The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

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The importance of these two characters is both obvious and intriguing. Spaniels in particular are known for the loyalty and affection they show to their masters and mistresses – and indeed to everyone with whom they come into contact. This feature is foregrounded in ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’ when the spaniel journeys all the way to London to fetch Beauty, arriving ‘matted with mud, her coat […] dusty and snarled, […] thin as a dog that has walked a long way’. Although in a rather more overtly comic mode, the simian valet’s antics show him also desperate to please his master, and he does everything he can to persuade the narrator to do as Milord wishes, even when he is obviously embarrassed by his master’s requests.

The love and loyalty of beasts is therefore placed on a higher level than the love and loyalty of men and women – an element already present to an extent in the original story. This is intriguing, since rather like the unconventional household with which Carter ends ‘The Bloody Chamber’ – the narrator, her blind husband and her mother – the union of beast-man and Beauty in its various forms allows a different kind of successful union and harmony between the genders. It is by eschewing civilised humanity – understood in the negative sense first proposed in the eighteenth century by the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau – and combining the sexes on a more ‘animal’ level that problems such as the male gaze and patriarchal hegemony can be eluded.

‘Full Nakedness’ and Transformation

‘The Bloody Chamber’ and ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ both have similar scenes in which a female’s nudity before the male gaze is apparently fetishized. In the first story, the bride is stripped like ‘an artichoke’ before a panoply of mirrors; in the second it is apparently Milord’s dearest wish to see the ‘sight of a young lady's skin that no man has seen before’. Both appear to be blatant examples of the male gaze and female objectification. However, the meaning of this incident in ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ is hidden from the reader at this point in the tale. At the end, Milord himself strips, and is revealed to be a tiger: a ‘great, feline, tawny shape whose pelt was barred with a savage geometry of bars the colour of burned wood.’ Only when she has seen his naked form is the narrator also willing to strip herself bare.
The very fact that no one considers an animal to be ‘naked’ – the concept has little meaning in such a context – makes this act of stripping essentially different to that in ‘The Bloody Chamber’. It is, however, certainly not desexualised. The narrator’s nakedness and subsequent transformation is conveyed in unmistakably sensual language:

And each stroke of his tongue ripped off skin after successive skin, all the skins of a life in the world, and left behind a nascent patina of shining hairs. My earrings turned back to water and trickled down my shoulders; I shrugged the drops off my beautiful fur.

Gulliver’s Travels that ‘horses are better than we are’, as well as her sense of the close connection between an ‘irrational’ virgin and irrational beasts. It is also perhaps worth noting that Indian folktales speak sometimes of ‘were-tigers’, and it was believed in Europe that a werewolf could hide his pelt beneath his human skin.

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the Unkindness of Ravens If you have found our critical notes helpful, why not try the first Tower Notes novel, a historical fantasy set in the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions.

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