The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

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‘I lirruped and hurrumphed to my shining black companion’ – The first word is an onomatopoeic coinage; the second a variant of ‘harrumphed’, meaning to clear one’s throat. The point here is that the narrator is not using words, but sounds to communicate with her ‘companion’. Milord, too, communicates in grunts and growls – it is only the simian who ‘apes’ human words. The narrator’s lirruping and hurrumphing therefore is part of her accommodation to a deeper, and more fulfilling, animalistic life.

‘a little shaggy pony nuzzling away at the trompe l'oeil foliage beneath the hooves of the painted horses on the wall’ – trompe l'oeil is a style of painting based on the techniques of optical illusion. Here the pony is so taken in it tries to eat the painted leaves.

‘the witches who let the winds out of their knotted handkerchiefs up towards the Finnish border’ – Tying a knot in cords – often to make a ‘witch’s ladder’ – is a common element in witchcraft; here a wind-making spell has been caught in the knots of a handkerchief. Finland (and particularly Lapland) was noted for its witches and shamans.

‘then the six of us – mounts and riders, both – could boast amongst us not one soul, either, since all the best religions in the world state categorically that not beasts nor women were equipped with the flimsy, insubstantial things’ – Christianity and Islam have both been accused from time to time as teaching that women do not have souls, but there is no evidence that this was ever believed or taught in either religion. Carter’s point here in having her narrator repeat the libel underlines the traditional distinction between animal and human souls – the latter being possessed of the power to reason (possessed of a rational soul). As an ‘irrational’ virgin, the narrator feels a closer kinship with animals than with men.

‘when the good Lord opened the gates of Eden and let Eve and her familiars tumble out’ – ‘familiars’ is a word used for animals that have a special connection with a witch. There is often a suggestion that the animals can communicate with their mistresses, echoing the story in the Book of Genesis in which Eve converses with the serpent. The narrator implies Eve had many other ‘familiars’ among the beasts of Eden.

‘Kublai Khan's leopards went out hunting on horseback’ – Presumably referring to Marco Polo’s statement that the great Khan was accustomed to riding ‘through the park with a leopard behind him on his horse’s croup’.

‘the Czar's menagerie at Petersburg’ – Found in the Park of Tsarkoye Selo, fifteen miles south of the city.

‘a jinn's treasury’ – ‘jinn’ is another word for a ‘genie’.

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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