Gender-Flipped Tales: Bluehair (Bluebeard)

BluehairThe Tale:
There was a woman who had fine houses, both in town and country, a deal of silver and gold plate, embroidered furniture, and coaches gilded all over with gold. But this woman was so unlucky as to have blue hair, which made her so frightfully ugly that all the men and boys ran away from her.

One of her neighbors, a gentleman of quality, had two sons who were perfectly handsome. She desired of him one of them in marriage, leaving to him choice which of the two he would bestow on her. They would neither of them have her, and sent her backward and forward from one another, not being able to bear the thoughts of marrying a woman who had blue hair, and what besides gave them disgust and aversion was her having already been married to several husbands, and nobody ever knew what became of them.

Bluehair, to engage their affection, took them, with the gentleman their father and three or four gentlemen of their acquaintance, with other young people of the neighborhood, to one of her country seats, where they stayed a whole week.

There was nothing there to be seen but parties of pleasure, hunting, fishing, dancing, mirth, and feasting. Nobody went to bed, but all passed the night in rallying and joking with each other. In short, everything succeeded so well that the youngest son began to think the mistress of the house not to have hair so very blue, and that she was a mighty civil lady.

As soon as they returned home, the marriage was concluded. About a month afterward, Bluehair told her husband that she was obliged to take a country journey for six weeks at least, about affairs of very great consequence, desiring him to divert himself in her absence, to send for his friends and acquaintances, to carry them into the country, if he pleased, and to make good cheer wherever he was.

“Here,” said she, “are the keys of the two great wardrobes, wherein I have my best furniture; these are of my silver and gold plate, which is not every day in use; these open my strong boxes, which hold my money, both gold and silver; these my caskets of jewels; and this is the master-key to all my apartments. But for this little one here, it is the key of the closet at the end of the great gallery on the ground floor. Open them all; go into all and every one of them, except that little closet, which I forbid you, and forbid it in such a manner that, if you happen to open it, there’s nothing but what you may expect from my just anger and resentment.”

He promised to observe, very exactly, whatever she had ordered; when she, after having embraced him, got into her coach and proceeded on her journey.

His neighbors and good friends did not stay to be sent for by the new married gentleman, so great was their impatience to see all the rich furniture of his house, not daring to come while his wife was there, because of her blue hair, which frightened them. They ran through all the rooms, closets, and wardrobes, which were all so fine and rich that they seemed to surpass one another.

After that they went up into the two great rooms, where was the best and richest furniture; they could not sufficiently admire the number and beauty of the tapestry, beds, couches, cabinets, stands, tables, and looking-glasses, in which you might see yourself from head to foot; some of them were framed with glass, others with silver, plain and gilded, the finest and most magnificent ever were seen.

They ceased not to extol and envy the happiness of their friend, who in the meantime in no way diverted himself in looking upon all these rich things, because of the impatience he had to go and open the closet on the ground floor. He was so much pressed by his curiosity that, without considering that it was very uncivil to leave his company, he went down a little back staircase, and with such excessive haste that he had twice or thrice like to have broken his neck.

Coming to the closet-door, he made a stop for some time, thinking upon his wife’s orders, and considering what unhappiness might attend him if he was disobedient; but the temptation was so strong he could not overcome it. He then took the little key, and opened it, trembling, but could not at first see anything plainly, because the windows were shut. After some moments he began to perceive that the floor was all covered over with clotted blood, on which lay the bodies of several dead men, ranged against the walls. (These were all the husbands whom Bluehair had married and murdered, one after another.) He thought he should have died for fear, and the key, which he pulled out of the lock, fell out of his hand.

Brass KeyAfter having somewhat recovered his surprise, he took up the key, locked the door, and went upstairs into his chamber to recover himself; but he could not, he was so much frightened. Having observed that the key of the closet was stained with blood, he tried two or three times to wipe it off, but the blood would not come out; in vain did he wash it, and even rub it with soap and sand; the blood still remained, for the key was magical and he could never make it quite clean; when the blood was gone off from one side, it came again on the other.

Bluehair returned from her journey the same evening, and said she had received letters upon the road, informing her that the affair she went about was ended to her advantage. Her husband did all he could to convince her he was extremely glad of her speedy return.

Next morning she asked him for the keys, which he gave her, but with such a trembling hand that she easily guessed what had happened.

“What!” said she, “is not the key of my closet among the rest?”

“I must certainly have left it above upon the table,” said he.

“Fail not to bring it to me presently,” said Bluehair.

After several goings backward and forward he was forced to bring her the key. Bluehair, having very attentively considered it, said to her husband, “How comes this blood upon the key?”

“I do not know,” cried the poor man, paler than death.

“You do not know!” replied Bluehair. “I very well know. You were resolved to go into the closet, were you not? Mighty well, sir; you shall go in, and take your place among the gentlemen you saw there.”

