Papieau, Isabelle. Il y avait des fois, << La Belle et la Bete >> : realite et magie a l'italienne. [Once Upon a Time, "Beauty and the Beast": Reality and Italian Magic].
Although the influence of the sixteenth-century Italian authors Giovanni Francesco Straparola and Giambattista Basile on early modern writers of French literary fairy tales is well-known to those who specialize in the field, there still exist few texts available to scholars who seek to track the broad effects of Italian influence on canonical or classic fairy tales and their contemporary adaptations. Isabelle Papieau's scholarly work strives to highlight such an influence, not only of the fairy-tale collections by Straparola and Basile, but also of Italian culture, art, architecture as well as history in general and especially the period known as the Quattrocento, on later adaptations of the French fairy tale "La Belle et la Bete" (Beauty and the Beast). Il y avait des fois (Once Upon a Time; all translations from the text are my own), attempts to uncover traces of influence from the Italian Renaissance present in this particular fairy tale beginning with Madame de Villeneuve's eighteenth-century French literary work and expanding across a vast array of multimodal adaptations beyond print culture such as film, theater, and ballet. Papieau's text may therefore, be useful for scholars in French Studies working with the fairy tale of "La Belle et la Bete." However, the text will be most beneficial primarily those who are interested in the possible Italian influence on early modern French texts and contemporary film adaptations by Jean Cocteau, Walt Disney, and Christophe Gans or those interested in a unique perspective on contemporary French language adaptations beyond these prominent films.
Il y avait des fois opens with a short introduction and is then divided into six chapters, each exploring a significant or noteworthy adaptation of "La Belle et la Bete." Surprisingly, in her introduction Papieau avoids any explicit mention of the tale of "Cupid and Psyche" from Apuleius's Metamorphoses, recognized by scholars as the literary precursor of "La Belle et la Bete" and instead refers vaguely to the presence of the dichotomy between beauty and ugliness and "un theme mythique" (a mythical theme) (5) or to "une thematique universelle et intemporelle" (a universal and timeless thematic) (7). Apuleius is named only once in passing, along with two other texts from Antiquity and the lais of Marie de France from the Middle Ages. Papieau also ignores any connection between "La Belle et la Bete" and "Cupid and Psyche" in her later chapters and only once briefly mentions "le mythe d'Eros et Psyche" (the myth of Eros and Psyche), in connection with Ovid's Metamorphoses, in the first paragraph of her conclusion. Therefore, the bulk of the introduction is dedicated to a surface-level treatment of or, at times, mere naming of a multitude of adaptations and of the extensive merchandise and advertisements inspired by the tale. Rather than such a summary on the centuries old and wide-spread cultural currency of "La Belle et la Bete," a review or concise overview of previous relevant scholarship on the tale might have proved more useful for readers.
Papieau takes a chronological approach to the variants she chooses to include in her analysis rather than organizing her text thematically, which leads to some repetition as several of the adaptations included in Il y a avait des fois present the same reflections on Italian influence or equivalent cultural anchorage. The first two chapters are dedicated to the eighteenth-century French literary fairy-tale variants, opening with Madame de Villeneuve's 1740 text before moving to Madame Leprince de Beaumont's 1756 abridged version. Contextualizing Villeneuve's tale, chapter one opens with a subsection examining the theme of arranged marriages prevalent amongst the upper-classes during the Ancien Regime, and which is rejected in "Le Belle et la Bete" in favor of individual desire. The chapter continues with an analysis of the Italian influence of mirrors in the decor of Bete's palace, Belle as spectator of Italian comedies, and finally the Italian origins of mythological and hybrid beasts and the "cabinet de curiosite" (cabinet of curiosities) of the eighteenth century. In the second chapter, the purpose of underlining the influence of the Italian Renaissance seems to be set aside as the reader is instead offered information on the importance of Enlightenment philosophy surrounding the publication of Madame Leprince de Beaumont's moralizing and didactic 1756 text. Papieau highlights Beaumont's role as an educator for young bourgeois girls and Belle's, as opposed to her sisters', exemplary character, emphasizing her curiosity for learning through books yet her submissiveness to the men around her. In the final subsection of the second chapter, Papieau discusses the "homme sauvage" (wild man) depicted during the Italian Renaissance, eighteenth-century French society's fascination with such exoticism, and the life of Pedro Gonzales, whose face was covered with hair follicles due to the condition of hypertrichosis, as a possible model for Beaumont's beast.
In the subsequent chapters, Papieau moves from the early modern literary tales into the realm of live film, animation, and even musical theater beginning with the 1946 film by Jean Cocteau in chapter three, Walt Disney's 1991 animation and the Broadway musical it inspired in chapter four, and finally the 2014 "heroic fantasy" by Christophe Gans in chapter five (117). The Venetian influence that Papieau sees in Cocteau's film is discussed only in the final section of chapter three as the greater part is dedicated to the marvelous or magical elements, the impressionist play of light and dark, and again the exoticism present in the film. Papieau's discussion of mirrors, colors, and costumes similar to the commedia dell'arte, artistry and architecture, and pyrotechnics in Cocteau's film, all of which harken back to the Italian Renaissance, are elements shared with Disney's animated adaptation and Gans's film discussed over again in the following chapters. As in the chapter on Cocteau, the discussion of the influence of the Quattrocento in Disney's and Gans's works is at times overshadowed by the examination of varied topics such as specific characters, the play of lighting, and the marvelous or fantastical elements in the films. In the final chapter, Papieau discusses an array of adaptations for young audiences and readers, such as a comic strip, a ballet, and illustrations accompanying literary works. In this chapter, yet again the desire for breadth of coverage of diverse adaptations and topics prevails over depth of support for Papieau's thesis of a prevalence of Italian Renaissance influence on each adaptation. However, for readers of French working with "La Belle et la Bete" and seeking a unique perspective on the Italian influences behind Cocteau's costume choices or the inspiration behind the architectural design of the Beast's chateau in Gans's film, Il y avait des fois will prove useful.