Beauty tells the story of a young girl whose given name is Honour, the youngest daughter of a wealthy shipping merchant named Roderick Huston, who lives in a large city by the sea. Her sisters are named Grace and Hope. Honour, upon hearing her father explain the meaning of her name at five years of age, decides that she would rather be called ‘‘Beauty.’’ The nickname sticks, though Beauty describes herself as uglier and more awkward-looking than her stunning— though totally different—sisters.
Beauty was only two when her mother died during the birth of a fourth daughter, Mercy, who also died shortly after. As Beauty grows up, she becomes attracted to books and intellectual pursuits, and her father’s wealth allows her access to a huge library. She secretly dreams of attending a university when she gets older, though such a thing is unheard of for a woman.
When Beauty is twelve, her oldest sister Grace becomes engaged to one of their father’s ship captains, Robert Tucker. After the engagement is set, Tucker departs on a sea voyage meant to last for three years, hoping that he will return wealthy and respectable before the marriage. Two years pass, and Beauty’s other sister, Hope, confides that she has also fallen in love. The man she loves, however, is a lowly ironworker in their father’s shipyard—not at all the kind of wealthy gentleman she would be expected to marry. On top of that, the man, named Gervain Woodhouse, wants to move back to his home region in the rural north and work as a blacksmith. This would require that Grace leave her family and live modestly, instead of living in a mansion with many servants. Beauty also cannot shake the idea that ‘‘the north was a land rather overpopulated by goblins and magicians, who went striding about the countryside muttering wild charms.’’
Before the girls can speak of Gervain to their father, however, the family receives news that destroys their fortunes. Roderick’s entire fleet of four ships is reported to be missing or destroyed, with all cargo and many crew members lost; Tucker’s boat, the White Raven, is one of the ships unaccounted for, though it is believed to have been lost during a storm. Roderick is financially devastated by the loss, and the family must sell all their possessions, including their estate, to cover the business debts. Gervain approaches Roderick and proposes that the family move with him to a small town up north, where he has secured a position as a blacksmith. They would share a modest house, and ultimately Gervain would like to take Hope’s hand in marriage. Roderick agrees.
Before the family departs, a local horse trainer named Tom Black visits Beauty and gives her Greatheart, one of his largest and most prized stallions. Beauty had originally named the horse and did much of his training, but stopped visiting when the family fortunes took a bad turn. Beauty tries to refuse the gift, but Black claims that without Beauty around to care for him, the horse will not eat.
The family sets off on their journey north, and after two months of traveling they arrive in Blue Hill, where Gervain’s aunt—Melinda Honeybourne—runs a tavern called the Red Griffin. She takes them to the blacksmith’s house where they will live, just outside of town and on the border of a great, dark forest. Gervain makes every member of the family promise not to go into the forest unsupervised; he later reveals to Beauty that the forest is believed by locals to be cursed, and that a monster lives in a castle in the center of the woods.
The family adjusts to their new way of life, and even prospers. Gervain becomes a renowned blacksmith sought after by those in nearby towns, Beauty’s father, Roderick, starts his own woodworking business, and Beauty trains Greatheart to pull heavy loads. A year after their arrival in Blue Hill, Gervain and Hope marry. On the wedding day, Gervain’s occasional assistant in his forge, an awkward boy named Ferdy, kisses Beauty. She does not return his affection, and he later apologizes; Beauty accepts his apology, but avoids him thereafter. Hope gives birth to twins the following spring. In September, Roderick receives a message from a friend in the city: one of his missing ships has returned to port. Grace holds out hope that the ship belongs to her long-missing fiance´, Robert Tucker. Roderick decides that he must make the two-month journey back to the city, where he can dispose of the boat and its cargo and possibly bring home some money for his family. Before leaving he asks his daughters if they would like any gifts from the city. Hope jokes about him bringing back fancy jewels for them to wear the next time they visit the king and queen, but Beauty simply asks for a few rose seeds to plant in the garden.
