The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

The Bloody ChamberI don’t usually read every single story in an anthology or short story collection. I did a couple of times before but it didn’t work well. I’m glad I did for The Bloody Chamber, because it felt like all the stories belong in the same world, like glimpses of different lives in separate parts of the same universe.

I gathered from people’s reviews that Angela Carter’s works are often studied in schools. It’s quite obvious why from the get go. Her language is lyrical, her writing daring, and her story full of symbolism. Her vocabulary level is a bit higher than what is comfortable for me, but more often than not I could let myself lost in the beauty of her prose, prose that evokes vivid imagery and creates such mysterious atmosphere.

To call The Bloody Chamber a collection of fairy-tale retelling is rather diminutive. It’s more accurate to say that Carter ripped fairy tales apart, took some of the elements, sewed them back with her own imagination, and made them her own. I loved how dark and how different they were. Most of the setting is an odd mixed of old and modern world. There are beast and vampire in ancient castles, but there are also bicycle and telephone. (I can hear you say “Whaa?”)

What sets her apart for me is how her writing oozes sexuality. It’s almost like girl soft-porn for the literary minded (and uum I meant that as a compliment). There’s almost an obsession on innocence and virginity.

“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.” ~ from The Company of Wolves

There’s so much foreplay and built anticipation, while the “main action” is secondary, or almost non-existent. (girl porn, right?) I find many female writers shy away from the subject of sexuality, it’s water they don’t want to get near to. So I felt what Carter did was refreshing and liberating.

What didn’t sit right with me was the endings, which were often abrupt and confusing. I guess it goes back to the symbolism which probably just went over my head. Some elements are just plain bizarre, which were okay in the middle of the story because of the fairy-tale aspect to it, but bizarre ending left me dissatisfied.

Now I’m going to talk about each of the story. I’ll try to keep any spoiler as minimal as possible, but I can’t be completely sure of what you consider spoiler or not. So proceed with caution.Angela Carter

There are 10 stories in the collection. I’ll start with the longest, The Bloody Chamber, which gives the title of the collection, and is 42 pages long– almost 1/3 of the collection! Luckily it’s easily one of my favorites. Based on the Bluebeard tale, a young girl marries an older man and she is brought to his majestic castle. What she doesn’t know, within the few months of their courtship (doh!), is that he has a perverse, dangerous fetish. I loved how it was written, how believable everything was, how it kept the suspense very well, until the part where she finds out about his secret. Then it just went downhill for me. 4.5 stars

The shortest in the collection is The Snow Child, which felt like a reminiscence of Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman I read recently, is only 1.5 page long! Loved the beginning, confused about the ending. One question. What’s with Snow White and necrophilia? That’s second time in a row! 3 stars

There are THREE stories based on The Little Red Riding Hood:

The Werewolf which is the shortest of the three (2.5 pages long) is the closest to the original story, with a simple twist: grandma is the also wolf. 3 stars

The Company of Wolves takes a different twist. Wolf becomes a handsome man and flirts with Red on the way to grandma’s place. Once Red arrives, grandma has been eaten and Wolf is ready to eat Red too. It’s sexual awakening for Red when she realizes her attraction to the man/wolf (regardless whether he ate grandma or not) and they end up sleeping together (which I frowned upon… What about grandma? Did you forget?) 4 stars

Wolf-Alice is the farthest away from The Little Red Riding Hood. In fact I’m not sure if they’re related at all apart from the wolf thing. It’s probably a hybrid with Alice in Wonderland seeing the title, but in what aspect I’m not sure either. This was where I learned the term feral child. It starts with a girl who is raised by a pack of wolves. Some nuns take her in then after a while somehow send her to live with a lonesome Duke in an ancient castle. Problem is, the duke is a vampire. (!) What an odd storyline. 3.5 stars

The Lady of the House of Love is based on Sleeping Beauty, only Beauty is not sleeping. She’s a vampire, a lonely one at that because she just has to kill all these men that visit her castle and drink their blood. One time though her tarot card shows that there will come love instead of food death, so she waits anxiously for her prince, who finally comes on a bicycle. (lovely) This story is probably my next favourite. I love the description of the princess and her doomed fate. 4.5 stars

There are TWO stories based on Beauty and the Beast.

