The Bloody Chamber
By Angela Carter
Angela Carter was born in England during WWII, and she was evacuated
from her home as a child to live with her grandmother in Yorkshire. After high
school Carter began working as a journalist, and studied English literature at
the University of Bristol. She won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1969 move to
Tokyo. She started to develope her more radical feminist ideas and gathered
material for her books. She died of lung cancer at age fifty-one, and is still
considered one of the most influential British novelists of the century.
Angela Carter was one of the most original, radical and stylish fiction writers
in English language of the 20th century, delighting readers with her fierce,
witty and jaunty tales, short stories, novels and essays. She certainly was a
feminist, well able to imagine women as flawed and imperfect, given the
misogynistic world in which she lived. She did not see women in any simplistic
sense as victims.
2. Text elements
2A. Text title
The title, The Bloody Chamber, is very suggestive
because it reflects the real mystery of the story. It reflects the curiosity of
the woman and the moment she finds the truth as well as the horror she will
finally succeed to escape from.
Chamber” heroine narrates the story
in retrospect. In The Bloody
Chamber the heroine is a young
pianist who marries a rich Marquis who
had three earlier wives. The heroine moves to her husband’s castle, where she
loses her virginity and finds a collection of sadistic pornography. The Marquis
then gets a business call and leaves, entrusting his keys to the heroine, only
forbidding her from one room “The bloody chamber”. He leaves and the heroine
uses the forbidden key (obviously), which leads to a torture chamber containing the
bodies of the Marquis’ three previous wives. The heroine tells a young piano tuner what she saw in the forbidden
room and then the Marquis returns. The Marquis learns what the heroine did and
prepares to kill her by beheading. Just as he prepares to kill her the
heroine’s mother appears and
shoots the Marquis. The heroine inherits the Marquis’ fortune and she, her
mother, and the piano tuner live happily ever after.
The heroine is a poor, seventeen-year-old pianist who marries a Marquis.
She narrates the story many years later, having escaped murder and married with
another man. The Marquis, another character, is a French nobleman who takes
pleasure in challenging his wives to disobey him and then murdering them. His
favorite room is his “bloody chamber,” the room in which he keeps the
corpses of his previous wives. Jean-Yves, kindly
blind piano tuner who helps the heroine escape from the Marquis and later
marries her. The heroine’s mother is a
brave woman who grew up in “Indo-China” and then married a man who
was poorer than her. When he died at war, she was left penniless with her
story is updated to more modern settings. The exact time periods of the story remain
vague, but this is clearly anchored intentionally. On one hand, the existence of
transatlantic telephone implies a date
1930 or later. On the other hand, the mention of painters such as Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon, and of
fashion designer Paul Poiret (who designs one of the heroine’s dresses) all suggest
a date before 1945.
On account of the magical
and fantastical elements interwoven throughout Angela Carter’s works, ‘some
critics suggest her inspiration by the highly appraised Latino writer Gabriel
García Márquez’ (V.
Šimunková, 6), whose works are considered to be fundamental in the
development of magical realism. From her first novel Shadow Dance1,
concerning a pathological love triangle, Carter presented fantastical elements
that would later flourish in her later works, in The Bloody Chamber where elements
of magical realism are clearly prevalent. Since magical realism can be seen as
when the ‘realistic mingles with the unexpected and the inexplicable’ (D. Birch, 626),
the ‘unexpected and the inexplicable’ can take many different forms, from the
overtly magical and fantastic to simply surreal actions and events that go
unquestioned within the narrative. Firstly, objects seem to take on a life of
their own or become magical in The Bloody
Chamber. The first example of this is in regard to the key which opens the
door to the bloody chamber about which the Bride says ‘the more I scrubbed, the
more vivid grew the stain’ (Carter, 33).
The key appears to adopt the magical attribute of an ever-present blood
stain, revealing the girl’s disobedience to the Marquis.
Overall the use of magical realism in The Bloody Chamber takes on many and
varied forms, some more subtly fantastical than others, but no less
significant. The narrative includes moments of magical transformation, objects
taking on a life of their own and some purely surreal events. Through magical
realism, Carter invokes an overtly fantastical reality, one where she can bend
the laws of nature as we know it in order to break down the societal laws of
patriarchy and gender constraints. As Gamble writes, over time Carter’s texts
have ‘lost none of its capacity to shock, startle and delight’ (S. Gamble, 205),
keeping alive her insightful investigation into the position of women in
society through her magical realist and dramatized worlds.
Critics have disagreed about whether The Bloody
Chamber is a rewriting of the Gothic with fairy tale elements or a rewriting of
the fairy tale with Gothic elements.
