The Bloody Chamber
Carter’s Portrayal of Corruption of Women in The Bloody Chamber
In Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber and other stories’ Carter looks at women protagonists and puts them in first person narratives, looking at the women’s perspective in her interpretation of childhood fairy-tale stories. Carter was called ‘One of Britain’s most original and disturbing writers’. She presents a genre called magic realism which gives the stories a realistic feel discussing real life topics while putting it in a somewhat fantasy world. Carter uses the key theme of virginity in women and how the loss of this can lead to innocence becoming corrupted. In Carter’s ‘the sadeian woman and the ideology of pornography’ it looks at the nature of sexual freedom and how it affected women in the eighteenth century and throughout time.
This book discusses Carters feminist views of sex and links to The Bloody Chambers female protagonists. ‘The company of wolves’ is an adaption of The Little Red Riding Hood. It’s important to note that the beginning of the story doesn’t follow the normal structure of beginning, middle and end. Instead it opens with a series of anecdotes warning the reader of the dangers of ware wolves and describing some mythology behind it. ‘The wolf is carnivore incarnate and he’s cunning as he is ferocious’ this negative view of wolves sets us up to want to fear them for our main protagonist. This sets up the main character to be viewed as the heroine of the story. The wolves are constantly referred to as ‘he’ suggesting how anything strong and capable of power is associated with men. Though we know reading Wolf Alice that female wolves are common, although they are living in a ‘male-centred nature of civilisation’.
The wolves represent a fear of the unknown and is why they are feared by so many. The main protagonist is made clear that she is ‘not afraid’ and this is due to ‘her own virginity’ as it acts as an ‘invisible pentacle’ in which she is protected as it is her innocence which keeps her safe and away from danger. The theme of virginity is focused to highlight the sexuality of the girl. ‘standing within the invisible pentacle of her own virginity’ this links to the cyclist in lady of the house of love as his virginity is what allows him to be protected against the countess’ trick to lure men into her chamber. Very similarly it acts in the same way in this story for Red Riding Hood. Carter refers to her virginity as an ‘unbroken egg’ signifying its fragility and delicacy, which makes the reader wonder how something so easily broken can protect her from these ‘ferocious’ wolves and how can it stop the fear which the wolves evoke. When stepping into the forest the simile it ‘closed on her like a pair of jaws’ this suggests she is vulnerable and it emulates fear as we feel that the heroine is in danger. We then get introduced to ‘a very handsome young one, in the green coat and wide-awake hat of a hunter’ the man the young girl encounters is both alarmingly good-looking however also suspiciously wolf like.
Carter may have described him as ‘handsome’ to play on how superficial women are portrayed in media and books. Unlike Red who uses a ‘knife’ to protect herself her granny uses a bible, the granny is ultimately killed by the ‘nightmare’ wolf yet the killing is not described much as a murder more of a symbol of death as its described she was ‘three quarters succumbed to the mortality the ache in her bones promises her’. Unlike her granny Red doesn’t hold a bible when confronted with the wolf instead she faces the situation rationally, she’s not ignorant of what’s happening as it even stated in the book she was ‘endangered’ of death, and her virginity and innocence to the wolf allowed her to not be frantic and irrational. She adapts the trait of ‘rationality’ and ‘self-reliance’. ‘since her fear did her no good, she ceased to be afraid’ the young girl makes a conscious decision to not play the damsel in distress and to be unafraid of the wolf, knowing ‘the wolf is worst for he cannot listen to reason’. The protagonist continues to listen and be rational with the wolves due to her protection being her virginity. ‘She freely gave him the kiss she owed him’ suggesting the full control she had over the situation. Like in the fairy tale she comments on his teeth and his reply is ‘all the better to eat you with’ and she responds with laughter suggesting how humorous she found the situation. ‘she ripped off his shirt’ this suggests a newly awakened unfulfilled sexual awareness which places her in a unique position of being able to seduce the wolf, while simultaneously being innocent enough to sympathise with it which is ultimately what saves her. It was her innocence and sexual awakening which resulted in her saving herself and the story ends ‘see! Sweet and sound she sleeps in granny’s bed, between the paws of the tender wolf’ Carter subverts expectations of the Little Red Riding Hood story as the girl is able to tame the wolf not the huntsman.
In ‘The Lady of the House of Love’ Carter uses the fairy-tale theme by presenting the female protagonist as a vampire adding to the magic realism. Carter presents her female characters as strong and dominant as in the lady of the house of love she prays on helpless male victims and lures them in with sex, suggesting her dominance and control over men or the mindlessness of them. Carter combines and subverts the gothic and fairy-tale genres and questions the features in her text such as the presentation of women as weak in most literature. ’feminism has politicalised gender – by showing its constructed nature, its initial focus on the gendered representation of women in western culture.’ The countess keeps a lark in a cage ‘she likes to hear how it cannot escape’ this suggests a twisted mind and an evilness about her which isn’t how women would typically be portrayed. The singing of the bid reminds her that like herself in her vampire body the bird is also trapped in a cage. Though she kills these innocent men, Carter portrays the countess as empathetic ‘the countess’s cheeks will me mixed with tears’ she cries after she eats her victims suggesting how she is victim to her condition and it’s not her fault. Carter may be implying that the foolishness of men being lured in by the promise of sex, suggests that sex is their weakness and women have control over men. Though there is a man introduced which has ‘the special quality of virginity’ and the virginity of the cyclist shows the subversion of gender roles. And this virginity in him much like Red’s in The Company of Wolves protects him from the countess and even changes the tarot cards prediction ‘this time, the first time, dealt herself a hand of love and death.’
Suggesting how virginity in him acts as a protection and a new future for her. Though ‘she only knows of one kind of consummation’, this suggests that she is also virginal as she does not know of sex but only eating men. Possibly implying that the countess is innocent but it’s her condition which evokes this darkness and violence. This links to The Company of Wolves as both female protagonists presented as strong and powerful as the heroine laughed in the wolfs face ‘she knew she was nobody’s meat’ suggesting her confidence and bravery the cyclist suggests a new awakening for the countess and this ultimately results in her tragic ending. Like The Company of wolves his virginity means he lacks fear ‘since he himself is immune to shadows, due to his virginity he does not know what there is to be afraid of’ suggesting he is naïve and does not yet been afraid, much like the protagonist which suggests virginity alone holds this power and protection which is for both men and women. Like it says in the Sadeian woman ‘Our literature is full, as our lives, of men and women, but especially women who deny the reality of sexual attraction and of love because of considerations of class, religion, race and of gender itself’.
Carter’s ideology presents how women are shown that we should hide and be ashamed of our sexual desires but with the vampire when she becomes human the story ends with the cyclist going to France reinforcing the true horror which is her fate as her fate was irreversible. It ends with ambiance ‘can a bird sing only the song it knows, or can it learn a new song?’By using the metaphor of the bird she poses the rhetorical question of whether entrapment can be escaped.
The bloody chamber is one of Carter’s short stories, it’s based on the blue beard fairy tale. This short story unlike the others conveys a dominant male and a submissive female, Carter looks the roles between a young woman and an old man in a new marriage, the first person narrative also helps the reader gain an insight on how she is feeling and what’s going on in her head. The story opens up with an expedition as we find out that the protagonist is travelling away with her new husband. Carter is able to introduce the main character while simultaneously establishing suspense as is demonstrated by the opening paragraph. This is significant as we follow the journey of the protagonist and this suspense creates an underlining tension. The unnamed protagonist is made clearly out to be a virgin yet she conveys a series of erotic imagery. ‘In a tender, delicious ecstasy of excitement’ this sexual imagery could convey the transition from innocence to corruption. Carter brings out these themes and enhances them through the use of symbolism and choices of language, she also uses magic realism through main events which take place in what is described as a fairy castle. This effect allows her to use a fantasy like world while adding real life situations. A key factor throughout is that the heroine of the story remains nameless, this suggests she’s structurally disempowered.’
