Beauty is set in a world that is not quite our own. There are three main settings in the novel: the city where Beauty grew up, the town of Blue Hill, and the Beast's enchanted palace. While the location of these is never revealed within the context of the story, there are clues that allow the reader to develop a general understanding of where and when Beauty's tale is set.
Based on Beauty's reading and the geography of the country, it is likely that the story is set in England.
When the story begins, the merchant and his family are living in a prosperous town. Their home is described as being well-appointed and featuring eighteen rooms, a ballroom two stories tall, kitchens, and servants' quarters. Hope, Grace, and Beauty own riding horses and were looked after by a series of governesses.
It is also revealed that the merchant made his fortune in town as a shipwright before marrying Beauty's mother, a lady of high birth; it can therefore be deduced that Beauty's home is located in a port city of some standing.
The house they settle in is little more than a cottage, described as a "long rectangle" with a kitchen at the back, a parlor in the front, two rooms on the ground floor, and a central fireplace that faces into each of the downstairs rooms. Two bedrooms on the second story and an attic room make up the rest of the house, while a shed serves as a blacksmith's forge for Gervain.
The palace itself is richly appointed and cared for by the Beast's invisible servants. Paths for riding, ornamental gardens, and a magnificent library serve as places for Beauty's entertainment and encounters with the Beast during her stay, while the grand stables provide shelter for Greatheart, her horse.
The Beast's library provides important clues to the temporal setting of the tale. When Beauty first enters the library, she is struck by the number of books contained therein, and learns that many of these are not yet in existence, at least not during her time. The reader learns that Beauty is familiar with the works of Spenser when she chooses to finish her reading of The Faerie Queene, but has never heard of Sir Walter Scott before she reads The Bride of Lammermoor. She is similarly taken aback by the works of Robert Browning, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and T.H. White. The reader also learns that Beauty's French is weak when she chooses to continue her efforts with Greek instead, making it clear that McKinley has departed from the French setting of the traditional tales.
The fashions described in the story include long, billowing skirts, stiff embroidered skirts, ribboned and jeweled bodices, plumed hats, fur jackets, lace collars, and one very somber, high-necked dress with plain white cuffs. Based on the books and clothing described, it can be surmised that the tale is set around the 17th and 18th centuries. Madame de Villeneuve’s “Beauty and the Beast” was published in 1740, Madame de Beaumont’s version in 1757.