By Nikita Rajkumar
Loosely based on the main storylines of well-known fairytales, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter is a feminist mythological multifaceted collection of short stories that strips taboos of their whitewash, devising a collection that shocks today.
However, to brand this collection as just another modernized retelling would be an oversimplification. Carter extracts the innermost narrative content from these fairytales and molds them into psychologically stimulating new gothic tales of fantasy, cruelty and terror. Carter’s prose is fueled by sexuality and haunting lust infused with the dark themes of abuse and primal, often fatal, jealousy.
The most prominent story of the collection is the title story based on the legend of Bluebeard, The Bloody Chamber. The underlying sensual urgency intertwined with the allure of the forbidden throughout the story enhances the unnamed woman’s desire and sexual liberation before death. Curiosity is indeed strange; despite being warned of the bloody chamber, there is still an urge to open the door and discover what lies beyond. Yet, this isn’t a story focused on female-identity. Bluebeard chooses a curious woman and baits her into opening the bloody chamber just to fuel his own perverse masculine security. I did, however, find it to be slightly too long and the effectiveness of the story would have been equally maintained at a shorter length.
However, the true diamond of this collection, in my opinion, is The Erl-King. So much beauty within this collection comes from the metamorphoses accounted in beautifully detailed narratives. The Erl-King is an unsettlingly savage and eerie, yet brilliant account supposedly based on Carter’s lover and eventual husband. It is a story of the underlying depth of the transformative nature of relationships, one that is enchanting yet horrifying. Her language is of magic and mischief; a perfect fit for symbiosis with the original tale.
Within each story is a turning point that represents a transformation in life, whether that be sexual awakening, a stripping of innocence or a wild creature made civilized. Carter creates a collection with these tales to convey the message that we must sometimes take the leap and delve into new experiences, even if we are full of trepidation and uncertainty. The Tiger’s Wife is the most successful at this, showing us that abrasive passion can change you but it’s something that you should surrender yourself to.
Neil Gaiman said “You see these fairy stories, these things that are sitting at the back of the nursery shelves?…Each one of them is a loaded gun.” Carter crafts stories that lull you into a sense of knowing and comfort before slowly stripping away the barriers to present tales that are actually part of our reality. Her prose is a decadent feast presenting a corrupted luxury in richness beyond compare with an exquisite sensuality as she tackles these tales afresh.
Carter’s ornate yet shockingly clear style of writing forms a new hybrid of eccentric and individualistic prose. Her imagination has a fiercely intense visual quality, with a transformative power that extends to her readers. She carries the theme of the title story throughout the collection, with a bloody chamber that can be identified in each story.
There are very few collections of short stories that have such a lasting effect, and Carter’s collection is definitely one to add to the list.
Image: Silje Kristín via Creative Commons