The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

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His third victim is the Romanian countess whom he bleeds to death in an iron maiden. With his third wife, there appears to have been an element of conspiracy or at least cooperation in the pursuit of the darker aspects of human sexuality. She seems purposely to have identified herself with the more gothic associations of Transylvania, and sends him a postcard of a ‘ghoul’ digging up a grave at midnight with a quote from Baudelaire’s Journaux Intimes: ‘the supreme and unique pleasure of love is the certainty that one is doing evil’. The quotation continues in the original: ‘And men and women possess an innate knowledge that it is in evil that all pleasure is to be found.’ This certainly implies a degree of shared depravity, and also that the countess may have unwittingly encouraged her husband in perpetrating her murder: he has after all sought ‘the supreme and unique pleasure of love’ in inflicting one of the most evil deaths imaginable upon her. The iron maiden (probably never a real medieval torture instrument) represents perhaps the worst degree of cruelty the human mind can conceive: it is difficult to see how the Marquis could go beyond this extreme – and yet within three months of her death, he has settled upon a new bride and developed a fixation surrounding her beheading.

His final fantasy is to see the narrator lying headless on the stones of his castle courtyard; indeed almost all his interactions with her have a strong visual element to them. When he first disrobes her ‘as if stripping the leaves off an artichoke’ there is more than a hint of the ‘gourmand’ ‘devouring’ her with his eyes. More significant perhaps is the fact that, once naked, she looks at herself in the mirrors that allow her to be viewed from all angles and sees in one of them ‘the living image of an etching by Rops from the collection he had shown me’. The trope is repeated later with a reference to an imaginary painting by ‘Moreau’ – the ‘Sacrificial Victim’ – of the painter’s first wife who, when first unclothed, ‘robed herself involuntarily in a blush that reddened her breasts, her shoulders, her arms, her whole body’. The Marquis comments to the effect that ‘[h]e had thought of that story, of that dear girl, when first he had undressed me.’

The dangers inherent in the ‘male gaze’ and the objectification of women could not be more obvious. If the ultimate (extreme) expression of such masculinity is brutal, serial murder, then the best partner for a heterosexual woman must, as the story suggests, be a blind man. Putting the issue in such blunt terms is not meant to trivialise it: the author is using a degree of exaggeration and caricature to make a serious point. The extremes of a position are often revealing of its true nature.

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