Noun. Early 19th century.
[A character in a fairy tale told in French (Barbe-bleue) by Perrault.]
A man who has murdered several wives and concealed their bodies,
or has other mysterious or horrible things to conceal.
Fairy tales are often quite gruesome affairs, and even many of the nicer ones we grew up with are just sanitised versions with much of the violence and (in some cases) sex taken out. Bluebeard, even by fairy tale standards, is a particularly nasty example:
The eponymous aristocrat Bluebeard (who has that nickname because he has ... well ... you can figure it out) is not a popular figure in his locality, and despite being shunned because of his rank ugliness has been married a number of times, though all of his wives have subsequently died (he claims through illness). Thus, he is not in the running for any Most Eligible Bachelor award with the local talent.
Despite this, he manages to persuade yet another girl to marry him (herself not of totally unimpeachable character, as she first tried to fob Bluebeard off on her sister). Before going away on a trip, Bluebeard gives his new wife the keys to the entire château, and says she may go into any room she so desires and entertain herself as she pleases. However, there is one room that she absolutely must not enter. He could not emphasise this point enough:
DO NOT GO INTO THE FORBIDDEN ROOM
Of course, no sooner has Bluebeard left on business than his nosey new missus does indeed go poking - tsk tsk tsk! There's just no trust these days. However, to her shock, horror, dismay and utter ... umm ... shock, she finds the floor of the forbidden room awash with blood, and all of his former wives literally hanging around ... from hooks! So appalled is she that she drops the keys on the bloody floor before scooping them up and fleeing the room in shock, horror and utter dismay.
The following morning, Bluebeard returns and politely asks for his keys back. When his bride hands them back (not having bothered or thought to run them under a tap), Bluebeard sees the blood and flies into a rage. She begs him for mercy, at least until she can say her prayers, and Bluebeard (who, while homicidal, is clearly a complete idiot) grants her this, locking her in a tower so that she can pray in peace while he goes off to find his sword. On his return, he tries to break the door down (seemingly it was lockable from the inside too), but his wife's brothers inexplicably break into the château and kill the enraged Bluebeard (in-laws, eh? Always interfering). The story ends happily with Bluebeard's wife inheriting his vast, vast fortune and marrying a really lovely chap who doesn't try to kill her. Aww bless.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly what the moral of Bluebeard is. Is it that, if you've killed lots of people and hidden their bodies in a specific room of the house, you should never, ever, ever give someone the key to that room and tell them that they mustn't open it? Is it that you should never marry someone whose former spouses have all disappeared in mysterious circumstances? Or is it just to remind us that plot-holes are as old as storytelling itself? Who knows? For now, Bluebeard has entered the English language to mean a man that has either murdered his wives and hidden their bodies, or otherwise has some terrible dark secrets lurking in his past (although nothing in the dictionary definition says anything about Bluebeard's stark idiocy).
Are you familiar with the tale of Bluebeard?
Are you a Bluebeard?
Do you have a blue beard and does this story unfairly discriminate against you?
Your comments are most welcome.