The Bloody Chamber: Discussion Post

Hi everyone! Welcome to our second book club. So our book this month was Angela Carter’s book of short stories, the ‘Bloody Chamber’. I was unsure how I would enjoy them at first as I’m not a big short story reader… I still think I prefer entire books but with not much time this month I found it a much easier read! It was great to be able to finish a story on a tube journey, completely lose myself within her fairy tale world.

 

I really enjoyed the collection. There were a few stories I didn’t like so much, and I’ll discuss those below. But in the main, I really enjoyed reading it. Interestingly, Poppy has said she really didn’t … so I can’t wait to find out why!

 

Overall there were a few things that jumped out at me from the collection as a whole. The first thing I noticed was flowers. They are everywhere! Especially lilies, but in the Lady of the House of Love I think its roses. I have no idea what flowers ‘mean’ or symbolise in a novel but I thought the fact that this imagery ran through every novel had to mean something? What do you think?

 The most important thing for me was this idea of animals that runs throughout the novels – of change, from animal to human or the reverse (as in the Tiger’s Bride). I loved the licking bit that began the transformation of the heroine into the Tiger. I think this idea of change is really important in the collection – but what I couldn’t work out was whether it is a positive representation of all of us having the power to change, for good or bad, within us, or whether it is darker, more about everyone having something animalistic, something ‘beast-like’ within them. That we are both man and beast (or woman and beast!) and the spaces between the two are much more transmutable than we may think. I actually really like that idea. I think it’s not just about the idea that men have this capacity, because of the Tiger’s Bride, because of Wolf-Alice, because many of her female characters are also flawed.

 

In case you have only read a few of the stories, here are a few short summaries of my thoughts on the stories that stood out for me, both in a good way and a bad way!

 

The Bloody Chamber:

Having never read Bluebeard I had no idea what this story was based on. I really enjoyed it. I liked the juxtaposition of the girl constantly talking about her innocence and then using the word “cunt”. It really stood out for me, a suggestion that things are more complicated than they seem. It had a slightly Daphne-du-Maurier-esque feel for me, especially with the housekeeper and the mysteriously dead previous wives! Also, (and this shows an embarrassing fact about me), it reminded me slightly of 50 Shades of Grey. You have this supposedly innocent heroine and a ‘dark’ man – but it was the loving descriptions of his wealth and his beautiful house that really reminded me of 50 Shades. Except just hugely better in about every way!

 

The Courtship of Mr Lyon

This too had some lovely descriptions of luxury, I read somewhere that Angela Carter is interesting in writing about ‘the trappings of luxury’ – I wonder if this is the case in her other books?

 

The Tiger’s Bride

 

I loved the ending of this book! The gentle licking turning her into a Tiger was just beautiful. Love and agency.

 

Puss-in-boots

This was my favourite! Puss just reminded me of my cat, although I think my cat is much more of a gentleman 🙂 “tonguing my arsehole with the impeccable hygienic integrity of cats, one leg stuck in the air like a ham bone” made me laugh out loud on the tube which was slightly embarrassing!

 

The Snow Child

This was my least favourite. I just didn’t understand it. The ending was so abrupt and shocking that I just didn’t get it. I just didn’t see the point of the Count penetrating the dead girl unless it is just to shock? And I’d like to think better of Angela Carter!

 

The werewolf

This was the first in a series of stories based around Little Red Riding Hood. I really enjoyed all three of them actually, I liked seeing all the different versions. This one especially as the werewolf is in fact the grandmother was a great twist to it! And the child not as an innocent child but taking advantage so she can have all of her grandmother’s belongings. I’m really interested in the history of persecution of witches anyway so found this really interesting.

 

The company of wolves

I loved the beginning to this story – the different stories about werewolves. I found the ending really difficult though – the girl accepting oppression and allowing the wolf to have power over her, deciding not to be scared as if she wasn’t scared, nothing bad would happen. It made me think of fear, about how I experience fear, and it made me realise that I have become more scared, more aware of my own vulnerability as a woman since I’ve become involved with feminism. Feminism hasn’t made me a strong independent woman (I was that already) – it has made me more aware of my weaknesses. That’s worrying.

 

Wolf-Alice

This story was about the journey towards self-awareness from a child with no concept of self. Self-awareness begins with menstruation, and seeing your reflection in a mirror. I think there’s probably a lot of really intelligent things to be said about this story but I don’t know what all that means. Self-awareness begins with menstruation? Or the journey towards self-awareness does. Is that related to the specifically female? Or is menstruation just an example of the growing up process? Also, the heroine had my name, therefore I liked the story. Sorry, I’m simple like that. 🙂

 

What was your favourite story? Which ones did you hate? What jumped out at you from them? They definitely made me think, which is important, and they made me smile, and the beauty of the writing meant I could see the world she was describing. That is why I really enjoyed the collection.

 

But what did you think?