The two genres share many similarities – medieval
setting, oral folk tale culture, a dangerous supernatural creature who
threatens a young girl, transformative elements. Carter’s heroines, like those
of the original folk tales, refuse to be passive and frightened, refuse to
become victims, and save themselves in whatever way they can.
We are given new gendered characterisations different
from the past but appropriate for the 1970s and beyond. Gothicism is a literary genre characterized by elements of
horror, supernatural occurrences, gloom, and violence. An isolated castle, a
feeling of terror created by a mysterious and vengeful husband, and the
discovery of the narrator’s three butchered predecessors are all emblematic of
a gothic story. Much of Carter’s writing is cast in this vein, in which the
protagonist’s dread is an essential element. The author’s detailed, flowery
descriptions of the castle and its mysterious rooms and the psychological
terror instilled in the young bride, an innocent trapped in a situation she
cannot control, also contribute to the gothic mode of the story.
4. The text as a fairy
tales occupy a unique niche in the literary world. They are the subject of
intense and extensive academic discourse at the same time as they are animated
and commercialized for children by major production companies. The identity of the
fairy tale as literature is hotly contested. Angela Carter’s view on fairy tales was that they were on the same
“cultural level” as classic works like Paradise Lost. Published
in 1979, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, which received
the Cheltenham Festival Literary Prize, retells classic fairy tales. Her
renditions are intended to disturb and titillate her audience, instead of lulling
it to sleep. Though it follows the original tale in basic structure, The Bloody Chamber adds details of
character and setting that raise issues of sexual awakening and sexual
depravity, of the will to live, and of life in hell. In having the young bride
be the one to tell her story and in having her courageous mother come to the
rescue, moreover, Carter revisits an age-old tale with her feminist viewpoint. Their stories are re-worked fairy tales, though Carter herself
claimed they were not “versions” but “new stories”. So, this story cannot be perceived as a fairy
tale, but exactly the opposite.
The Bloody Chamber is a novella,
between a short story and a novel. The narrative
form 1st person subjective, past tense, ‘I
remember how, that night.” (opening). It creates empathy with the young bride.
It allows tension to develop since the narrator only foreshadows the danger
rather than the ultimate happy ending. Historic setting gives scope for many
cultural reference points in music, literature and art. This fairy tale is
close in theme, plot and characters with Bluebeard,
by Charles Perrault.
This tale falls into the category of Realistic Tales –
The woman marries a prince, but in this case, a marquis, in the Asne-Thomson
When talking about Vladimir Propp’s classification of
characters, the girl is the heroine, her husband, the Marquis, is the villain
and the helper, the heroine’s mother, who helps her escape from her husband.
The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter
shows the strength and independent nature of the women in her tale. The new bride in The Bloody Chamber is given her own independent thought, allowing
her to make her own decision on whether or not to marry the Marquis, rather
than awaiting the decision of her mother.
This directly contradicts the original fairy tale (and typical
stereotypes of women) – where the women in Bluebeard
are seen as dependent upon their mother’s decision to give them away (making
them property of their mother, rather than being the ‘boss’ of themselves) and
aristocratic beauties who know nothing more than a lavish life: “One
of his neighbors, a lady of quality, had two daughters who were perfect
beauties. He desired of her one of them in marriage, leaving to her choice which
of the two she would bestow on him” (Perrault, http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/perrault03.html).
other obviously strong female character in The
Bloody Chamber is the new bride’s mother.
She is first introduced as “my eagle-featured, indomitable mother; what
other student at the Conservatoire could boast that her mother had outfaced a
junkful of Chinese pirates, nursed a village through a visitation of the
plague, shot a man-eating tiger with her own hand and all before she was as old
as I” (Carter, 7). In the end, when the new bride is to be
executed, she sees her mother coming to her rescue. Most women would be cowering, or fainting, or
waiting for their knight in shining armor to save them, but the new bride and
her new lover help the mother defeat the Marquis by racing to the door. When the mother bursts into the door, she
does not hesitate in the face of danger.
“On her eighteenth birthday, my mother had disposed of a man-eating
tiger that had ravaged the villages in the hills north of Hanoi. Now, without a moment’s hesitation, she
raised my father’s gun, took aim and put a single, irreproachable bullet
through my husband’s head” (Carter, 40). Not only is
the mother coming to the rescue of her daughter (and the blind piano-turner!),
she is confidentially holding the pistol of her dead husband to destroy the
very thing that is threatening her own flesh-and-blood.
the original fairytale, Bluebeard, the
bride tells her sister to call for help from the top of the tower, from which
she sees her brothers riding to the rescue.
They delay as much as they possibly can before the bride is forced to go
downstairs to be executed. Just as she
is about to have her head chopped off, her brothers burst through the doors,
chase down the husband and stab him repeatedly until he is certainly dead. They then return to their sister who has
fainted from the excitement: “The poor wife was almost
as dead as her husband, and had not strength enough to rise and welcome her
brothers.” (Perrault, http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/perrault03.html) I will have to say that when I read this
section, I just chuckled and shook my head.
