The Bloody Chamber

The Bloody Chamber Study Guide

The Bloody Chamber is a collection of short stories by legendary British writer Angela Carter, whose untimely death in 1992 brought her work extensive critical attention. It was first published in 1979, at which time it won the Cheltenham Festival of Literature prize. Many consider The Bloody Chamber to be a feminist reworking of the patriarchal fairy tale form, yet Carter expressly said otherwise. In her view, she was simply exposing the previously obscured core content of fairy tales. She said, "I was taking the latent image - the latent content of those traditional stories and using that; and the latent content is violently sexual, and because I am a woman I read it that way." She also said that despite their female focus, her stories might "affect men much more than women," because in her opinion, women already recognize the falseness in literature that "mythologizes" them. When Carter wrote The Bloody Chamber, she had been reading the work of Bruno Bettelheim, who inspired her to seek out the psychological aspects to fairy tales. She took issue with Bettelheim's assertion that fairy tales are "consoling" to children, and challenged his assertions by unearthing themes of rape, torture, murder, incest, and cannibalism in her own versions. Opposing many academic voices that might exclude fairy tales from the literary canon, Carter said, "I do tend to regard all aspects of culture as coming in on the same level. If fairy tales are the fiction of the poor, then perhaps Paradise Lost is the folklore of the educated."

Carter published The Bloody Chamber two years after translating the fairy tales of Charles Perrault into English, and many of her stories are based on his versions, although they draw from diverse sources. The collection as a whole refocuses traditional fairy tales to address the heroine's experience. In some, the heroine herself claims a voice by acting as narrator. Carter based the book's title and longest story, "The Bloody Chamber," on the legend of Bluebeard. "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon" and "The Tiger's Bride" both originate from Beauty and the Beast. "Puss-in-Boots" comes from the fairy tale of the same name, and "The Erl-King" borrows its title and title character from German and Scandinavian folktales. "The Snow Child" is based on a somewhat obscure version of Snow White, and "The Lady of the House of Love" is based loosely on Sleeping Beauty as well as vampire legends. The last three stories in the collection, "The Werewolf," "The Company of Wolves," and "Wolf-Alice" all draw on versions of Red Riding Hood. "Wolf-Alice," The Bloody Chamber's finale, also incorporates ideas from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There as well as stories of feral children. Carter collaborated on a film version of "The Company of Wolves" with director Neil Jordan, which was released in 1984. The movie reworks the story's ending, of which Carter approved because her interest was in melding her vision with Jordan's. Additionally, several of the stories in The Bloody Chamber have been made into stage plays, especially "The Bloody Chamber" and "The Tiger's Bride." Carter's canonization, though after her death, is evidence that she has fulfilled her "wish to validate [her] claim to a fair share of the future by staking [her] claim to [her] share in the past.'"