The unnamed first-person heroine of the bloody chamber’s title story appears at first to be a Justine-like sacrificial virgin in a white dress’. This suggests that she’s already set up for and inevitably tragic ending. It can also be suggested that ‘by leaving the heroine nameless Carter universalises her struggle so that she represents all women’. The heroine narrates her story from her point of view which differs from the third person narrative traditionally seen in fairy tales. The mother also subverts norms as what is traditionally a male dominant role being originally the heroine’s older brothers in the Blue Beards tale. The effect of this is that we see the mother as the hero in what typically would be a ‘man’s job’. The mother in the story also marries for love which would have been seen as ‘scandalous’ yet it suggests that true love saves the day when the ‘antique service revolver’ he deceased husband left for her is what she uses to kill the Marquis. The Marquis is presented as a fairy tale monster and we are aware ‘he was much older’ than her and had also ‘married three times within my own brief lifetime’ this emphasises the young female characters youth against her husband’s experience with life, and women. Carter uses animalistic imagery to convey the Marquis Age and presence ‘there were streaks of pure silver in his dark mane’, this animalistic imagery suggests a sense of corruption. His sent is also made overwhelming and extremely present when he walks in the room ‘a whiff of the opulent male scent of leather that always accompanied him’Carter calls the scent ‘male’ as it’s overwhelming and strong and this conveys the traditional stereotypical masculine qualities. As a gender role that has been culturally assigned to women is assigned to ‘masculinity, with its connotations of strength, rationality, stoicism and self-reliance.’ This suggests that Carter chose to do this in order to portray the social inequalities and the way women and men were presented during the time it was set.
After the wedding the Marquis fills her marital bedroom with lilies ‘the lilies I always associate with him; that are white. And stain you.’ The imagery of the lilies apparent purity suggest the heroine’s innocence and virginity in comparison to the Marquis sexual corruption. ‘Stain’ suggests the bedsheets which will be bloody after their conformation. There is an underlying link between the marriage bed and death as marriage is like the termination of women’s independence as they then become an accessory to the man. When the narrator finds some of the Marquis pornographic images and is discovered, the Marquis is presented as very patronising. ‘My little nun has found the prayer books’ him referring to the violent and erotic fantasy, and the immolation of rape and the Sabine woman as his ‘prayer books’. By the Marquis calling the porn books something religious it’s as if he is showing his devotion to the pursuit of sensuous pleasure. Sex is his religion. Though he shows that he enjoys this he refers to the protagonist as ‘little girl’ ‘have the nasty pictures scared you baby? Baby mustn’t play with grown-ups toys until she’s learned how to handle them’ this portrays an unusual sexual fantasy and though during that time seventeen year old girl could marry a much older man, yet this line conveys an unpleasant thought of childhood abuse. The protagonist also makes it clear she ‘was innocent but not naïve’ the heroine is gifted ‘a choker of rubies’ ‘bright as arterial blood’, the rubies suggest a history of violence, cruelty and death and it foreshadows her attempted execution and the Marquis sexual corruption. Women in literature are often presented in a ‘passive sexual role obligated of them by culture’. ‘In my innocence, he sensed a rare talent for corruption’ when her virginity is lost she’s described as ‘wounded’ ‘the sign of virginity so recently ruptured that still remained a wounded presence between us’ which suggests that she feels she cannot fulfil his dark sexual desires. Unlike the other stories this main character though she’s presented as self-aware her virginity being lost ultimately leads to corruption moreover, it could be argued that it doesn’t, as the protagonist does survive. But the permanent stain left on her head acts as a reminder of this loss. This same ending isn’t as present in the other stories as the protagonist is viewed as weak compared to the Marquis who’s presented as an animal using the animalistic imagery and this emphasises his dominance over her.
The Bloody Chamber contrasts with the other stories as the protagonist conforms to gender norms, she’s presented as weak, compliant and submissive. However, she holds characteristics like self-awareness which men in this time didn’t think women had, which could be why he targeted her. Unlike the others who convey a dominance over the men. Carter shows contrasts with the men and women in her stories, this presents women in a new light compared to other literature pieces as they mostly use women as heroine. The Bloody Chamber and other stories looks at underlying gender roles and sexuality within women and men. Women show a strong sense of self-awareness ‘I could create a pentacle out of music that would keep me from harm’ this quote from the bloody chamber is much like the one in the company of wolves ‘protected by a pentacle of her own virginity.’ These women exert in inelegance and strength and the characters understand how they can protect themselves in irrational situations. In conclusion Carter does present her female characters as strong and the loss of virginity is seen as a gain of experience however, through the different fairy-tale stories she looks at key themes.
Exploration Of Patriarchal Dominance Between The Characters in ‘The Bloody Chamber’ By Angela Carter
In Angela Carter’s collection of fairy tales, she explodes the notion of stereotypical views of females, as either the roles of passive victims of patriarchal dominance in all its guises or she subverts the role as strong heroic figures. Even though females can be seen as passive victims, they also have the capacity to be strong and independent individuals. It can be viewed that females can also question and defeat the patriarchal norms that have been enforced in society.
In the title story, ‘The Bloody Chamber’, Carter portrays of what patriarchal society is from a feminist perspective by using females as passive victims of patriarchal dominance and their sexual relationship between one another. The dominant character, Marquise, is exposed as a controlling partner in order to satisfy his erotic taste and to fulfil his desires by using his previous wives and present wife as objects. The relationship between Marquise and his wife, is symbolised through a wedding ring, introduced with a ‘pang of loss’ for the narrator, as it hints a lack of youth and freedom that will occur in her marriage and possibly indicate a loss in her virginity. It also indicates the idea that she has this painful emotion within herself due to the marriage. She is uncomfortable with this as she is a young bride and is new to all of this. This ‘loss’ could be due to the patriarchal dominance that has taken over her in the marriage. It further reinforces the idea that she has given all her possession to her husband as ‘he puts the gold band on her finger’. This reflects male dominance and the idea of ownership as his wife is seen as his property. This links to Marquise as his wives in the past were objectified by him because Marquise puts his previous wives on display and exposed their personal identity, particularly his wife who was ‘the opera singer’, who ‘layed quite naked’, which reveals a sexual imagery that fulfils his desires.
Also Marquise reveals his wife to show that her personal life and identity is not private, as it is revealed by her husband. This can be evident in where she ‘saw him watching [her] in the glided mirrors with assessing eyes of connoisseur inspecting horseflesh’. This can convey idea of full ownership and dominance from Marquise as he does not let her be out of his sight, therefore having this power or perhaps a sexual desire for his wife. This portrays domination over females which allows a feminist interpretation such as ‘In the 1970s, the major effect went into exposing what might be called mechanisms of patriarchy, that is, the cultural ‘mind-set’ in men and women which perpetuated sexual inequality.
Critical attention was given to books by male writers in which influential or typical images of women were constructed’. This develops the idea that there is this metaphor within male characters that shows sexual domination or they are seen as sexually active whereas female characters are seen as naturally passive towards this, which implies a sense of inevitability between the characters. Therefore, male characters who are seen as acting on patriarchal dominance towards females allows readers to put this lens towards sexuality, which makes the readers believe that domination occurs in relationship but males are the cause of it. This can be seen where Marquise ‘has twisted her hair into a rope and drew it away from [her] neck’. This portrays a sexual imagery of the husband being sexually active and the wife allows this ownership to happen. The verb ‘twisted’ displays a violent action from Marquise towards his wife which may be foreshadowing her death and could also hint sexual domination.
A further evidence could be where ‘his wedding gift, clasped round [her] throat. A choker of rubies, two inches wide, like an extraordinary precious slit throat’. The adverb ‘clasped’ highlights the authoritative nature that Marquise has over his wife’s neck which could foreshadow her death as ‘a choker of rubies’ connote with blood.
Furthermore in Carter’s fairy tale, the ‘Tiger’s Bride’, it reveals the true value of female’s position in society, as they are viewed as unworthy whereas in this story males live in a materialistic life. As their possession and social status is seen as more important as Beauty confesses ‘my father said he loved me yet he staked his daughter on a hand of cards’. It can be seen that females are only in their husband’s lives to complete their desires so therefore they embrace sexual desires for them. This may be due to of females acknowledging the idea that males will always inevitably have power so they accept this traditional stereotypical view. For example, in ‘Tigers Bride’, the narrator’s ‘father lost her to the beast at cards’ which expresses a sense of ownership and oppression towards females which connects with a feminist interpretation such as ‘a masculine gendering is supposed to evoke positive connotations, a feminine gendering is supposed to evoke negative ones. It implies the ideas of Beauty’s father having dominance over her and not allowing of what she wants which therefore could suggest that his decisions and action is right.
