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Bluebeard, his wife, and the keys in a 19th-century illustration by Gustave Doré

"Bluebeard" (French: Barbe bleue) is a French folktale, the most famous surviving version of which was written by Charles Perrault and first published by Barbin in Paris in 1697 in Histoires ou contes du temps passé.[1][2] The tale tells the story of a wealthy violent man in the habit of murdering his wives and the attempts of one wife to avoid the fate of her predecessors. "The White Dove", "The Robber Bridegroom" and "Fitcher's Bird" (also called "Fowler's Fowl") are tales similar to "Bluebeard".[3][4] The notoriety of the tale is such that Merriam-Webster gives the word "Bluebeard" the definition of "a man who marries and kills one wife after another," and the verb "bluebearding" has even appeared as a way to describe the habit of either killing a series of women, or seducing and abandoning a series of women.[5]

Contents

Plot summaryEdit

Bluebeard is a wealthy and powerful, yet frighteningly ugly, nobleman who has been married several times to beautiful women who have all mysteriously vanished. When Bluebeard visits his neighbor and asks to marry one of his daughters, the girls are terrified. After hosting a wonderful banquet, he chooses the youngest daughter to be his wife - against her will - and she goes to live with him in his rich and luxurious palace in the countryside, away from her family.

Bluebeard announces that he must leave for the country and gives the keys of the château (castle) to his wife. She is able to open any door in the house with them, each of which contain some of his riches, except for an underground chamber that he strictly forbids her to enter lest she suffer his wrath. He then goes away and leaves the house and the keys in her hands. She invites her sister, Anne, and her friends and cousins over for a party. However, she is eventually overcome with the desire to see what the forbidden room holds, and she sneaks away from the party and ventures into the room.

She immediately discovers the room is flooded with blood and the murdered corpses of Bluebeard's former wives hanging on hooks from the walls. Horrified, she drops the key in the blood and flees the room. She tries to wash the blood from the key, but the key is magical and the blood cannot be removed. Fearing for her life, she reveals her husband's secret to her visiting sister, and they plan to both flee the next morning, but Bluebeard unexpectedly comes back and finds the bloody key. In a blind rage, he threatens to kill her on the spot, but she asks for one last prayer with her sister Anne. At the last moment, as Bluebeard is about to deliver the fatal blow, the brothers of the wife and her sister Anne arrive and kill Bluebeard. The wife inherits his fortune and castle, and has the dead wives buried. She uses the fortune to have her other siblings married, and eventually remarries herself, to a man she loves, and moves on from her horrible experience with Bluebeard.[6]

SourcesEdit

Although best known as a folktale, the character of Bluebeard appears to derive from legends related to historical individuals in Brittany. One source is believed to have been the 15th-century Breton and convicted serial killer Gilles de Rais, a nobleman who fought alongside Joan of Arc and became both Marshal of France and her official protector, then, was burned as a murderous witch.[7] However, Gilles de Rais did not kill his wife, nor were any bodies found on his property, and the crimes for which he was convicted involved the sexually-driven, brutal murder of children rather than women.[8]

Another possible source stems from the story of the early Breton king Conomor the Accursed and his wife Tryphine. This is recorded in a biography of St. Gildas, written five centuries after his death in the sixth century. It describes how after Conomor married Tryphine, she was warned by the ghosts of his previous wives that he murders them when they become pregnant. Pregnant, she flees; he catches and beheads her, but St. Gildas miraculously restores her to life, and when he brings her to Conomor, the walls of his castle collapse and kill him. Conomor is a historical figure, known locally as a werewolf, and various local churches are dedicated to Saint Tryphine and her son, Saint Tremeur.[9]

The character's blue beard stands for the marvelous and the exotic, for aristocracy (Bluebeard was a wealthy nobleman with blue blood), and for Bluebeard's status as an outsider, a libertine, and a ruffian ("barbe," the French word for beard, relates to "barbarian"). [10]

CommentariesEdit

 
The Wife goes toward the Forbidden Room. Illustration by Walter Crane
 
Bluebeard is slain in a woodcut by Walter Crane

The fatal effects of feminine curiosity have long been the subject of story and legend. Eve, Lot's wife, Pandora, and Psyche are all examples of mythic stories where women's curiosity is punished by dire consequences. The Bluebeard story also echoes the story of The Fall. In giving his wife the keys to his castle, Bluebeard is acting the part of the serpent, and therefore of the devil, and his wife the part of the victim held by the serpent's gaze.[11]