Roderick returns home in March, just after a terrible blizzard. He enters the house holding a rose, which he hands to Beauty. His saddlebags are full, but he appears distraught. Grace places the rose in a vase, and it later loses a petal; as the petal falls to the ground, it inexplicably turns to gold. Although Roderick reveals that the returned ship was not Robert Tucker’s, he refuses to tell the rest of his story until the next day, after he has had a chance to rest.
When Roderick finally wakes at around noon the next day, Beauty notices that he looks years younger than he had before he left on his trip. After supper, Roderick finally tells the family his strange story.
After arriving back in the city, Roderick sold the cargo from the returned ship and paid off the crew, leaving himself with a small profit. No longer wishing to continue his life as a merchant, he also sold the ship. Realizing that he no longer felt comfortable in the city, especially because he would have to rely on the hospitality of his friends, Roderick decided to return north before the end of winter—a risky proposition, though the winter had so far been mild. He bought a horse from Tom Black and headed home. When he reached the town just south of Blue Hill, a blizzard struck and left him lost in the forest.
Eventually, he happened upon a trail in the forest and followed it. The trail led to a hedge fence and a gate, which opened at his touch. Roderick continued along the trail, and arrived at a great stone castle. As he approached the castle, the snow-covered ground gave way to green vegetation, and he found himself in a beautiful garden in full bloom despite the winter cold. Roderick entered the castle and found a sumptuous feast laid out as if someone were expecting him. However, he could find no one inhabiting the place. He indulged in the delicious meal, and then fell asleep on a couch prepared for him by unseen servants. The next morning, he thanked his invisible hosts for their hospitality, left the castle, and began riding away through the garden. Upon seeing a bush of unusually beautiful roses in the garden, he remembered his promise to bring back rose seeds for Beauty; he had been unable to get them in the city. Roderick snapped off a single rose to bring back to his daughter, and was immediately confronted by a monstrous figure who accused him of stealing his most prized roses.
The Beast vowed to take Roderick’s life for his thievery, but after hearing of family, decided to spare the man on one condition: one of Roderick’s daughters must come to live with him at his castle, and she must do it willingly. The monster swore that the daughter would not be harmed in any way. Roderick objected, but the Beast would not hear it. It gave Roderick one month to bring the daughter to his castle, or else it would come and find him. Roderick was then sent off, and arrived home still reeling from all that had happened, and still holding the stolen rose.
After hearing this story, Beauty insists on being the one who goes to live with the Beast. The entire family objects, but Beauty insists, and no one can come up with a better solution. When Roderick finally opens his saddlebags from his journey, he finds that the Beast has somehow filled them with money, fancy housewares, and exquisite jewelry for his daughters. For Beauty, there is a small wooden box containing rose seeds. Beauty finds humor in this, and wonders how bad the Beast can be. Also in the box Beauty finds a ring decorated like a griffin. She keeps the ring in her pocket with her wherever she goes.
Beauty plants the rose seeds along the side of the house and barn, even though the winter snow has not even melted. Just before the end of her final month of freedom, the enchanted roses sprout and bloom almost overnight. On her final morning with her family, Beauty gathers her few belongings, along with her horse Greatheart— whom everyone in the family insists she take with her—and sets off after an emotional farewell. Her father travels with her into the forest, and they soon reach the road that leads to the Beast’s castle.
Beauty and her father follow the road to the hedge surrounding the Beast’s grounds. Beauty insists that her father return home, and rides through the gate alone. She passes through lush gardens—curiously devoid of living creatures— and finally reaches the enormous castle, which ‘‘rose up before us like sunrise, its towers and battlements reaching hundreds of feet into the sky.’’ She approaches the stable, which automatically opens to welcome Greatheart. After stalling as long as possible, she enters the castle.
She feels herself guided through the halls by an invisible force like a breeze, which leads her to an enormous dining hall where a great feast awaits. She dines alone, and then begins a search of the castle, ready to confront her captor. She quickly gets lost amid the maze of halls and rooms, none of which contain any mirrors. When she finally happens upon a door with a plaque that reads, ‘‘Beauty’s Room,’’ she enters to find a hot bath waiting for her. After her bath, she once again resumes her search for the Beast. She finally finds him in a dim study; he is seven feet tall and finely dressed, with a massive frame, fur-covered body, clawed paws, and unsettlingly human eyes set in the face of an animal.
