The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

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When she first sees him naked, she comments: ‘I felt my breast ripped apart as if I suffered a marvellous wound.’ This is perhaps not entirely dissimilar to the way in which the protagonist of ‘The Bloody Chamber’ comes to enjoy the ‘corruption’ of being objectified and humiliated by the Marquis, to such an extent that the stain on her forehead seems to mark her out as almost complicit in his plan to fetishize her murder. Even the more fairy-tale character of Beauty finds herself imagining her own death in an analogous manner: ‘when she saw the great paws lying on the arm of his chair, she thought: they are the death of any tender herbivore. And such a one she felt herself to be, Miss Lamb, spotless, sacrificial.’ It is her duty, however, that leads her to stay at this point in the narrative, rather than any subliminal attraction to the Beast.

These broad similarities with ‘The Bloody Chamber’, however, are far less significant than the differences. In accord with the original ‘Beauty and the Beast’, both Mr Lyon and Milord are not seen as evil characters like the Marquis. In the latter’s characterisation, his animality is seen – more traditionally – as a stark lessening of his humanity: he ends the story a murderous ‘beast’ that can only be put down, so trapped in his fetishized sexuality that his actions become as inescapably predictable as those of the animatronic ‘Bluebeard’ at a fairground.

Sisters Three

One of the most obvious changes Carter makes to ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is in suppressing Beauty’s two sisters. These are not the ugly sisters of ‘Cinderella’ – they are beautiful, although not as beautiful as Beauty – but the point Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont makes very clear in her version is that their moral qualities are inadequate compared to the ‘inner beauty’ of her heroine. The two sisters are full of pride and jealousy, and as in the ‘Cinderella’ story, they combine to bully the good character, whose selflessness and stoicism is thereby emphasised. As the tale progresses, they proceed to make bad matches with husbands who are good-looking and witty, but otherwise worthless. Beauty, by contrast, becomes attracted by Beast’s genuinely good qualities in spite of his appearance and is rewarded with marriage to a handsome prince. The original tale is, therefore, a straightforward moral parable, with a large number of supernatural elements (most of which are suppressed by Carter).

Her purpose in removing the ‘three sisters’ plot is more than just to unweave the element of moral parable from the story. Whereas the original presents Beauty as pure and good and the polar opposite of her wicked sisters, removing the latter allows Carter to explore various binaries within ‘Beauty’ herself.

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