In addition, hidden or forbidden chambers were not unknown in pre-Perrault literature. In Basile's Pentamerone, the tale The Three Crowns tells of a Princess Marchetta entering a room after being forbidden by an ogress, and in The Arabian Nights Prince Agib is given a hundred keys to a hundred doors but forbidden to enter the golden door, which he does with terrible consequences.[12]

While some scholars interpret the Bluebeard story as a fable preaching obedience to wives (as Perrault's moral suggests), folklorist Maria Tatar has suggested that the tale encourages women not to unquestioningly follow patriarchal rules. Women breaking men's rules in the fairy tale can be seen as a metaphor for women breaking society's rules and being punished for their transgression.[13] The key can be seen as a sign of disobedience or transgression; it can also be seen as a sign that one should not trust their husband.[14]

Jungian psychoanalyst Clarissa Pinkola Estés refers to the key as ‘’the key of knowing’’ which gives the wife consciousness. She can choose to not open the door and live as a naive young woman. Instead, she has chosen to open the door of truth.[15]

For folklorist Bruno Bettelheim, Bluebeard can only be considered a fairy tale because of the magical bleeding key; otherwise, it would just be a monstrous horror story. Bettelheim sees the key as associated with the male sexual organ, “particularly the first intercourse when the hymen is broken and blood gets on it.” For Bettelheim, the blood on the key is a symbol of the wife’s indiscretion.[16]

For scholar Philip Lewis, the key offered to the wife by Bluebeard represents his superiority, since he knows something she does not. The blood on the key indicates that she now has knowledge. She has erased the difference between them, and in order to return her to her previous state, he must kill her.[17][18]

Aarne–Thompson classificationEdit

According to the Aarne–Thompson system of classifying folktale plots, the tale of Bluebeard is type 312. [19] Another such tale is The White Dove, an oral French variant.[20] The type is closely related to Aarne–Thompson type 311 in which the heroine rescues herself and her sisters, in such tales as Fitcher's Bird, The Old Dame and Her Hen, and How the Devil Married Three Sisters. The tales where the youngest daughter rescues herself and the other sisters from the villain is in fact far more common in oral traditions than this type, where the heroine's brother rescues her. Other such tales do exist, however; the brother is sometimes aided in the rescue by marvelous dogs or wild animals.[21]

Some European variants of the ballad Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight, Child ballad 4, closely resemble this tale. This is particularly noteworthy among some German variants, where the heroine calls for help much like Sister Anne calls for help to her brothers in Perrault's Bluebeard.[22]

Bluebeard's wivesEdit

It is not explained why Bluebeard murdered his first bride; she could not have entered the forbidden room and found a dead wife. But some scholars have theorized that he was testing his wife's obedience, and that she was killed not for what she discovered there, but because she disobeyed his orders.[23]

In the 1812 version published in Grimms' Fairy Tales, Wilhelm Grimm, on p. XLI of the annotations, makes the following handwritten comment: "It seems in all Märchen [fairy tales] of Bluebeard, wherein his Blutrunst [flowing of blood] has not rightly explained, the idea to be the basis of himself through bathing in blood to cure of the blue beard; as the lepers. That is also why it is written that the blood is collected in basins."

Maurice Maeterlinck wrote extensively on Bluebeard and in his plays names at least six former wives: Sélysette from Aglavaine et Sélysette (1896), Alladine from Alladine et Palomides (1894), both Ygraine and Bellangère from La mort de Tintagiles (1894), Mélisande from Pelléas et Mélisande, and Ariane from Ariane et Barbe-bleue (1907).

In Jacques Offenbach's opera Barbe-bleue (1866), the five previous wives are Héloïse, Eléonore, Isaure, Rosalinde and Blanche, with the sixth and final wife being a peasant girl, Boulotte, who finally reveals his secret when he attempts to have her killed so that he can marry Princess Hermia.

Béla Bartók's opera A Kékszakállú herceg vára (1911), with a libretto by Béla Balázs, names "Judith" as wife number four.

Anatole France's short story "The Seven Wives of Bluebeard" names Jeanne de Lespoisse as the last wife before Bluebeard's death. The other wives were Collette Passage, Jeanne de la Cloche, Gigonne, Blanche de Gibeaumex, Angèle de la Garandine, and Alix de Pontalcin.

In Edward Dmytryk's film Bluebeard (1972), Baron von Sepper (Richard Burton) is an Austrian aristocrat known as Bluebeard for his blue-toned beard and his appetite for beautiful wives, and his wife is an American named Anne.

VariationsEdit

 
"Blue Beard" by Harry Clarke.