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96 responses to “The Bloody Chamber: Discussion Post

  1. Wow Alice, where do I start? Thank you for your thoughts, I think I’ll reply in individual comments rather than one big reply!
    I have never really read short stories before, infact I enjoy really long books, so this was a shift in styles for me. We had so many people recommending Angela Carter, and especially this book, so I was hoping to enjoy it. Unfortunately, I didn’t. I do think it would have helped if I had known more of the original fairy tales before. Obviously I know the childhood tales, the Disney versions, but not the stories in their original form. So it was hard for me to see them as a retelling, or an altered version, as I never knew what was supposed to be going on anyway!

  2. For me, the main problem I had with these stories was the sex. I’m not a prude (at least, I don’t think I am) but wow was there a lot of sex! Maybe the fact that I started with The Snow Child didn’t help! Once I’d got over that (and had finished telling everyone ‘I am reading the weirdest book for my bookclub!’) I moved on to The Bloody Chamber. I’ll write more about my thoughts on the individual stories in another reply. So, the sex. And the fact that, at least in The Bloody Chamber, it was unwanted, or unwilling sex. It distressed me a bit. And it made me worry that this book was a risky choice, in terms of triggers, so I really hope no one was too upset by what was going on.

    • I think I read too many books with too much sex in them, and from a very young age as well (was chatting about the Poppy Z Brite books I read aged about 14 on twitter a few months ago – v. graphic and horrifying sex scenes) so I didn’t notice there being too much sex at all! If anything, it was probably less so than lots of the books I read 🙂

      But I do agree about the non-consensual nature of it, which did at times make me feel really quite uncomfortable.

      Having said that, and perhaps because I’m lucky enough not to have any real experiences of the subjects covered, I enjoy stories that make me feel uncomfortable :-/

      • Haha get you! I read barely any books with sex in, apart from a few Jilly Coopers a few years ago, infact if a book does have sexual scenes I don’t read in detail (oh god I totally AM a prude aren’t I?!).
        Yes, I am also lucky enough not to have had experiences anything like that, but I still didn’t enjoy reading it, it made me feel uncomfortable. I felt so sorry for her, like he was a big scary slobbering hairy nasty rough beast, ugh.

        • In ‘the bloody chamber’? I didn’t view the sex scenes in that story as fully like that… I thought she was presenting herself as virginal and innocent but there were lots of little hints that actually she was more into it than may have been visible at first… Like when she used the word ‘cunt’ so bluntly!!

          You totally are a prude 😀 and never read anything by Poppy Z Brite, or sadly my favourite book ever ‘where the rainbow ends’ by Jameson Currier….!!!!

          • Ha, rude!
            Yes that’s a good point, perhaps she wasn’t so innocent after all, but then why should she be, all this ‘oh women don’t like sex don’t want sex will avoid sex shouldn’t behave promiscuously’ rubbish that we’re fed, maybe it was a point on that? I don’t know, I didn’t see that when I read it. OK I’ll read Poppy Z Brite since it has my name!

        • I identify strongly with these comments – I consider myself asexual – but I think Carter is one of far too few writers who describe sex in a useful way. Greer’s classic ‘The Female Eunuch’ provides some laughable examples of ridiculously idealised sex in writing – and shows how they only serve to reinforce objectification of women.

          I think the unpleasantness of Carter’s beasts and so on is really amusing as well as questioning the idealisation and challenging male dominance and power. Sex under patriarchy has this beastly subtext – isn’t that where victim-blaming and rapist-defending comes from? Boys will be boys – or, when one thinks about the behaviour involved, boys will be beasts…

          • Yeah I agree with this, I think she does describe sex in a useful way. I loved that part of the Female Eunuch!

            Interesting point about Carter’s beasts… what do you think about the stories in which the girls/women are beasts as well? (or turn into them)

          • Yes, the man as beast, especially in a sexual way, came across strongly for me in BC, I didn’t enjoy it. I guess it is representative of men in life, as you say, they have the power and dominance, in daily life as well as sexually, then that power leads to their feelings of entitlement, leading to the culture we live in.
            Is that right?
            Do you mean Carter writes about sex usefully in that it represents society? IE the power balance.
            I’ve got The Female Eunuch on my massive to read pile.

  3. Heidi Yeandle

    Ah I’ll start early too! I’m currently writing a PhD on Carter, but focusing on her novels rather than short stories, so it’s great to have a chat about what she is most famous for – I do love this collection!
    Well, I love the link to 50 Shades of Grey – that’s awesome! I wrote an article on 50 shades of Grey and Bluebeard (“The Bloody Chamber” story is based on the Bluebeard fairytale – he has a chamber where he stores dead wives, and the latest innocent wife is curious about this chamber) – its currently being reviewed.
    Overall, the relevance of 50 shades is really important – The Bloody Chamber collection was published in the same year as Carter’s The Sadeian Woman – her polemic about the Marquis de Sade and pornography and women – so The Bloody Chamber is also about these issues.
    So I’m also afraid some new readers will find Carter’s fairytales disturbing, but they are meant to be making explicit what is implicit in the original versions. The Disney versions of these tales (which I love!) omit this!

