The Bloody Chamber is one of the collections of stories written by Angela Carter. It was published in 1979. Most of the stories in the anthology is based in folk tales or fairy tales. There are ten stories in the collection. They are ‘The Snow Child’, ‘The Courtship of Mr. Lyon’, ‘Wolf-Alice’, ‘ The Werewolf’ , ‘The Earl-King”, ‘The snow-child’ , ‘Puss-in-Boot’, ‘The Lady of the House of Love’ ‘The Tiger’s Bride and the ‘The Bloody Chamber”. The Bloody Chamber is an inspiration of a French folktale called the ”Bluebeard” is more than an inspiration. It is almost the same story tailor-made to the times in which Ms Carter lived. This anthology has won the Cheltenham Festival Literary Prize. Each story is of different length and The Bloody Chamber is the longest.
About the Playwright
Angela Cater is an English novelist who lived for 51 years. In the short span of time she made a name for herself and was known as short story writer and a journalist. She was a feminist and wrote about magical realism was most of her works were picaresque. She was rated as one among the 50 greatest of British writers since 1945 by The Times in 2008. Her father Hugh Alexander was a journalist and Angela Carter followed his footsteps. She was married twice and the second marriage also did not work. She moved to Tokyo in 1969 and continued to write from there. Angela then moved to different countries like the US, Europe and Asia. Between 1970 and 1980 she stayed in universities and continued to write. Angela Carter has written, on issues of her heart, for the New Statesman, The Independent and The Guardian. She adapted her stories for radio and wrote two dramas for the radio. Just before her death she started writing a sequel to Jane Eyre but could not complete it as she died in 1992. What is left is only a synopsis of her work on Jane Eyre sequel.
The story of Bluebeard, a French folktale, is what one sees in The Bloody Chamber. The story is about a young girl and is narrated by her, whose name we do not know. The teenager marries French Marquis who is wealthy. She does not love him. When he takes her to his castle her dislike only increases because he enjoyed sadistic pornography. She is a good pianist and the piano tuner who comes to the castle likes her. But he is blind. Marquis hands over the keys of the castle to his young wife and leaves for a business trip. He warns her not to open one room. Her curiosity takes her to that room and when she opens it she finds bodies and skeletons of his previous wives. She is shocked and realises that her fate too was the same. To her ill luck Marquis returns home sooner than expected and finds out that his young wife had opened the forbidden room. Now he has to kill her and the rest of the story is how the young piano tuner and the mother of the girl escapes his murder attempts. They kill him instead and live a peaceful life thereafter.
The Bloody Chamber is a story narrated by the protagonist who has no name. She is the main character and equally important and the one who takes the centre stage is Marquis. The young piano tuner, Jean-Yves is the character who was in contrast to Marquis and then there is the powerful mother of the narrator who comes to save her in the end.
The narrator was a young girl who was seventeen years old and she knew nothing about the world. She is a gothic type of a girl, very meek. She also comes from a poor background. So on seeing the riches of the Marquis, she decides to marry him; therefore it is not out of love but out of the desire to live in riches she marries Marquis. However she was not at ease in the luxurious castle. “You must remember how ill at ease I was in that luxurious place, how unease had been my constant companion during the whole length of my courtship…..”. She was naïve and innocent and she herself realises that this was the reason that Marquis was interested in her. Though shocked initially she takes comfort in this. “To know that my naivety gave him some pleasure made me take heart.”
Marquis is a rich man who lived in a castle with many servants. He was a strong, vile character. All through the story he controls his young wife. He is cruel but is overwhelming in his display of affection that the new bride does not really know what to believe. He was at once romantic and cruel. “My husband, who, with so much love, ﬁlled my bedroom with lilies until it looked like an embalming parlour.” But to consummate the marriage he involved in the act as if it was “like he was fighting with her.” “Decapitation’… voluptuously” was his style of love making. That he was maniac is seen as the story proceeds. He killed his new brides and threw them into a room. He enticed the new brides with the keys of his castle and warning them not to open one. When they opened, which was always out of curiosity, he killed them.
Jean-Yves is a young piano-tuner with whom the protagonist falls in love with. He is blind and timid and helpless. He has female qualities and is protected by protagonist’s mother. “Though they were blind, his eyes were singularly sweet”, is what the protagonist says about the young man. When Marquis finds that Jean-Yves is still in the castle and is by the side of his young wife he remarks “Let the blind lead the blind, eh?” He is not courageous must offers to stay up with the young bride to stand up against Marquis. Most of his description is about his timidity. He is also described as “humbly as a little dog.” He treats the young bride with tenderness and makes her happy and relaxed.
Mother is someone who is referred to by the protagonist. She remembers her mother when she is travelling to the castle with Marquis. Her father did not return from war and was presumed to be dead. She raised her daughter with a man’s will power. Unlike the protagonist or Jean –Yves , the mother was a strong lady. He features too were eagle -like. She “had outfaced a junkful of Chinese pirates, nursed a village through a visitation of the plague, shot a man-eating tiger with her own hand and all before she was as old as I?” She was not to happy to marry off her daughter to an older man who was still bereaving his wife. In the end she comes in as a saviour of her daughter and shoots Marquis in the head.
The Bloody Chamber starts with the protagonist sitting in the train and recalling all that happened to her up to the point when she got married to Marquis. She was girl from Paris and was not very affluent. Her mother struggled to keep the hearth burning but she was a bold woman. She first met him while playing for a princess party. So from shambles she was moving as the wife of the richest man in France. After the train journey they move to the castle; they are received by the chauffer at the station and they were many women at the castle all ready to serve Marquis and his young bride. 'See,' he said, gesturing towards those elegant girls. 'I have acquired a whole harem for myself!' The events unfold in the bedroom, music room and he room that is under lock and key. Once they are in the castle that is the only place of action. Marquis goes out on a very short work but at that time the happenings in the castle are spoken about.
The theme that stands out in The Bloody Chamber is sadism. Marquis is a criminal by all standards but a criminal need not be a sadist. But Marquis is one. He seeks pleasure in seeing his new bride squirm. “….the old, monocled lecher who examined her, limb by limb. He, in his London tailoring; she, bare as a lamb chop. Most pornographic of all confrontations.” These were her feelings when she was first undressed by him. There is an in-built fear in the whole story. The mannerisms of Marquis seemed very strange and the crescendo of fear is when the young bride opens the forbidden rooms and finds dead bodies of women. From then on it is fear in the foreground and it required a lady beyond fear to bring sobriety and peace to story. Virginity is another theme and this is seen in most of Angela Carter’s novels. Marquis marries only young virgins and takes pleasure in being instrumental I taking it off. “We do not hang the bloody sheets out of the window to prove to the whole of Brittany you are a virgin, not in these civilized times.”
Mirror is one of the motifs used to convey an idea very strongly. In The Bloody Chamber when the young bride sees herself stripped in the mirror she feels like a skinned lamb and soon realises Marquis’ pornographic inclinations. He sees her in that state in twelve different mirrors and takes great joy in that. She realises she is being objectified and to her horror she also realises she was enjoying being considered as an object of pleasure. Finally she understands that her complicity would bring her own destruction. The keys play an important role in the life of Marquis and the young bride. The blood stained on the key cannot be removed and when he presses the key on her forehead it is imprinted on it as well. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter which is on the folk tale Blue beard is a gripping novel but with predictable ending.