Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story about desire and sexuality is a pleasure to read. Carter’s style is sensuous, evocative, and filled with sensory descriptions, from the Marquis’s skin, with its “toad-like, clammy hint of moisture,” to the key to the forbidden chamber, which slides into the lock “as easily as a hot knife into butter.” Such richly observed descriptions also serve to foreshadow the heroine’s fate. For example, when she browses through the sumptuous leather-bound books in her husband’s library, the titles stamped in gold on their spines foreshadow her own story: “The Initiation,” “The Key of Mysteries,” and “The Secret of Pandora’s Box.” She idly turns the pages of another book, a book of pornography whose sadistic and misogynistic images also prefigure her plight; one is called “Reproof of Curiosity,” another “Immolation of the Wives of the Sultan.” These pornographic images are especially significant because the narrator becomes acutely aware of herself as her husband sees her. The emphasis on the narrator as a visual object—comparable to an illustration out of one of her husband’s books—is underscored by descriptions of her clothes, arranged on heads, hangers, and shoe trees in her dressing room, and of her body, reflected in multiple mirrors in her bedroom. Moreover, the narrator thinks of her husband’s first three wives—whose bodies she later finds in the bloody chamber—as portraits in a “gallery of beautiful women.” Indeed, she describes them in terms of their appearance on the stage, in an artist’s engraving, and in a fashion magazine. Her husband identifies her, apparently, with the portrait of the martyred third century Saint Cecilia that he has given her, and threatens that she will experience a similar martyrdom.

By alluding to other narratives, other illustrations, and other images that repeat the experiences of the young bride, Carter reminds us that the narrator’s story is in some way a repetition of the stories of the three wives who have preceded her. At the same time, her literary allusions, in particular, acknowledge that “The Bloody Chamber” is itself a witty, erotic, and subversive feminist revision of “Bluebeard.”