“There is the great lesson of Beauty and the Beast; that a thing must be loved before it is loveable.”
Gilbert Keith Chesterton
I have never attempted to write anything about anything of Chesterton’s before; it is a daunting task. But I hope, in a few paragraphs, to convey the meaning of this opening quote about Beauty and the Beast.
We generally feel an affection for what is beautiful. It is only to be expected that we are drawn to all the agreeable things we see. But in the case of Beauty and the Beast, the poor Beast was quite the opposite of agreeable. He was, by all accounts, hideous. When Beauty came to live at his castle, she was repulsed by him. The thought of sitting to dine with him made her quite ill. But, being unwilling to offend, she stuck it out, and discovered that the Beast was actually not so bad. He could converse wittily, was well read; in fact, the only thing he was deficient in was good looks. But when he asked Beauty to marry him, she was appalled, and so turned him down. She could not bear to have an unbeautiful husband.
Later in the story, however, when Beauty rushes back from her holiday with her sisters and finds the Beast dying, she suddenly realises something--she loves Beast. She cannot bear to think of losing him, and, in a flood of tears, and holding the Beast close, she tells him so. In that instant, as she tells him how much she loves him, the Beast changes into a wonderfully handsome prince. He is now quite obviously loveable, and of course the two get married, live happily ever after, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. How wonderfully simple it all is in fairy tales!
We see that Beauty had to love the Beast before he appeared as loveable. This explains the Chesterton quote in the opening of this essay, that something must be loved before it is loveable. When one meets somebody new, they are not perfect by any means. But with closer and deeper knowledge and acquaintance with the person, we gradually see that these minor faults do, in fact, make up a beautiful kind of perfection in and of themselves, in much the same way that the peaceful silence of the meadows is full of small noises which make up one great and all-encompassing quietness.
Hopefully this has helped some of you to understand this quote of one of the greatest writers of our age, without beating about the bush too much. The excerpt was taken from Ethics of Elfland, a chapter in Chesterton’s famous work Orthodoxy. I have only read the one chapter, but finding it to be all about fairy tales and such, I found it most engaging, and look forward to reading some more of the whole book in the near future.