Other versions of Bluebeard include:[24][25]

In Charles Dickens' short story Captain Murderer, the titular character is described as "an offshoot of the Bluebeard family", and is far more bloodthirsty than most Bluebeards: he cannibalises each wife a month after marriage. He meets his demise after his sister-in-law, in revenge for the death of her sister, marries him and consumes a deadly poison just before he devours her.[31]

In Anatole France's The Seven Wives of Bluebeard, Bluebeard is the victim of the tale, and his wives the perpetrators. Bluebeard is a generous, kind-hearted, wealthy nobleman called Bertrand de Montragoux who marries a succession of grotesque, adulterous, difficult, or simple-minded wives. His first six wives all die, flee, or are sent away under unfortunate circumstances, none of which are his fault. His seventh wife deceives him with another lover and murders him for his wealth.[32]

In Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, Bluebeard is a 1920s decadent with a collection of erotic drawings, and Bluebeard's's wife is rescued by her mother who rides in on a horse and shoots Bluebeard between the eyes, rather than by her brothers as in the original fairy tale.[33]

In Joyce Carol Oates' short story, "Blue-Bearded Lover", the most recent wife is well aware of Bluebeard's murdered wives: she does not unlock the door to the forbidden room, and therefore avoids death herself. She remains with Bluebeard despite knowing he is a murderer, and gives birth to Bluebeard's children. The book has been interpreted as a feminist struggle for sexual power.[34]

In Helen Oyeyemi's Mr. Fox, Mr. Fox is a writer of slasher novels, engaged to a woman named Mary. Mary's father scared her as a little girl by telling her of all the women that were killed by disobeying men. Mary questions Mr. Fox about why he writes about killing women who have transgressed patriarchal laws, making him aware of how his words normalize domestic violence.[35]

Kurt Vonnegut's Bluebeard features a painter who calls himself Bluebeard, and who considers his art studio to be a forbidden chamber where his girlfriend Circe Berman is not allowed to go.[36]

In Donald Barthelme's Bluebeard, the wife believes that the carcasses of Bluebeard's previous six wives are behind the door. She loses the key and her lover hides the three duplicates. One afternoon Bluebeard insists that she open the door, so she borrows his key. Inside, she finds the decaying carcasses of six zebras dressed in Coco Chanel gowns.[37]

In theatreEdit

In musicEdit

In filmEdit

Several film versions of the story were made:

In poetryEdit

References in LiteratureEdit

  • In Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel Jane Eyre, the narrator alludes to her husband as Bluebeard, and to his castle as Bluebeard's castle.[48]
  • In The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, the story of Bluebeard is referred to in Chapter 18, with Sir Percy's bedroom being compared to Bluebeard's chamber, and Marguerite to Bluebeard's wife.[49]
  • In William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, the character Benedick exclaims, "Like the old tale, my lord: "It is not so nor 'twas not so but, indeed, God forbid it should be so." Here Benedick is quoting a phrase from an English variant of Bluebeard, Mr. Fox,[50] referring to it as "the old tale" (which it certainly would have been, since Shakespeare's play predated Perrault's Bluebeard by almost 100 years).
  • In The Blue Castle, a 1926 novel by Lucy Maude Montgomery, Valancy's mysterious new husband forbids her to open one door in his house, a room they both term "Bluebeard's Chamber."
  • In Stephen King's The Shining, the story of Bluebeard is read by Jack to Danny as a three-year-old, to his wife's disapproval. The Shining also directly references the Bluebeard tale in that there is a secret hotel room which conceals a suicide, a remote castle (The Overlook Hotel), and a husband (Jack) who attempts to kill his wife.
  • In Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, Mr. Grey has a bloody S & M chamber where he tortures Anastasia, and she refers to him at least once as Bluebeard.[51]
  • Bones, a short story by Francesca Lia Block, recasts Bluebeard as a sinister L.A. promoter.[52]

In televisionEdit

  • In a 1977 episode of Lou Grant, when considering their employer Mrs. Pychon's relationship with a media mogul, Lou Grant says to Charlie Hume, "They make a nice couple." Whereupon, Charlie responds : "How often do you think that was mentioned at Bluebeard's wedding?"[53]
  • Bluebeard is featured in Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics as part of its "Grimm Masterpiece Theater" season.
  • Bluebeard is featured in Sandra the Fairytale Detective as the villain in the episode "The Forbidden Room".
  • Bluebeard is featured in Scary Tales, produced by the Discovery Channel, Sony and IMAX, episode one, in 2011. (This series is not related to the Disney collection of the same name.)
  • Bluebeard was the subject of the pilot episode of an aborted television series, Famous Tales (1951), created by and starring Burl Ives with music by Albert Hague.
  • A Korean stage play of the Bluebeard story serves as the backstory and inspiration for the antagonist, a serial kidnapper, in the South Korean television show, Strong Woman Do Bong-soon (2017).
  • Hannibal (TV series), Season 3 episode 12 "The Number of the Beast is 666", the protagonist Will Graham compares the character Bedelia Du Maurier to one of Bluebeard's wives.