However, Toril Moi explains that femininity is ‘a set of culturally defined characteristics’ which means that society constructs these stereotypical views and opinions on females allowing readers to interpret female and male in this particular way such as male are more dominant and are the breadwinner in their relationship whereas females are not. It also indicates her status and identity being described as a commodity in a world dominated by men. Her life is determined with deals that her father has compromised with the Beast which clearly demonstrates dominance where Beauty has no liberty but to accept the Beast into her life. Beauty’s father ‘circumstances has already changed; well shaven, neatly barbered, smart new clothes…’. This portrays that even her own father, who is supposedly to be the one who protects his child but could also refer to most males, cares about their social status and material goods than their relationships or loved ones. This links in with stereotypical view of men (patriarchal dominance) who are filled with power and greed that interrupts relationships or marriages.
A feminist critic may argue that Carter’s female characters acknowledge the flaws and actions of the male characters but still choose to oblige to their expectations. Beauty sees the world as ‘the market place, where the eyes that watch you take no account of your existence’. This indicates that Beauty is cease to be visible in society along with all of the females in society, making them feel as if they are unworthy. It also hints the idea of female being at a lower position in society but their ‘existence’ is almost to be seen as vanished as males are seen as superior in society. From a patriarchal standpoint, ‘no one in their right mind will want to give serious power to a person who must be timid, dependent, irrational, and self-pitying because she is a woman’. This clearly demonstrates that gender itself is crucial as it has fixed values and characteristics given to it. This can be evident in when Beauty ‘walked along the river bank’ and ‘felt she was at liberty for the first time’, this may be suggesting that while she is with the Beast, she is accepting in what position she is perhaps due to her lack of confidence or is easily frightened. Another evidence could be that ‘the lamb must learn to run with the tigers’ which reinforces the idea where a female (lamb) who is innocent and passive must adapt themselves or follow according to a male (tiger) who is fierce and dominant.
However, in Carter’s story, ‘The Werewolf’, Carter subverts patriarchal values by recasting females as the main protagonists. For example, in this story, Red is fearless female protagonist who is capable of defending herself and does not need protection from a male figure. Red is going to visit her sick grandmother, where her mother insists her to ‘take your fathers hunting knife, you know how it use it’. This could suggest that Red has had experience before in defending herself and therefore is independent as she does not need any help from others. Her ‘fathers hunting knife’ could hint that he protected himself by using weapons and did not need any assistance which could suggest that Red had taken on this role that her father once used to have. Carter attempts to show that female do not need rescue or protection as they are able to do it themselves without any aid. From a feminist perspective, it could be argued that with gender it is not the biological differences that causes stereotypical views and opinions on male or female, but it is the ‘cultural construction’ that society is creating. For example, feminine traits that are supposedly seen as disempowering does not play a part in biological differences as Carter supports this by showing that Red ‘dropped her gifts, seized her knife and turned on the beast’ and ‘she made a great swipe at it with her father’s knife and slashed off its right paw’. This portrays a powerful imagery of strong, independent, dominant and fearless female protagonists who is capable to do such violent acts by herself. The verb ‘slashed’ emphasises Red striking violently at the Beast, showing her physical ability in strength and dominance to subvert patriarchal roles by giving the image that females are able to defend themselves in any situation. This removes the stereotypical view of females as being caring and dependent. It can show that from Carters story tales she wants to empower and show that females can be powerful and capable figures that can take charge in any situation that has been placed on them which can lead them to success. Carter clearly subverts the patriarchal role that reader sees in male by embodying it through females, portraying them as having this male characteristics.
Overall, in Carter’s selection of stories that she wrote through the idea of fairy tales, she challenges and exposes the differentiation between the typical stereotypical views of males who appear to be strong and dominant and females who are seen as vulnerable and submissive. However, Carter also subverts the role of female to show the hidden side that readers or society wouldn’t expect, to convey the success and values that they hold.
Gothic Elements in Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber
Effective gothic literature goes beyond the clichés of dark castles and flickering candles and actually reveals something about humanity. Examine this view in relation to the texts you have studied
Gothic literature is characterised as a hybrid of horror and romance. As a result, it embodies elements of both genres, such as a heroine in distress, spooky castles, sexual suppression and the exploration of human emotions such as that of love, horror, and despair. The term ‘’gothic’’ is used to refer to a medieval architecture style which is popular setting for many novels of this genre because they are mystical, dark and often too spacious to the extent that characters get lost or are unaware of the secrecy that surrounds them. For this reason, gothic fiction was popular during the 1800s due to its evocative and terrorising nature which many Victorian readers found thrilling. However, the sole purpose of gothic literature is not merely to entertain, but to explore and question Victorian ethics and provide a moral message. Gothic fiction is often characterised as the literature of transgression and is concerned with the challenging of boundaries by exceeding the socially acceptable limits of desire, psyche and knowledge. It often encompasses a great amount of taboos, especially forbidden in the Victorian era, such as sexual repression, rape, class transgression and role reversal. Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories consists of a collection of dark, sensual narratives inspired by fairytales and folk tales such as Little Red Riding Hood Beauty and The Beast and The Snow Child. She claims that her writing style is “all for putting new wine in old bottles, especially of the pressure of the new wine makes the old bottles explode.’’ Meaning that her intention was to transform well known stories into completely new stories which reflect her social and political views rather than write new versions of the same old stories. She made a clear distinction between what she defined as “fragments of epiphanic experience which are the type of the 20th-century story”, and the “ornate, unnatural” allegory and imagery of traditional tales which inspired her work. Like Carter, John Keats was also fascinated by the past rejected the ideas of the age of enlightenment and longed to return to earlier age where the mystery of life had yet to be revealed.
Most readers would agree that Dracula represents a figure of evil which perhaps stems from societies fears and anxieties about the corruption of ‘’pure’’ women. However, I believe that there is more to Dracula than meets the eye. Perhaps, Stoker uses Dracula to reveal something about humanity; the notion that evil is within us all. Jonathan Harker claims that ‘’the man (Dracula) was close to me and I could see him over my shoulder but there was no reflection of him in the mirror’’. Stoker in this scene applies the superstitious belief that creatures without souls have no reflection. This is a metaphor which illustrates that Dracula has no moral vision. However, Harker’s inability to ‘’see’’ Dracula can be seen as a reflection of his own moral blindness. The predominant theme in gothic fiction of duty conflicting with temptation is evident through the character of Jonathan Harker. As married man, he has a duty to remain faithful to his wife but his ‘’wicked burning desire’’ leads to his temptation and permits him to be seduced by the three sisters.
This Christian notion is also expressed in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber which is based on the legend of Bluebeard by Charles Perrault. Carter makes an intertexual reference to the Greek mythology of Pandora’s Box and the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis. The Marquis is depicted as a godly divine being who is ‘’omnipotent’’. His wealth and riches could be a metaphorical representation of heaven while the keys here represent control which is commonly linked with freewill. The Marquis gives his wife the keys to his mansion and provides her with the opportunity to explore it but just as God provided limitations for Adam and Eve, the marquis restricts the heroine’s ability to explore every chamber. Eve was forbidden by God to eat from a particular apple tree, whereas the narrator is permitted to enter every chamber with the exception of one. However, similar to Eve, her ‘’dark new-born curiosity’’ leads her to disobey his wishes. In the same way that Eve was responsible of the fall of humanity and disorder in nature, the heroine is left to deal with the consequences of her actions. However, as a feminist, Carter expresses the idea that it is okay to be curious. In fact, she is encouraging female readers to seek knowledge as apposed to being passive. It is this trait which leads the heroine to follow a different trajectory than that of the marquis’ previous wives.
