The Evolution of the Fairytale: The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

In homage of 100 years of women’s vote this month, for February’s read of the month I have decided to revisit a text that I studied during my college years and one of a different form than the usual novel: a short story.

Short stories are perfect if you feel that you don’t have enough time to dedicate to a novel or a longer text and with this text you won’t feel like you’re missing out on anything. Though, fair warning, you may not actually be able to put it down…

Image result for the bloody chamber book cover

Book cover by Vintage Books

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter was one of the most eye opening and exciting texts I came across during my college years. Published in 1979, during the height of second wave feminism, Carter’s text is a collection of ten short stories based on traditional fairy tales, but there’s a twist – a woman always saves the day.

When she started writing these texts, Carter’s intention was to “to extract the latent content from the traditional stories and to use it as the beginnings of new stories” rather than create subverted versions and I think she does this beautifully.

Angela Carter

Angela Carter. Image taken from The Guardian

While there remains an air of the traditional, particularly in her settings and imagery, the tales are starkly Gothic and terrifying from the outset. There is a strong focus on exploring aspects of the human self as well as ideas surrounding individual change, transgression and of course, sexuality.

The first and title story of the collection, “The Bloody Chamber”, is by far my favourite. It is based on the tale of Bluebeard and follows a young pianist who becomes the fourth wife of a wealthy Marquis. She moves into his extravagant castle, faces a number of fears and discovers horrors that she couldn’t have imagined hidden in a forbidden room.

Still from the theatre adaption by the Northern stage. Image from Neil Murray.

I won’t ruin the entirety of the narrative for you, as it is only short, but it certainly packs a punch.

In this text in particular, Carter really draws on concepts surrounding the darker side of hetero-sexuality and that of the female individual. While the unnamed protagonist faces fears surrounding marriage and the loss of virginity, there are also questions raised on male fantasy, female passivity and the subject of curiosity.

Entering the Forbidden Room. Image from Brona’s Books

In 2006, Helen Simpson of the Guardian argued that Carter’s collection of texts was just as relevant then as when it was first published in 1979 and I think this is still true today.

In a time of photoshopped perfection and Harvey Weinstein, there’s even more reason to get reading Carter. Her stories are empowering in the very least, though maybe not really one to read your kids at bedtime…

Have you read it? What do you think?


Featured image from The London Review Bookshop.

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