Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve

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Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve by Louis Carrogis Carmontelle (1759)

Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (28 November 1685 – 29 December 1755)[1] was a French author influenced by Madame d'Aulnoy, Charles Perrault, and various précieuse writers.[2] Villeneuve is particularly noted for her 1740 original story of La Belle et la Bête, which is the oldest known variant of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast.


Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve was born and died in Paris, 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.[3]

In 1706, Gabrielle-Suzanne 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 censor, and thus became knowledgeable about the literary tastes of the Parisian reading public.

Major works[edit]

Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve published both fairy tales and novels. Her publications include a novella Le Phénix conjugal (1734) (The Conjugal Phoenix), 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) (The Gardener of Vincennes), Le juge prévenu (1754) (The Biased Judge), and the Mémoires de Mesdemoiselles de Marsange (1757) (Memoirs of Mlles de Marsange). 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[edit]

Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve is particularly noted for her original 1740 story of La Belle et la Bête, which is the oldest known modern variant of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast[2] 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).[2] 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.[4] 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.[5] Her shortened version is the one most commonly known today.[2]

The Beast, a prince, lost his father at a young age. His mother had to wage war to defend his kingdom, and left him in the care of a rather evil fairy. This fairy attempted to seduce him as the prince became an adult. When he refused, she transformed him into the beast until someone would agree to marry him without knowing his past or that he was intelligent. In a neighboring kingdom, Beauty is the daughter of a king and a different fairy. Beauty's mother broke the laws of fairy society by falling in love with a human, so she was sentenced to remain in the fairy land and Beauty was sentenced to marry a hideous beast when she grew up. After Beauty's mother disappeared from earth, the evil fairy unsuccessfully attempted to take Beauty's life and marry her father. Beauty's aunt, another good fairy, intervened and changed Beauty's place with the dead daughter of a merchant for Beauty's protection, then placed the Beast in a magically hidden castle until Beauty grew old enough.


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ a b c d Windling, Terri. "Beauty and the Beast, Old And New". The Journal of Mythic Arts. The Endicott Studio. Archived from the original on 2014-07-26.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Smith, Jay M. (March 15, 2011). Monsters of the Gévaudan: The Making of a Beast. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 352. ISBN 9780674047167. Retrieved July 10, 2021.
  5. ^ 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.

External links[edit]

Media related to Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve at Wikimedia Commons