Dracula was published prior to the suffragette movement, which meant that the expectations and standards for women remained enormously restrained. The Victorian culture revolved around the restriction of women and their subordination to men. Robert Kidd states that ‘’at the heart of the gothic text is the tension provided by the possible violation of innocence – the concept of ‘virtue in distress’’. This notion is seen in Dracula through the two main female characters in the book. Van Helsing refers to Mina as ‘’one of god’s women’’ and highlighting her close relationship with God. Throughout the novel, the male characters seem to think that it is their duty to protect Mina from Dracula. If he turns her into vampire, her sexuality will be unleashed like Lucy who breaks the rigid moral and social codes of the Victorian era by explicitly displaying her sexuality. For this reason, the novel has been accused of being a ‘’underlying misogyny’’ by Gail B. Griffin, who claims that the worst horror it can imagine is ‘’not Dracula at all, but the released, transforming sexuality of the good woman.’’ Angela carter also explores the theme of female purity conflicting with sexuality in The Bloody Chamber. Carter’s heroine is a seventeen year old who ‘’knew nothing of the world’’ this is a metaphor for her immaturity and lack of sexual experience prior to entering “the unguessable country of marriage’’. This is contrary to her husband who is described as ‘’old’’ and beastly. Carter’s use of the binary opposition of youth and age as well as experience and naivety, paints the protagonist as a vulnerable character. It is this characteristic that leads the Marquis ‘’choose [her] because he sees in [her] a potentiality for corruption’’. However, as the tale progresses, the reader is invited to question her innocence. In the opening paragraph of The Bloody Chamber,
Jonathan Harker is portrayed as having characteristics which are usually associated with women. He reports that he “lay quiet, looking out under [his] eyelashes in an agony of delightful anticipation”. This confession paints him as a passive character, which is usually a feminine trait in gothic literature. This role reversal in the novel is interesting because there were specific roles men and women were subjected to in the Victorian era. Men, even in today’s society, are generally regarded as more sexually aggressive and expressive of their desires in comparison to women. The fact that the three brides seduce a married man would have been regarded as a morally incorrect. Nonetheless, some critics argue that Dracula’s possessive nature over Harker in this chapter is subtly homoerotic.
Lucy Westenra is the epitome of the typical gothic female character whose vulnerability and weakness gradually leads to her own death. She is physically beautiful and ‘’pure’’, however, even before her vampirism, she exerts an aura of subtle sexuality and promiscuity. She attracts three men as apposed to her good friend Mina Harker is merely interested one man in which she remains faithful to, despite his disappearance. Lucy even complains of her need to choose between the three suitors and fails to understand ‘’why they can’t let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?’’ This controversial statement is not compatible with the behaviour of a Victorian lady who was expected to be a passive recipient of men’s attention thus breaking the moral and social codes of the Victorian era. Similarly, in Carter’s The Company of Wolves, the adolescent heroine, who is more active and sexually alert than the original protagonist in the little Red Riding Hood, is depicted as a subtly sexual character who embraces her sexual desire. It can be argued that her red cape which resembles ‘’blood on snow’’ is a connotation of her sexual maturity, it also symbolises menstruation and the act of losing her virginity. The narrator also refers to her red cape as ‘’the colour of sacrifices’’ reinforcing the position of women in the society which she lives.
Carter explicitly illustrates the theme of feminism by contrasting conventional aspects of gothic literature which generally portray female characters as passive and victims, with strong female protagonists. Carter also subverts the conventions of fairytales by citing protagonists who are active and highlights the archetypes and stereotypes of women in these popular stories.
There is a wealth of evidence in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, published in 1897, which illustrates this element of the genre. For example, the novel explores the concept of ‘’the new woman’’ who in her demand for sexual, financial and political independence, was deemed as a threat to conventional gender roles, through the characters of Lucy and Mina as well as the three seductive, female vampires. Similarly
Fairy Tales Objectifying Women (Based on The Bloody Chamber and Stardust)
Fairy tales reinforce the patriarchy by teaching children that women lack agency and that men do not, the Bloody Chamber and Stardust both attack this idea by creating female characters with agency and voice.
Fairy Tales are very formulaic stories. They will almost always have a male rescue a female from a negative climate such as a tower prison, a glass coffin where she sleeps for eternity, or even under the rule of her cruel sisters. This helps to reinforce the patriarchy by creating helpless women who are drowning in their circumstances, who need to be rescued by a dashing and rich male who is often a prince. Stories such as The Bloody Chamber, help to show this horrible truth of the patriarchy within the texts we read, as they are more often than not supposed to be read as an allegory which transparently shows the horrors which women are made to face by men. They show the weakness of women and how they are helpless damsels in need of a saviour. While this is almost universal in fairy tales there are some stories such as Stardust, which have characters which could potentially work towards shattering these ideas and through this weakening the idea that women are helpless fragile flowers that need to be plucked by men and put in vases to look pretty. John Berger states that , “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at”, this describes fairytales and how the patriarchy affects them perfectly, as women are made to be the objects of men and women must learn how men watch them so that they may be more suitable objects. This happens in almost every fairytale where the woman either is the object of desire for a man, or must become the object of desire for a man in order to save themselves from an impoverished life, into the life of a prisoner. As the agency that women possess in fairy tales, is never enough to break them free from the cold grip that the patriarchy puts upon them.
“Yvaine” who is the star in Stardust and formerly Tristram’s slave and then companion is a character who can help to break these ideas. In Stardust Yvaine shows that she is not happy with her position as being tethered to Tristran and is openly defiant against this. This contrasts with a character such as Belle from Beauty and the Beast, who didn’t attempt to fight her position or even speak out against it, she simply went with her fate and stuck to the idea that she was going to be a prisoner for the rest of her life. Contrasting this Yvaine is clearly voicing her opinion on Tristram’s actions and through this we can clearly see that she does infact have at least some agency compared to other characters in fairytales. As when she was tied to Tristram she clearly did not expect to live with this ,as she asked him in a “voice beyond rage” what he thought he was doing and experienced an indescribable amount of anger towards him. This means that she has at least some agency and certainly a voice, the fact that she is not submissive to him and fights him shows how she deviates from most other fairytales. Angela Carter once stated that “To exist in the passive case is to be killed” as when you do not fight you have no agency no reason to live and are therefore not alive. This is very common for women in fairytales as what will often happen is that they will simply submit to their jailor who may be disguised as a prince, but the motive is the same. However despite this she can resort to doing nothing more than calling Tristram a “Dunderhead. Bumpkin. Dolt”. She is not in the “passive case” so she is not completely devoid of power, but what little she has is useless. A fairytale which gives women agency and voice, as well as the ability to use both of those without being ostracised is “The Company of Wolves” by Angela Carter, the series of fairytales presented within the Bloody Chamber are all allegories for the oppression of women as opposed to Stardust which is a modern fairytale which has some feminist elements to it due to its nature and the era in which it was written. In the Company of Wolves the little girl in the story has complete agency over herself and her body. Compared to Yvaine who only has freedom of mind and speech, the little girl in “The Company of Wolves” has far more power over herself than Yvaine did. When confronted with the wolf who would devour her, she was able to show how it could be tamed, as any man can be tamed through a woman as they can be mindless beasts driven by lust, who can easily be controlled. This little girl knew she was “nobody’s meat” and was therefore able to tame the wolf and sleep between the paws on the now “Sweet” and “tender wolf”. This is something which “Yvaine” was unable to do and did cause her to be restricted and tied down to Tristran. However when she was freed of his chain she fell in love with him, which caused her to essentially be permanently to be bound to him. This may have been a willing sacrifice as it was her choice to fall in love with him, but this could potentially show that she herself used her own agency to tie her down and make her less free, which was seen before with Bridget when she purposefully denied herself agency due to her love of the man. This is also done with the Wolf in the Bloody Chamber as he essentially shackles himself to the Girl through marriage, resulting in a mutually assured destruction for the two of them. As the Wolf may be tamed, but the Girl may not now be the wolf, in the same way a woman may marry a man to gain power over him, but she can no longer have any power over other men as the power she once had through her sexuality is nullified . As “Carol Ann Duffy” once stated “What is marriage but prostitution to one man instead of many?”. This shows how the patriarchy will always find ways to tie women down, even when they have fought for their own power. Despite this, something of note is that “Yvaine” may not have lost any agency at all when she became partnered with Tristram, as she loves Tristram and is not in his power. In the same way Tristram is not in Yvaine’s power either as “Tristran and Yvaine were happy together”, they were not struggling with power at all, merely in a joyful relationship made off of love, not control. The patriarchy has control over the sexuality and the agency of women, but it does not encompass love and is powerless to that idea. By demonstrating that Yvaine is willing to devote her life to Tristran out of pure love for him. Not for practical purposes or to tie herself down to one man, however as a partnership through love is beyond the realms of the patriarchy then that would imply that in a fairytale where the communion is due to love and not material wealth, the relationship would not be one where the woman lacks agency and would therefore only damage rather than reinforce the patriarchy. As the woman has agency if she can love.