In other mediaEdit

  • The fairy tale of Bluebeard was the inspiration for the Gothic feminine horror game Bluebeard's Bride by Whitney "Strix" Beltrán, Marissa Kelly, and Sarah Richardson. Players play from the shared perspective of the Bride, each taking on an aspect of her psyche.[54]
  • In DC Comics' Fables series, Bluebeard appears as an amoral character, willing to kill and often suspected of being involved in various nefarious deeds.
  • Bluebeard is a character in the video game by Telltale Games based on the Fables comics The Wolf Among Us.
  • In the Japanese light novel and manga/anime Fate/Zero, Bluebeard appears as the Caster Servant, where his character largely stems from Gilles de Rais as a serial murderer of children.
  • The Awful History of Bluebeard consists of 7 original drawings by William Makepeace Thackeray from 1833, given as a gift to his cousin on her 11th birthday and published in 1924.[55]
  • A series of photographs published in 1992 by Cindy Sherman illustrate the fairy tale Fitcher's Bird (a variant of Bluebeard).
  • Bluebeard appears as a minor darklord in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (2nd ed.) Ravenloft Accessory Darklords.[56]
  • BBC Radio 4 aired a radio play from 2014 called Burning Desires written by Colin Bytheway, about the serial killer Landru, an early 20th-century Bluebeard.[57]
  • The 2013 fantasy horror comic Porcelain: A Gothic Fairy Tale (by Benjamin Read and Chris Wildgoose) employs the Bluebeard story element with the bloody key to a secret room of horrors.[58]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^   Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bluebeard". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  2. ^ "Charles Perrault (1628-1703)". CLPAV. 
  3. ^ "BLUEBEARD, THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM, AND FITCHER'S BIRD". JML: GRIMM TO DISNEY. 
  4. ^ "The White Dove: A French Bluebeard". Tales of Faerie. 
  5. ^ "Words We're Watching: 'Bluebeard,' the Verb". Merriam-Webster. 
  6. ^ Perrault, Charles. "Bluebeard". Childhood Reading.com. 
  7. ^ MARGARET ALICE MURRAY (1921). THE WITCH-CULT IN WESTERN EUROPE: A Study in Anthropology; Clarendon Press, Oxford,. p. 267. ISBN 0-19-820744-1. 
  8. ^ Paoletti, Gabe. "Gilles De Rais, The Child Serial Killer Who Fought Alongside Joan Of Arc". All That is Interesting.com. 
  9. ^ Marina Warner. From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales And Their Tellers. p. 261. ISBN 0-374-15901-7. 
  10. ^ Maria Tatar. The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales. W.W. Norton & Company. p. 151. ISBN 0-393-05163-3. 
  11. ^ Bridgewater, Patrick (2013). The German Gothic Novel in Anglo-German Perspective. Rodopi. p. 238. 
  12. ^ "The History of Agib". More Fairy Tales From The Arabian Nights. 
  13. ^ Jónsdóttir, Margrét Snæfríður. "Madam Has a Word to Say" (PDF). Skemann.is. 
  14. ^ Tatar, Maria (2002). "The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales". New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 
  15. ^ Estés, Clarissa Pinkola (1995). "Women who Run with the Wolves". New York: Ballantine Books. 
  16. ^ Bettelheim, Bruno (1977). The Uses of Enchantment. New York: Vintage Books. 
  17. ^ Hermansson, Casie (2009). Bluebeard. A reader’s Guide to the English Tradition. Minnesota: University of Mississippi: Association of American University Presses. 
  18. ^ Lewis, Philip E. (1996). Seeing through the Mother Goose tales : visual turns in the writings of Charles Perrault. California: Stanford University Press. 
  19. ^ Heidi Anne Heiner. "Tales Similar to Bluebeard". 
  20. ^ Paul Delarue, The Borzoi Book of French Folk-Tales, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., p. 359, 1956
  21. ^ Stith Thompson (1977). The Folktale. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press. p. 36. 
