(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Carter rewrites the legend of Bluebeard in “The Bloody Chamber,” making it her tour de force in this collection. The confessional voice of the tale is that of experience, the girl-bride recalling her initiation into the adult world. Carter’s story and all the earlier versions of the Bluebeard legend are about women’s masochistic complicity in male sexual aggression.

“The Bloody Chamber” uses all the images and trappings of the gothic romance: the remote castle, the virgin at the mercy of the tormented hero-villain, the enclosed spaces, hidden atrocities, women masochistically eager for the corruption of sexuality. The pervading themes of pornography are there as well: domination, control, humiliation, possession through murder, all perpetrated on willing, eager victims. Carter’s tale carefully creates the classical pornographic model of sexuality, which has a definite meaning and endorses a particular kind of fantasy—that of male sexual tyranny within a marriage that is grossly unequal. The child-bride is responsive to her husband’s desire and ready to be “impaled” among the lilies of death, while his face has a promise of debauchery and a rare talent for corruption. Carter creates a sexual model that endorses the natural and normal sadism of the male, complemented by the normal and natural masochism of the female. The husband of “The Bloody Chamber” is a connoisseur, a collector of pornography. When the child-bride peers at the titles in his bookcase—The Initiation, The Key to the Mysteries, The Secret of Pandora’s Box—she finds the texts for the knowledge she later reads in blood, a guide to her fate. These titles are made real in her husband’s collection of murdered wives when she finally does penetrate the secrets of the bloody chamber.

Yet Carter has created two other figures in her rewriting of the tale whose actions and presence alter the terms of the unequal conflict between husband and wife. One of the child-bride’s rescuers is the blind piano tuner, Jean-Yves, who loves the child-bride not for her beauty, but for her gift of music. Only with the blind man who humbly serves her music can Carter envision a marriage of equality for the Marquis’ bride. The real savior of the child-bride, however, is a figure who seldom if ever appears in fairy tales: the mother as traveling heroine, who arrives to shoot the Marquis just as he is about to decapitate her...

(The entire section is 1000 words.)