Upon this he threw herself at his wife’s feet, and begged her pardon with all the signs of true repentance, vowing that he would never more be disobedient. He would have melted a rock, so handsome and sorrowful was he; but Bluehair had a heart harder than any rock!

“You must die, sir,” said she, “and that presently.”

“Since I must die,” answered he (looking upon her with his eyes all bathed in tears), “give me some little time to say my prayers.”
“I give you,” replied Bluehair, “half a quarter of an hour, but not one moment more.”

When he was alone he called out to his brother, and said to him: “Brother Andrew” (for that was his name), “go up, I beg you, upon the top of the tower, and look if my sisters are not coming over; they promised me that they would come today, and if you see them, give them a sign to make haste.”

His brother Andrew went up upon the top of the tower, and the poor afflicted husband cried out from time to time: “Andrew, brother Andrew, do you see anyone coming?”

And brother Andrew said: “I see nothing but the sun, which makes a dust, and the grass, which looks green.”

In the meanwhile Bluehair, holding a great sabre in her hand, cried out as loud as she could bawl to her husband: “Come down instantly, or I shall come up to you.”

“One moment longer, if you please,” said her husband, and then he cried out very softly, “Andrew, brother Andrew, dost thou see anybody coming?”

And brother Andrew answered: “I see nothing but the sun, which makes a dust, and the grass, which is green.”

“Come down quickly,” cried Bluehair, “or I will come up to you.”

“I am coming,” answered her husband; and then he cried, “Andrew, brother Andrew, dost thou not see anyone coming?”

“I see,” replied brother Andrew, “a great dust, which comes on this side here.”

“Are they my sisters?”

“Alas! no, my dear brother, I see a flock of sheep.”

“Will you not come down?” cried Bluehair.

Musketeers“One moment longer,” said her husband, and then he cried out: “Andrew, brother Andrew, dost thou see nobody coming?”

“I see,” said he, “two horsewomen, but they are yet a great way off.”

“God be praised,” replied the poor husband joyfully; “they are my sisters; I will make them a sign, as well as I can, for them to make haste.”

Then Bluehair bawled out so loud that she made the whole house tremble. The distressed husband came down, and threw himself at her feet, all in tears, with his hair about his shoulders.

“This signifies nothing,” says Bluehair; “you must die”; then, taking hold of his hair with one hand, and lifting up the sword with the other, she was going to take off his head. The poor gentleman, turning about to her, and looking at her with dying eyes, desired her to afford him one little moment to recollect himself.

“No, no,” said she, “recommend thyself to God,” and was just ready to strike . . .

At this very instant there was such a loud knocking at the gate that Bluehair made a sudden stop. The gate was opened, and presently entered two horsewomen, who, drawing their swords, ran directly to Bluehair. She knew them to be her husband’s sisters, one a dragoon, the other a musketeer, so that she ran away immediately to save herself; but the two sisters pursued so close that they overtook her before she could get to the steps of the porch, when they ran their swords through her body and left her dead. The poor husband was almost as dead as his wife, and had not strength enough to rise and welcome his sisters.

Bluehair had no heirs, and so her husband became master of all her estate. He made use of one part of it to marry his brother Andrew to a young lady who had loved him a long while; another part to buy captains commissions for his sisters, and the rest to marry himself to a very worthy lady, who made her forget the ill time he had passed with Bluehair.

by Charles Perrault (from the version in Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book available in its original form at SurLaLune Fairy Tales)

For the most part, this story actually flipped pretty well. The biggest issue was simply the power of the wife in this version, given the stated time period and place (given by the mention of dragoons and musketeers). It doesn’t really make sense that it would be the wife who was going off on business trips or the sisters who were musketeers and captains while the husband in the story stays home and throws parties. Nevertheless, the general plot still works pretty well. That there would be a single woman of fortune, widowed a few times over, looking for a husband is plausible. That she might have power and secrets from her lifetime of experience is also plausible, especially if she is widowed from killing the previous husbands. What trips this story up is that the husband is much younger and clearly the more pet-like in the relationship. Not only would he gain control of all her holdings by marrying her in the time and place at hand, but it is doubtful such a woman would marry a much younger man unless he had something to offer (which this husband does not appear to have).

As a story, however, it works every bit as well as the original, in my opinion. It is still quite creepy and the players at hand aren’t dramatically changed. It is perhaps stranger for many of us to read of a male lead who is so completely unable to save himself, but, given the set up showing how powerful and frightening this woman is, I think it is believable. I actually kind of like how this story turned out, even if the sisters being musketeers and getting captains’ commissions at the end doesn’t really make sense. I think that’s really the only thing that doesn’t! To really make it work, I would either leave out the mention of their occupations or not actually flip the genders of the rescuing siblings at the end.

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