    • I love this! I was a bit worried about my feeling of the Fifty Shades allusion .. displaying what awful books I read on occasion! 🙂 I’d love to read your article once it’s published!

      What was Carter’s view on the Marquis de Sade? She was against pornography? You couldn’t help but notice those allusions in the Bloody Chamber!

    • Wow, A PhD on her! Mind you, I guess there’s plenty to write about!
      I haven’t read 50 Shades but I can see the link, sexual depravity (I don’t want to say that because BDSM etc isn’t depraved, but murder in the course of certainly is!).
      I did find them, perhaps not disturbing, but unpleasant. What are her novels like, are they more pleasant?

  4. I wasn’t going to comment as it’s a while since I read this but now I’ve read your comments, I can’t help myself! (I might also have a slightly different take on this as I’ve taught it at A Level in the wider context of feminism.)

    Anyway, ‘The Snow Child’ is my favourite story, so I’ll start there. I think the point of it is the dominance of the patriarchy and men’s desire to ‘possess’ women, so the count rapes the girl’s corpse as she’s his possession in a way that his wife will never be – she’s far too domineering. I also think there’s something in there about women not helping themselves. The wife’s reaction to the girl is to compete with her, not bond as a team.

    Never noticed the flower theme before you mentioned it. Did you notice the colours running throughout – white, red, black?

    Love ‘Puss in Boots’, think it’s hilarious. Particularly enjoy the bit when the locals arrive to look at the body and his wife and Puss’ master are shagging on the bedroom floor! I guess it’s a version of the marry an old guy, take his riches story but I like that she gets her equal at the end.

    And ‘The Werewolf’ – scary scary granddaughter. I wonder if this is a comment on women not appreciating what their ancestors have done for them, how far we’ve moved towards equality and that, literally in this case, people would sell their grannies for their own slice of the pie? Dare I mention Thatcherism?

    • I taught it at A level too! Loved the way it shocked the students….
      I remember showing them Georgia O’Keefe flower paintings to try to explain some of the allusions in The Bloody Chamber story, and the female students were most shocked!

    • I’m really interested to hear Snow Child was your favourite story as it was my least favourite! Although now having read what you think was the point, I can see that more. My issue was I didn’t get the point of the Count raping the dead child and it was just horrible!

      I did notice the colours running through it, I guess I also attributed that to flowers. As an English teacher, what would you say was the relevance/meaning of ‘red’ in the stories?

    • Oh you’ve taught it?? Wow! (Also please can I come take your lessons!)
      Well then you’ll be able to explain everything to us.
      Really glad you joined in, thank you 🙂
      When I read The Snow Child I was too ‘what the heck is happening’ to asses it, but now you’ve said that I completely see it. Really interesting how such a short story can have so many interesting themes in it. How did you find it to teach? Did people respond well to it? I guess the themes it has are quite advanced? Eg the idea of man as patriachy dominating the woman might be hard to grasp unless you have understanding of feminism and society, I know a lot of people I know think there is equality and that our society isn’t patriachal (grrr). Maybe they all already know that stuff, just I know I didn’t know any of it at GCSE or A Level age.

      • I don’t know if I can explain ‘everything’! The kids often come up with interpretations that I haven’t considered.

        I’ve come to hate red in stories! Can be representative of so many things – danger, passion, desire. Pick your connotation and apply as relevant…!

        The course I was teaching (A Level English Literature) was centred around broad schools of literary/social theory so we started by looking at marxism, feminism etc. and applying them to poems that fitted neatly to the theory, so by the time we came to Carter they were well versed.

        The kids responded really well to it. We looked at the original fairy tales each time so they were reminded of the basics of the story and then we looked at how Carter had played with that and why. I taught ‘The Snow Child’ first and the kids were shocked – as Heidi says probably more so the girls, but I wonder if that was partly them realising what the world around them is like. They were very good at relating the stories in the collection to modern news stories (struggling to remember any now though…).

        • I wish I’d read it that way. Or do I? My initial thought was that it would be really helpful to have the original fairytales in mind when I read Carter so I could compare. But actually I still enjoyed the ones that I had no idea where they came from, and it gave me more enjoyment finding out later on!!

        • Yes I find that, anything can be interpreted as anything!
          It’s interesting how different people come up with different analysis, shows how our individual circumstances and differences can affect how we view things, what we get out of things.
          Oh, that’d be interesting to relate it to modern news stories, you mean along the lines of ‘man exerts dominance’? Plenty of those stories around :/

          • naomifrisby

            Yes, always fascinating discussing books with others and kids have such a different world view to adults.

            Yes, exactly that sort of story 😦

      • I did Handmaid’s Tale at A Level and didn’t find it at all disturbing, nor feminist. What was wrong with me?! I think at that age, if you haven’t experienced it / aren’t already thinking that way, it just brushes past you!

        • I think I felt it was just an easier way to teach it. I certainly didn’t read it like that and initially found it difficult to match some of the stories up – as Carter intended.

