The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories is a 1979 collection of short fiction by the British writer Angela Carter. Each of the stories reworks a famous folk narrative: the story which gives the collection its title is based on 'Blue Beard', in which an older man takes a younger wife and commands her not to enter a certain room in his castle. When she does, she discovers it contains the bodies of his previous wives.

Two of the stories – ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’ and ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ are versions of the story of Beauty and the Beast with inverted endings, and ‘The Werewolf’, ‘The Company of Wolves’ and to an extent ‘Wolf-Alice’ are based on 'Little Red Riding Hood'; the latter also contains recognisable elements of Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories. ‘Puss-in-Boots’ is a version of the well-known tale; ‘The Erl-King’ draws on slightly more obscure folklore, and ‘The Snow Child’ has a relationship to medieval fables and the better-known ‘Snow White’. ‘The Lady of the House of Love’ draws on the Gothic literary tradition of vampires.

One context for this work is Carter’s enthusiasm for medieval literature during her time as an undergraduate student at Bristol University; another is her work on a translation, published in 1977, of the collection of folk tales the French writer Charles Perrault published in 1697. Regarded as the father of the fairytale, Perrault was the first to record many of our best loved stories such as 'Bluebeard', 'Cinderella' and 'Puss in Boots'. But where Perrault added a moral and instructional element to the tales, Carter’s alterations and additions are more in line with the feminist politics of The Sadeian Woman, a non-fiction work she published in 1979, exploring the usefulness of the work of the Marquis de Sade for contemporary women. In her hands, the tales are no longer digestible lessons for children, but instead richly fantastical, often satirical, comments on sexual power and psychology.

Carter subsequently worked ‘The Company of Wolves’ into a film of that name, directed by the writer Neil Jordan and released in 1984.

Angela Carter

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