Four and Twenty Fairy Tales: Selected from Those of Perrault, and Other Popular Writers | Annotated Tale

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Blue Beard

ONCE on a time there was a man who had fine town and country houses, gold and silver plate, embroidered furniture, and coaches gilt all over; but unfortunately, this man had a blue beard, which made him look so ugly and terrible, that there was not a woman or girl who did not run away from him. One of his neighbours, a lady of quality, had two daughters, who were perfectly beautiful. He proposed to marry one of them, leaving her to choose which of the two she would give him. Neither of them would have him; and they sent him from one to the other, not being able to make up their minds to marry a man who had a blue beard. What increased their distaste to him was, that he had had several wives already, and nobody knew what had become of them.

                Blue Beard, in order to cultivate their acquaintance, took them, with their mother, three or four of their most intimate friends, and some young persons who resided in the neighbourhood, to one of his country seats, where they passed an entire week. Nothing was thought of but excursions, hunting and fishing, parties, balls, entertainments, collations; nobody went to bed; the whole night was spent in merry games and gambols. In short, all went off so well, that the youngest daughter began to find out that the beard of the master of the house was not as blue as it used to be, and that he was a very worthy man. Immediately upon their return to town the marriage took place. At the end of a month Blue Beard told his wife that he was obliged to take a journey, which would occupy six weeks at least, on a matter of great consequence; that he entreated she would amuse herself as much as she could during his absence; that she would invite her best friends, take them into the country with her if she pleased, and keep an excellent table everywhere.

                "Here," said he to her, "are the keys of my two great store-rooms; these are those of the chests in which the gold and silver plate is kept, that is only used on particular occasions; these are the keys of the strong boxes in which I keep my money; these open the caskets that contain my jewels; and this is the pass-key of all the apartments. As for this little key, it is that of the closet at the end of the long gallery, on the ground floor. Open everything, and go everywhere except into that little closet, which I forbid you to enter, and I forbid you so strictly, that if you should venture to open the door, there is nothing that you may not have to dread from my anger!" She promised to observe implicitly all his directions, and after he had embraced her, he got into his coach and set out on his journey.

                The neighbours and friends of the young bride did not wait for her invitation, so eager were they to see all the treasures contained in the mansion, not having ventured to enter it while the husband was at home, so terrified were they at his blue beard. Behold them immediately running through all the rooms, closets, and wardrobes, each apartment exceeding the other in beauty and richness. They ascended afterwards to the store-rooms, where they could not sufficiently admire the number and elegance of the tapestries, the beds, the sofas, the cabinets, the stands,[1] the tables, and the mirrors in which they could see themselves from head to foot, and that had frames some of glass,[2] some of silver, and some of gilt metal, more beautiful and magnificent than had ever been seen. They never ceased enlarging upon and envying the good fortune of their friend, who in the meanwhile was not in the least entertained by the sight of all these treasures, in consequence of her impatience to open the closet on the ground floor.

                Her curiosity increased to such a degree that, without reflecting how rude it was to leave her company, she ran down a back staircase in such haste that twice or thrice she narrowly escaped breaking her neck. Arrived at the door of the closet, she paused for a moment, bethinking herself of her husband's prohibition, and that some misfortune might befall her for her disobedience; but the temptation was so strong that she could not conquer it. She therefore took the little key and opened, tremblingly, the door of the closet. At first she could discern nothing, the windows being closed; after a short time she began to perceive that the floor was all covered with clotted blood, in which were reflected the dead bodies of several females suspended against the walls. These were all the wives of Blue Beard, who had cut their throats one after the other. She was ready to die with fright, and the key of the closet, which she had withdrawn from the lock, fell from her hand. After recovering her senses a little, she picked up the key, locked the door again, and went up to her chamber to compose herself; but she could not succeed, so greatly was she agitated. Having observed that the key of the closet was stained with blood, she wiped it two or three times, but the blood would not come off. In vain she washed it, and even scrubbed it with sand and free-stone, the blood was still there, for the key was enchanted, and there were no means of cleaning it completely: when the blood was washed off one side, it came back on the other.

