Thursday, 3 December 2015

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter.

The Bloody Chamber is a collection of short stories by Angela Carter, first published in 1979. I haven't read much of Carter, just this and The Magic Toyshop (1967) but I do remember her 'magical realism' - the idea that magic is indeed real and is portrayed as such: there are no explanations for its being or nature, it simply is. And she is a feminist writer, though The Bloody Chamber was not motivated by a feminist desire to re-write patriarchal fairy tales: in the introduction of my edition she is quoted as saying,
I was taking the latent image - the latent content of those traditional stories and using that; and the latent content is violently sexual, and because I am a woman I read it that way.
Carter had recently (in 1977) translated The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault and some of the tales from there appear in The Blood Chamber, but, as the quote shows, they're not 'retellings' or 'versions'. I'm finding it hard to translate that into my own terms and truly understand it, but I do tenuously grasp her meaning. There is an 'idea' or premise that exists, I think, in the old tales; these same ideas are there in The Bloody Chamber, but the form and indeed the plot is different. Carter referred to the "imagery of the unconscious", explaining she was drawn to -
Gothic tales, cruel tales, tales of wonder, tales of terror, fabulous narratives that deal directly with the imagery of the unconscious.
Given the rampant sexuality within some of the tales, I found her analysis quite Freudian, yet the focus is on women. Fairy tales are seen as comforting, familiar stories with happy endings, but those who read, for example, 19th Century stories such as, say, the Brothers Grimm, know that tales can be terrifying. It is from these Carter was inspired, not the technicoloured world of Walt Disney. 

The tales are:
  • 'The Bloody Chamber' (based on 'Bluebeard', most famously told by Charles Perrault in Mother Goose Tales, 1697).
  • 'The Courtship of Mr. Lyon' (based on 'Beauty and the Beast', originally, I think, written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, 1756).
  • 'The Tiger's Bride' (also based on 'Beauty and the Beast')
  • 'Puss-in-Boots' (based on the original 'Puss-in-Boots' or Le Maître Chat. One of the oldest versions is by Giovanni Francesco Straparola in The Facetious Nights of Straparola, 1550-53)
  • 'The Erl-King' (the Erlking is a German and Dutch figure - the 'king of the fairies'. Goethe wrote about this in "Der Erlkönig", 1782).
  • 'The Snow Child' (a medieval tale that first appeared in Cambridge Songs, 11th Century, and The Brothers Grimm's Sneewittchen - Snow White, 1812).
  • 'The Lady of the House of Love' (based on Carter's own play Vampirella, first aired on the radio in 1976).
  • 'The Werewolf' (based on 'Little Red Riding Hood', again from the tales of Charles Perrault).
  • 'The Company of Wolves' (also based on 'Little Red Riding Hood').
  • 'Wolf-Alice' (another 'Little Red Riding Hood' tale with a reference to Alice Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, 1871).

Reading these tales is not an arduous task - they are brilliant, darkly glittering, thrilling, tense, and often terrifying tales. The are indeed 'bloody' in a variety of forms. Sexuality is portrayed explicitly, sometimes in terms of power, objectification, pornography, or, in at least one case, as a truly repulsive and sickening act. They are short stories, a novella ('The Bloody Chamber', my favourite), and vignettes. Time shifts - some feel old, 'traditional' if you will, others have a 1940s and 1950s feel. The tales are all voluptuous; very readable and very impressive, however as I've said actually understanding them is not quite so easy: they are very complex and provoking. For that, The Bloody Chamber truly is an incredible collection.

Further Reading
Femme fatale by Helen Simpson | The Guardian


And with that, I have finished Fanda's Literary Movements Challenge. Here are the other titles I read:

May : Transcendentalism - Walden by Henry David Thoreau.
August : Naturalism - Germinal by Émile Zola.
November : The Beat Generation or The Bloomsbury Group - Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey.
December : Post-Modernism - The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter.


  1. I became rather obsessed or possessed when I read this book last year. Her stories and images invaded my dreams. It was quite intense.
    I'm not sure I could you the meaning; it simply oozed its way into my subconscious and felt 'known' on some level I could barely fathom.
    A reread is definitely on the cards!

    1. Intense indeed. And yes, it hard to convey the 'meaning'. I don't think it matters too much, to me anyway. Just to have read and appreciated them is enough :)

  2. By reader poll this book was chosen as a readalong this year for Witch Week (October 31 to November 5). I was a bit disappointed to see that very few people then seemed to actually read it! I did and was impressed by Carter's sensuous language, though I felt the emphasis on sexuality was one-sided in the end and the short pieces made me wish for more character and plot development. The Bloody Chamber was also my favorite.

    1. I know what you mean - I was aware of that too, but I didn't object. They were so good I wish some of them had been longer and more developed, but I suppose that wasn't the point :)


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