary fairy tale emphasized the "enforcement of a patriarchal code of civilité to the detriment of women" (Zipes Origins 124), and by the last quarter of the eighteenth-century, fairy tales were the sole property of pedagogues.

            Beauty and the Beast begins with the loss of a fortune. Beauty's father leaves home to recover his wealth, promising to bring his daughter the single rose she asks for. When he runs across an abandoned palace, he plucks a rose from its garden, causing the castle's beastly owner to demand the merchant's life in exchange. But, says the Beast, the merchant may substitute one of his daughters, if she comes willingly. Against her father's wishes, Beauty complies with the Beast's demand, agreeing to remain at his castle. Beauty's "self-sacrifice" (Zipes When 47) is met with "self-determination" (Hearne 15) to honor her word. Her ultimate attraction to the Beast, while the product of his good and kind inner nature, reflects hostage neurosis. A neurosis which manifests when captives harbor "positive feelings . . . toward the hostage taker" (Fuselier 22).

            The Stockholm syndrome gained its name from a botched 1973 Swedish bank robbery, where an escaped convict and his former cellmate held four bank employees captive in a vault for 131 hours (Fuselier 22, Graham 1). Dr. Dwayne Fuselier, a psychologist with the Federal Bureau of Investigation outlines its manifestation. The hostage may feel anger or frustration towards the authorities. The captive may show sympathy or other positive emotional feelings towards the hostage taker (24), especially if the hostage taker reciprocates those positive feelings (25). In the Swiss bank robbery, one of the captives engaged in a consensual sexual affair with her captor, and refused to testify against him at trial (Giebels 243). "Since then, the term 'Stockholm syndrome' has become synonymous to the strong emotional bond that may develop between hostages and hostage-takers" (Giebels 243).

              The "occurrence of the Stockholm syndrome is partly correlated with the passage of time, and is greatly correlated with the amount of positive contact between hostages and the hostage taker" (Wesselius 44). Cocteau portrays Beauty's "three peaceful months" (Beaumont 138) at the Beast's castle, primping at her dressing tale, napping, and taking long walks through the castle garden. While some hostages may not immediately attempt escape because of fear, time spent in captivity triggers and compounds overwhelming feelings of dependence towards the hostage-taker (Wesselius 43) making it emotionally impossible for the hostage to leave.
              But why does the Beast treat Beauty so kindly in the first place? "A wicked fairy had doomed [the Beast] to keep his appearance until a beautiful girl consented to marry [him]" (Beaumont 142). Like the robbers trapped in the bank, the Beast's transgression traps him in his own fur, and motivates his outward displays of kindness towards Beauty. He holds the keys to his escape and relies on Beauty to succumb to his charms, causing a manifestation of the Stockholm syndrome, with Beauty transferring feelings of love onto the Beast, thereby releasing the Beast from his Ovidian prison and transforming him into the prince. On the other hand, Bruno Bettelheim suggests Beauty's affection for the Beast has nothing to do with the Stockholm syndrome. Perhaps as Bettelheim posits, it is only the natural blossoming of Beauty's sexuality-and this seems to be the way Jean Cocteau envisions the story.