          Yes, I can see your point re. The Handmaid’s Tale. I was in my 20s when I read it and it scared the hell out of me!

          I’m doing Language and Gender with my English Language A Level students at the moment and they tried to say that I was hand picking sexist examples of advertisements etc. so I gave them copies of The Sun, The Mail and The Guardian and told them to cut out every headline that related to gender. They were shocked! It’s got the boys talking as well as the girls though – I’ll be sending out some feminists of both genders into the world 🙂

        • Absolutely, until your eyes are opened you don’t even see it. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it!

  5. I love how Carter has an oblique reference to Anais Nin – very similar writing style as both tend towards poetic prose. Nin also wrote a novella called Spy in the House of Love, which always makes me think of The Lady of the House of Love – which has a male ‘victim’. That’s definitely my favourite of the Bloody Chamber collection.
    I also love how, in Carter’s world you must change to survive, and the only outcome for an unchanged victim is death. Wonderfully symbolic!

    • Oh of course – yes! I noticed the importance of ‘change’ but never put two and two together – that you have to change to survive, and an unchanged victim is death. Now you’ve said that it’s all become clear 🙂

  6. Here’s what I hastily wrote when I read this last year with my other book club:

    Some of these subversive tales are redemptive and centre on the breaking of binding enchantments. These liberations come at a cost, at times severely compromising. Carter refuses easy narratives of feminine sexuality, dominance and rebellion. The lush surface of delectable language, varying in tone throughout this collection, is a pleasure that sweetens the bitter pills Carter perspicatiously prescribes.

    Now writing in the present, I think my favourite story is probably Wolf Alice, even though I find it uncomfortable. Carter turns oppressive norms upside down as standard, but in this story the effect is both challenging and edifying – it made me feel hopeful that women can reclaim and redefine love so that it is no longer the sharpest tool of the patriarchal gender construct…

    • Err . . wow. Bit more intellectual than my ‘I didn’t like it!’ view! That’s what I’m enjoying about these discussions, so many great people with differents views and ideas, it’s brilliant!
      I didn’t see the overarching narratives, I focused narrower on individual words, characters or actions. Now that I’ve read this comment, I see how the language, which overpowered me, could balance out the harshness of the tales. Fascinating!
      It’s still true today that liberation may come at a cost, and it can be a hard choice to make.
      Thank you for your comments 🙂

      • Hi popbadger = )
        I can’t reply to your comment above about my ‘beastly sexuality’ comment.

        I strongly recommend you fast track Greer to the top of your reading pile as she explains far better than I can how the basic structure of the gender myth and social construction of male & female sexuality serves to oppress women and make us all miserable and hate-filled!

        When you say ‘Carter was writing to shock’ I agree, but I don’t think she does so just to sell books, but rather because she sees patriarchal culture in need of strong challenge: powerful weapons of disgust and discomfort. She ascribes agency in all the wrong places and makes us feel how uncomfortable that is – she wants us to ask why we are uncomfortable! I also agree that she has deliberately made it accessible to analysis – she wants people to be able to understand the questions and challenges she poses about the implicit power dynamic in fairytale and cultural norms.

        • I will fast track Greer then, that sounds like essential reading! Though I have just started Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying and can hardly put it down!
          Those points are really interesting, thank you. Looking at it like that make the my thoughts on the stories different, infact I like them more and am tempted to reread with those thoughts in mind.
          Her writing definately poses questions, so that’s great, and thank you for helping me get to grasps with it!

  7. I also felt that Angela Carter was writing to shock (maybe I am a prude!). Her language was beautiful, even when describing unpleasant things, but I felt that it was written so it could be analysed. Remember in school we were told – look for repetition, alliteration, metaphors etc? Well this was full of them! Though as Alice said, I could really see what she was describing, which is good, I enjoyed that. Though sometimes I felt it cluttered up the story, I got to the end of the sentence having forgotton what it was about, because of all the adjectives! I think it’s individual taste whether you like that style of writing. Whether that’s just her style I don’t know. Maybe it was that I had changed my style of reading since last bookclub, this time I had a pen and notebook to jot down thoughts, so maybe I was approaching it in a more studious state of mind. What does anyone else think?

    • Yes I was really reading it in a more studious state of mind!
      And agree about the style of the prose, I found sometimes it took me a while to get into the story. As soon as I got interested in the narrative, I kind of forgot about the stylistic language and it just added to it. But on the ones I didn’t get, like the story of the man in the house in the woods (Forgotten the name) – the language really didn’t help me get into it at all!

      • I found myself skimming the prose for action/doing words, overlooking descriptive words, as I read it all I was busy putting the picture together in my head and missed the actual even/action! So I ended up excluding the descriptions so I could focus on the story. Though, the descriptive words are the bits you analyse aren’t they, so I must try harder!

    • I first read it to teach it, and I’ve taught it to both A level and undergrad students so I’m always looking at it with half an academic eye…. But there are some great jokes in it too – there’s a line in The Company of Wolves that talks about the animals fleeing because of the wolf – “the deer departed” – every time I read it, it makes me laugh!

