BEAUTY AND THE BEAST(LaBELLE et la Bete) was a novel length French fairy tale penned in 1740 by GABRIELLE-SUZANNE BARBOT VILLENEUVE that over the years took on some minor changes, but none of the story infers or promotes what we now consider feminist elements. To suggest so is possibly indicative of some men's irrational fear and illogical ability to accept and deal with strong willed and independent women.
In the original French tale--which Disney, Trousdale/Wise and Wooverton openly ADMITTED in press interviews that they had to screw around with just to pad out to 90 minutes, like Jean Cocteau didn't--the Beast is gracious and generous from the minute Beauty walks in, even if he seems a little too hard on his own self-esteem...Y'know, appearance issues.
In the end, it's Beauty who learns the lesson not to judge, ahem, books by their covers, and that maybe sometimes ugliness is only skin deep.
And why is she so surprised to learn he was a nice guy all along? The story has some excuse, eg. the "fairy not invited to the christening", etc., etc. for why (DINGDING! BRRTT!! MESSAGE INCOMING!!) it wasn't his fault he was cursed, and that maybe being wedding-propositioned every night at a banquet table wasn't such a "scary" thing all along once you see the bigger picture.
And not, of course, that he was a "selfish male jerk" who had to be "punished" for his ego, until he could finish his community-service course in Sensitivity Training.
But that tale, of course, would involve the female character learning a lesson, which might impart the dangerous subtext that she wasn't perfect at the beginning of the story...Shh, heresy.
Remember, if a heroine dreamily has her head in a fairytale book, she's actually fighting for literacy, world women's-education and empowerment.
(Hence the previously posted Ron Perlman/Linda Hamilton clip, where Vincent reciting Shakespeare's sonnets would rather suggest he already DID know how to read when he and Catherine first met...)