             Bettelheim suggests that Beauty experiences "normal development, [when] sexual longings no longer seem beastly-to the contrary, they are experienced as beautiful" (Enchantment 308). Beauty must change her view of sex as "disgusting" to "beautiful" by transferring the Oedipal love for her father to the "more suitable" Beast (Bettelheim Enchantment 303), or in Freudian terms, "the marriage of Beauty and the Beast is the humanization and socialization of the id by the superego" (Bettelheim Enchantment 304). Sigmund Freud describes human sexuality in terms of Schiller's "'hunger and love are what move the world.' Hunger could be taken to represent the instincts which aim at preserving the individual; while love strives after objects, and its chief function, favored in every way by nature, is the preservation of the species" (Civilization 117). The idea that life is nothing but one's eternal striving for sexual preservation, whether natural or a consequence of neurosis, bothers intellectuals and analysts alike.
              Beauty's rejection of the Beast takes on a life of its own. Every night the Beast asks,"'Beauty, will you be my wife?'" (Beaumont 138). And every night Beauty replies, "'No, Beast'" (Beaumont 138). Just as Geoffrey Green describes in Freud and Nabokov, Nabokov's "aversion to Freud becomes a thing Nabokovian, a part of the self that is not the self" (77) and Beauty's continual rejection of the Beast sets the same sort of tension in motion. Jack Zipes also reflects disdain for the psychoanalytical when remarking, "numerous critics and shamans have mystified and misinterpreted the fairy tale because of their spiritual quest for universal archetypes or their need to save the world through therapy" (Introduction xi). Dr. Dwayne Fuselier makes a similar observation when commenting that the Stockholm syndrome, "has been overemphasized, overanalyzed, overpsychologized, and overpublicized" (22), believing the majority of captives rarely "sympathize" or fall in love with their captors (22). But Beauty does not pick Beast out of the available gene pool. She is his captive and she does fall in love with him.
             While Cocteau's film does not consciously present Beauty as a victim of the Stockholm syndrome, it nevertheless emphasizes the Beast's inner goodness, which somehow qualifies him as an acceptable mate for Beauty. In one five minute segment of film, Beauty goes from swooning at her first glimpse of the Beast to succumbing to the Beast's gentle prison because she can tell he is, "doing everything possible to help [her] forget [his] ugliness" (Cocteau 38:45). Beauty's ultimate kiss unwittingly rescues/transforms the Beast obliterating his former transgression, while moving Beauty from captive to jailor/liberator. But Beauty's authority is cut short by the sudden appearance of the traditional handsome prince. To escape his prison, the threatening, tooth-baring Beast suppresses his frustrations, in order to become the virtuous Beast with whom Beauty falls in love. It is the Beast's acts of kindness towards Beauty that causes her to manifest feelings of love, or the Stockholm syndrome.
              La Belle et la Bête maintains the moral conventions of female self-sacrifice, while the camera reflects the Beast's personality wholly onto the screen. The Beast's good and gentle inner qualities struggle with his animal cunning in order to nurture Beauty's affections. Rather than explode in anger, the Beast runs away from Beauty when she tells him of her lover. When Beast's predatory nature is piqued by the appearance of easy prey, he takes Beauty back to the castle before baring his claws, and hunting down dinner.
             Once Beauty arrives at the Beast's castle, Cocteau's audience watches the Beast watch Beauty. The film cultivates the Beast's gaze, which sometimes creates a feeling of menace by depicting a predatory man/beast whose animal reflexes could snap at any moment. The feeling of watching extends to the Beast's castle, with human-faced caryatids on the fireplace watching Beauty's every move, hand-chandeliers pointing her along hallways, and human-figured candelabras smiling affectionately over her. Cocteau's concentration on the Beast's watching objectifies Beauty, and is elucidated by Cocteau's observation that "the dresses come alive" (Diary 85), not the actress in them. Beauty is a dress-up doll wandering through the castle or its gardens, eating under the gaze of her captor, or sitting in her room reading, daydreaming, and looking at herself in the mirror, a voyeuristic view into a woman's boudoir.
             Teresa de Lauretis suggests films create visual texts. "The representation of woman as spectacle-body to be looked at, place of sexuality, and object of desire- . . . finds in narrative cinema its most complex expression and widest circulation" (4). While the voyeurism of La Belle et la Bête seems a function of looking, or rather, male gazing, with the audience watching the Beast watch Beauty, it is contrary to the oppressive male gaze. The Beast's staring functions to reveal his sensitive inner nature and therefore dissipates the feeling of menace, while causing Beauty to manifest neurosis, consequently directing affection his way. Cocteau's vision of watching, proves that "love develops in the context of seeing" (Hearne 181). Beauty has to observe the Beast's good behavior over an extended period of time before falling in love with him. Watching in Cocteau's film acts as a catalyst, shifting Beauty's revulsion, first to sympathy, and then to love.
             Loving to Survive proposes a "societal Stockholm syndrome" to explain "women's femininity, love of men, and heterosexuality" (Graham xvii). The authors theorize that, "like hostages who work to placate their captors lest those captors kill them, women work to please men, and from this springs women's femininity . . . Like hostages who bond to their captors, women bond to men in an effort to survive" (Graham xiv). A recent study "found female victims of domestic violence often identified with [the] passive, female role models they had encountered in fairy tales as children and believed that if their love was strong enough they could change their partner's behavior" (Darker-Smith 1). Beauty and the Beast rang true with these women, and "may be the reason why women remain locked in domestic abuse situations, feeling powerless to leave" (Darker-Smith 2). Perhaps the women of the French salon wrote Beauty and the Beast as an archetype for the Stockholm syndrome they experienced in their own domestic spaces and relationships, but could not identify.
              Whether one views Beauty and the Beast as a subversive proto-feminist tract denouncing the ills of a misogynistic patriarchy penned by the women of the French salon, or as a treatise on morals designed to educate children, or as a guide to female sexual maturity, Beauty's captivity within an enchanted domestic space presents a troubling picture of feminine neurosis. In a previous age, it could be said that the arranged marriage led to a self-fulfilling prophecy of the Stockholm syndrome, and the women of the French salon encoded this psychological neurosis into Beauty and the Beast. Others suggest Beauty and the Beast helps girls overcome their natural aversion to the sex act by transferring oedipal feelings for their fathers onto appropriate male spouses. The ethereal La Belle et La Bête presents a Beast whose watching facilitates love, and a Beauty who succumbs to neurosis. Perhaps, Beauty's manifestation of the Stockholm syndrome is love's catalyst.

