The purpose of this essay is to explore how Angela Carter uses the stories in “The Bloody Chamber” to make comment on feminism by using well known folk and fairy stories which are almost always male dominated. Although Angela Carter has said “My intention was not to do ‘versions’ or, as the American version of the book said, horribly, ‘adult’ fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories and to use it as the beginnings of new stories.” (#1)
Having said that, it appears there are more similarities than just in the beginning of the stories.
If we consider “The Bloody Chamber” which is based on the folk story “The Blue Beard” taken from Charles Perrault’s “Tales of Past Times” published in 1729. There are many similarities between the two stories; Firstly in Angela Carter’s story there is the Marquis, who like Blue Beard is incredibly wealthy, and has been married several times, with the wives disappearing in unusual circumstances. The male characters both give their new wives the keys to the household, making sure to point to the key to the forbidden room that they must not under any circumstances enter.
Angela Carter has brought the story forward in time. So it is modern, but not so far that it is contempory. It is set in post revolutionary France, circa 1890; she has done this so as to choose an age where great wealth is available to a very small minority. Even though the story itself is obviously gothic fiction, having used the first person narrative it seems that the whole thing is a memory of the narrator, which makes it seem real.
Angela Carter uses a great deal of symbolism in her version of “The Blue Beard”. The main three are the lilies, the ruby chocker and the music. The lilies are always thought of as symbolising death, but in this sense they are used because of their beauty, they are very resplendent, almost too beautiful, like the Marquis’ world, which is almost too perfect. Also they do not have a very long life and die away to practically nothing, like his wives. The ruby chocker was an heirloom from the Marquis’ grandmother, who used it as a sarcastic snub after the French Revolution where the wealthy aristocracy that avoided the guillotine wore a red ribbon around their neck where the blade would have sliced off their heads. As the Grandmother was super rich she could afford to fashion an exquisite chocker made from rubies. It is macabre in the sense it symbolises the blood that would have flowed had she not escaped. The music is typical of the era, the opera of love that is ‘Tristan and Isolade’, is used to symbolise the end of the romantic era, and also holds links to the Marquis’ first wife, and to the narrators’ last memory of her father. The narrator is also a music student that plays the piano, which is the means of her salvation, the piano tuner that becomes part of the solution to her problem.
A large part of this and most of Angela Carter’s stories is the feminist perspective. In “The Bloody Chamber” is very obvious, firstly the mother is very masculine, and provides the masculine role for the narrator. The Marquis is portrayed as an evil and controlling male that always has his way. Also the piano tuner is depicted as a useless male that almost jeopardises the narrator, as she ends up having to protect him from the Marquis. There is very little magic realism in this story apart from the key that stains with the blood.
This is in contrast to Angela Carter’s “The Courtship of Mr Lyon” which has quite a lot magic realism, in comparison. Starting with the apparently enchanted house that provides everything Beauty’s father needs, and the man-like talking lion, that transforms into a man at the end of the story. Again Carter has brought the story forward to be modern, but not contempory, so she is able to change the story to fit her needs as a writer and a feminist.
This story is based on the folk story Beauty and the Beast, of which the original version was first written in Gianfranceso Straparola’s Le piacevolo notti (The Nights of Straparola) 1550-53, which was an ancient Basque tale where the father was a king and the beast a serpent. However the tale was popularized by Charles Perrault with his collection of tales, Contes de ma l’ove (Tales of Mother Goose) in 1697. There are many aspects of Angela Carter’s version which are similar to the original. For example Beauty’s Father takes shelter in the Beasts house, and picks a rose on the way out, which in both stories is the basis for the trade of the Beauty, although in the original the Beast says the Father must die for his theft. Also in both stories Beauty leaves the Beast’s house to go and visit her Father, but she stays to long in both versions, alerted to return in Carters story by the arrival of the spaniel dog looking very much disheveled. When she does return in Beauty finds the Beast near death, and her promise to stay with the Beast forever and be His wife brings him back to life and transforms him into a human, which is also similar to both versions of the tale.
At first look the story appears not to have much of a feminine approach to it, Mr Lyon seems to be quite gentlemanly and Beauty’s father just seems to be down on his luck. But, “Carter sees this story as summarising a masculine conspiracy to dent women of the chance of ever reaching autonomous, self-responsible adulthood” (#2).
Beauty also appears to be as little as an item of exchange between the two men, the father knowingly gives up “his girl-child” (#3), in a trade to regain his wealth.
When Beauty’s father first enters Mr Lyon’s house it seems as though he has stepped through “the looking glass” into wonderland, this is reaffirmed by the inscriptions on the whiskey decanter “eat me”(#4), and the silver dish “drink me”(#5), upon which laid a sandwich for Beauty’s father. the spaniel dog wears a necklace of diamonds which symbolises the wealth of Mr Lyon and the femininity of the dog, the dog also symbolises the relationship between Beauty and her father, the dog being the Beast’s pet, is how Beauty’s father sees her, “his pet” (#6).
The white rose is representative of the relationship between Beauty and her father. It “becomes a token in a system of private ownership that is defined according to the terms of the male Beast and Beauty’s father” (#7)