Let’s look at the inconsistencies in Perrault’s version, the version that is recognized as the first:
The first thing that is upsetting about this version calling him a villain is that “this man had the misfortune of having a blue beard, which made him look so ugly and frightful that women and girls alike fled at the sight of him” (144). So within reading the first paragraph we already know that some sad man will be forever alone just because of his beard color. When the two daughters do not want to marry him, they add that he had previous wives that disappeared without a trace. Ok, so that’s a bit more villainous. Bluebeard has to go on a trip and urges his new wife; the youngest of the two sisters who thought that the lavishness would make the marriage ok (does anyone else think of a gold digger here?), “to enjoy herself while he was away…to stay in good spirits” (145). He wants her to stay happy and even allows her to have friends over. The trust he puts into her even at this point is amazing; those friends could include male friends, and six weeks is a long time during which an affair would be completely possible. The next great moment of trust is the transfer of the keys, including the secret forbidden key.
Perrault himself even seems to have a hard time determining the villain of the story as illustrated by his two morals:
Curiosity, in spite of its many charms,
Can bring with it serious regrets;
You can see a thousand examples of it every day.
Women succumb, but it’s a fleeting pleasure;
As soon as you satisfy it, it ceases to be.
And it always proves very, very costly.
If you just take a sensible point of view,
And study this grim little story,
You will understand that this tale
Is one that took place many years ago.
No longer are husbands so terrible,
Demanding the impossible,
Acting unhappy and jealous.
With their wives they toe the line;
And whatever color their beards might be,
It’s not hard to tell which of the pair is master.
The first suggests that it is the woman’s fault for being curious; an obvious position in the time of Perrault, where women were looked down upon and everything was their fault. The second suggests that the story is old and men are no longer like that. It is aiming to calm the fears of girls that are forced to marry terrifying older men.
I still find it difficult to determine how I feel about Bluebeard and where I stand on his villain status. In fact I probably believe that the fault falls on both parties, although gray areas are not supposed to exist in fairy tales. Either way, this is how I feel.
By the way, we’re supposed to say our favorite version; mine would have to be Bluebeard’s Egg by Atwood, but that would be far too much to analyze in one blog post. I like it because of the complexity and in depth look into feelings, things that make it not so much of a standard fairy tale, especially as it seems to mostly use it as a base. Either way, I wrote about Perrault’s Bluebeard, the one that started them all in a way.