Beast vs Christian: Wealthy givers of gifts and affection

Books of the Fifty Shades trilogy with a DVD of Beauty and the Beast

“I would build this for you,” he whispers. “Just to see the way the light burnishes you hair, right here, right now.” He tucks a strand of hair behind my ear. “You look like an angel.” He kisses my just below my earlobe, takes my hand in his, and murmurs, “We despots do that for the women we love.”
Fifty Shades Freed, p78

For context, Christian and Ana are in the Palace of Versailles when he says that.

I’m half-tempted to end this post right here.

But that would do Beast a disservice.

Both Beast and Christian have wealth. Both Belle and Ana are living in the enjoyment of that wealth by the time we get to the end of their stories. But the similarities pretty much end there.

Beauty and the Beast is a fairy tale. It uses images to portray ideas. Beast is a prince, but this is not an endorsement of absolute monarchies. Rather, his castle and a kingdom are images that convey the concepts of glory and inheritance.

Now, I might be misunderstood when I use the words “glory” and “inheritance”. C.S. Lewis wrote about how the world “glory” conjured two ideas: one of which was wicked (desire for fame) and the other ridiculous (luminosity). Similarly, “inheritance” can be associated with the hoarding of wealth and/or idolisation of the family. None of that is what I mean.

I’m talking having splendour in a context which magnifies who you are. I’m talking about stepping into a context which might have been prepared by someone else, but which belongs to you. And in it, you find rest and peace. I’m talking about the end-state and the end-place of redemption.

But hey, who wants to lecture children with abstract nouns? No one.

In Beauty and the Beast the plot of redemption is illustrated with a prince, in a castle, in a kingdom. However, in Fifty Shades, the plot is driven by Christian’s wealth.

Christian’s self-service

I have several problems with how Christian uses his wealth in respect of Ana.

He uses the gifts to:

  • Manipulate and groom Ana – buying her first edition Thomas Hardy books;
  • Control Ana – buying her a laptop so that he can email her;
  • Undermine Ana’s agency and appease his fear of losing her – buying her a new car;
  • Excuse his strange behaviour – buying her new clothes after he undresses her while she’s unconscious;
  • Distract Ana from the problems in their relationship – taking her gliding;
  • Idolise Ana – buying her exorbitantly expensive jewellery;
  • Make Ana acceptable to his social circle – buying her ballroom dresses.

In other words, Christian uses his wealth to make Ana fit his mould.

Moreover, Christian makes not out-pouring of himself into the gift (that is, his gifts don’t involve ‘sacrifice’).

He gets her stuff because it’s convenient for him and because making her look good makes him look good. And, to be frank, because it makes it easier for him to abuse her. But I’ve written in detail on grooming previously, so we’ll leave it there for this post.

Be our guest

LUMIERE: Cogsworth, I am surprised at you. She’s not our prisoner. She’s our guest. We must make her feel welcome here.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)

As a child, I didn’t appreciate how much Lumiere, Cogsworth and the other castle servants had a vested interest in Belle liking Beast. I thought lines like “The master’s not so bad once you get to know him” were spoken out of loyalty. But of course, there is plenty of self-interest. As the extra song in the special edition DVD makes so clear: they want to be human again.

It does however, raise a question over one the greatest Disney songs ever written: Be Our Guest. Are they distracting and dazzling Belle, attempting to mask her harsh reality? Possibly. But they’re also trying to lift the spirits of a person who is in a very low place. However mixed their motives were, we can be sure of one thing: gourmet food and silver service would not – on their own – have made Belle feel welcome.

In other words, this song is not about wealth.

Beast’s stirring affection

BEAST: I’ve never felt this way about anyone. I want to do something for her. But what?
COGSWORTH: Well, there’s the usual things–flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep…
LUMIERE: Ahh, no no. It has to be something very special. Something that sparks her interest–wait a minute!
Beauty and the Beast (1991)

As for Beast, when he gives to Belle, his motives are selfless. Stirred by a strange feeling that he’s never felt before, he wants to do something for Belle. Not for his gain, not to show himself off to her, but as a way of honouring her. And though it’s fair to say he’s making an expression of affection, it’s important to understand that affection is a humble kind of love and is not only found within romance. C.S. Lewis wrote about this in The Four Loves, explaining that one of the most remarkable things about Affection is that it can unite people who “most emphatically, even comically” are not united. [1]

This is what is stirring inside Beast.

Moreover, C.S. Lewis observes that when affection does grow, a person’s “eyes begin to open”. This is also true of Beast: the prince who once judged an old woman by her ugliness, has started to see things as they truly are. He is learning how to love and moving towards his redemption.

Not centred on money

It’s interesting to note that Beast wants to do something for Belle. He is not concerned with showering her with gifts, but is open to what she would like. If whatever he does is to centre Belle, it must be something she will genuinely appreciate. However, his options are limited. He’s ungraceful, he can barely read (watch the special edition) and, at this stage of the plot, his appearance is repulsive to Belle (Beast later observes that she no longer shudders when she touches his paw). This means gift-giving is his only real option.

And yes, his wealth is evident in his gift-giving, but no, he doesn’t give with the intention of exhibiting it. Big difference.

What I also like about Beast in this moment is that he’s open to hearing other people’s ideas. He doesn’t presume to know – unlike Christian, who comes up with all the ideas of what Ana needs.

Beast also has the good sense not to go with Cogsworth’s clichéd suggestions. As for Christian, the only reason why some of his gifts to Ana don’t seem clichéd is because he has the money to elevate their lavishness. Ultimately, Christian lacks imagination.

Not centred on Beast

BEAST: Belle, there’s something I want to show you. But first, you have to close your eyes. It’s a surprise.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Even though Beast presents his gift to Belle as a surprise, he tells her he has a surprise for her, gains her agreement before proceeding and gives it to her gently. In this, Beast is very different to Christian. Christian plays the mysterious card and frequently startles Ana.

Perhaps most importantly, when Beast gives to Belle, he gives her something that resonates with her interests and dreams. Christian, on the other hand, says he knows what’s best for Ana and directly interferes with her career, even though she doesn’t want him to.

Moreover, Christian thrusts his gifts onto Ana and when she feels uncomfortable he tells her she has to accept them. In contrast, when Beast shows Belle his library full of books, he asks her if she likes it before giving to her.

Because, in his humility, he’s searching for her happiness and not his own.

BELLE: I can’t believe it. I’ve never seen so many books in all my life!
BEAST: You–you like it?
BELLE: It’s wonderful.
BEAST: Then it’s yours.
BEAST: Oh, thank you so much.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)

[1] The Four Loves, p77, Fount Paperbacks (1977)

This is the fourteenth post in a series on redemption, comparing Beauty and the Beast with Fifty Shades. You can find an index of all the posts here.

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