      • I missed any jokes, mind you I didn’t read the wolf stories as I am a bit of a wimp regarding werewolves, ridiculous I know.
        Puss in Boots made me smile though, and I was glad to get to that as it was lighthearted compared to BC!

  8. Oh thank you – you write beautifully! I think that’s a theme that runs through, a deeper layer to the theme of change – that people are breaking the enchantments but the liberation can be compromising (I’ve stolen your words here as they were so great!)

    I found Wolf-Alice quite difficult to really get the point of….

    • Thank you = ) Wolf Alice is difficult. I need to re-read the whole book, but my Mum’s reading it at the moment. I hate to read easy straight allegories, but I feel that to some extent Alice’s uncivilised state is a purity from oppressive socialisation, and that she can gain self knowledge and feel love without being deceived or coerced. The Duke, perhaps, is a representative of the civilisation Alice has not been ‘corrupted’ by.

      • So her beginning her periods and seeing herself in the mirror are the beginnings of oppressive socialisation?

        • I don’t really feel that, because she isn’t fed any false comfort or placed under restrictive narratives… uncleanliness, modesty, motherhood… experiencing herself without such constructs, she has a raw, uncomfortable, miserable, but transforming & illuminating experience. But you’re right that ‘civilisation’ gives her the mirror and there is something complex at work. But I think her wildness protects her from being lied to – she isn’t cowed by her own image – as we sometimes are. I think the reason this story is so edifying is that Alice REMAINS FREE in some sense

          • I see what you mean, she is completely free from the restrictive narratives, and definitely remains free by the end. But I just thought there had to be some relevance in the fact she discovers the mirror soon after she begins her periods – to my mind the two were linked together in discovery of self. But I hadn’t thought about it in relation to civilisation…

  9. Heidi Yeandle

    Ooo lots to say – Um, I haven’t got enough room for Carter on Sade – it caused so much controversy. The main argument is that sexual relations mirror social relations, so men having sexual activity (being on top) shows dominance also out of the bedroom. So porn is a social commentary. No, I wouldn’t say she was against pornography, but – similarly to what NaomiFrisby says about The Snow Child – her argument (in 1979) is that pornography is “in the main by men for an all-male clientele, so prefer submissive women. Male gaze issue.

    Her novels are AMAZING – but I’m not in general a short story fan, so I’m a bit biased. Depends what novel you choose, but Nights at the Circus and Wise Children I’d recommend as more pleasant!

    Also hadn’t thought about the flowers before… apart from the lilies in The Bloody Chamber, both in her bedroom and in the chamber, kind of merging the 2 spaces.

    Also love Puss in Boots, probably my favourite in this collection!

    Carter and Thatcherism – I sooo wish Carter was alive to write about her death!

    • I noticed the lilies a lot in Bloody Chamber – in that way but then also as white = virginal, but also of course death. And then white flowers were relevant in many of the other stories – although I finished the book a few weeks ago now so can’t remember exactly which ones! But I do remember that lilies kept being mentioned, so when it came to the Lady in the House of Love, where he walks up through a garden of roses, I really noticed the difference.

    • I will move onto Nights at the Circus next, I love stories about magic and circuses so am looking forward to it.
      I enjoyed Puss in Boots too 🙂

  10. Amazing – MadwomanInTheAttic (‏@jenniferbranso2) made a textile about The Company of Wolves!
    I am going to RT her tweets that contain the pics now
    🙂

  11. Heidi Yeandle

    Heidi Colthup – I can’t wait to teach on The Bloody Chamber – I’m very jealous. The only Carter text I’ve had the pleasure to teach is The Passion of New Eve, which is one of my personal favourites. It’s so great that she is on A-level courses.

  12. Heidi Yeandle

    Yes – the lilies are symbolic on those levels as well! I can’t remember either, I’m rusty on the collection apart from the title story! I can just remember writing about the Red Room of Pain and the rest of the apartment blurring in 50 shades…

    Rose Anna – I really like your reading of Wolf-Alice! Have you read Carter’s Heroes and Villains? You’ll probably like it if you’re interested in civilisation versus natural state themes.

  13. Thanks Heidi! I will seek it out = )

    On Carter’s beasts (I can’t seem to reply to the comment above)^ with ref to sex, I personally feel that partly she is challenging what Greer characterises as the castration of women under patriarchy – women are objects of desire and have completely passive sexual organs while men feel (forgivably uncontrollable) lust etc. In contrast women’s ‘beastliness’ can be tender, as well as bold. But I don’t want to push the beast=sexuality line too far and read out all the nuance! I think Carter uses it, but light-heartedly and to hold up the trope for questioning.

    • Yes I agree with this completely! And it ties in well to Poppy’s comment above about Carter also challenging the idea that sexually, women are always passive etc etc. This is also pretty tied into The Company of Wolves (the story I found most challenging, but still enjoyed).

      In Poppy’s words: this idea of “oh women don’t like sex don’t want sex will avoid sex shouldn’t behave promiscuously’ rubbish that we’re fed

      • Felt the same about Company of Wolves = )

        • What do you think her message was for the ending?

