There are no windows, the AC is definitely broken despite your landlord’s protests, and you have hundreds of roommates. No, it’s not a studio apartment in Los Angeles; it’s the cupboard of what appears to be an anamorphic creature cursed to live the rest of eternity as a beast. It is a tale as old as time and none other than “Beauty and the Beast.”
I am not here today to review the animated film but to answer the questions that have been burned into my mind over the past few days. The film’s 31st anniversary is set for this November, yet so much about the lives of the beast’s staff is left unanswered. It’s certainly not the staffs’ fault that their employer denied a stranger refugee from a storm and serving for eternity as an object would not be written into their contracts. (At least I would hope so.)
How much were the staff paid beforehand? How much are they owed now? Can they create a union? Why is no one talking about this?
Disney’s beloved classic, “Beauty and the Beast,” is an animated movie centered around the tale of a young girl living in a charming town in rural France longing for adventure. Her life takes a sharp turn when her eccentric father goes missing in the woods, on his way to a convention. Taking charge she chases after him, embarking on the adventure she’s always longed for, and finds a seemingly abandoned castle in the dead of the woods. She gets more than she bargained for when rescuing her father turns into becoming a prisoner for a beast!
This movie may have been produced by Disney but its origins rest from across the Atlantic. Disney’s version is based on the fairytale “La Belle et la Bete” written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, published in 1740 within France.
(While the original fairy tale and the Disney version differ from each other, the fairy who curses both princes to live as beasts has always put them at a real fork in the road!)
This century of France is characterized by Louis XV’s rule and the cultural and intellectual renaissance that emerged during this period. It was due to these conditions, rapid growth in machinery and commerce, that paved way for more momentous change preceding the Revolution — the Enlightenment. This period of innovation, although unknown if it influenced the Disney adaptation of the Beauty and the Beast story, could explain Belle-and her father’s-affinity for inventions.
Inside the Castle
To answer the question the Beast’s question poses I decided to put myself in the shoes (or cutlery) of a standard kitchen utensil: the fork. As can be seen in Lumiere’s sequence for “Be our Guest,” the staff had been serving the cursed Beast for 10 years in isolation. Among the staff that was a part of his singing sequence a slew of utensils-forks among them-were a part of the lineup. When conducting my research to answer the question of, “how much money would my employer owe me if I was turned into a fork against my will for 10 years?” I utilized data collected from employers in France during the 1740s. This time period was chosen based on the “insert title” original publication date.
In a paper discussing the progression of wages within France researchers analyzed how geography and profession influenced the wealth and welfare of laborers. The paper stated craftsmen’s wages (assumed as representative of baker’s income) for the period 1250-1820. Since the roles of each piece of furniture were never stated I used data from bakers’ incomes although this might not have been a fork’s exact profession. So when examining the appendix I calculated the real wage of a baker from 1740s France using the nominal wage of a craftsman for that time period.
It is also important to note that during the early 18th century the currency system that was in place under Louis XV was the Livre Tournois wherein one is the equivalent of 0.3 gr of fine gold.
For a year of work within the Beast’s castle, a fork would earn approximately 112.6582278 livre Tournois.
(Not including the additional income the fork would gain from having to learn all of Lumiere’s flashmob sequences.)
The livre may not be in use today, but we can still compare it to the value of a Franc. Ultimately its value was approximately 0.9877 of a franc, which, based on the fixed franc-to-euro rate, is currently worth approximately $0.19. Ten years worth of labor as a craftsmen (including baker) is 1126.582278 livres tournois which is worth, in USD value today, $214.0506.
Some may argue that room and board would be covered under these extraneous circumstances but I fail to see how a cupboard counts as adequate housing. I also argue that forks are probably not eating three meals a day. The fact of the matter is unless the beast were to raise wages then you could not pay me to be a fork. If not offered adequate compensation then the only fork I’d be picking up is a pitchfork to advocate for better working conditions.