Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve
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Barbot was born and died in Paris, France, but belonged to a powerful Protestant family from La Rochelle. She was the descendant of the notable Amos Barbot who was a Peer of France and a Deputy of the Estates General in 1614. His brother, Jean Amos, became mayor of La Rochelle in 1610. Another relation, Jean Barbot (1655-1712) was an early explorer of West Africa and the Caribbean, who worked as an agent on slave ships. He published his travel journals in French and English when he migrated to England to escape the prosecution of Protestants after Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685.
In 1706, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve married Jean-Baptiste Gaalon de Villeneuve, a member of an aristocratic family from Poitou. Within six months of her marriage, she requested a separation of belongings from her husband who had already squandered much of their substantial joint family inheritance. A daughter was born from the marriage but no records indicate if she survived. In 1711, Gabrielle-Suzanne became a widow at the age of 26. She progressively lost her family fortune and was forced to seek a means of employment to support herself. Eventually, she made her way to Paris where she met Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon, or Crébillon père, the most famous playwright of tragedies of the period. It is likely she began co-habitating with Crébillon père in the early 1730s (although the earliest documented date is 1748), and remained with him until her death in 1755. Gabrielle-Suzanne assisted Crébillon père with his duties as the royal literary censure, and thus became knowledgeable about the literary tastes of the Parisian reading public.
Barbot published both fairy tales and novels. Her publications include a novella Le Phoénix conjugal (1734), two collections of fairy tales, La Jeune Américaine ou les Contes marins (1740), and Les Belles Solitaires (1745), and four novels, Le Beau-frère supposé (1752), La Jardinière de Vincennes (1753), Le juge prévenu (1754), and the Mémoires de Mesdemoiselles de Marsange (1757). La Jardinière de Vincennes was considered her masterpiece and greatest commercial success. The Bibliographie du genre romanesque français 1751-1800 lists 15 editions of her novel.
Beauty and the Beast
Barbot is particularly noted for her original story of La Belle et la Bête, which is the oldest known variant of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. found in her La jeune américaine, et les contes marins. The tale is novel length, and influenced by the style of seventeenth-century novels, as it contains many subplots or intercalated stories, most notably the histories of Beauty and the Beast. The Beast is "bête" in both senses of the French word: a beast and lacking intelligence (i.e. stupid). After her death, Villeneuve's tale was abridged, rewritten, and published by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756 in her Magasin des enfants to teach young English girls a moral lesson. In her widely popular publication, she gave no credit to Villeneuve as the author of La Belle et la Bête and thus Leprince de Beaumont is often referred to as the author of this famous fairytale. Her shortened version is the one most commonly known today.
The Beast, also a prince, lost his father at a young age. His mother had to wage war to defend his kingdom. The queen abandoned him in the care of a rather evil fairy. This fairy attempted seduction as the beast became an adult. When he refused, that is when he was transformed into what we would call an ungodly creature; or, the beast. Beauty's insight shows us readers that she isn't actually a merchant's daughter. However, Beauty is the daughter of a king and fairy. This just so happens to be the same fairy who tried to seduce Beast and attempted to take Beauty's life in order to marry her father. Beauty was substituted in place of the merchant's dead daughter to guard her. She provided the kingdom with great magic; which in turn, obscured the more valuable parts.
- Marie Laure Girou Swiderski, "La Belle et la Bête? Madame de Villeneuve, la Méconnue," Femmes savants et femmes d'esprit: Women Intellectuals of the French Eighteenth Century, edited by Roland Bonnel and Catherine Rubinger (New York: Peter Lang, 1997) 100.
- Windling, Terri. "Beauty and the Beast, Old And New". The Journal of Mythic Arts. The Endicott Studio.
- Hair, P.E.H.; et al. (1992). The Writing s of Jean Barbot on West Africa 1678-1712. London: The Hakluyt Society. pp. ix–xiv.
- Biancardi, Élisa (2008). Madame de Villeneuve, La Jeune Américaine et les contes marins (La Belle et la Bête), Les Belles Solitaires – Madame Leprince de Beaumont, Magasin des enfants (La Belle et la Bête). Paris: Honoré Champion. pp. 26–69.
- Works by or about Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve at Internet Archive
- Works by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
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