In The Tiger’s Bride, Beauty is lost to Beast on her father’s game of cards. She is brought to Beast’s castle and not long after finds out that Beast really really wants to see her without clothes. (uhuh!) I liked how the story was kinda naughty and sexy, but again the ending baffled me. “What’s going on?” I moaned. “What does it mean?” (rinse and repeat for almost all the endings) 4 stars

In The Courtship of Mr Lyon, Beauty is forced to visit Beast’s castle after her dad’s attempt to steal Beast’s white rose. With a little bit of trick, Beast manages to keep Beauty in the castle for longer, what with her dad busy taking care of his business at another city. Beast acts all gentleman-ly and sparks start to fly. One day Beauty finally leaves the castle and forgets all about Beast. This is probably one of the more “normal” stories–just a simple love story between Beauty and her Beast. 3.5 stars

The last two stories I read were also my least favorites. Puss-in-Boots tells about a cunning cat and his master, trying to win over someone else’s wife. There were just too many weird unfamiliar words used in the story, I started skimming near the end. The writing just didn’t work for me. 2.5 stars

The Erl-King is about a maiden who is seduced over by the forest king. Better than Puss, but it didn’t captivate me much, and again the ending confused me. 3 stars

In conclusion, an interesting seductive introduction to Angela Carter’s work. I just wish I could discuss most of the stories in class and dissect all the meanings with the experts. But it also means I can see myself going back to re-read some of the stories in the future.

Thanks to Claire who has been such an awesome host to Angela Carter Month. I definitely look forward to reading more of Carter’s works in the future!

4 stars
1979, 149 pp

1979 Cheltenham Prize for Literature

Once Upon a Time IV (book #3), Book Awards IV (book #9), Women Unbound (fiction #7)

Also reviewed by
another cookie crumbles
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36 thoughts on “The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter”

  1. It’s funny that you mention being bewildered by the endings, because I often find that’s my problem with short stories! I’ll be reading happily and then they suddenly end and I’m left confused. Haven’t read enough Carter short fiction to confirm whether this is true for me with her, but I do understand what you’re saying!
    .-= [Steph´s last blog: What We Watched: April 12 – April 27] =-.

  2. I was looking at this at the bookstore a few weeks ago because it was the only Carter they had. I put it back, though, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to read her short stories before I read a novel. Since you were confused by the endings I think I made the right choice!

    1. softdrink, it was the only Carter that they had at my bookstore too! Well, that and The Magic Toyshop. I opted for this one because someone recommended it to me and I was really curious. I was quite happy with it though, despite some of the confusing endings. Hope you get to try it in the future.

  3. I read this a while ago, when I first heard of Angela Carter, and I didn’t care for it much, I’m afraid! It’s partly because I don’t like short stories, especially when they are all the same sort of story, if that makes sense. I’m reading one of her novels now and enjoying it far more.

    1. Jenny, it’s great to hear that you enjoy her novels, so there’s a good chance I’ll be enjoying them too. I have two now thanks to Claire, so I will get to them soon or later :)

  4. I do love the fact that Angela Carter doesn’t shy away from sexuality – in fact, that she altogether refuses the idea that it’s something to be afraid or ashamed of. I’m glad you loved this! Your favourites and least favourites are pretty much the same as mine.
    .-= [Nymeth´s last blog: A Room With a View by E.M. Forster] =-.

    1. Nymeth, yes I was quite surprised at first to find the sensual elements. How great is it to have such a bold female writer like her? Can’t wait to try her novels!

    1. Suko, Angela Carter was a completely new author for me, introduced only by Claire. So I had a check around her collection of works, and saw she wrote novels and short stories. But I was enticed by the fairy-tale spin of The Bloody Chamber. Thanks to Claire, I have Nights at the Circus too! Hope we can get to it in the near future :)

  5. Argh! You’ve finished the book, and I haven’t even started!

    I read your introduction, then stopped when you started with the individual stories. I like when you said: “What sets her apart for me is how her writing oozes sexuality.” I’ve only read her non-fiction work, about pornography, and she definitely comes across as someone not afraid of tackling this subject that so many people consider taboo, especially women.

    Definitely looking forward to reading this, hopefully soon..
    .-= [Michelle (su[shu])´s last blog: [SS] Two from Truman Capote] =-.

    1. Michelle, it’s one of those rare times, you usually finish any book first ;)

      Yes it’s interesting that you read and reviewed The Sadeian Woman recently, which talks about pornography. How very fitting with my mention of girl porn in this post :). I started thinking to read that book after I finished The Bloody Chamber. And since you rated it highly, it piques my interest even more.

