Explore the narrative techniques used by Angela Carter to subvert, reverse and challenge the reader’s expectations and assumptions, in ‘The Bloody Chamber’, ‘The Company Of Wolves’ and ‘The Courtship Of Mr.Lyon’.
‘The Bloody Chamber’, ‘The Company Of Wolves’ and ‘The Courtship Of Mr.Lyon’ are stories based on fairy tales that would usually have been read to young children. In each story Angela Carter has managed to twist the once innocent fairy tales into short stories with endings and other twists and dramatic turns that are certainly not expected. She challenges the literary structure of the original fairy tale in such a way that it makes the reader think, it leaves you on a cliffhanger. The stories leave you wondering what might happen. Angela Carter subverts, reverses and challenges the reader’s expectations and assumptions in each of the three stories.
The storyline in each of Angela Carters stories is very much like the original fairytale it is taken from. The endings of each story have been changed; also there are elements of surprise throughout the stories that are varied from the path we as a reader would normally expect the story to take. Because of the fact that the three stories are based on other stories we expect Angela Carter’s version to take a more similar path to the story line. There are elements of the original fairy tale that they have been based upon.
‘The Bloody Chamber’ is told from the point of view of a nameless heroine from the point in her life where she has just got married to a wealthy widower and is heading for a new life at his castle. ‘The Bloody Chamber’ is based on a story called ‘Bluebeard’ in which the man is also a wealthy widower, and in that story his new wife also finds the corpses of his dead wives. Another piece of evidence of this intertextuality includes the fact that ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’ is based on the very popular fairytale called ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. In Angela Carter’s version just like in the original fairytale the popular line of the wolf “all the better to eat you with” is used. The werewolf mythology used in both the stories can also be clearly seen. In ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’ there is a reference made to the story of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, the cutlery used to store the food in Mr Lyons house have the words “Eat Me” and “Drink Me” written on them, this is another example of an intertextual reference. The author makes us believe that her version of the story will be the same as the fairytales but they are not, this makes them exciting to read and very enjoyable.
The author uses many narrative techniques to challenge and reverse our expectations as a reader. She also uses characterisations to challenge and subvert our expectations. The three stories, ‘The Bloody Chamber’, ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’ and ‘The Company of Wolves’ each have a female character as their main character, also in each of the three stories the female character is not wealthy but from a poor background. Usually in tales and stories the female character is the victim, this is also the same in Angela Carter’s stories but they don’t remain the victim throughout the story. Also the females in the stories are considered more vulnerable. Also in each of the stories we see a change in the female’s character. In the opening pages of ‘The Bloody Chamber’ the mother asks her daughter ‘Are you sure you love him?’ and the daughter replies ‘I’m sure I want to marry him’. This is the first sign of corruption we see in her, she does not give a straight answer to her mother’s question but instead gives an indirect one which suggests that she could be marrying the Marquis for his wealth. At the beginning of the story the reader would have considered her to be innocent, as the story progresses we see she has turned evil. She says ‘for the first time in my innocent and confined life I sensed in myself a potentiality for corruption that took my breath away’. The character changes and we see she is not the same character that we were introduced to at the beginning of the story that was living with her mother with very little money.
‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’ also has the same effect upon the once poor, humble and innocent little girl. At first we see the girl and her father as being very poor, the girls only want was ‘a single white rose’. Throughout the story we see that she becomes vain and spoilt. From this innocence it goes on to say later on ‘they had planned a delicious expedition to buy her furs and she was eager for the treat as any girl might be’, it also quotes ‘She took off her earrings in front of the mirror; beauty. She smiled at her self in satisfaction’, these are signs of her transformation into a different character; a more vain and spoilt character. In the ‘Company Of Wolves’ the main character is also female, and just like the other two stories the female character also changes. In ‘The Company Of Wolves’ it is more to do with her strange unexpected behaviour that challenges our expectations. In this story the female has a more dominant role. Examples of her unexpected behaviour that subvert and challenges our expectations include her reaction to the wolfs answer to ‘What big teeth you have’, the girl ‘burst out laughing’, ‘She laughed at him full in the face, she ripped of his shirt for him and flung it in the fire’. This very unusual ending to the story based on the ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ certainly would challenge reader’s expectations.
Another narrative technique that Angela Carter uses is unusual lexis and imagery, and also use of unexpected language. In the story ‘The Bloody Chamber’ the Marquis is introduced by his smell. He had a fragrance of ‘Spiced leather’ that always let her know of his presence. She also says ‘I yearned for him and yet he disgusted me’. The marquis also says the following early in the story, ‘Baby must not play with grown ups toys’, this twists the nature of their marriage. The marquis is most definitely the more dominant person; he is larger in size, much wealthier, has a noticeable status in his county and also has the upper hand most of the time. She narrates, ‘Slowly yet teasingly, as if he was giving a child a treat, he took out a bunch of keys’.
In the ‘Company Of Wolves’, Angela Carter has weaved the fantasy with the familiar, there is a very detailed descriptions of the wolves, their ability to transform into a human being and also their ability to talk, ‘Its your granddaughter, he mimicked in a high soprano’. In ‘The Courtship Of Mr.Lyon’ there is a connection with the house and its lights with Mr.Lyon. When Beauty’s father angers Lyon, ‘The house blazed with furious light’, this is a point being when Mr.Lyon is angered and also full of life, but when later on in the story he is dying then ‘Only in the topmost attic, one faintest smear of radiance on a pane, the thin aghast of a light on the verge of extinction’.
Angela carter also uses another narrative technique, the unexpected use of symbolism. There is a very large variety of symbolism used throughout the three stories. In ‘The Bloody Chamber’, there is the mention and lengthy description of a ruby choker. The ruby choker was a wedding gift given by the Marquis to his bride. The description of the choker is vivid, ‘Clasped around my throat like an extraordinarily precious slit throat’; she also gives reference to when in the early days anyone who escaped the guillotine had a fad of tying a red ribbon around his or her neck. Also within the three stories the colour white is used to portray innocence, purity and also virginity. The opal ring in ‘Bloody Chamber’ is a symbol of bad luck. The white lilies with which the marquis flooded their bedroom with are a symbol of funerals.
The fact that the Bible is closed in ‘The Company Of Wolves’ gives the child the warning of danger. The white rose, which was the only desore of beauty in ‘The Courtship Of Mr.Lyon’, is also symbolism, a rose is a symbol of beauty but its stems has thorns. All the above-mentioned use of symbolism also challenge and reverse our expectations to an extent they give us clues to what may happen later on in the story but the story takes a different path. For example, in ‘The Bloody Chamber’, the mention of the white lilies, the ruby choker and later on the discovery of the marquises previous wives lead us to believe that the new wife has landed herself in danger but in the end it is the shock appearance of her mother which leads to the Marquis’ being killed and not the woman he was married to.
All the mentioned narrative techniques play around with the version of the story and have stored in our head from childhood, and if we do not already know and recognise the story then we follow what we would expect to happen, the path a fairytale would take. In Angela Carter’s versions of the stories she takes the reader of the path a traditional story would take. The modification and altering in the storylines of each story make it enjoyable to read and they challenge, subvert and reverse our expectations.