The heroine and her father have traveled from Russia to a city in the south, where the madness of warmth and luxury comes over the father, even though it is still winter. Everyone who stays in this city must play cards with a mysterious “Milord,” who is also called “The Beast.” The father has a gambling addiction, and he gleefully loses everything to The Beast as the heroine watches, angry and frightened.
This is another version of “Beauty and the Beast,” one where Carter takes more liberties with her interpretation. In this case the father loses Beauty not out of love (taking a rose for her) but out of his own weakness. Perhaps because of this poor relationship with her father, the heroine here has more pride and anger than Beauty.
The heroine describes her past – she was born on Christmas day, and her nurse called her “Christmas rose.” Her mother died when she was young, exhausted of her husband’s gambling and womanizing. Back in the present, the heroine rips the petals off of a white rose as her father keeps losing more of his possessions to The Beast. The Beast is huge and bathed in perfume, with yellow eyes and a face like a beautifully painted-on mask. He wears kid gloves over his clumsy hands.
This heroine is also immediately associated with a rose. As she strips away the petals of the flower, it symbolizes her stripping away the outer layers of attachment and personality to find her true core. This image reflects the recurring motif of nakedness, and foreshadows the metamorphosis at the story’s end. The Beast has a mask-like face like the Marquis.
Finally the father has lost everything except the heroine herself, and so he gambles her. He loses, and then stares silently at the cards as The Beast’s valet makes arrangements to pick up the heroine the next morning. The father grows tearful and remorseful, but The Beast roars and the valet translates for him, saying that the father should have guarded his “treasures” better.
Like the other female protagonists, this heroine is initially treated as an object to be manipulated and gambled away. The Beast in this version is associated with a tiger, a reminder of the heroine’s mother in “The Bloody Chamber.” He also lives on a threshold between the worlds of wild animals and humans.
The next day a carriage comes for the heroine, and she looks longingly at the horses, wishing she could flee with them to “the kingdom of horses.” Her father cries and asks for a rose to show that she has forgiven him. The heroine gives him a rose, but she pricks her finger on it and smears it with blood. The valet helps her into the carriage, and he, like The Beast, also seems like an animal in human disguise.
The heroine’s longing for the wild innocence of horses prefigures her later transformation. The symbol of the rose begins to grow more complex here. It is not just a symbol of the heroine’s purity and virginity, as it also has thorns – showing the pain of her objectification, but also her own fierceness and pride.
As she rides, the heroine wonders about the nature of The Beast’s “beastliness,” and she remembers her old nurse frightening her with tales of the “tiger-man,” who would come aided by the Erl-King and gobble up the young heroine if she wasn’t good. She remembers other tales of half-men, half-beasts that had terrified and intrigued her in her youth.
The Erl-King will return in a later story as another “metamorphic” figure who controls the wind and captures young women. Carter muses on the nature of her “beasts,” how there is a horror in living life on the threshold, but also that there is a kind of beastliness that is internal as well as external.
The carriage leaves the city and travels through a bleak, wintry landscape. Finally the heroine and the valet arrive at The Beast’s lonely mansion. The heroine enters and sees that the horses eat in the dining room, all the furniture is covered and dusty, and the pictures are taken down from the walls. The valet leads the heroine to The Beast’s room on an upper floor, where there is a fire in the grate and The Beast is wearing a loose robe.
This is another picture of decaying luxury, but the state of The Beast’s mansion implies that he has let his wild animal nature take over, and he has little care for keeping up the appearances of a nobleman. Carter never fully describes her “beasts,” allowing them to inhabit a fantastic world where a tiger could really disguise himself as a human.
The valet speaks for the silent Beast, saying that his master’s only wish is to see the heroine naked. In exchange The Beast will return all her father’s losses. The heroine laughs and says angrily that she will allow The Beast to “visit” her only once, but she must have a sheet over her face and be in complete darkness. She desires no money unless The Beast pays her what he would a prostitute. The Beast is clearly struck by this outburst, and a tear falls from his eye.
As the heroine picked the petals off her rose, so The Beast wants the heroine to expose her true self to him. This is another kind of power Carter finds in virginity – that of a nakedness (of both body and soul) that has never been seen or corrupted by anyone before. The Beast has a “bestial” desire, but he does not abuse his power.
The valet leads the heroine away to her bedroom, and she threatens to hang herself with her bedsheets. The valet urges her not to, as she is a “woman of honour.” He then introduces a maid, who is actually a complex automaton made up to look exactly like the heroine. The valet says that “nothing human lives here.” The maid shows the heroine a mirror, in which the heroine sees her father drunk and crying. The valet then takes the mirror away and locks the heroine in her bedroom. The automaton maid slows down and “falls asleep,” and soon the heroine does so as well.