  6. Di, I’m currently reading The Magic Toyshop and definitely see the same sexual themes on innocence and virginity. And I am only on Chapter 2! Not sure yet what I think of Carter. She is definitely very poetic, though somewhat a little too embellished. Reminds me of this other author I’ve read before, Claudia Dey, a Canadian, and fairly young. I wonder if Carter influenced her, they feel so similar.
    .-= [claire´s last blog: Life A User’s Manual] =-.

    1. Claire, embellished is an interesting description and I agree. She actually reminded me a bit of Nabokov, on their extensive vocabulary and play of words. I didn’t mention it because I wasn’t sure about what I thought, but tea lady said the same in her Nights at the Circus post. Just found it interesting that another person shared the same thought.

  7. I am thrilled that you had such a positive experience with your first Carter, albeit with some reservations. Her prose is rich and her vocabulary extensive but that’s one of the reasons I love her. Our favourites are similar and I agree that not all are resolved satisfactorily. I personally really enjoy “Snow Child”; when I read the Gaiman short story I wrote about the incestuous similarities. The burgeoning of sexuality and loss of innocence are definitely key Carter themes.
    .-= [Claire (Paperback Reader)´s last blog: Carter Collation Post V] =-.

    1. Claire, yes I read your review on Snow, Glass, Apples and the comparison with Snow Child. I wonder if Neil was influenced/inspired by Carter’s story at all?
      Thanks for introducing me to Angela Carter Claire. I’m now very curious about her novels :)

  8. Thank you for mentioning my review! I like the way that you have dealt with each story in turn as it helps to give an overall view of the collection and it’s nice to get a sneak preview of each. I’d really like to see the film of The Company of Wolves as I’ve heard good things, but may now try to read the original material first.
    .-= [tea lady (the glittering burn)´s last blog: KoKo Pop] =-.

    1. tea lady, I’ve heard good things about The Company of Wolves film too, but it looks pretty old and obscure, I’m not sure if I can find it. I’ll try and see :)

      1. It was released in special edition a few years ago in Region 2 so should hopefully more readily available even on your side of the world; Neil Jordan is quite a popular director so I should think so (coincidentally it is he who is directing the film version of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman). I may have an old R1 copy lying around…
        .-= [Claire (Paperback Reader)´s last blog: Carter Collation Post V] =-.

        1. Oh I didn’t know they’re making The Graveyard Book into a movie. I just checked Neil Jordan’s backlog and apparently he also directed Interview with the Vampire, which I loved. I’ll look out for The Company of Wolves!

  9. Oh Mee, The Bloody Chamber is one of my all-time, super-duper, take it to a desert island favourites! I love the archaisms and the baroque language; the sense of burgeoning sexuality; the fairy tale nature of the tales. The title story is certainly one of the best but my favourite has always been The Tiger’s Bride. I read the ending as Beauty discovering the truth within herself (much as all the illusions of the house start to fade – the fur coat made of rats, the monkey servant discarding his clothes, the diamond earrings turning back to tears etc) and that truth is… that she, too, is a noble, glorious and wild Beast. (“I shook them off my beautiful fur”.)

    Wolf Alice is the one I have never quite “got”.

    1. Jess, yes you were very convincing when you mentioned The Tiger’s Bride, and since it was good timing with Claire’s Angela Carter Month, The Bloody Chamber just soared to the top of my tbr pile! It’s thanks to YOU and Claire :)

      Thanks for the clarification for the ending. I got that she became beast at the end, but why and what does it mean? Is it something to do with loss of innocence? Just that I associate beast with something ugly.

      About Wolf-Alice, I saw it as a story about unlikely relationship between two odd individuals. I liked the self-awareness part of the wolf-girl, but yes I don’t think I got what the story tried to say at the end.

      1. I think the turning into a ‘beast’ is a return to innocence – she mentions that she is shedding “all the layers of a life in this world” which I took to mean that she is freeing herself of all the layers of social gunk (like the inequities, and the expectations, and the obligations) and becoming a ‘pure’ Beast. I think in this story the Beast is noble (especially compared to Beauty’s hopeless father!) and offers Beauty an escape from so-called civilisation.

        But then, I may be overthinking this!!

        1. That makes sense Jess. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I can see myself re-reading this story and some others in the future, and possibly get more out of the subsequent reads.

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