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Beauty and the (Friendzoned) Beast

Millennials have been taking a lot of flack as of late for our socially floundering ways. Get a job, ask girls out on dates, mail thank-you notes, don’t live life via texting, stop taking selfies… you get the idea. Some of this exhortation comes from our elders while a good deal of it comes as a self-critique. Most of the advice is justly deserved, but there is often an overbearing sense of crisis, that somehow these problems will upset the balance of western civilization in one generation. Don’t get me wrong, some issues are incredibly significant on a cultural level, but they’re not necessarily unique to twenty-somethings today.

I was reading an online translation of Beauty and the Beast the other night when I stumbled upon this delightful passage:

Beauty spent three months very contentedly in the palace. Every evening Beast paid her a visit, and talked to her, during supper, very rationally, with plain good common sense, but never with what the world calls wit; and Beauty daily discovered some valuable qualifications in the monster, and seeing him often had so accustomed her to his deformity, that, far from dreading the time of his visit, she would often look on her watch to see when it would be nine, for the Beast never missed coming at that hour. There was but one thing that gave Beauty any concern, which was, that every night, before she went to bed, the monster always asked her, if she would be his wife. One day she said to him, “Beast, you make me very uneasy, I wish I could consent to marry you, but I am too sincere to make you believe that will ever happen; I shall always esteem you as a friend, endeavor to be satisfied with this.”

When I read, I really try to give a classic work of literature it’s proper aura of respect. Fairy tales play a big role in shaping the moral imagination and should inspire a sense of delight for young and old as G.K. Chesterton noted. But as much as I try, I don’t always live up to that goal. All I could think of when I read this was: “WHOAH! MAJORLY FRIENDZONED!” Yes, I’m terrible, but there are a lot worse things postmodern scholars do to literature, so take heart.

Silliness aside, Beauty’s speech is not unlike things we hear today – most relationships are reputably vague, non-committal, and awkward if things take a serious turn. That’s why we have the term friend zone to begin with. Different types of unrequited love can be found all throughout the literary canon, though. This particular version of the story happened to be published in 1756. It’s easy to assume that earlier centuries handled things better on a social level and that life was somehow easier then despite technological advances. Literature, however, suggests that’s not always the case – think of Virgil or Shakespeare. People have needed to demonstrate sincerity and look beyond superficial qualities far before the invention of the internet.

There are real and significant problems that need to be addressed, but we should remember that other people have dealt with these difficulties before. We should  try to learn from the past instead of muddling our way alone through the present.

So let’s have some fun with this. English majors and other well-read individuals, what are some other examples of friendzoning in classic literature?

Banner Image: Illustration by Walter Crane

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