Analysis of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber
“The Bloody Chamber”, 3 main themes have been processed: “Sexuality and
Violence”, “Virginity” and “Metamorphosis”.In traditional tales, sexual themes
were omitted for he sake of children whom they were meant to. Nevertheless,
Carter’s pharaphrases of classic fairy tales in The Bloody Chamber are abundant
with erotic motifs, inspired by de Sade’s sadomasochistic stories.
Sexuality and Violence
Carter was influenced by the works of the Marquis de Sade in the writing of The
Bloody Chamber, as stated above, and she illustrates his idea that sex is often
linked with violence. No doubt, the most persuasive example of this is in the
title of the story, “The Bloody Chamber”, where the Marquis1
has a collection of violent phornography, a chamber where he tortures his
“Let’s get him to a softer bed,” says Master.
He ups the corpse, carries it aloft to the room we know full well, bumps
Pantaloon down, twitches an eyelid, taps a kneecap, feels a pulse.
“Dead as a doornail,” he pronounces. “It’s not a doctor you want, it’s an
Missus has a handkerchief very dutifully and correctly to her eyes.
“You just run along and get one,” she says to hag. “And then I’ll read the
will. Because don’t think he’s forgotten you…”
So off goes hag; you never saw a woman of her accumulated Christmases
sprint so fast. As soon as they are left alone, no trifling, this time; they’re
at it, hammer and tongs, down on the carpet since the bed is occupé.2
In this story, the tone changes drastically, though
the themes remain generally the same. By now, Puss’s Master has finally gotten
what he wants: his lover’s husband, Signor Panteleone, has tripped and fallen
to his death, leaving the lover free to marry the Master. The Master and his
lover quickly get everyone out of the house, save for Signor Panteleone
himself, who’s lying dead in bed. Then, the two lovers proceed to have sex on
the carpet (since the bed is “occupé,” or occupied, albeit by a
The short story comes to an end with the indelible
image of two people making love next to the body of one of the lovers’ dead
husband. Though this story is in a very different tone than most of the others,
this scene still intimately connects sex with violence, and love with death.
the characters of the stories are virgin. In the The Bloody Chamber, virginity
is a kind of shield. In the stories that focus on both sexual violence and
manipulation, the virginity of the heroines is their most attractive quality to
the brutish men who desire them
virginity naturally means a kind of innocence, in Carter’s stories it has a
unique power. She describes a character’s virginity protecting them from harm. In
some stories, when the character loses her virginity this act also releases a
kind of metamorphic power that is more than sexual.
He has the special quality of virginity, most and
least ambiguous of states: ignorance, yet at the same time, power in potentia,
and, furthermore, unknowingness, which is not the same as ignorance. He is more
than he knows – and has about him, besides, the special glamour of that
generation for whom history has already prepared a special, exemplary fate in
the trenches of France. This being, rooted in change and time, is about to
collide with the timeless Gothic eternity of the vampires, for whom all is as
it has always been and will be, whose cards always fall in the same pattern.3 (Carter 97)
the vampirish Countess’s future victim, a Young Man, enters the story. The Man
is virginal, historical rather than fantastical (he will later die in World War
I), and intensely rational. And yet the Young Man, in encountering the
Countess, is about to be sucked back into the past, into Carter’s fairy-tale
world of sex, magic, and violence, in which time is an illusion.
are a few things worth noting here. First, Carter alludes to real historical
events (WWI) and purposefully has them collide with the timeless fairy tales
she has been reinventing. Second, the roles of men and women are somewhat
reversed in this story, as the Young Man is the innocent, virginal hero about
to encounter the sexual and violent “Beast” (the vampiric Lady).
Third, Carter here reiterates the power of virginity as a concept–rather than
just being a kind of blankness or ignorance, virginity has its own power in its
potential, in its innocence and purity.
Metamorphosis can be used in fiction to represent
the presence of two ‘natures’ in one person. As in the Gothic double of Robert
Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), Carter
explores how man can also be beast: ‘hairy on the inside’ (‘The Company of
Wolves’, p. 137).
Transformation revealing some idea of truth is a
common theme of folk and fairy tales. In the original ‘Beauty and the Beast’
the creature is rescued by the goodness of a true woman who restores him to his
handsome self. Carter’s two retellings of the tale offer something quite
different. Mr Lyon loses his attractive and powerful animal qualities and ends
up looking ‘unkempt’ (‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’, p. 54). In ‘The Tiger’s
Bride’ it is not The Beast, but Beauty who is transformed. Having dispatched
her replica to the real world of her father, she is free to shed ‘all the skins
of a life in the world’ (p. 75) and become a beast herself. Carter inverts the
traditional transformation from beast to human and its symbolism. To be
beast-like is to be virtuous; to become ‘manly’ is to be vicious.
Poor, wounded thing… locked half and half between such strange states, an
aborted transformation, an incomplete mystery, now he lies writhing on his
black bed like a Mycenaean tomb, howls like a wolf with his foot in a trap or a
woman in labour, and bleeds.4(Carter
At the end of the story (the last in the
book), the Duke, a werewolf, has been shot. He lies in bed, wounded, caught
halfway between wolf and man. Carter notes the feminized aspects of his
character: he looks like a woman giving birth, and he “bleeds” like a
menstruating woman (as Alice was described earlier in the story).To be caught
halfway between wolf and man, then, is also to be caught halfway between man
Like many of the characters in the book,
the Duke is an androgynous character: even at his most hyper-masculine, Carter
portrays him using feminizing language. Because of Wolf-Alice, the Duke will
eventually transform toward the human, masculine side of his being, and yet
here, he’s caught halfway–man and woman, human and wolf.
Angela. The Bloody Chamber. Penguin Books. 1990.
Matt. “The Bloody Chamber Themes.” LitCharts. LitCharts LLC, 11 May
2014. Web. 28 Nov 2017.
Hola, Postface “Trinacta komnata Angely Carterove”, in Angela Carterova, Krava
komnata, Agro, 1997
Michaela. Feminism and Mythopoetics in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and
Other Stories and Nights at the Circus. Praha, 2017. Diplomová práce.
Univerzita Karlova, Pedagogická fakulta, Katedra anglického jazyka a
literatury. Vedoucí práce Chalupský, Petr.
accessed 25th November 2017
accesed 11th December 2017
1 A reference to de Sade
2 A quote from Puss-in-Boots
quote from The Lady of the House of Love
4 A quote from Wolf-Alice