                Blue Beard returned that very evening, and said that he had received letters on the road informing him that the business on which he was going had been settled to his advantage. His wife did all she could to persuade him that she was delighted at his speedy return. The next morning he asked her for his keys again; she gave them to him; but her hand trembled so, that he had not much difficulty in guessing what had occurred. "How comes it," said he, "that the key of the closet is not with the others?" "I must have left it," she replied, "upstairs on my table." "Fail not," said Blue Beard, "to give it me presently." After several excuses, she was compelled to produce the key. Blue Beard having examined it, said to his wife, "Why is there some blood on this key?" "I don't know," answered the poor wife, paler than death. "You don't know?" rejoined Blue Beard. "I know well enough. You must needs enter the closet. Well, madam, you shall enter it, and go take your place amongst the ladies you saw there." She flung herself at her husband's feet, weeping and begging his pardon, with all the signs of true repentance for having disobeyed him. Her beauty and affliction might have melted a rock, but Blue Beard had a heart harder than a rock. "You must die, madam," said he, "and immediately." "If I must die," she replied, looking at him with streaming eyes, "give me a little time to say my prayers." "I give you half a quarter of an hour," answered Blue Beard, "but not a minute more." As soon as he had left her, she called her sister, and said to her, "Sister Anne" (for so she was named), "go up, I pray thee, to the top of the tower, and see if my brothers are not coming. They have promised me that they would come to see me to-day; and if you see them, sign to them to make haste." Sister Anne mounted to the top of the tower, and the poor distressed creature called to her every now and then, "Anne! sister Anne! dost thou not see anything coming?" And sister Anne answered her, "I see nothing but the sun making dust, and the grass growing green."

                In the meanwhile Blue Beard, with a great cutlass in his hand, called out with all his might to his wife, "Come down quickly, or I will come up there." "One minute more, if you please," replied his wife; and immediately repeated in a low voice, "Anne! sister Anne! dost thou not see anything coming?" And sister Anne replied, "I see nothing but the sun making dust, and the grass growing green." "Come down quickly," roared Blue Beard, "or I will come up there." "I come," answered his wife, and then exclaimed, "Anne! sister Anne! dost thou not see anything coming?" "I see," said sister Anne, "a great cloud of dust moving this way." "Is it my brothers?" "Alas! no, sister, I see a flock of sheep." "Wilt thou not come down?" shouted Blue Beard. "One minute more," replied his wife, and then she cried, "Anne! sister Anne! dost thou not see anything coming?" "I see," she replied, "two horsemen coming this way; but they are still at a great distance." "Heaven be praised!" she exclaimed, a moment afterwards. "They are my brothers! I am making all the signs I can to hasten them." Blue Beard began to roar so loudly that the whole house shook again. The poor wife descended, and went and threw herself, with streaming eyes and dishevelled tresses, at his feet.

                "It is of no use," said Blue Beard. "You must die!" Then seizing her by the hair with one hand, and raising his cutlass with the other, he was about to cut off her head. The poor wife turned towards him, and fixing upon him her dying eyes, implored him to allow her one short moment to collect herself. "No, no," said he; "recommend thyself heartily to Heaven." And lifting his arm---- At this moment there was so loud a knocking at the gate, that Blue Beard stopped short. It was opened, and two horsemen were immediately seen to enter, who, drawing their swords, ran straight at Blue Beard. He recognised them as the brothers of his wife--one a dragoon, the other a musqueteer, and, consequently, fled immediately, in hope to escape; but they pursued him so closely, that they overtook him before he could reach the step of his door, and, passing their swords through his body, left him dead on the spot. The poor wife was almost as dead as her husband, and had not strength to rise and embrace her brothers. It was found that Blue Beard had no heirs, and so his widow remained possessed of all his property. She employed part of it in marrying her sister Anne to a young gentleman who had long loved her; another part, in buying captains' commissions for her two brothers, and with the rest she married herself to a very worthy man, who made her forget the miserable time she had passed with Blue Beard.

Provided one has common sense,     
And of the world but knows the ways,     
This story bears the evidence     
Of being one of bygone days.     
No husband now is so terrific,     
Impossibilities, expecting:     
Though jealous, he is still pacific,     
Indifference to his wife affecting.     
And of his beard, whate'er the hue,     
His spouse need fear no such disaster.     
Indeed, 'twould often puzzle you     
To say which of the twain is master.


LA BARBE BLEUE is founded, according to Mons. Colin de Plancy, on a tradition of Lower Brittany; and he remarks that Perrault must have heard it from the lips of nurses, or perhaps peasants, to have written with so much naïveté the scene of Sister Anne. He states also that it is pretended that Blue Beard was actually a nobleman of the house of Beaumanoir. He does not, however, seem to have been aware that the original of this terrible portrait is also said to have been Gilles de Laval, Seigneur de Raiz, created Maréchal de France, June 21st, 1429, for his defence of Orleans against the English, but whose infamous conduct in Brittany so exasperated the public against him, that in 1440 he was arrested by order of the Procureur-Général de Bretagne, and having been tried and found guilty, was condemned to be hanged and burnt, and underwent that sentence in a field at Nantes, on the 8th of October (some say 23rd of December) of that same year, after exhibiting, says the chronicler, great signs of repentance; his body was taken out of the flames, and buried in the church of the Carmelites at Nantes. It was, we are told, his taste for luxury and libertinism which plunged him into all the crimes for which he was so fearfully punished. He squandered a revenue of two hundred thousand crowns per annum, an enormous sum in those days, and which he had inherited at the age of twenty. He never travelled without being accompanied by an army of cooks, musicians, dancers of both sexes, packs of hounds, and two hundred saddle horses. Unfortunately for him, he thought it necessary to include in his suite of attendants some fortune-tellers and pretended magicians, which it is possible in those days may have caused the credulous multitude to impute to him some atrocities of which he may have been innocent. The whole procès is said to be still extant: but we are not furnished with any details which would identify him with the gentleman who rejoiced in a blue beard, and expiated his offences by being run through the body with cold iron, instead of being roasted at a stake like the guilty but penitent Marshal. [3] Whether the line of Beaumanoir or of Laval has the best claim to the honour of his relationship, may be still a matter of dispute; but the fact more important to our present inquiry is, that in either case it is a tradition of Bretagne, and therefore strengthens the theory of Mons. de Plancy and the Baron Walkenaër.

