In Angela Carter's "The Bloody Chamber," how does the use of the erotic influence the story?
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Angela Carter's short story, "The Bloody Chamber," is a much more sensual version of the age-old tale of Bluebeard.
The original story—from France—was written by Charles Perrault, and first printed in 1697. There are similar versions popular in other countries: the innocent wife is saved at the last minute by her brothers, or dies at Bluebeard's hands. Traditionally, the story presents the woman as a victim—unable to defend herself—at the mercy of a husband of power and social standing, who also happens to be a serial killer. This version, as others, provides a hero, however, it is a woman—the young girl's mother. This is a very unusual twist by comparison to other versions of the story, and "folktales," in general.
There is mention of Dracula, which is not fully explained, in the story. It's inclusion is interesting as there has often been a component of sexual attraction tied to the many stories of Dracula. In this tale, the young woman is aware of her husband's lust before they marry, and feels her own sexuality awakening within, although she is an innocent. Perhaps she senses a change in herself based upon his influence, or perhaps she was experiencing something common to all people, but generally hidden from public view.
The idea of a character like Dracula draws to mind old B movies which showed beautiful women, in a trance, often dressed as for a bridal night, unable to resist the lure of the monster. The sexual tension in these older movies was underplayed, but simmering just beneath the surface. Each woman was helpless to resist, and the taking of the woman, biting her in the neck, was clearly symbolic of a sexual subjugation that none could withstand. Each victim went willingly, and only the men (the heroes) could resist the creature's call.
This same hypnotism exists with our young bride. Her exposure by the Marquis' hand to pornography is one of her dark initiations into his twisted world. The predatory way he kisses her before the marriage has been consummated, promises a primal connection between the two. The night gown moves over her in a sexual way as well.
The author goes to great lengths to provide innuendo and erotic promise as she sets the stage for the newlyweds to arrive at the Marquis' castle to begin their new life together. As a reader, we are, in this way, hypnotized much like the new bride, or a victim entranced by a dancing cobra ready to strike.
The audience is drawn into the story, as if we were the victims drawn by the mesmerizing influence of the monster pulling us deeper into the plot. The sexual tension adds to the suspense and heightened horror and fear of the "bloody chamber." The literary tactic seems to provide an illusion of irresistible sexual fear and promise from the Marquis, and foreshadows completion or destruction—consummation through fiery passion that follows a parallel path dangerously close to complete annihilation, which our young bride finally recognizes.
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