In fairytales it is common for the woman to be an object for the protagonist. She is merely a prize for him to take home and she herself has no substance and is simply an object of his desire. However while men have power over women, many would argue that they themselves do not have power over their libido and are mere slaves to sex. By creating female characters who are mere objects the patriarchy is enforced. However by also showing the madness of men and their constant lust for the flesh, the ideas of the patriarchy can be chipped away at. The Snow Child is a story from The Bloody Chamber and is the prime example of a woman who has no agency or voice whatsoever. She was created to be the “child of desire” and has no purpose other than to be at the use of the count. She has no power over her fate and can do nothing to change what my happen to her. This shows that she has no agency as a character and she also seems to lack a voice as she cannot speak, or is not allowed to speak. The count does not view her as a human being but as an object, this supports “John Berger’s” view that when women are under the male gaze they are turned “into an object” to him she is merely the object of his desire, he asked for a girl “as white as snow”, “as red as blood” and “as black as a raven” and due to this the snow child was made. This demonstrates how a fairytale can objectify women and turn them into an “object of desire for men”, as either a reward or a gift. As objects the women cannot experience love as they will not be subject to any and therefore they will merely be shackled through marriage and commitment, rather than actually becoming more free. While the fact that she has no agency is abundantly clear, we can see that she also makes no attempt to gain agency or struggle against the demands of others, this is an example of how many women are treated within fairytales and from this treatment the idea of the patriarchy will strengthen as if women themselves have no agency and no will, then men must be the one to take it from them and be the masters of women. Despite the snow child’s complete lack of agency the Countess does have some more power than her. As it was her choice to kill the snow child in order to keep her husband and there was a moment in which the Countess had more agency than the count. As when he chose to commit necrophilia on the girl, it was due to his primal tendencies as a male to have sex with the girl. It is possible that in the moment where he committed the act it was not done completely with his motives at hand. This show of weakness does help to show how men can be overpowered by women. Despite this it should be noted that while Men may be slaves to their sexual tendencies, women are still the victim of these tendencies and in a sense they are still powerless against men as you could say that a man’s sexuality is his true form “if you burn his human clothing you condemn him to wolfishness”, this could mean that men are wearing masks to hide their sexualities, but underneath that mask his true self is the wolf who is ravenous a filled with lust. This would mean that a man is not at the mercy of his lust, but rather that it is his true form. This need to surrender to lust
Trites would argue against this idea as “Feminist power is more about being aware of one’s agency than it is about controlling other people”, this would mean that while the countess does display power over the count, it is not feminist power merely power. The difference between the two means that if a woman has power she could be powerful and have agency, yet still support the patriarchy as her power would not be linked to her femininity but to her status, or skill, or other factor. It also helps the patriarchy to demoralise women who do this, by calling them black widows and accusing them of being controlling and manipulative. The demonization of women who have agency in fairytales such as witches or queens, helps to enforce the idea of the patriarchy as women who do seek to gain agency, or are in possession of agency are criticised and given a negative aura. An example of a woman who does not control other people, but still has agency would be Lady Una for Stardust. At the beginning lady Una possesses very little agency as she is a slave and is bound to her witch. However she is fully aware of this as she knows that she will be in slavery “Not forever” and that “I gain my freedom on the day the moon loses her daughter…”, she knows full well that she will not be a slave girl forever and that she will eventually break free from her shackles, This triumph over something which does appear to be impossible such as having “two Mondays meet”, is a clear expression of how her power goes beyond having agency and due to this power she was able to allow a kingdom to be ruled over by a woman for almost eternity. This is the ultimate expression of a woman who has agency as she is completely in charge of not only her own destiny, but the fates and stories of all in her kingdom. However she was not demonized for her agency, as she was merely aware of it and aware that she would be free, but she did not need to control or use anyone to earn it, therefore she has feminist power.
Despite this it should be noted that while The Bloody Chamber may not have character who have as much agency as those in Stardust, it plays a much more important role for feminism and articulates more clearly how Fairytales reinforce the patriarchy. As the Bloody Chamber shows how fairytales can reinforce the patriarchy, through objectification, by removing their agency and creating marriages without love. The Snow Child has far less agency than Yvaine, but she is a much better example of explaining how a woman is objectified in a fairytale and arguably that is far more important.
Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. Interpretation of Shock Factors
Angela Carter clearly adds a shock value to her short stories; this can be seen in the explicit sex scenes and the brutal deaths which are shocking. Whether or not the stories are ‘merely shocking’ is debatable as it infers that the stories are only to be read for shock purposes and not necessarily to earn from it. Carter, a feminist in the 70’s would try and promote her feminist ideals in her stories and through closer analysis it can be seen that ‘The Bloody Chamber’ is not only ‘merely shocking.’ The reader is able to understand the pain many of the heroine face through the objectification of their body. ‘The Bloody Chamber’ definitely shocks the readers by the sexual references that are sometimes violent and unexpected, however it may be seen the reason Carter shocks is to show the struggle women face in our patriarchal society or the freedom they could have if there was a dismantlement of this hierarchal structure.
The first shocking factor is the marriage between a pure and virginal teenager to a rich Marquis who enjoys pornographic pictures and books. In ‘The Bloody Chamber’ the pornography is explicitly described when the young girl looks through a book ‘I had not bargained for this… her cunt a split fig… fingered with his free hand his prick’. This description is shocking especially because the narrator is a woman. This is reiterated when the Marquis catches her reading The Immolation of the wives of the Sultan and he patronisingly says, “My little nun has found the prayer books, has she?” The young girl’s ‘painful, furious bewilderment’ is supposed to be the expected reaction of women when speaking of sexuality. The protagonist is meant to be cute and helpless with one of the most shocking characteristic in their relationship being the Marquis treated the young girl as a child. After having sex with her he is very patronising by saying ‘did it hurt her?’ this demeaning tone is often used alongside him calling her ‘baby’ and ‘little one.’ This is shocking as it suggests he likes to taint her innocence.
‘The Snow Child’ is both shocking and explicit in trying to reveal the way women are treated in today’s society. The young girl is seen as innocent however this shockingly does not stop the count from raping her dead body. Once the girl has pricked her finger and dies the Count ‘thrusts his virile member in’ to her. The virile and thrust has masculine connotations and is very explicit that it’s shocking to the audience. However it could be argued that the reason Angela Carter decided to make it shocking is not just for gratuitous violence but to point out how vulnerable women, even dead are still used. First wave feminism was around the time Carter was writing ‘The Bloody Chamber’ and so it can be seen that this necrophilia and taboo act is to highlight the treatment women go through. The count felt like the girls beauty was reason enough for him to have sex with her who could be paralleled into the real world where women are whistled at and verbally abused, it shows men as predators.
On the other hand it can be argued that ‘The Bloody Chamber’ is not shocking at all. The short stories are all based on fairy-tale and folklores and so nothing is too shocking . All of the stories are contextually linked to other stories that it has become familiar and the fact that Carter is a feminist who is trying to show the treatment of women she would obviously try and include ‘shocking’ aspects. The main reason that these stories aren’t shocking is because they are to educate everyone on the consequences of naivety and women allowing themselves to be subordinate to men.
In conclusion it can be seen that ‘The Bloody Chamber’ is shocking however the main reason for it being written is to educate rather than to just entertain with its shock value.
‘The Bloody Chamber’: Features of a Gothic Setting
The short story ‘The Bloody Chamber’ by Angela Carter includes an abundance of conventions effective in establishing a Gothic setting. The tale is a tragic one, where the innate curiosity of a young girl inevitably finds her in danger. Published in the late 20th Century, at a time when Gothic writing was less prominent in literature, it could be said that the tale is fairly progressive within the genre, with its underlying criticism of patriarchal society not being a particularly common theme in Gothic writing. However, being set the 3rd Republic in France, an era known for corruption and hedonism, and the use of classic Gothic elements in this passage, ensures the a strikingly Gothic setting is effectively established.