                There is no fairy in this story, but there is an enchanted key. "La clef," says the author, "etait fée." In the old translations this is rendered "the key was a fairy." "Fée" is, however, in such instances as these, not a noun substantive, but an adjective, now obsolete, but to be found in Cotgrave, spelt with a third e in the feminine. "Fée, m.; éee, f.: Fatall appointed, destined; also, taken, bewitched or forespoken; also, charmed, inchanted."--EDIT. 1650.

                There is another popular passage in this story which requires a word of remark:--"Je ne vois rien que le soleil qui poudroie et l'herbe qui verdoie." This has been generally translated, "I see nothing but the sun which makes a dust, and the grass which looks green." Mons. de Plancy appends a note to this passage, as follows:--"1. Poudroyer, darder, éblouir les yeux. 2. Verdoyer, jeter un éclat vert."

                With great submission to so high an authority, I must venture to differ with him on this point. "Poudroyer" is an old French verb, signifying to reduce to powder. "Je poudroie, tu poudroies, il poudroie," &c. "Un cheval Espagnol poudroyant tous les champs," J. B. Rouss; and Bescherelle, in his Dictionnaire National, remarks, quoting the actual passage from Perrault, "Ce mot sonore poètique, épargnant une périphrase est a regretter." Verdoyer is also a verb active, signifying to grow or become green, and I have therefore taken the liberty to render the above celebrated reply, "I see nothing but the sun making dust" (that is to say, reducing the soil to dust by its heat), "and the grass growing green." It is the flock of sheep that afterwards raise or make a dust. It may be thought I am "making a dust," to use a familiar phrase, about a trifle; but I wished to point out that unless we could say in English, "the sun that dusts and the grass that greens," we cannot approach the terse and graphic description of dear Sister Anne.

                Mons. de Plancy observes that the incidents of this story (excepting, of course, that of the enchanted key) are not impossible, provided they are supposed to have occurred in the middle ages; but that Perrault has placed them nearer his own times, by saying that Blue Beard's widow employed part of her fortune in purchasing commissions for her two brothers, as the sale of commissions in the French army was not known before the reign of Francis I.; but he does not notice that the mention of dragoons and musqueteers brings them still nearer. Blue Beard has been a favourite subject with the dramatists, both French and English. The celebrated melodrama by George Colman the younger, produced at Drury Lane Theatre, in 1798, in which the scene was transferred to the East, was rendered still more popular by the music of Michael Kelly: the "March in Blue Beard" was perpetrated on every piano alternately with the "Duke of York's March," the "Battle of Prague," and the "Overture to Lodoiska."


[1] Gueridons, i.e., stands to place lights or china upon. The word is now used to signify any small round table with one foot; but the old-fashioned stand, which was higher than a table, and its top not bigger than a dessert plate, is occasionally to be met with.

[2] Looking-glasses with frames of the same material were much in vogue at that period. Of silver-framed mirrors some magnificent specimens remain to us at Knowle Park, Kent.

[3] Mr. Dunlop, who alludes to this story, speaks of the murder of his wives. The author of L'Art de Vérifier des Dates, gives him but one wife, Catharine de Thouars, daughter and heiress of Mille de Thouars, Seigneur de Chabanais et Confolent, whom he married December 31st, 1420, and who survived him, and was re-married to Jean de Vendôme, Vidame d'Amiens. She therefore lived with him for twenty years, and bore him one daughter, Marie de Laval, Dame de Raiz, who married twice, and died the 1st of November, 1458. Père Anselme says he was contracted in 1416 to Jeanne Paynel, daughter and co-heiress of Fouques, Seigneur de Hambye; but that she died previous to the celebration of the marriage.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Blue Beard
Tale Author/Editor: Perrault, Charles
Book Title: Four and Twenty Fairy Tales: Selected from Those of Perrault, and Other Popular Writers
Book Author/Editor: Planché, J. R.
Publisher: G. Routledge & Co.
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1858
Country of Origin: France
Classification: ATU 312: Maiden-Killer (Bluebeard)

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