Review: The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
“His wedding gift, clasped round my throat. A choker of rubies, two inches wide, like an extraordinarily precious slit throat.” –”The Bloody Chamber”
Most children read fairy tales growing up, but hardly any are exposed at a young age to the “real” stories… where Cinderella’s stepsisters chop off parts of their feet to fit into the glass slipper, or where the Little Mermaid dies because the prince never recognizes her and chooses someone else. Yet these are the disturbing origins of the happily ever after tales we have come to love so much.
At what can be argued the height of the feminist revolution in the 1970s, fairy tales were lambasted for their stigma of “happily ever after,” condemned for portraying weak, helpless women as role models for young girls. Angela Carter, feminist though she was, turned this concept on its head in publishing The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories and, according to Marina warner in the introduction to The Folio Society edition, “embraced the whole stigmatized genre, its stock characters and well-known plots, and with wonderful verve and invention, perverse grace and wicked fun, soaked them in a new fiery liquor that brought them leaping back to life.”
Using the familiar plots of tales such as Bluebeard (for the title story), Little Red Riding Hood, and Beauty and the Beast, Carter remakes them into more contemporary adult tales that still retain the element of magic, and most especially the elements of fear. In The Bloody Chamber, for example, it is a more graphic story of a young girl giving herself in marriage in order to elude poverty to a wealthy, bearded Frenchman in times modern enough to have telephones. Yet it is still on horseback that salvation comes galloping into the castle where he is about to murder her after discovering the bloody key, and, true to Carter’s form, it is a tiger-killing, pistol-wielding mother who saves the young bride, not her brothers.
Carter was a great fan of Edgar Allan Poe, and his style of disturbing horror is apparent in her stories. Through Carter’s vivid writing, these chillingly retold fairy tales capture the gruesome elements of the Brothers Grimm’s original tales compounded with additional elements of sexuality and twisted gore.
As always, this edition had stunning illustrations to accompany these unique stories, crafted by artist Igor Karash, who won the second House of Illustration/Folio Society Illustration Award for his work on this book.