Works Cited

Beaumont, Madame LePrince de. "Beauty and the Beast." 1756. Jean Cocteau. Beauty and the Beast: Diary of a Film. 1950. Trans. Ronald Duncan. New York: Dover, 1972.

Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment. The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York:  Knopf, 1976.

Cocteau, Jean dir. La Belle et la BÍte. Perf. Jean Marais and Josette Day. Comitť Cocteau, 1946. DVD. Criterion, 2003.

---. Beauty and the Beast: Diary of a Film. 1950. Trans. Ronald Duncan. New York: Dover, 1972.

Darker-Smith, Susan. "Fairy Tale Princes Turn into Beasts." Interview. Women's Feature Service. 13 June2005. Article. 16 Sept. 2005. <http://bob.csueastbay.edu>.

Freud,Sigmund. "Civilization and Its Discontents." The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Trans. and Ed. by James Strachey. Vol. 21. (1927-1931). London: Hogarth Press, 1961. 59-148.

Fuselier, G. Dwayne Ph.D. "Placing the Stockholm Syndrome in Perspective." FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. July 1999. 22-25.

Giebels, Ellen, Sigrid Noelanders, and Geert Vervaeke. "The Hostage Experience: Implications for Negotiation Strategies." Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy 12 (2005): 241-53.

Graham, Dee L. R., Edna I. Rawlings, and Roberta K. Rigsby. Loving to survive: Sexual terror, men's violence, and women's lives. New York: New York UP, 1994.

Green, Geoffrey. Freud and Nabokov. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1988.

Hearne, Betsy. Beauty and the Beast. Visions and Revisions of an Old Tale. Chicago, U of Chicago P, 1989.

Lauretis, Teresa de. Alice Doesn't: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984.

Peel, Ellen. "'The Worst Wolves are Hairy on the Inside' Metaphor in Angela Carter's 'The Company of Wolves.'" Faculty Conference, English Dept. San Francisco State University. 23 Aug. 2005.

Ross, Deborah. "Escape from Wonderland: Disney and the Female Imagination." Marvels and Tales 18.1 (2004): 53-66.

Wesselius, Cassie L. M.D., James V. DeSarno. "The Anatomy of a Hostage Situation." Behavioral Sciences and the Law 1.2 (1983): 33-45.

Zipes, Jack. "Introduction." Spells of Enchantment. New York: Viking, 1991.

---. "Origins of the Fairy Tale for Children." Children and Their Books. A Celebration of Iona and Peter Opie. Eds. Gillian Avery and Julia Briggs. Oxford: Clarendon, 1989. 119-34.

---. When Dreams Came True: Classical Fairy Tales and Their Tradition. New York: Routledge, 1999.

All pictures from Diary of a Film by Jean Cocteau, Dover Publications, 1972.