The valet is another metamorphic character, an animal disguised as a human. This story explores many aspects of civilization and wildness, as the maid is like the heroine if she truly became an object devoid of soul and agency. She is the ultimate “civilized figure,” but at the same time just as inhuman as the tiger. The true humanity and life exists on the threshold between wildness and civilization.
The next morning the valet brings the heroine breakfast and a single diamond earring. The heroine throws it aside and the valet leads her to The Beast again. He is in exactly the same position as the night before, surrounded by incense. The valet requests again that the heroine disrobe, as her skin is special because “no man has seen” it before. The heroine again refuses, and again The Beast cries a single tear. He buries his head in his arms and the heroine sees that his hands are tiger claws.
The Beast’s incense recalls the Marquis’ aroma of Russian leather. Many of the elements Carter repeats do not have a special significance except that they are repeated, thus drawing the disparate fairy tales into an organic sequence, where all the heroines seem aspects of a single character. The Beast understands the power of the heroine’s virginity, and he seems just as afraid of her as she is of him.
A few hours later the valet brings the heroine another diamond earring of “the finest water.” The heroine throws it aside like the other, and then the valet says The Beast has requested to go riding with the heroine. The automaton maid comes to life and retrieves a riding habit, which is exactly the same as the one the heroine used to wear back in Russia. The valet leads the heroine out to the hall where the horses wait.
The description of the diamonds as like water foreshadows the transformation at the end, when the heroine will become a “beast” and even her jewelry will revert to wildness. More magical elements are introduced, showing The Beast’s power.
The heroine mounts a black horse and then is joined by The Beast, who is wrapped in a thick cloak. They ride out into a heavy wind that seems to follow The Beast as if he can control it. The heroine starts to realize that The Beast and his valet are wild animals, not “as other men,” and she is frightened by this, but she also muses that she is just as much a creature and object as the horses or the clockwork maid.
Many of Carter’s bestial men seem to have power over the wind, notably the Erl-King. The heroine starts to understand the situation Carter has created in this mansion – everyone is somewhere on the spectrum between wild animal and clockwork automaton.
The trio come to a river and dismount, and the valet says that if the heroine will not let The Beast see her naked, then she must see The Beast naked. The heroine grows suddenly terrified, but she nods. The valet covers The Beast with his cloak as he removes his “mask.” The heroine muses that “the lamb must learn to run with the tigers,” instead of lying down together. The Beast emerges as a huge, beautiful tiger.
The valet then moves to cover The Beast back up, but the heroine stops him, and she undresses herself. After a few moments the valet rides off on his horse with the tiger running ahead. The heroine returns to the horses and sees The Beast wearing his cloak again. They return to the house and the valet brings the heroine to an ornately decorated room. The automaton maid is there, and she brings the heroine the magic mirror.
This is a moment of true communion between the two characters, even though one is an animal and one is a human. Now they are ready for some kind of metamorphosis, so they can be closer to each other. The heroine now understands that she too is a kind of “beast,” half-object (of desire), half-human.
The heroine looks in the mirror and sees her father looking clean and well-dressed and counting out stacks of money. The valet then knocks on the heroine’s door and says that she can leave the palace whenever she likes and rejoin her father. The heroine looks at her own face in the mirror and then sends the valet away. She puts the diamond earrings in her ears. Then she takes off all her clothes, thinking about how unnatural it feels for humans to go around naked.
As in "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon", the heroine has basically sacrificed herself for her father’s good fortune. But the heroine here does not love her father like Beauty did, and she has more wildness in her – she has begun to feel closer to The Beast than to her human father. Taking off her clothes is already a kind of metamorphosis.
The heroine finds her way to The Beast’s room and knocks on his door. There is no answer, but the valet appears, naked himself and revealed to be a monkey. He shows the heroine into the room and she sees The Beast’s mask and clothes discarded on the floor and the incense pot broken in pieces. The tiger is pacing back and forth among “gnawed and bloody bones.”
This room is the “bloody chamber” of this story, where the heroine undergoes her metamorphosis of both pain and enlightenment. As the heroine prepares to embrace her own wildness the whole household has removed its “mask.”
The heroine has a moment of her old fear of the “tiger-man” and the ancient terror of being devoured. But she goes forward, offering herself, and it seems The Beast is more frightened than she is. The heroine stretches out her hand and The Beast approaches and starts to purr. At his thunderous purr the windows break and the house starts to fall apart around them. The Beast licks the heroine’s hands, and she fears his rough tongue will rip off her skin – and it does. Layer after layer of skin disappears, finally revealing fur, and the heroine’s earrings turn to water, and the heroine herself becomes a tiger.
This bloody chamber is a place of violence, where the tiger eats his prey and licks off the heroine’s skin, but it is also a place of love as she transforms to connect with The Beast and her own wildness. In this story and "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon" before it, Carter offers two interpretations of “Beauty and the Beast,” and though both involve transformations one deals with an acceptance of gentleness and another with an acceptance of animality. The heroine’s pain and metamorphosis is also symbolic of losing her virginity.