This collection of notepads, loose sheets and typescripts contain notes and successive drafts for ‘The Bloody Chamber’, the title story from The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979) by Angela Carter.

In The Bloody Chamber Carter upturned the western European tradition of fairy tales and folk narratives, crafting a collection of new, subversive short stories.

Carter’s dark, fantastic tales of Bluebeard’s castle and Red Riding Hood are genre-hybrids, eluding easy categorisation. Written in lush, ornate prose they combine fairy tale with aspects of the Gothic, surrealism, and fin-de-siècle decadence, not forgetting touches of tongue-in-cheek humour, too. Published in a decade of growing feminist activism, the tales bristle with gender politics; they address female sexuality, identity and agency. At times the collection contains graphic sexual and violent content that still can shock. Carter, undoubtedly influenced by Freud, believed she was surfacing latent meanings within the original tales.

As Carter wrote in 1977, ‘Each century tends to create or re-create fairy tales after its own taste’ (The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault).

Notes and drafts of ‘The Bloody Chamber’

The story titled ‘The Bloody Chamber’ is a reworking of ‘The History of Blue Beard’, a fairy tale published by Charles Perrault in 1697. Although Carter closely follows Perrault’s plot, there are significant differences. The young bride (conventionally the speechless female victim) is the heroine and narrator. Her mother, rather than her brothers, saves her from her murderous husband. She marries a blind man and gives away all her wealth to charities.

Shown here is the first draft of ‘The Bloody Chamber’, written in Carter’s hand in a lined paper notepad. The folder also includes three typewritten drafts with annotations.

This extract is from the middle of the tale, beginning at the point the ‘Duke’ hands his new wife a set of keys to the castle and forbids her to enter a particular room while he is away on business. The ‘Duke’ was later renamed the ‘Marquis’, which suggests that Carter decided to make a more explicit connection between her character and the Marquis de Sade, the French aristocrat notorious for his erotic and violent writings. Carter was writing a book on de Sade, titled The Sadeian Woman (1979), at the same time as working on The Bloody Chamber.

Within this extract, the girl telephones her mother (which later leads to her rescue) before she explores the castle and opens the forbidden door. Inside she discovers a gruesome chamber that contains the murdered and mutilated bodies of the Duke’s previous wives.

The six pages of autograph notes that follow include a plot sketch for the story and a list of ideas for ‘Bluebeard’s wife’s wardrobe’. In the story Carter depicts the Marquis as valuing wealth over human life and, initially, the heroine is enchanted by this newfound materialism.