The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter (GR)
Genre: Fantasy, Gothic, Horror
Published: January 1st 1990 by Penguin Books
From familiar fairy tales and legends – Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, Puss-in-Boots, Beauty and the Beast, vampires, werewolves – Angela Carter has created an absorbing collection of dark, sensual, fantastic stories.
Firstly, I don’t usually do lots of short stories or anthologies of any kind, but I had to read this one for school and surprise me it did. I enjoyed it immensely with its dark, twisted take on the fairy tales meaning Carter makes something very unique.
The collection is made up of The Bloody Chamber, The Courtship of Mr Lyon, The Tiger’s Bride, Puss-In-Boots, The Erl-King, The Snow Child, The Lady of The House of Love, The Werewolf, The Company of Wolves and Wolf-Alice.
One thing to be highly aware of throughout all the short stories is that they are highly explicit on sexual and violent terms.
Here are a selection of short reviews for a few of the short stories within.
The Bloody Chamber
‘The Bloody Chamber’ was probably my least favourite of the short stories that make up Carter’s short stories even though it’s the title and the first one. It’s a modern retelling of Bluebeard which I honestly didn’t know anything about before picking up ‘The Bloody Chamber’ is interesting to say the least.
However I found its protagonist weak and naive and very much deluded and she frustrated me. She depended upon other people to save her and whilst this is all part of the meanings behind ‘The Bloody Chamber’ I wanted to throw something at the girl.
“Then, slowly yet teasingly, as if he were giving a child a great, mysterious treat,”
The plot is engaging and I found it slightly disturbing but all the little foreshadowing moments and twists and turns kept the pace moving.
The Marquis is a despicable man and he’s truly wicked. He’s the embodiment of a villain and a cradle snatcher. There is nothing to like about the man and he’s probably the main reason I didn’t appreciate ‘The Bloody Chamber’ as a short story.
“He was older than I. He was much older than I; there were streaks of pure silver in his dark mane. But his strange, heavy, almost waxen face was not lined by experience.”
The Tiger’s Bride
Without a doubt, this was my favourite story of the selections. This is an adaption of Beauty and the Beast and the better of the two that Carter attempted. The other one, The Courtship of Mr Lyon wasn’t nearly as engaging.
Carter looks at a Beast as a Lord and whether he’s human or animal and I found this really interesting and the whole dynamic of his character was exciting. It was added to by his servant who is supposed to be an animal too that I didn’t quite pick up on in my first reading and this contrast between humans and animals is interesting.
“And then he moved; he buried his cardboard carnival head with its ribboned weight of false hair in, I would say, his arms; he withdrew his, I might say hands from his sleeves and I saw his furred pads, his excoriating claws.”
I liked Belle as a character. She wasn’t very strong to start with, but she built herself up as a character and she was pretty smart. I liked her ability to think on her feet and move with the direction of the novel rather than oppose it.
‘Puss-in-Boots’ probably doesn’t require a genius to figure out what it’s a retelling off. I found this one to be more humorous and entertaining than Carter’s other additions to the stories because it wasn’t quite as dark and twisted and it made a refreshing addition to the collection with something a little different.
Puss was quite the enigmatic character and I took a shinning to him immediately. He was clever and oozing charm, especially around the lady felines, but that only added to his character to make him entertaining.
“So Puss got his post at the same time as his boots and I dare say the Master and I have much in common for he’s proud as the devil, touchy as tin-tacks, lecherous as liquorice and, though I say it as loves him, as quick-witted a rascal as ever put on clean linen.”
Overall, I really enjoyed ‘Puss-in-Boots’ more for Puss as a character than his master who was a little foolish and blinded by love, but the extravagance of that made it all the more amusing.
The Company of Wolves
This makes for an interesting read as a modern adaption to Little Red Riding Hood because this Little Red Riding Hood is incredibly far from the version I remember as a child so it may very well change your opinion entirely on Little Red Riding Hood, be warned!
Carter gathers together lots of mythology about wolves and tales and uses them as a warning from the Grandmother who is an old crone. I didn’t like her one bit and I was glad we got her out of the way. That sounds really mean, but she isn’t a character you can like.
“There is no winter’s night the cottager does not fear to see a lean, grey, famished snout questing under the door, and there was a woman once bitten in her own kitchen as she was straining the macaroni.”
Little Red Riding Hood isn’t silly or naive, but she uses her brain and other parts of herself to get what she wants and to secure her safety and you can clearly see the wave of feminism that Carter was writing through coming out in ‘The Company of Wolves’ in embracing freedom and sexuality and it’s something I quite liked.
I liked the werewolf aspect to ‘The Company of Wolves’ and all the elements of wolves and magic. The film however is rather dire, they use great big Alsatians and German Shepards to play wolves so it doesn’t quite reflect the wolves as it could and things change a little, so if you’ve seen the film which is humorous for how bad it is, then do read the short story because it’s so much better!
Do be aware that Carter likes to take things overboard and it makes for an interesting read to say the least!
“She stands and moves within the invisible pentacle of her own virginity. She is an unbroken egg; she is a sealed vessel; she has inside her a magic space the entrance to which is shut tight with a plug of membrane; she is a closed system; she does not know how to shiver. She has her knife and she is afraid of nothing.”
Be warned, stepping into the world of Carter is entering a completely different realm! So beware.
Angela Carter is a feminist, who married twice and ran away to Japan after he first marriage. She was working on a sequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre at the time of of her death that focused on the life of Jane’s stepdaughter, but only a synopsis survives.
The song that I think summarises these short stories most of all is Animal by Neon Trees. It’s actually one of my favourites.