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Review: Sophie Dobson on the Bloody Chamber
“And, for the first time in my innocent and confined life, I sensed in myself a potentiality for corruption that took my breath away.”

“And, for the first time in my innocent and confined life, I sensed in myself a
potentiality for corruption that took my breath away.”

The Bloody Chamber was published in 1979 and written by Angela Carter; a
popular, postmodern novelist. The novel contains a selection of adapted fairy
tales, such as Beauty and the Beast, Puss in Boots, Snow White and many more
we know and love from our childhood. The stories are twisted and contorted to
fit with the more mature themes of sex, puberty, marriage and corruption. Carter
is known for her somewhat controversial topics and graphic language within her
novels; she reverts back to the brutal imagery of the Grimm Brothers and Hans
Christian Anderson. Gone are the conventional plots we have come to know from
Disney; we are plunged into the strange, dark and sometimes disturbing world of
Carter’s imagination.

One of the more sinister and moving stories within the novel is Lady of the
House of Love. We see the story of a female vampire, confined within her
rotting mansion, whose mind is beginning to unravel with the loneliness of her
predicament. Carter’s use of language flows and she even manages to make the
most horrid and decaying things sound beautiful; ”She draws her long, sharp
fingernail across the bars of a cage in which her pet lark sings, striking a plangent
twang like that of the plucked heartstrings of a woman of metal. Her hair falls
down like tears.” In this story, we see a softer side to Carter’s writing; she uses
the rather predictable concept of forbidden love, yet creates a modern twist.

Admittedly, sometimes it does look like Carter tries to shock readers with her
imagery and dialogue. The Bloody Chamber, though brilliant, can be quite hard
to read due to its unrelenting gore and misery; “A dozen husbands impaled a
dozen brides while the mewing gulls swung on invisible trapezes in the empty air
outside.” It is also rather difficult to feel sympathy for the protagonist, as it could
be argued that her fate was forewarned by her psychopath husband; some would
say she walked childishly and willingly into near disaster. In addition, The Snow
Child is a particularly distressing story. The ending is unexpected and deplorable;
“Weeping, the Count got off his horse, unfastened his breeches and thrust his virile
member into the dead girl. The Countess reined in her stamping mare and watched
him narrowly; he was soon finished.” The use of necrophilia and incest in Carter’s
novel could be seen as her merely pushing the boundaries during a time of
revolution; yet others could find this deeply offensive and wrong, no matter what
the creative intention is.

Overall, Carter’s stories are a refreshing change to the unsurprising, cautionary
tales we have read since our childhood. Angela liberates woman from the typical
endings we are so used to – we are told that silly girls get themselves into sticky
situations and face certain death. However, she is saved by a hero at the very last
minute. Yes, sometimes the stories are bloody, alarming and abrasive. Despite
this, they are brilliantly written and most definitely worth the read if you are
open minded.

Sophie Dobson is a young writer based at York St John.