          • Again I think it’s women reclaiming sexuality. Instead of being rescued by the woodcutter as a sexless damsel in distress, she tames her predator with a new kind of socialisation, undermining male dominance and seeking satisfaction of her own desires through communication. It’s nice of Carter to ‘give beasts a chance’. There’s hope for male-kind she says (to me in any case. Although I have no interest in sexual communion with men I’d like to think other women can seek it under better terms than is generally the case at present!)

  14. As I’ve said, I studied TBC for my A-levels and got annoyed that Carter insisted that they weren’t reimaginings of fairy tales, but new stories.
    The Snow Child I agree – I totally didn’t understand it and thought it went a bit over the top!!

    • Yes I slighty felt that, erm of course they are re-imaginings, but then she is the author of her stories, she can describe them how she likes!
      Then on the other hand, there were new ideas and events within the stories, like with Puss in Boots, so perhaps they are new stories. I guess a story evolves with each telling, especially in folklore that was passed down through word of mouth, perhaps each of those was a different story as each person made their own little adjustments.

  15. Heidi, you were talking about Carter and Thatcher – what do you think she would have said? What were her views on Thatcher? I have no idea…!

  16. jennifer branson

    Am having a sneaky peek on this, as I couldn’t find my copy to re read in time *slinks away* so don’t feel qualified to comment, HOWEVER! am hoping this discussion will continue…

  17. Hi Rose-Anna – couldn’t reply to you above as conversation had reached its wordpress limit!
    That’s an interesting interpretation of The Company of Wolves, which makes me feel slightly more comfortable about it to be honest. I was worried that it meant the only way to survive abuse was to submit. Which is a horrendous message to send out! But that was the message I got from it, which is why I felt so uncomfortable about the story – the only one that made me feel that way.

    Also, this is personal so feel free to ignore! But you’ve mentioned that you’re asexual – do you think this affects the way you feel when reading sex in books? As I said, please just ignore me if I’m being too personal on a public forum!!

    • It seems to me that the original rescued Riding Hood is the one who submits (to the wolf and then the hero – she is powerless), whereas in this story Carter has her turn the power relationship around, but without a fight. This is radical feminism really – changing the dynamic without resorting to the male method of coming to blows. We could have a neater reversal where she kills the wolf or escapes, but the communion that transforms both of them is more interesting, and we SHOULD be disturbed by it – we haven’t been permitted to see sex in this way, as communication, or hardly as something initiated by women’s desire, and when sex is permissible it’s in a safe environment with safe men, not wolves.

      I’ve no doubt my sexuality affects how I feel reading sex, but can’t comment usefully as I can’t step outside to compare. There’s no such thing as an objective reading = )

      I have to pack – going away tomorrow!

      • I never thought of that – changing the dynamic. And probably the fact that it isn’t neat is so important. And that we should be disturbed by it.
        And that’s very true about your sexuality, a stupid question by me really!! How can anyone ever know really how what they are affects what they’re reading. As you say, always objective.

        Thank you so much for your thoughts, really enjoyed discussing with you 🙂 Have a great holiday (I presume!) and the posts will remain up so you can catch up another day if you wish!

  18. Perhaps it’s a device to contrast her unsocialised experience with the usual torrent of gender BS traditionally poured on girls when they cross the bloody threshold…

  19. ah yes, that’s a really good point. So the self-discovery is fully hers, instigated by the mirror, rather than what society normally pours on top once you reach physical ‘adulthood’. That makes complete sense, thank you 🙂

  20. OK, so, and hour and a half in, my first thoughts on BC!
    As I said, I don’t know the original story, I had a quick look online, and is the main difference the fact that instead of her brother rescuing her, it’s her mother and the piano tuner?
    OK well I started off, with my notebook and pen, writing down metaphors and meanings, perhaps in too much detail! I found the first paragraph very sexual, with ‘pounding of my heart’, and ‘pistons . . . thrusting’. Then the fact that she was being taken ‘away from the white’ I took that to mean away from virginity, purity (see what I mean about feeling she had written it so it could be analysed?).

    Through the story I found words I’d never heard of before, calyx, invidiously, etudes, evanescent, sacerdotal, catafalque. It’s great that I learnt new words (hmm, well, I looked them up at the time but am struggling to remember the meanings now!), but again (again!), I found it unnecessarily complicated, that Carter was overdoing it in an effort to be, I’m not sure what.
    As has now been said, her flowery language perhaps compensated for the nastiness (I want to use a different word but can’t think) of the content.

  21. In BC, I was so glad when he went away, but was wondering why did he give her the keys, and why did he stress so much about that one she must not use!?
    Well, I got the answer, he had never planned to go away, he knew she would go and look, and then when he returned and found out, he would have an excuse to kill her.
    Is that what you thought?

    • Ooo no I didn’t think that. I saw it as a power thing. He thought he had the power over her that she would do what he said. But she wasn’t so innocent, so virginal, so under his spell, as he had thought.

