The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

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‘“‘One whose hand,/Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away/Richer than all his tribe ...’ I have lost my pearl, my pearl beyond price.”’ – The quotation is from Shakespeare’s Othello, and is part of the titular character’s final speech, shortly after he has been betrayed into murdering his wife. However, the father’s mention of a ‘pearl beyond price’ alludes to the merchant in the gospel parable who finds a ‘pearl of great price’ and sells everything he owns so that he might possess it (Mt 13.46). In the Bible the pearl represents the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, and therefore the salvation of the merchant’s soul. Milord has, effectively, staked his whole fortune on acquiring Beauty, his ‘pearl’.

‘Gulliver's opinion, that horses are better than we are’ – Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels ends with its hero preferring the company of horses to men after discovering the country of the Houyhnhnms in which horses are civilised and rational and human beings are revolting animals called Yahoos. An important hint as to one of Carter’s key ideas in her story.

‘Upper Moor Fields’ – An area of London just beyond the city walls, noted for its lowlife.

‘the Erl-King’s galloper of wind’ – Alternate origins for this figure from Germanic folklore suggest either ‘the king of the elves’ or the Odin-like leader of the ‘Wild Hunt’. Here, he seems to have an invisible horse associated with the wind.

‘born of a bear, they whispered’ – The saga hero Bodvar Byarki and his three brothers were born of a union between a woman and ‘Bjorn’ – a character who is a bear by day and a man by night.

‘where fruit and blossom grew on the bough together.’ – traditionally emblematic of paradise, which had no seasonal changes. Milord’s dining-room of horses reflects Gulliver’s belief that horses are superior to men, referenced earlier.

‘a soubrette from an operetta,’ – a soubrette is a secondary female character, who often acts as a confidante to the female lead, and is generally younger and lighter of mind.

‘her bowels churning out a settecento minuet’ – a dance-tune from the seventeenth century. The phrase ‘churning out’ refers to the revolving drum of the musical box contained within the automaton’s innards.

‘her little mirror’ – The supernatural mirror is a glance at the original story in which Beauty is consoled with being able to view her father from afar. Ironically, in this version, she is not interested in seeing her father at all.

‘a little shagreen box’ – covered with a rough, grainy leather made from certain animal hides.

‘a rippling fart of gavotte’ – a gavotte is (here the music of) a French rural dance.

‘“Tantivy! tantivy! a-hunting we will go!”’ – The valet is singing the traditional English song ‘A-Hunting We Will Go’, which ends with the line ‘Tantivy! Tantivy! Tantivy! A-hunting we will go!’ To ride ‘tantivy’ means to ride at full gallop.

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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.

Available HERE where you can read the opening chapters.

The Unkindness of Ravens by Anthony Paul