Beauty, the heroine of this story, waits at home for her father to return. There is a snowstorm going on outside, and she fears for his safety. He promised to be home by nightfall but it is now dark out. Meanwhile her father’s car is stuck in the snow. He had been in town meeting with lawyers and trying to “restore his fortunes,” but with no success. He doesn’t even have enough money to pay for gas or to buy a white rose for Beauty, the one gift she had requested.
This story is based on “Beauty and the Beast.” The book is not a short story collection but a sequence, as Carter arranges each story in a purposeful order. The monstrosity of the Marquis will become more literal in “the Beast,” and again the heroine is young and virginal. The symbol of the rose first appears, here representing Beauty’s purity.
The father abandons his car and goes to look for help. He comes to the gate of a beautiful mansion, and he hears the roaring of an animal somewhere far away. The knocker on the door is made of gold and in the shape of a lion’s head. Before he can knock, the door swings open by itself, and the father sees a huge, empty hall luxuriously decorated. A little spaniel dog with a diamond collar greets him and shows him into a study, where there is a fire in the fireplace and some whiskey and sandwiches.
The vast and mythical wealth of the Marquis returns here, but there is more of a magical element as this story is more of a “fairy tale.” The spaniel acts as the archetypal valet. Again the heroine’s family is poor, and the father is basically at the mercy of the Beast, though for now the Beast is hospitable and kind.
Still no one appears except the dog, but the father assumes that this strange hospitality is just the eccentricity of a very rich man. In the same room he finds a phone and a number for a rescue service, and the employee tells him that his host will pay the bill as is his custom. The father tries to call Beauty but the lines are down, and then the spaniel leads him out of the room, implying the “magical hospitality” is over.
Part of the “magical realist” style involves mixing fantastic elements into an everyday setting, and the characters accepting them as part of reality. Carter associates the Beast’s strangeness and magic with the strangeness of the very wealthy, those who might also have more sinister whims like the Marquis.
As he walks out of the house to the gate, the father sees some snow fall from a rosebush and reveal a single perfect white rose. After a moment’s hesitation the father picks the rose for Beauty, “because he loved his daughter.” Suddenly all the lights go on in the mansion and the mysterious host appears. He is huge lion-like creature, and he angrily shakes Beauty’s father and throws him to the ground, roaring that he is “the Beast” and that the father is a thief.
The Beast is the first of several “metamorphic” creatures Carter introduces, all of them living on a kind of threshold between worlds, in this case half-lion, half-man. Where the Marquis seemed to have a lily-like mask for a face, the Beast actually takes on the appearance of a lion.
The father begs the Beast’s forgiveness, saying the rose was for his daughter, and he shows the Beast a picture of Beauty. Observing Beauty’s beauty, the Beast allows the father to bring her the rose, but only if he will then bring Beauty back to have dinner with the Beast. The father agrees.
Part of the sacrificial aspect of virginity in this book involves the poor heroines giving themselves up to save their families from poverty or punishment. Beauty is a white rose now, but she is in danger of the corruption the heroine of the last story experienced.
Beauty returns to the Beast’s house with her father, and though she is afraid she also pities the Beast for his wildness and sorrow. The Beast presides without eating over a fabulous feast, but Beauty finds the Beast’s presence oppressive and feels herself as a sacrificial lamb. After dinner the Beast suggests that Beauty remain with him and her father resume his legal battles. Beauty realizes that this is inevitable, and that she will be the “price of her father’s good fortune.” She decides to remain for her father’s sake.
This motif of the sacrificial lamb becomes almost literal, as the Beast is a lion, a hunter of herbivores. Beauty also has a good relationship with her father, as she is willing to sacrifice herself for his well-being. The Beast has a terrifying outward appearance, but a lonely and sympathetic soul – the opposite of the handsome, monstrous Marquis.
The next morning her father leaves, and Beauty moves into an opulent bedroom. She lives in comfort but has only the spaniel for company, as she never sees the Beast except in his study after dinner. There they sit and talk together. At first Beauty is afraid of him, but soon she grows comfortable and they spend hours talking. Just before they are about to separate and go to bed, the Beast flings himself at Beauty and kisses (licks) her hands.
Beauty lives in the kind of extravagance that the heroine of “The Bloody Chamber” did, but the Beast is nothing like the Marquis except in wealth and “beastliness.” He seems just as virginal and shy as Beauty. They begin to connect but are from different worlds – he a lion and she a human.
The next day Beauty hears roaring in the hills and wonders if the Beast is hunting. She soon gets into a routine of whiling away the hours in comfort and silence and then talking with the Beast every night, and every night he kisses her hands just before they part. One day Beauty gets a phone call from her father, asking her to come to London, as he has regained his fortune. The Beast appears distressed and asks Beauty to return to him soon. Beauty promises to come back before winter ends. She wants to kiss him but still feels he is so “different from herself” and so she cannot. She takes a taxi off to London.
Beauty and the Beast begin to connect and fall in love, but their differences require a metamorphosis of some kind. The magical aspects of this are pulled straight from the fairy tale, but Carter also brings out their other qualities. She associates the act of love in the female body – menstruating and losing virginity – with a kind of magical transformation, one that brings both pain and enlightenment.
Beauty and her father live extravagantly in London, and though they talk often of the Beast his home starts to seem like a magical place in another life. Beauty sometimes sends him white roses, but because the seasons never seem to change in London she doesn’t notice that winter is almost over. One night she comes back from the theatre late and looks at herself in the mirror, admiring her own prettiness.
Beauty has much more agency in this story, as the Beast does not abuse his power over her and is in fact more lovestruck than she is. Carter gives her heroines greater freedom, but with it come more flaws, as Beauty is seduced by the wealth and luxury that was part of the Marquis’ draw for the first heroine.
Suddenly Beauty hears the sound of claws at the door and realizes that winter is over and she has broken her promise to the Beast. She opens the door and the spaniel enters, looking dirty and underfed. Beauty immediately takes a train out of London, fearing the Beast is dying. She reaches his estate and sees everything in decay and disrepair. The house is dark and full of mold and cobwebs.
Carter brings back the image of rotted and decaying opulence as much as she does that of extreme wealth. Though the Beast initially had all the power in the relationship, he has given it up out of love, sacrificing himself like a lamb instead of a lion.
Beauty lights a candle and makes her way to the Beast’s small, humble bedroom. He is lying on the bed, looking small and ill. He tells Beauty he is dying, as he has lost the will to hunt and eat after she left him, but he will die happily now that she is there. Beauty flings herself at him and kisses the Beast’s paws, promising never to leave him again.
As she kisses the Beast, Beauty notices his paws transforming into clenched fists, and he stretches his fingers out and transforms into a man – “Mr Lyon.” Mr Lyon says he could eat something today, and then he and Beauty – Mr and Mrs Lyon – live happily ever after, walking with the spaniel through the garden.
Carter describes the metamorphosis in a beautiful, lyrical way, implying that the Beast could have been a man the whole time, just one with “clenched fists.” This bedroom is a more poetic “bloody chamber,” but still a place where love and sexuality cause enlightenment and transformation.