The majority of the narrative takes place at the Marquis’ castle, a place where the gothic setting of the story is particularly prominent. The location of the castle is extremely remote, it is “cut off by the tide from the land for half a day…” This creates an atmosphere of imprisonment and by including this significant detail, Carter deliberately makes explicit to the reader that the castle is away from the eyes of the outside world and is therefore difficult to escape from, which is key part of the Gothic setting that is established. The ellipsis used here encourages the reader to ponder on this detail as Carter subtly implies that it will be of importance later on in the novel. Indeed, at the end of the novel the Marquises sees he mother “galloping at a vertiginous speed along the causeway, though the waves crashed”, significant in that the reader come to the daunting realisation that had the mother’s arrival been even slightly later, the castle might have been inaccessible and the Marquises may not have survived. The tone of urgency, heightened by the use of the adjective “vertiginous”, combined with the fortuity of the situation significantly contributes to the Gothic setting through the sense of panic that resonates with both the protagonist and the reader. Furthermore, the atmosphere of confinement increasing exponentially as the Marquises’ journey to the castle progresses, until she reaches the bedroom. Here, she describes being “surrounded by so many mirrors!” which contributes to the Gothic setting through the atmosphere of suppression it establishes. The excessive decor in the bedroom implies a corruption of wealth, common of the era in which the tale is set; the 3rd Republic in France was known for its decadence, and here Carter criticises that, demonstrating that that it gave the rich (who were, at the time, almost always men) a means of enticing those inferior to them, as indeed the Marquis successfully does to the narrator. Carter not only emphasises the Marquises’ physical isolation, but her psychological isolation as well. This is made explicit through the significant change in the narrative tone as the Marquises exclaims “Enough! No; more!” clearly conflicted and insecure about the impending consummation of her marriage. This interior monologue is desperate and frantic as the narrative perspective becomes detached, heightening the sense of psychological isolation as the Marquises is unable to escape this distressing situation. Indeed, it is the overwhelming sense of isolation maintained throughout the story that so convincingly establishes a Gothic setting.
The Marquis’ chamber is a pivotal part of the tale and its allusions to hell are considerably successful in establishing a Gothic setting as the narrative reaches its pinnacle. Comparisons to hell are common in descriptions of settings in Gothic literature. This is seen, for example, in Charles Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’, where the character of Tulkinghorn’s chambers starkly resemble hell. In ‘The Bloody Chamber’, the first description made of the chamber itself is “Absolute darkness.” The absence of light being a classic Gothic convention, this powerful description establishes a Gothic setting whereby the Marquises is transgressing into the unknown. In Gothic literature, darkness traditionally demonstrates a lack of hope which is fitting here as the Marquises is about to discover women who’s fates were hopeless, and the Gothic atmosphere is established further as both the Marquises and the reader come to the realisation that “[she], too, was one of them”. The sheer horror of the chamber is made so apparent as the Marquises describes how even the walls “gleamed as if they were sweating with fright”; the contents of the chamber are so gruesome that fear even resounds in inanimate objects, demonstrating that the horror at this point in the story is incredibly overbearing. Moreover, the final description of the chamber, “like the door of hell”, is effective in leaving a harrowing impression on the reader, the simile and its Gothic resonance being indicative of the full extent of the horror the Marquises has uncovered and indeed intensifying the Gothic setting of the tale.
The symbolism of the lilies is of recurring importance throughout the story in establishing Gothic setting. They are used by Carter as a clear premonition of death, foreshadowing the narrator’s fate. Carter accentuates the way in which the Marquis “filled [the] bedroom with lilies until it looked like an embalming parlour” which strongly associates the themes of sex with death, whether this be the metaphorical death of female independence, as the Marquises will become corrupted by Marquis and from this point, is under his control; or whether this represents the literal death of the Marquis’ wives that preceded the narrator. Through this Carter criticises the inequality of marital relationships that was widespread during the period in which her story is set, implying that women were too quick to accept their inferior position, as here the Marquises makes no attempt to remove herself from a seemingly uncomfortable situation. In addition, the underlying tone of foreboding, a common Gothic trope, which manifests here successfully establishes a Gothic setting. This symbol is used again later on in the narrative as the Marquises compares her husband to the lilies, describing them as “the lilies I always associate with him; that are white. And stain you.” Here the contrasting sentence structure places emphasis on “stain you”, as the narrator retrospectively realises the corrupting influence the Marquis had on her, as well as how trapped she was in her marriage by his possessive nature, Carter again making a subtle criticism of women’s naivety. There are many parallels between the description of the lilies and that of the Marquis; the heavy, “waxen” appearance of the lilies appears to be linked to the “mask” like features of the Marquis, whereby the narrator struggles to uncover his true self. Similarly, his overpowering “opulent male scent” mimics the strong, suffocating odour of the lilies; this conceals the scent of death in the castle, as well as representing the concealed desires of the Marquis. The comparison between the lilies and the Marquis likens him to a typical Gothic antagonist by creating an element of mystery and corruption to his character. Indeed, the symbolism of the lilies throughout the story is a key component of the Gothic setting so firmly established by Carter.
In conclusion, there are an abundance of elements throughout the story of ‘The Bloody Chamber’ that ensure the foundations of this tale are deep-rooted in the Gothic style. The traditional Gothic devices and motifs are used throughout, combined with the intense, detailed description of the castle and Carter’s intention of creating an undeniable sense of danger and foreboding, are extremely successful in establishing an undeniably Gothic setting.
Gothic Traditions in ‘The Bloody Chamber’
The opening of the short story ‘The Bloody Chamber’ by Angela Carter includes an abundance of conventions typical of the Gothic genre. The passage sets the scene for a tragic tale, where the innate curiosity of a young girl will inevitably find her in danger. Published in the late 20th Century, at a time when Gothic writing was less prominent in literature, it could be said that the tale is fairly progressive within the genre, with its underlying criticism of patriarchal society not being a particularly common theme in Gothic writing. However, being set the 3rd Republic in France, an era known for corruption and hedonism, and the use of classic Gothic elements in this passage, ensures the foundations of this tale are deep-rooted in the Gothic style.
This passage in ‘The Bloody Chamber’ provides an introduction of the two main characters to the reader. The narrator gives a detailed description of her lover, and it is from this that the reader is so easily able to predict the fate of the narrator, since the Marquis displays numerous qualities of a typical Gothic antagonist. The allusion to beastly qualities made so early on in the narrative is stark, as the narrator describes the ‘the leonine shape of his head’ and ‘his dark mane’, likening the Marquis to a lion, indicative of his predatorial nature. The repetition of the animalistic imagery leads the reader to question whether or not the Marquis is fully human, with the knowledge that the Gothic genre typically includes aspects of the supernatural. Human or not, Carter makes it clear that Marquis is a danger to the narrator. This is emphasised through Carter’s use of floriography in comparing the Marquis to ‘a lily’, a funeral flower, foreshadowing that he will be the death of her. Here, Carter creates an overwhelming sense of foreboding, something that Gothic writing often depends upon to achieve one of its foremost aims: to frighten the reader.
The short story takes the form of a first person narrative, and this form introduces the reader to the other main character, this familiar pattern of Gothic narrative allowing the reader a greater insight into her character, as she undergoes a period of transition from childhood to womanhood, the catalyst being her impending marriage. Perhaps the most telling indicator of the narrator’s character is her clothing: ‘the white muslin’ and the ‘crimson jewels…bright as arterial blood’. Colour semiotics are so often used to depict characters in Gothic fiction, and here it is no different. The juxtaposing colours, the white with connotations of innocence and the red with connotations of evil and lust, demonstrate the possibility for corruption that makes the narrator so vulnerable to the Marquis. The notion that women are inherently susceptible to corruption is one that is commonly explored in the Gothic genre, which in this case of ‘The Bloody Chamber’, heightens the sense of foreboding and gives the reader considerable cause for concern as to the fate of the narrator. The symbolism behind the ruby choker emphasises the danger that the narrator has placed herself in, as it is reminiscent of one of the bloodiest periods of French history, again implying that the narrator’s destiny is uncertain. However, this would not necessarily evoke sympathy from the reader; the story was published in the late 20th Century, a time when the second wave of feminism was fairly prominent in society and thus a women of time might struggle to understand why the narrator is seemingly setting herself up for exploitation. Indeed, the reader’s response may have been of anger rather than sympathy.
