Monday, November 30, 2009

Beauty and the Beast

“Beauty and the Beast”: A traditional French fairytale where, in traditional fairytale style, the heroine’s mother is absent (let’s assume she’s died in some appropriately romantic way, like from consumption or from blood-poisoning - whatever).

Whether you’ve grown up on the Disney version, or one of the hundreds of novels and illustrated books, the story of “Beauty and the Beast” remains fundamentally similar. A useless father trades/accidentally gifts/is tricked into giving his lovely youngest/only daughter, Belle, (very “King Lear” – you always lose Cordelia and can never palm off the Regan or Goneril equivalent, can you?) to the ultimate symbol of unrestrained, brutal masculinity: The Beast.

However, before truly analysing the gendered power relations of this particular fairytale, let’s back track a bit. I was inspired to write about “Beauty and the Beast” because of the thumping-great rich velvety roses that have been growing alongside my driveway. I picked some of said roses (though I think the bush may actually be growing on my neighbours’ property... everyone loves a good bit of flower theft, right?) and kept them on my desk in an attempt to a) feel like Belle/resolve some latent wannabe-princess fantasy and b) to actually lure me to my fantastic smelling desk so that I might feel inclined to study. Big yay – I achieved both objectives. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually take a photo of these magnificent roses (yes, I’m still very new to this blogging thing) – this is a photo of a somewhat bedraggled bloom, which I took last week (try to imagine it dark, dusky red)...

So anyway, back to “Beauty and the Beast”. I think Disney’s interpretation is one of their most interesting films, least of all because Belle is dark haired (opposed to blonde), likes to read, and unusually, her journey isn’t about escaping from an archetypal jealous stepmother/evil sea-witch/evil sorceress or a combination of the above.* For once, in a Disney fairytale, the female protagonist doesn’t have to struggle against a female antagonist (think Cinderella and her horrible stepsisters and stepmother, Ariel and Ursula, aforementioned sea-witch or even Briar Rose from Disney’s fundamentally flawed “Sleeping Beauty” (she only sleeps for 20 minutes, people!) who has to contend with the sexy, wicked Malevolent. Belle, on the other hand, only has to take on male adversaries.

This is where the gendered power relations of “Beauty and the Beast” become particularly fascinating - Belle has to overcome men. In the Disney version, her first antagonist is the hunter Gaston who embodies ideal form of hegemonic masculinity: he’s big, buff, tough and is utterly repugnant to her. Similarly, Belle’s second antagonist also embodies a clear form of brute, physical masculinity – he’s the Beast who snarls, tears things apart, and generally behaves like a bit of a drunk footballer. Therefore, Belle’s story is not about being rescued by chisel-feature princes, rather, she rejects and has to take on them on. For Belle, though Gaston appears to be the archetypal “beautiful” chiseled prince, his character is actually corrupted and, in the end, turns out to be far more truly “beastly” than the actual Beast.

So back to the Beast. When Belle winds up with him, he is softened, returned to his much-less interesting-than-when-he-was-a-beast princely form. Really, his masculinity is reduced when compared with his hegemonically masculine Beast-form. This change in masculinity is due to Belle, in all her nerdy, bookish and porridge-sipping ways. The story of Beauty and the Beast is perhaps, therefore, about the rejection of traditional masculine stereotypes. Rather, it questions typical masculinity and advocates giving agency and power to the unusual female heroine. For that, I think, it’s tops.

Anyway, if you want to immerse yourself in some interesting (non Disney or picture book) versions of Beauty and the Beast, author Robin McKinley has written two great Beauty and the Beast inspired novels: “Rose Daughter” and “Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast”. “Rose Daughter” in particular takes a much less conventional approach to how Belle deals with the physical form of the Beast.

-- Esther xx

* Plus she also has seriously bitchin’ ball gowns.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Hello and welcome to Petals Marked With Spots; our brand-new blog! By “our”, please assume that there is more than one of us – allow us to introduce ourselves: Grace and Esther are (very) amateur bloggers with grand ambitions to write interesting, insightful and humorous posts on a vast range of subjects (mainly because we’re too indecisive to stick to a single topic).

Grace is a twenty-one year old with too many (very interesting) hobbies who hopes that a blog will bring these pursuits together in some kind of cohesive form that validates her hours spent on them. Her interests include attempting to sing in tune, cooking, writing and trying to form coherent sentences in French. She thinks that starting a blog is an excellent way of once again over-committing herself to intriguing creative projects.

Esther is also a twenty-one year old (well, she’s very nearly twenty-one) who spends a ridiculous amount of her time rock climbing on Australia’s finest cliffs. However, like Grace, she’s also terribly interested in writing, reading and good food, and has spent many hours trawling cafes for decent long blacks. She hopes that this blog will allow her to merrily rant about various literary and filmic topics that might be of interest to others.

So, let’s start at the very beginning…

It all began with Jane. Jane Austen that is. It was in early 2009 that two fans of the famed novelist signed up to an English course at the Australian National University that involved reading this fabulous author’s works and having this contribute to their undergrad degrees. As you may have guessed these two Austen devotees were our blog’s very own Grace and Esther. The two were brought together fatefully in the same tutorial timeslot. As the semester progressed both Grace and Esther came to admire the insightful academic thoughts of the other then unknown to one another, not to mention similar tastes in handmade bags.

Then, once again fatefully, second semester came around and Grace and Esther found themselves buddies in two English courses. In true undergraduate style, both attempted to perfect the skill of procrastination, coming to lectures armed with their macbook laptops (what, you think we actually type lecture notes on them?). With one internet page leading to another, both were inspired by Grace’s friend’s blog ( where numerous delicious recipes can be found at: so, naively, but with plenty of enthusiasm, were inspired to start a blog of their own.

‘Petals Marked With Spots’ is that blog. The title pays homage to Virginia Woolf’s ‘Kew Gardens': a story they should have been studying.

So await, as our rambling on literature, art, cooking, fashion, film, and anything else we feel like blogging about ensues.

Please be patient, as you are dealing with blogging virgins, who may get off to a shaky start, but promise to post with increasing enthusiasm for as long as you care to read.

Love, Grace and Esther

Just to get you in the mood, these are a few of our favourite things…


Cooking. I took this picture at a market in the French town of Cherbourg. I love going to the markets and buying fresh vegetables and turning them into delicious meals. Don’t you just feel inspired to make something fabulous after looking at this picture?

Art. I could spend all day in an art gallery. This is one of my favorite paintings, ‘Interior in Yellow’ (1962-64) by Grace Cossington Smith, housed at the NGA. I think it would be impossible to be unhappy in a room like this.

Fashion. Christian Dior is one of my idols. I love the femininity and elegance of his designs. He defiantly knew how to make a woman beautiful, as this 1952 creation testifies. If only I could afford couture outfits…


Coffee. This is my fabulous Italian “Atomic” coffee pot. I think the 50s design is absolutely fantastic. I wish I used it more - it’s great for frothing your own milk, but I’m such a long black person…

Climbing. This is a cliff on the banks of the Shoalhaven river at Nowra, NSW. It’s one of my favourite climbing areas with great rock, lovely scenery and plenty of bogans in dodgy-looking Commodores.

Flowers. I know it sounds a more than slightly corny, and perhaps a bit like an eight-year-old girl proclaiming with eternal devotion: “I love flowers!!!” but I think having a bunch in your house can genuinely improve your mood. Maybe it’s because they’re such a transient indulgence and luxury. Or maybe it’s just because they smell nice. Either way, I love flowers.