  22. ^ Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads; v 1, New York: Dover Publications, p 47, 1965
  23. ^ Lewis, Philip (1996). Seeing Through the Mother Goose Tales. Stanford University Press. 
  24. ^ Shuli Barzilai, Tales of Bluebeard and His Wives from Late Antiquity to Postmodern Times
  25. ^ Hermansson, Casie (2009). Bluebeard: A Reader's Guide to the English Tradition. University of Mississippi. 
  26. ^ "Mr. Fox (an English tale)". Sur La Lune Fairy Tales.com. 
  27. ^ Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. "The Robber Bridegroom". Pitt.edu. 
  28. ^ Folktale, French. "The White Dove". Tales of Faerie. 
  29. ^ Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. "Fitcher's Bird". Pitt.edu. 
  30. ^ Ungern-Sternberg, Alexander von. "Blaubart". Spiegel Online. 
  31. ^ Dickens, Charles. "Captain Murderer". The Robber Bridegroom and other folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 955. 
  32. ^ France, Anatole. "The Seven Wives of Bluebeard". Gutenberg.org. 
  33. ^ Acocella, Joan. "Angela Carter's Feminist Mythology". The New Yorker. 
  34. ^ Freeman-Slade, Jessica. "Once Children". Los Angeles Review of Books. 
  35. ^ Bender, Aimee. "A Writer of Slasher Books Finds More Than a Muse". The New York Times. 
  36. ^ Moynahan, Julian. "A Prisoner of War in the Hamptons". The New York Times. 
  37. ^ Barthelme, Donald. "Bluebeard". The New Yorker. 
  38. ^ Adams, William Davenport. "A dictionary of the drama: a guide to the plays, play-wrights, players, and playhouses of the United Kingdom and America", Chatto & Windus, 1904, p. 176
  39. ^ "Bluebeard". The Marius Petipa Society. 
  40. ^ Newsom, Joanna. "Go Long". Genius.com. 
  41. ^ Hohenadel, Kristin. "Fairy-Tale Endings: Death by Husband". The New York Times. 
  42. ^ Lurie, Alison. "One Bad Husband". The American Scholar. 
  43. ^ Biller, Anna. "Bluebeard at the Movies". Talkhouse. 
  44. ^ Heaney, Seamus. "Blackberry-Picking". Poetry Foundation. 
  45. ^ Millay, Edna St. Vincent. "Bluebeard - Poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay". Poemhunter. 
  46. ^ Plath, Sylvia. "Bluebeard - Poem by Sylvia Plath". Poemhunter. 
  47. ^ Cooke, Rose Terry. "Blue-Beard's Closet". Bartleby.com. 
  48. ^ Troiano, Ali. "Jane Eyre and "Bluebeard"". English Novel Writing. 
  49. ^ Orczy, Emma. "Chapter 18 -The Mysterious Device". Scarlet Pimpernel.com. 
  50. ^ Folk Tale, English. "Mr. Fox". World of Tales. 
  51. ^ Biller, Anna. "Fifty Shades of Grey is a Bluebeard Story". Anna Biller's Blog. 
  52. ^ "The Rose and the Beast". Kirkus Reviews. 
  53. ^ "Lou Grant: Episode "Takeover"". IMDB. 
  54. ^ Boss, Emily Care. "BLUEBEARD'S BRIDE AND NOIR THEMES - INTERVIEW WITH STRIX BELTRÁN, SARAH RICHARDSON AND MARISSA KELLY". Black and Green Games. 
  55. ^ Thackeray, William Makepeace. "The Awful History of Bluebeard: Original Drawings". Archive.org. 
  56. ^ Lucard, Alex. "Tabletop Review: Ravenloft: Darklords (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition)". Diehard Game Fan.com. 
  57. ^ Bytheway, Colin. "Burning Desires". BBC. 
  58. ^ "Interview with Benjamin Read and Chris Wildgoose". Geek Pride. 

Further readingEdit

  • Estés, Clarissa P. (1992). Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. New York: Random House, Inc.
  • Hermansson, Casie E. (2009). Bluebeard: A Reader's Guide to the English Tradition. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi.
  • Loo, Oliver (2014). The Original 1812 Grimm Fairy Tales Kinder- und Hausmärchen Childrens and Household Tales.
  • Tatar, Maria (2004). Secrets Beyond the Door: The Story of Bluebeard and His Wives. Princeton / Oxford, Princeton University Press.
  • Vizetelly, Ernest Alfred (1902). Bluebeard: An Account of Comorre the Cursed and Gilles de Rais, with Summaries of Various Tales and Traditions; Chatto & Windus; Westminster, England.

External linksEdit