The Beast confirms that he will not harm her, and her fear subsides. He tells her that he seeks companionship, and asks her if she will marry him. She answers no, and he bids her good night. Back in her room, she tries to sleep but finds herself restless. She decides to go visit Greatheart in his stable, but discovers that the door to her room is locked, and she cannot escape. She pounds until her hands are bloody, then falls asleep, exhausted.
The next morning, she finds her hands bandaged and breakfast prepared for her. The door to her room is no longer locked. She visits Greatheart, and later, after complaining about the lack of birds in the sky surrounding the castle and its lands, finds a box of bird seed provided by unseen servants.
She spreads it across her windowsill, hoping to attract sparrows. She goes for a long ride with Greatheart, and when she returns to the garden at sunset, finds the Beast there. The two walk together and have a pleasant conversation; the Beast tells her that she was locked in her room the previous night so that she might not witness his own beastly behavior, which happens after dark. The two then retire to the dining hall for dinner. Although the Beast cannot eat with utensils, he sits and watches as Beauty dines, savoring the companionship. The Beast reveals to Beauty that the invisible forces she feels around her are two invisible handmaids he has assigned to care for her. Other invisible servants light the halls as she passes, serve food and drink at her command, and perform any other task she needs. The Beast also tells Beauty that he is around two hundred years old, though he does not know for certain. After dinner, he once again asks Beauty if she will marry him, and she again refuses.
After several weeks, Beauty falls into a comfortable pattern in her new life at the castle: a morning walk in the garden with Greatheart, followed by reading and studying some of the books from the small library in her room; lunch, followed by additional studies; a late afternoon ride across the Beast’s immense grounds; and finally, a sunset walk through the garden with the Beast, followed by dinner. Every night, after dinner and before Beauty retires to her room, the Beast asks her if she will marry him. Every night, Beauty refuses. Beauty’s attempt to draw birds to her windowsill proves successful, and it brings not only sparrows but also several other small birds.
One rainy morning, the Beast offers to give Beauty a tour of the castle, and she accepts. One of the most memorable rooms is the portrait gallery, which contains a series of paintings of what appear to be family members. The most recent one, still evidently quite old, depicts a handsome, intense young man standing beside a horse. The most impressive room, however, is the massive library. In it, Beauty has access not only to every book ever written, but every book yet to be written. The Beast recommends a poetry collection by Robert Browning.
After the rain stops, Beauty strikes upon the idea of introducing Greatheart to the Beast. The Beast had previously avoided the horse, knowing that animals react to him with terror. However, with Beauty’s encouragement, Greatheart eventually approaches him, much to the Beast’s surprise. That night, before going off to sleep, Beauty hears the voices of the invisible servants in her room, though the servants are unaware that she can hear. One of them sounds hopeful that Beauty will soon understand what she must do, though Beauty has no idea what this means.
By summer, Beauty begins to look forward to the time she spends each day in the company of the Beast. One night, she even feeds him some of her cake at dinner, since he cannot handle utensils himself. However, she still refuses his proposal each night when he asks her. She implores him to stop asking, but he insists that he cannot.
One day, Beauty tells the Beast that she misses her family dearly. He tells her that he is sorry, but he cannot let her go to see them. Upset, Beauty tries to flee, and as she pounds on the door, she faints. When she wakes, she finds herself in the Beast’s arms; he had caught her as she fell, and carried her to a couch. She recoils and flees to her room.
Beauty begins to hear the invisible servants’ voices more clearly, and even discovers that she can sense when the Beast is near. The Beast explains that she is growing accustomed to the enchantments of the castle. By autumn, Beauty begins having vivid dreams about her family— dreams that appear real, and in which her family talks about their own dreams, in which they seem to be able to see Beauty at the castle. She tells the Beast about this, and he acknowledges that he sends the dreams to her family to comfort them. He also reveals that he has a magical way of observing events from afar, which is how he watches over Beauty’s family. She asks him to show her, and he agrees.