Despite the narrative giving insight into the character of the narrator, her identity still carries a certain degree of ambiguity, indeed the reader is never even made aware of her name. Through marriage, the narrator ‘ceased to be her [mother’s] child in becoming his wife’. Here the narrator’s identity is defined by possessive pronouns, which sets up the power dynamics between the narrator and the Marquis, with the women being the more subordinate of the two. At this point in the passage, the narrative voice hints at the suppression that so often accompanies Gothic female characters. The tale of ‘The Bloody Chamber’ derives from some of the most notorious tales of erotic literature in the 18th Century, the period in which the story is set, and in referencing this Carter makes a poignant criticism through parodying the literature of the time, denouncing the way in which, throughout history, it has been commonplace for men to objectify women – passing them off as possessions, something to be acquired rather than respected. Later on in the extract, the narrator is objectified as a piece of art as she considers herself to have been ‘invited to join this gallery of beautiful women’. From this metaphor, the reader detects ignorance in the narrator, yet another quality that is prevalent in female characters within Gothic writing, and subsequently a reaction of sympathy for the narrator is evoked in the reader, since at this point in the story she is not yet aware of the exile into which she will find herself, something that later becomes apparent to her.
The sense of foreboding that prevails throughout the passage amplifies as the narrator imagines ‘that magic place, the fairy castle whose walls were made of foam, that legendary habitation’ that will soon be her home. The excessively lavish description, with reference to ‘magic’ in the most innocent sense of the word, incites a suspicion in the reader as to whether or not the castle will live up to such a great expectation. It could be said that here, the description of the castle is a metaphor for the narrator’s perception of marriage, something which is also unlikely to live up to the narrator’s expectation. In the first Gothic novel, ‘The Castle of Otranto’, the castle itself reflects the personality of its owner. Here, Carter inverts this classic Gothic trope, whereby the ‘fairy castle’ is indeed an opposite reflection of its inhabitant, the Marquis, who is not the stereotypical Prince Charming the reader might expect to find in such a place. In doing this, Carter attempts to inflict a false sense of security upon the reader, something else which is often seen in Gothic writing.
In conclusion, there are an abundance of elements that a reader of Gothic literature would be familiar with in this extract from ‘The Bloody Chamber’. Even though the story is relatively modern within the genre, traditional Gothic devices and motifs are used throughout, with the intention of creating an undeniable sense of danger and foreboding, which in turn provokes a response of fear from the reader, indeed one of the foremost aims of Gothic writing.
Abstractionism in The Bloody Chamber and The Erl-King
Angela Carter’s work in the short story collection “The Bloody Chamber,” makes frequent use of concrete objects as expressions of abstract concepts, among them freedom, bondage, and death in multiple forms, not only physical.
In the short story “The Bloody Chamber,” the world the protagonist lives in is archaic. Although timeless in technicality, the reader gets the idea that it is set in the Victorian era or a little after. This idea is reinforced by the dress of the characters, the behavior of the majority of the women, and the use of wagons and horses as transportation, with the “motorcar” as a luxury item. The reader is shocked by the presence of the telephone, first revealed while the protagonist and her new husband are having sex for the first time, “A dozen husbands impaled a dozen brides while the mewing gulls swung on invisible trapezes in the empty air outside. I was brought to my senses by the insistent shrilling of the telephone” (TBC 17). Carter’s use of anachronism highlights the significance of the telephone in the story. In this instance, the telephone seems to symbolize safety or freedom. It is with the telephone that she is able to call her mother. That maternal bond between mother and daughter, via the telephone wire, ends up being stronger than her bond to her husband in marriage.
Carter’s use of concrete objects in place of abstract concepts is not limited to anachronisms. “The Bloody Chamber” and “O Belo Adormecido” use intertextuality as an effective strategy to subvert conventions. Ana Raquel Fernandes argues that Carter hinges “The Bloody Chamber” on multiple objects, relevant to the setting, which escalate in meaning throughout the story. Among them are the lilies in the bedchamber and the ruby choker. The liles, she says, are an illusion to death. She also makes note of the association the protagonist makes between the lilies and her husband: “In this first part of the story, the first person narrator, the young girl who tells her story retrospectively, describes the Marquis focusing on the stillness of his face and comparing him with a lily” (Fernandes 3). The section of text Fernandes refers to is the protagonist’s initial description of her lover.
“He was older than I… And sometimes that face, in stillness when he listened to me playing, with the heavy eyelids folded over eyes that always disturbed me by their absolute absence of light, seemed to me like a mask… Even when he asked me to marry him, and I said: ‘Yes,’ still he did not lose that heavy, fleshy composure of his. I know it must seem a curious analogy, a man with a flower, but sometimes he seemed to me like a lily” (TBC 8-9).
The Marquis himself, then, by this comparison to a lily, becomes an object in the story representing death. Fernandes goes on to explain the recurrence of the lilies throughout the story as foreshadowing impending death on multiple levels: “The lilies appear again in the description of the matrimonial chamber …although the lilies are white, they stain the narrator, their perfume confuses her senses and later in the short story, the stems become: ‘dismembered arms, drifting drowned in greenish water’ (TBC 22), an explicit reference to death. Indeed, from its first description, the bedroom is a death chamber” (Fernandes 4).
The choker carries potent symbolism of both death and the bondage of marriage. As a symbol of death, it references both the impending physical beheading of the protagonist and the death of self when the protagonist enters into marriage. Bondage, then, is death. This symbolism is alluded to when the choker is described: “A choker of rubies, two inches wide, like an extraordinarily precious slit throat” ( TBC 11). The symbolism of death is further exemplified in the detailing of the tradition the choker comes from: “After the Terror, in the early days of the Directory, the aristos who’d escaped the guillotine had an ironic fad of tying a red ribbon round their necks at just the point where the blade would have sliced it through…That night at the opera comes back to me even now… the white dress; the frail child within it; and the flashing crimson jewels round her throat, bright as arterial blood” ( TBC 11).
In “The Erl-King,” Carter uses the bird’s cages to overtly symbolize bondage and the broken fiddle to symbolize the absence of freedom. While the Erl-King has possession of the maidens, transformed by magic into birds, his music is their cries of sorrow. When the protagonist kills the Erl-King at the end and frees the birds, she strings the fiddle with the Erl-King’s hair, thereby restoring freedom as a concept and the fiddle’s song replaces the song of the birds. The fiddle’s less than joyous music brings our awareness to an uncustomary message. “Then it (the fiddle) will play discordant music without a hand touching it. The bow will dance over the new strings of its own accord and they will cry out ‘Mother, mother, you have murdered me!’” This notes the responsibility and sacrifice that comes with freedom of any kind.
The symbols of freedom in “The Bloody Chamber” are less overt and exist more in terms of negative argument than on its own. In other words, freedom is exhibited through the death of death (the Marquis) instead of being given its own object to live through. This is fitting since “The Bloody Chamber” seems to speak more about marriage as death and submission as bondage. The Erl-King, on the other hand, seems to speak more about feminism, and the dilemmas of sexuality and equality.
Carter’s use of concrete objects as abstractions is central to postmodernism. In the past, many works have used items to symbolize abstractions but in Carter’s work, the items are not props but actual characters in the work. The telephone, for example, is central in the plot of “The Bloody Chamber.” The choker becomes more of a character than some of the real people, for example, the piano teacher. The fiddle in “The Erl-King” even has lines of dialogue at the end of the piece, which puts it on full level with living characters. In this way, Carter makes abstractions like bondage, death, and freedom more than simple morals or behind-the-scenes concepts in her work. They take on lives of their own through the objects they inhabit and become central characters, speaking louder than the human characters with which they coexist.
Carter, Angela (1995), The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. London: Vintage .
Fernandes, Ana Raquel (2010), “The Bloody Chamber” and “O Belo
Adormecido”: intertextuality as an effective strategy to subvert conventions. Lisbon. The Sixth Congress of the National Portuguese Association of Comparative Literature.
