In Chapter 5, Ruth takes a walk through the Welsh countryside with an unnamed gentleman who is described as having “the stature of a dwarf.” When Ruth tells Henry about her walk, he replies:
‘Ruth,’ said he, when he returned, ‘I’ve seen your little hunchback. He looks like Riquet-with-the-Tuft. He’s not a gentleman, though.
So who is this Riquet and how does he compare with the hunchbacked gentleman in Ruth?
Riquet-with-the-Tuft is the title character of a fairy tale by Frenchman Charles Perrault. Perrault (1628-1703) was a well-educated French author and thinker who is now known mainly for his Tales of Mother Goose. Published when he was 67 years old, the tales include such beloved stories as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and Puss in Boots. Perrault is credited with opening the genre of fairy tales up to a much wider audience and making children’s stories mainstream entertainment.
Though we still know and cherish many of Perrault’s tales due to their Disney adaptations, Riquet with the Tuft has largely escaped our notice (though there are echoes of the story in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast). Yet it is a charming story of a young man forced to overcome a physical deformity, which he does in spectacular and endearing style.
So the story goes… Once Upon a Time Queen Riquet delivered a baby boy with a little tuft of hair on his head. This baby was very ugly but gifted with amazing wit, which made him lovable despite his physical deformity. In addition, Riquet would be able to make his future wife very witty.
In a neighboring kingdom, the queen delivered two girls: the older one was exceedingly beautiful but had no wit and the younger was ugly but very witty. In addition, the oldest would be able to make her future husband very handsome.
As the sisters grew older, their defects also increased: the oldest grew stupider and the youngest grew uglier. One day, the oldest princess, who was more and more depressed each year, went into the forest to be alone. While there, she met Riquet, who had heard of her beauty and had come to see and talk to her. He could not comprehend how one so beautiful was depressed. The oldest princess told him she would gladly trade her beauty for wit, as she believed that to be the best of all possible qualities. Riquet took his opportunity and proposed marriage to the beautiful princess. She promised to marry him in one year’s time. Upon the uttering of this promise, the princess was granted a spectacular wit. Riquet promised to return in a year and the princess returned to the palace.
Her new wit astonished everyone around her, except her younger sister, who was now completely eclipsed by her beauty and wit. Handsome princes from far and wide flocked to the kingdom to woo her. One prince, in particular, caught her fancy, but she needed time to think.
The princess went for a walk in the forest in order to think. While there, she saw an amazing sight: many, many people preparing for a feast. When asked, they told her they were preparing for Prince Riquet’s wedding on the morrow. She was astonished when Riquet himself appeared, happily looking forward to their nuptials. The princess hesitated to keep her promise, until Riquet asked her if there was anything about his person — outside of his appearance — that displeased her. She was unable to say no, at which moment Riquet told her of her power to grant her husband magnificent beauty.
Seeing that she truly loved him, the princess agreed to the marriage. Immediately, Riquet was transformed into the handsomest prince she had ever seen. But whether it was the fairy enchantment or only her love that transformed him, no one ever knew.
And so the moral of Riquet With the Tuft is
What in this little Tale we find,
Is less a fable than real truth.
In those we love appear rare gifts of mind,
And body too: wit, judgment, beauty, youth.
We know that Elizabeth Gaskell doesn’t throw away anything in her stories. So the tale of Riquet may prove to be of more importance that this one small reference might lead us to believe. We will have to see how it plays out in the next chapters…
- “Riguet with the Tuft” in The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, reproduced on The Internet Archive and Web-Books.com
- “Riguet with the Tuft” on Wikipedia
- “Charles Perrault” on Wikipedia