The Beast takes her to his study, where he has a table whose surface allows her to see and hear her sisters talking in their parlor. By listening to the conversation, Beauty discovers that Pat Lawrey, the clergyman from Hope and Gervain’s wedding, would like to marry Grace. Even though he is a decent man, Grace refuses to entertain the notion because she holds out hope that her longlost fiance´, Robert Tucker, might still return. However, Hope manages to convince Grace that marrying Lawrey is the best decision. After seeing this, Beauty wonders aloud about Robert Tucker’s fate. The magic table suddenly shows Tucker stepping off a ship in the port from which her father once ran his fleet. Although he appears haggard, he is alive and once again home.
Beauty begs the Beast for a chance to go home and tell Grace of Tucker’s return so that she will not marry Lawrey, whom she does not love. The Beast consents, and hands her a rose to keep with her. When one week has passed, Beauty must return, or she will find the Beast— like the rose—dying. Beauty assures him that she will return, and will never again ask to leave. She quickly departs, and finds herself back at her family’s cottage by nightfall.
When Beauty is reunited with her family, she realizes that she has grown several inches during her time away, and is now the tallest of the three sisters. She tells her family about the enchanted castle and her life with the Beast, though they have a difficult time understanding her affection for the monstrous creature that terrorized Roderick and stole Beauty away from her home. As she sits with them, even though she enjoys being around her family once again, she realizes that she no longer feels as if she belongs there. Her home is now with the Beast, and the thought even occurs to her that she loves him.
A few days pass before Beauty tells Grace of Robert Tucker’s return. Roderick and Grace both write letters to be delivered as soon as possible to Tucker, asking him to join the family up north. With the exciting news about Tucker, the next few days pass quickly. On her last night, Beauty’s family begs her to stay just one extra day. Not wanting to disappoint them, and feeling she will probably never be able to see them again, she agrees. However, she does not enjoy her extra day, and cannot help but feel that she should be back at the castle. Late that night, she dreams that the Beast is dead. When she wakes, she sees that the rose he gave her is dying. She immediately leaves the cottage while everyone else is still asleep and heads back through the forest toward the castle.
She spends the entire day trying to locate the path to the castle—which can only be found by getting lost in the forest—and manages to locate it just as the sun goes down. By the time she reaches the castle, it is late at night; the invisible servants who once tended to her every need appear to be gone. She searches all night long throughout the massive castle, trying to locate the Beast. Finally, she sees a faint light coming from a room. She finds the Beast in the same room she left him, sitting next to the magic table. He appears to be near death, but improves once he hears her voice. As the first light of dawn appears through the window, Beauty tells the Beast that she loves him, and that she will marry him.
Suddenly Beauty finds herself engulfed in light and noise, and when it stops, the Beast is gone. He has been replaced by a handsome man. She does not understand at first, so the man explains that he is indeed the Beast. Beauty then recognizes him as the handsome young man from the final family portrait. He explains that a local magician placed a curse on his family, and he—as the first family member to exhibit moral weakness—was the one who fell victim to the curse. He was transformed into a hideous beast, and would remain so until he could find someone to love him despite his appearance. As soon as Beauty agreed to marry him, the curse was lifted.
However, Beauty insists that she cannot marry him. He is, after all, noble and handsome, and she is not fit to be his wife. He walks her to a mirror so she can see herself, and she is stunned: not only is she taller than she thought, but her features have developed from awkwardness into true beauty. He asks her for the final time if she will marry him, and she agrees. The two look out upon the courtyard, and as if by magic, Beauty’s family arrives, Robert Tucker included, followed by a large crowd. The Beast suggests that the wedding will be a triple ceremony: Beauty and the Beast, Grace and Robert Tucker, and Roderick and Melinda Honeybourne, who have also fallen in love. Beauty mentions that she does not know the Beast’s name; he admits that he has forgotten it after so many years, and gives her the task of coming up with a new one. Beauty then takes the Beast to meet her family as the celebration begins.
Sara Constantakis, Novels for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels, Volume 33, Gale-Cengage Learning, 2010