      I loved how she was saved by her mum in this story. Can imagine my mum doing the same 🙂

      Although, I was confused by how quickly the blind pianist became her lover. This is maybe something from the original Bluebeard though\?

      • What? As if he though she wouldn’t! It was a trap!
        Yes the pianist seemed a bit of a non character for me.

        • Haha you may well be correct. 🙂

          • naomifrisby

            Loved that her mother took the (dead) father’s pistol and came to the rescue. Again the idea of a pistol can be read as a metaphor for the sexual organ, though not sure I want to go down that route! There’s a really good couple of lines early on about her mother and how she’s travelled and fought and survived that sets us up for her being the rescuer.

            I wondered whether the pianist was a comment on equality within marriage – she wasn’t with him because he could provide her with money/status/stability, she was with him because she loved him and he loved her and if I remember correctly, she provides for him. Hello, modern day marriage/women as top earners within the home.

  22. The way the blood from the key transferred off the key, leaving not a spot on it, onto her head, and she knew it wouldn’t ever come off. It made me think of Macbeth and the ‘out damn spot’ quote (done that from memory, could well be wrong, well I’m sure you’ll know what I mean).
    I found it really interesting that the mother rescued her! Obviously in fairytales it’s the prince, it’s a man rescuing a women, and I thought it would be the piano tuner than rescued here, after this discussion I can see that Carter would not have had that!
    So what does the mother rescuing her mean? Portrayal of the strong motherly bond? Or that she didn’t need a man to rescue here? Although she still needed someone, she couldn’t have done it alone.
    I found it interesting that the mother did it, in fairytales, at least in modern disney ones, mothers are often absent, yet in this not only is she the rescuer, but they also live together afterwards.

    • I thought of Macbeth too! So in Macbeth, it refers to guilt.. I couldn’t figure out what she had done wrong to feel this guilt. Surviving where the others died perhaps?
      And yes, I thought it was a great inversion of the original fairytales, where mothers don’t exist and the male hero rescues the weak female heroine. Here we had a more complicated heroine, she was weak in several respects, but also knew her own mind and could be strong. And the male hero, was in fact a mother. Loved that.

      • Yes! There are few mothers in traditional fairy tales, and those that do exist are often devious and cruel to their children. In The Bloody Chamber, the mother comes to the rescue and I love it.

        • Yes, I was so surprised when the mother burst in, I couldn’t see any way out of it! I loved it. And I really agree with Naomi’s point above about the relationship with the piano tuner and a more equal, modern marriage. I think in a ‘normal’ story of this type, it would have been the piano tuner that came to her rescue as the male hero, so it was different in a good way that there was a love interest who wasn’t this incredibly strong masculine character. However, the fact he was blind could be seen as an explanation for why he couldn’t help her – perhaps the point would have been better made if he was a ‘typically strong’ man but it was still the mother that came to her rescue.

  23. Heidi Yeandle

    Carter wrote a fair bit about Thatcher, she did not like her! The one that springs to mind is her essay ‘Masochism for the Masses’ in collection of her journalism called Shaking a Leg. She says “Thatcher has democratically extended the joys of masochism to the entire population”, and applies this quote from Theodor Adorno to her: “whatever was once good and decent in bourgeois values, independence perseverance, forethought, circumspection, has been corrupted utterly… In losing their innocence, the bourgeois have become impenitently malign… The bourgeois live on like spectres threatening doom”.
    She does also critique how the media emphasised her clothes and appearances, and criticises Thatcher for fuelling this and “condon[ing] the sexism of the media”.
    Definitely not a fan, but very relevant today!

  24. Heidi Yeandle

    Popbadger – in the Bluebeard fairytale which TBC is based on – the heroine is saved at the end by a man – I think its her brother. So deliberate move by making this character female. As you say, Disney is not a fan of mothers!
    But she is permanently tainted by the mark on her forehead… lots of debate about this! I think I see it negatively, but I’m not sure – but its a reminder that she succumbed to curiosity.

    • Oh I see, thank you for that! So she was still rescued by family, but mother rather than brother. Love that it was turned around. You (almost) don’t notice how constant it is, those stereotypes, until it is turned around, or until you stop and look.
      Yes I see it negatively, a stain, a reminder, a punishment, for looking. Also perhaps a reminder to not be so naive again, not fall for it.

  25. Heidi Yeandle

    Sorry, gonna have to go now – will come back tomorrow!

  26. Afraid I am also off to sort out some last things before bed 🙂

    Some final thoughts:

    Thank you all so much for discussing with us – we’ll still be looking at the page and comments are left open so feel free to keep commenting.

    Especially thank yous for discussing the stories that I didn’t like / found incredible disturbing (Snow Child and the Company of Wolves) – I feel I have learnt a lot and the stories have made more sense to me now.

    Also please do suggest what other books you would like to discuss with us in future! Currently for our next we are thinking either The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison or The Colour Purple by Alice Walker.

    Night all and thank you once again!