Can a Person Be a Victim of Fate? Or Do We Suffer From Our Own Decisions?
Carter’s characters in The Lady of the House of Love (LHL), Wolf-Alice and The Werewolf differentiate between being victims of their own nature and victims of circumstance. These characters that are classified as ‘victims’ are often portrayed as being unable to help themselves as they cannot escape from their fate or situation, such as the Countess in The LHL; however one may argue that certain characters, the child in The Werewolf for instance, are initially victims who subvert their role and do save themselves by escaping from this role. The characters in these stories, particularly the women, are often victimised due to the circumstance of their sexuality and societies expectations of them, nevertheless the Countess is a victim of her own nature – her nature as a vampire which entraps her.
Those characters who are victims of their own nature, in other words trapped in their roles due to their inherent make up. The Countess is an example of such a character, as are the Duke from Wolf-Alice and the grandmother from The Werewolf. All three of the characters are trapped in their states – werewolf and vampire – which are sometimes identified as specifically genetic, the Countess’s vampirism being descended from her father, who is too named as a vampire “Nosferatu” alluding to the vampiric film interpretation of Dracula. As a result the Countess becomes the “hereditary commandant of the army of shadows” which in a sense makes her a victim of circumstance as she inherits the isolation and “demented” history after her father’s assassination. However, the entire story repeatedly refers to her inability to escape from her vampire nature, symbolized through the caged lark, and her embedded need to kill in order to survive. The repeated references to her isolation and abandonment and the somber connotations to her description “all alone in her dark, high house” and “habitual tormented somnambulism” creates sympathy in the reader for her and highlights her inability to escape from her soulless state. She is unable to fulfill her dream to be human by herself and thus the “young officer” who is pure and possesses the “special quality of virginity” is needed on order for her to escape her haunted nature and be human as she wishes. Similarly, the Duke, too, relies on an external character to save him from his animalistic and haunted nature. It is implied that his nature is to be a “corpse eater” as he is non-human. Wolf-Alice humanizes him at the end of the story, saving him from his own nature. The grandmother however, is unable to save herself due to her werewolf nature and is not saved by anyone else but instead dies a victim of her nature. However, she also dies as a victim of circumstance, a circumstance from which she cannot escape.
One may argue that the grandmother is victimized through her role as a woman, a role from which when she tries to escape – by taking the form of a wolf and subverting her role of a domestic and pure woman – she dies. It is evident that she is unable to help herself as she is characterized by Carter as a weak woman “who has been sick” thus suggesting that even though she is a wolf, she is still weak and Little Red has to bring her food and care for her. She is trapped in her role as a domestic grandmother and thus tries to escape through her wolfish side, which in turn entraps her as well in a life destined for persecution. One may also argue that Wolf-Alice, too, is a victim of circumstance as she is trapped in the ‘nature’ of a wolf due to her upbringing and forced to conform to what is considered ‘normal’ by the nuns. She is unable to fully conform to societies expectations of her to “cover up her bold nakedness” and behave in a way expected of a woman as her wolf side has become embedded in her nature by her circumstances. One may contest, however, that she is not helpless as she saves the Duke from his wolfish side and initially did not need anyone to “rescue” her. Therefore, it is evident that there are characters in Carter’s tales who are not victims or helpless at all. The “young officer” in LHL may be initially presented as a victim of the Countess, but he survives and saves/defeats her as well as saves himself through love and innocence as “he is more than he knows.” The girl in The Werewolf is an independent woman, unafraid of the wolves and conformity and defends herself with her father’s hunting knife and therefore “she prospered” by refusing to become the wolf’s prey/victim.
Therefore, Carter’s characters vary between victims of circumstance and their own nature as well as those who are in fact heroes and survivors. Nevertheless, all of her characters begin as victims in their stories. Even those who are heroes, such as the young officer in the LHL and the girl in The Werewolf, are initially victims pursued by evils, wolves and vampires, but are able to save themselves, to help themselves and therefore they are undefeated and become heroes. Thus, all of the characters in The Werewolf, LHL and Wolf-Alice are victims of either nature or circumstance, but it is those who are able to help themselves who do not succumb to these roles. However, to a great extent those who are unable to help themselves are largely unable to do so as they are victims of their own nature and cannot break free from it as their nature is an intrinsic part of their existence.
Role of Environment in ‘The Bloody Chamber’
In The Bloody Chamber, Carter espouses setting as a tool which contributes towards the reader’s emotional reaction when delving into the corrupt themes of her stories. We can therefore become more engaged with her stories as the settings allow ideas such as superstition and male desire to surround the characters. Within the stories, these features function as external displays of characters’ faults.
The bedroom in The Bloody Chamber is symbolic and exemplifies the themes of male dominance and of a pernicious sort of female subjection in the story. This bedroom contains multiple mirrors, in which the narrator recalls watching “…a dozen husbands approach me in a dozen mirrors and slowly, methodically, teasingly, unfasten the buttons of my jacket…” an action which she seems to be reluctant to allow. Through the employment of multiple mirrors in the setting, the Marquis’ reflection is seen “a dozen” times, shedding light on his predatory approach. The imagery of multiple men asserts the idea that there is no escape for the narrator and that she must subject herself to the Marquis. She is in his house, in a room he has given to her; he is even ingrained in the walls “methodically” approaching her. Setting therefore has a significant role in the reader’s ability to empathize with the narrator, as we see through the setting a strong reminder that the Marquis is the predator and she is the prey.
The narrator again is alerted to her helplessness through the setting of the bloody chamber when she states, “Absolute darkness. And, about me, the instruments of mutilation.” Carter employs short, sharp sentences to describe the chamber here, allowing the horror of the scene to shine through. It is as though she cannot quite believe what she is seeing; this disbelief is further exemplified by the description of the torture devices as “instruments,” since the euphemism indicates that she cannot give an honest account of the setting in which she is standing. Once more, Carter reminds us of the helplessness of women unwillingly subjected and frightened, left in “absolute darkness” while the dominant males have full power over sexuality and freedom. The setting of the bloody chamber is a reminder of the horrible consequences women will find themselves in if they are subjected to fraught relationships of this sort.
Furthermore, “The Snow Child”’s setting contributes to the stories’ effect through the description of the girl who is created and melts back into the snowy woods which surround the count, a reminder of destructive male desire and its fruitless and potentially harmful physical manifestations. After the Count rapes the dead girl, she seems to melt away and “Soon there was nothing left of her but a […] bloodstain” which suggests that the Count’s fantasy was as only as real and as human as the setting around him. The image of blood contrasts with the appearance of “fresh snow,” creating a stain in the setting so that it is no longer “immaculate.” This sequence shows that while males may have unrealistic fantasies, it is foolish and harmful to wish these fantasies to exhibit themselves in the real world. Such desires are damaging to society’s ideals as a whole because they demand that women fulfill unrealistic expectations. This point is furthered by the phrase “soon there was nothing left,” as the reader can infer that there was never anything real there to begin with. The setting is simply something that the Count thinks he can use as a device to accommodate his desires, whereas we understand it to be a visual consequence of male appetite.
Carter also uses setting in “The Werewolf” to convey the themes of superstition and corrupted community that prevail later on in the story. The villagers’ houses are described as containing a “crude icon of the virgin,” “crude” implying that the villagers endorse a distortion of religion which encompasses them all. They mistake superstition for religious practice, prompting the alienation of outsiders in the village. It is ironic that they should posses a “virgin” which evokes connotations of saintliness and kindness. We understand that while the setting in which the villagers live in might contain signs of virtue, the people themselves are in fact delusional and corrupt. The virgin mocks their behavior as merciless killers; the graves of the town are described as having “no flowers put in front of them,” an allusion to the villagers’ own hearts – hearts lacking life. In this instance, the setting achieves the opposite, contributing towards the villagers’ cold behavior as manifested later by the murder of the grandma, rather than mocking it. Through the description of the setting, Carter characterizes the brutality and cold-heartedness of the community.
Setting is used as a device by Carter to enhance the themes portrayed in each of her stories, such as heinous male dominance and community mob mentality. Throughout, her descriptions make her criticisms of our own society more explicit and severe.