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.”

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In her fiction, Angela Carter combines elements of surrealism, myth, and eroticism with feminist and political observations. Her work is distinguished by its display of unrestrained imagination, colorful imagery, and sensuous prose. Although alternately praised and faulted for her extravagant gothic approach, Carter is highly regarded as a writer of unique and imaginative fiction.

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories contains thematically linked stories, many derived from fables and fairy tales. In this collection, Carter is both an analyst of fairy tales and their cultural implications and an improviser, using the tales as a base for imaginative speculation. To supply the missing erotic quality at the narrative level is one of her objectives. Each of the ten stories in this collection has a starting point in a fairy tale or legend, but from this point it expands into an elaborate, fanciful sexual allegory. The substance of the old tales can accommodate fresh varieties of meaning and reverberation, and although the imagery remains traditional, its range of associations is easily extended. In the tales of Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen, and the Brothers Grimm, the fundamental emotions of fear, relief, horror, and triumph are unambiguous, but the pattern of events is often more complex than it appears. The story of Little Red Riding Hood, for example, raises interesting questions about exactly what is embodied in whom, and in “The...

(The entire section is 580 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

By retelling traditional fairy-tale plots with a heightened interest in their erotic subtexts, and with an emphasis on female narrators, Angela Carter reclaims a traditionally conservative literary genre for the female reader. The clearly feminist resolution of “The Bloody Chamber,” with the narrator’s mother speeding to her daughter’s rescue, pistol in hand and ready to fire, adds a new dimension to the familiar fairy-tale genre. Richly inventive, the stories in the collection exude an aura of the forbidden as they place in the foreground female responses to fear and desire, an area of response frequently ignored in fairy tales and folktales. Her colorful imagery and sensuous prose have the power to cause readers to think again, and deeply, about the mythic sources of common cultural icons and to plunge them into speculation about aspects of animal and human nature.

The stories here anticipate Carter’s macabre inventiveness in Black Venus (1985), where Charles Baudelaire’s mistress, Edgar Allan Poe and his mother, and alleged ax-murderer Lizzie Borden make their fantastic appearances.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Feminism in Literature
The year 1979 marked the end of a decade known as the feminist movement's ‘‘second wave.’’ The...

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Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Point of View
One of the most striking changes Carter makes to her version of Bluebeard is the point of view. Whereas the...

(The entire section is 633 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Critics have noted the influence of Carter's interest in anthropology in The Bloody Chamber. Explain.

Research Richard...

(The entire section is 114 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Carter's collection of folklore from different cultures, Old Wives' Fairy Tale Book (1990), examines the common themes of the genre...

(The entire section is 160 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Carter, Angela. Interview by Kerryn Goldsworthy. Meanjin 44, no. 1 (March, 1985): 4-13. Carter surveys the progress of her career, books which have been influential on her development, the role of the writer in society, and forms and genres that lend themselves to women’s writing.

Carter, Angela, ed. The Old Wives’ Fairy Tale Book. New York: Pantheon Books, 1990. This collection gathers together less well known fairy tales and folktales from the English-speaking world. What is distinctive here is Carter’s insistence that all the tales have female protagonists and that one section of the anthology be devoted to “Clever Women, Resourceful Girls, and Desperate Stratagems.”

Carter, Angela. The Sadeian Woman. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978. This book examines the relationship of sexuality to power. Using the extreme perceptions of the French revolutionary the Marquis de Sade as a point of departure for her own controversial insights, Carter demonstrates that sexuality is constructed not from gender, but from relations of power and politics.

Duncker, Patricia. “Re-Imagining the Fairy Tales: Angela Carter’s Bloody Chambers.” Literature and History 10, no. 1 (Spring, 1984): 3-14. This article examines the eroticism of the tales in The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories and argues that Carter is following a pornographic model in which women’s sensuality is simply a response to male arousal. Claims that Carter has no conception of women’s sexuality as autonomous desire.

Fowl, Melinda G. “Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber Revisited.” Critical Survey 3, no. 1 (1991): 71-79. A study of Carter’s treatment of the foreign, or “the other,” in “The Tiger’s Bride” and “The Lady of the House of Love.” Exploring the dynamics of self and other in these tales allows Carter to probe issues of identity and difference, gender relationships, and paradoxical longings for independence and mutuality in a relationship.

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Carter, Angela, The Sadeian Woman, New York: Pantheon Books, 1978, p. 154.

Carter, Angela,...

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