  27. I am signing out too, I will come back tomorrow as I wanted to talk about The Courtship of Mr Lyon, ran out of time, doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun!
    Thank you all for joining in, fantastic comments, I’ve really really enjoyed it so thank you all again.

  28. I’m off but my favourite story of them all was probably The Lady of the House of Love – the imagery, even after four years has stuck with me!
    xxxx

  29. I know I’m so late, but I’ve loved catching up on discussion. There’s so much interesting stuff to think about.

    One thing that struck me in the first three stories is how big the men are. They are all described as huge, fitting their beast nature. They’re physically imposing, dominant over the women and the other men in the stories. Alpha males in their various realms.

    • I’ve really enjoyed this discussion 🙂 glad you have too.
      Yes that’s what I got too, I could feel the overbearingness of their physicality, it was overwhelming. Definately alpha males. Representing the way men have majority of the power in society? Even if they are not physically huge, their power is bigger than womens.

      • I think we have to be careful though about drawing those conclusions. I mean, I do agree but I don’t think the point she’s making is quite so clear-cut. As there are many stories where women are also beasts, especially the werewolf ones. And also the Tiger bride. Which I found really interesting in the juxtaposition with Mr Lyon. As in that story, the beast turns into a human through love, but in Tiger Bride it’s the other way round!

        • Oh I see, I didn’t read the Tiger Bride so I was just making assumptions on BC and Mr Lyon. I’ll have to read the others now and see what I think!

          • I would read the Tiger Bride – especially as it’s also based on the Beauty and the Beast so provides quite a good comparison. Actually, that was one of my favourite things about the collection as a whole, when she takes one fairy tale and re-imagines it in many different ways.
            Parts of the beginning of the Tiger Bride are a bit uncomfortable but I loved the ending. I think the main theme of it is the objectification of women and breaking free of it – about women also embracing their animalistic selves; I think I read somewhere that the story shows that women are tigers who are made to think they are lambs. Anyway I really liked it!

  30. I ran out of time last night but I have a few thoughts on The Courtship of Mr Lyon.
    Firstly, the obviousness of Lyon being lion.
    Also, the fact that there were no dancing teapots or clocks 😦
    It made me think a bit of Alice In Wonderland when the food and drink had notes saying ‘eat/drink me’ on.
    I found it quite a sweet love story overall.
    I didn’t really understand the dog, again maybe I needed to know the original, but there was no dog in the disney story was there?
    Was it simply a plot device, the way she would find out the beast was ill?
    Or did it have more significant meaning?
    There’s all the usual things to be said here, about women being taught to love ‘beasts’ because your love will save them, I’m not buying it!

  31. I loved Puss in Boots, it made me smile. The beginning had such a lovely description of the cat, wonderful, though I liked him slightly less after the ‘tonguing arsehole’ line!
    As a cat owner and cat lover with aims to become a old cat lady in the future, I felt it was completely believable that the cat had the intelligence of a human, infact rather more in some cases!
    I enjoyed the scam of being a rat catcher, I always enjoy variations on that story, it made me thing of Terry Pratchetts Maurice and his Amazing Educated Rodents, which is a brilliant story.
    Overall, I enjoyed this story most out of the ones I read.

    • Puss in Boots is my favourite – it’s very devious in that it makes you sympathise with and cheer on the people and cats that ultimately commit murder! But he was horrible and it’s a happy ending for everyone else!

  32. Puss-in-Boots is my favourite as well – it’s just so much fun, though I think it’s a lot more straightforward than some of the other stories. The Bloody Chamber is probably second, followed by the wolf stories – I put them together because when I wrote a play that was an adaptation of The Company of Wolves, I used bits from all of them and The Company of Wolves radio play and film.

    On that note I recommend that anyone interested get their hands on a copy of The Company of Wolves film, it explores the themes further and was co-written by Angela Carter herself. The commentary available on the DVD is really interesting. Watch out for the grim 1980s special effects though!

    • Yes I think perhaps I liked it best because it was more straightforward!
      Thank you for that recommendation, I might look it up, and for me it’s better if the special effects are terrible because then I don’t get scared!

  33. well im an english teacher like all you nerds who need to get a life and stop writing your comments about this book.

  34. absolute disgrace to society! what type of sick person gets enjoyment from the snow child????? monsters

  35. Hello, I realise this is a bit random, coming two years after the discussion, but I’m studying this for A level (exam on Thursday!! 😦 ) and found your different interpretations and reactions really interesting! 🙂
    Although why no Erl-King? That’s my favourite… (Didn’t like Puss in Boots at all, don’t know why.)
    I also had a very different reaction to the title story- found some of the plotting a bit abrupt, like the piano tuner suddenly being her lover, and the mother’s appearance as some kind of “dea ex machina” to save her; and I interpreted the Marquis as like the speaker in Donne’s “Song”, who is looking for a “perfect” woman, who will never be tempted, but who does not exist (kind of biblical too)…
    Anyway, you have some really interesting discussion here, got me thinking in different ways to before! 🙂

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