The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

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In ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’, this is relatively straightforward: separated from Beast, Beauty breaks her promise to return to him not because of the deceit of her siblings (as in the original tale), but because her own character develops various ‘wicked sister’ elements:

She was learning, at the end of her adolescence, how to be a spoiled child and that pearly skin of hers was plumping out, a little, with high living and compliments. A certain inwardness was beginning to transform the lines around her mouth, those signatures of the personality, and her sweetness and her gravity could sometimes turn a mite petulant when things went not quite as she wanted them to go. You could not have said that her freshness was fading but she smiled at herself in mirrors a little too often, these days

Mirrors also figure in ‘The Bloody Chamber’ where they allow the narrator to share in the ‘male gaze’ of her own nakedness and vulnerability. Beauty’s ‘inwardness’ here is probably intended as another instance of the male gaze transferred, as it were, to female eyes (this is an important aspect of the concept, as understood by feminist thought, and was recognised as such by the inventor of the term, Laura Mulvey). In ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’, the arrival of the spaniel breaks the spell of the male gaze before it can corrupt Beauty and so she rushes back to Beast, who is lying on his deathbed. In this manner, Carter replaces Leprince de Beaumont’s moral parable with another of her own devising.

The situation in the ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ is different, and, arguably, much more interesting. Perhaps the most touching aspect of Beauty’s character in the original version is her devotion to her father (indeed the father-daughter relationship is often idealised in fairy tales). This is immediately turned on its head by Carter in her second adaptation of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ as the narrator’s father is a worthless gambling addict who loses his daughter in a bet and consequently is regarded with contempt by the ‘Beauty’ character throughout the story. The latter is given a feisty, devil-may-care personality by Carter and resembles more the tiger-slaying mother of ‘The Bloody Chamber’ than any of the other female protagonists of the collection so far. In terms of the traditional polarity between ‘good sister’ and ‘wicked sisters’, Carter hints at a much more interesting binary in the heroine of ‘The Tiger’s Bride’. This is prepared for in the delineation of two minor characters: the shepherd who was allegedly born of a union between the ‘wagoner’s lass’ and a bear (‘Born with a full pelt and teeth’), and, most interestingly, with the ‘tiger-man’ ‘brought […] from Sumatra, in the Indies […]; his hinder parts […] all hairy and only from the head downwards did he resemble a man.’

This motif of a creature who is ‘half-man, half-beast’ recalls the classical images of satyr and centaur, and also King Lear’s memorable and misogynistic gibe about the female sex:

Down from the waist they are centaurs,
Though women all above;
But to the girdle do the gods inherit,
Beneath is all the fiends’ (IV.vi)

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