How typical, I thought, for the women to faint from the excitement of
fighting for we are so delicate that we must not be shown these horrific events
of men. The way that Carter fought this
stereotype of delicate women was ingenious!
A gun wielding mother, who fought pirates and man-eating tigers, is
coming to rescue her daughter from evil.
While the mother and daughter retain delicacy in their mannerisms and
love, they are undeniably strong-willed women.
other significant change in the story is the introduction of the blind
piano-turner. As the new bride in The Bloody Chamber plays her piano, the
blind piano-turner becomes enraptured by her music: “When I heard you play this
afternoon, I thought I’d never heard such a touch such technique.” (Carter, 32)
At the time when the piano turner is complimenting her musical abilities, she
only thinks, “To see him, in his lovely, blind humanity, seemed to hurt me very
piercingly, somewhere inside my breast.” (Carter, 32) The significance of his
blindness, I believe, represents Carter’s way of combating the Marquis’s
obsession with beauty. The Marquis seems
to only “collect” the most beautiful of specimens to preserve, whereas the
blind piano-turner is able to peer into the new bride’s heart. He appreciates the kind, innocent human she
is and the soul behind the music she plays, not caring what she looks like.
I think that the feminist ideas address to contemporary
audiences because this subject still brings many controversies.
6D. Narratorial voice
This story about desire and sexuality is a pleasure to read.
Carter’s style is sensuous, evocative, and filled with sensory descriptions, from
the Marquis’s skin, with its “toad-like, clammy hint of moisture,” (Carter, 12)
to the key to the forbidden chamber, which slides into the lock “as easily as a
hot knife into butter.” (Carter, 16)
7. Morality 7A-C
The majority of
Angela Carter’s works revolve around a specific type of feminism,
radical-libertarian feminism, and her critiques of the patriarchal roles that
have been placed on women throughout time. Her female protagonists often take
on empowered roles where they rise up against oppression and fight for both
sexual and political equality. The author doesn’t support the traditional
methods of socialization of children, instead she takes on the so-called
feminist movement. She believed that it was time to show the world that women
are capable and that they can think for themselves.
There are also
elements of reversal when the heroine escapes from the horror she would have
been put through by her sadistic husband, and all these with the help of her
mother, another strong symbol of the feminist movement.
8. Style A, B
It is instantly
evident that the stories in The Bloody
Chamber have been written by Carter in order to shock the reader, as they
do contain many elements which are widely associated with fear and nightmares.
The stories in The Bloody Chamber are
re-workings of traditional fairytales, but it should not always be assumed that
the original ‘childhood’ fairytales did not possess any themes or dark imagery
related to what may be related to an adult nightmare. In fact, it can be argued
that many of the childhood fairytales did contain controversial elements, such
as an exploration of sexuality, but they were masked by seemingly innocent
characters and morals The Bloody Chamber deal
with issues which may be considered the stuff of adult nightmares; the themes
explored, symbols incorporated and even the language used creates an eerie aura
which are likely to affect the adult mind, and in this respect, they can be compared to an adult nightmare.
9. Audience A, B
Personally, I don’t think that this story would be
appropriate for children, instead it will be a perfect for teenagers starting
with the age of 15-16 because it shows an important image on women and how they
shouldn’t be treated as objects. The story deals
with themes of women’s roles in relationships and marriage, their sexuality,
coming of age and corruption. Carter effectively draws out the theme of
feminism by contrasting traditional elements of Gothic fiction, which
usually depicted female characters as weak and helpless, with strong female
Šimunková, ‘Reimagining the Fairy Tale
in Angela Carter’s Earlier Edition’, 2011
Birch, The Oxford Companion to English
Literature, Oxford University Press, 2009
Carter, ‘The Bloody Chamber’ in The
Bloody Chamber, Vintage, 1995
S. Gamble, Angela Carter: A Literary Life, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005
C. Frayling, Inside the Bloody Chamber: Aspects of Angela Carter, the Gothic, and
other weird tales, Oberon Books, 2015
Martine Hennard Dutheil de la
Rochère, Reading, Translating,
CARTER’S TRANSLATIONAL POETICS, WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY PRESS DETROIT, 2013
Bluebeard, by Charles Perrault: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/perrault03.html
1 Shadow Dance was first published in 1966 and immediately revealed
Carter as a writer who was prepared to shock in an attempt to rid people of the
myths and beliefs that wrongly influence and grip society. In Shadow Dance, through the narrative of
Christian martyrdom, Carter uses the surreal and magical realist sentiments to
her advantage, which would later be turned to focus on the subservient role of
women in society.