The Bloody Chamber isn’t necessarily a retelling of the fairy tales we grew up with, but rather a series of dark, sensual stories that have a foundation in these stories and have taken on a life of their own. The gothic is never far away, hinted at through the repeated motifs of blood, roses, virginity and secluded manor houses. These stories bring attention to the underlying elements of fairytales that are often disturbing, using these traditional tales to discuss contemporary issues. What’s prevalent is that the female voices are the centre of these stories.
The first and titular story in the collection, introduces the reader to Carter’s hypnotic prose. It’s like gorging on a chocolate fudge cake, rich and indulgent, but you can’t stop yourself from eating just another spoonful. Sensory details are at the forefront of the story as a young woman takes her place in her marital home, a secluded castle of the coast of France. The story could be stretched into a torturous novel, as the woman discovers her husband sinister secrets, locked away in a dark chamber. The bliss of her honeymoon quickly turns to horror.
Metamorphosis plays a recurring role within the collection, physical change revealing emotional and psychological transformations. The Courtship of Mr Lyon and The Tiger’s Bride are inspired by Beauty and the Beast. In the former story, Beauty is corrupted by wealth and an indulgent father. After Beast helps her father settle a legal pursuit, she abandons him in favour of high society, but she returns to him in the eleventh hour, sparking his transformation into a man. Throughout the story you question whether he was a beast to begin with. In The Tiger’s Bride we are introduced to an entirely different Beauty. She has a disdain for wealth, having watched her father squander their fortune gambling. He loses her to the Beast during a gambling session. She is taken to the Beast’s dilapidated castle where she must stay until she fulfils his request. In this story, it is Beauty who reverts to a primitive form.
The Lady of the House of Love, was a story I had read in college as part of my literature course but we weren’t given any context to it, which meant I missed out in reading it the first time around. The Sleeping Beauty of this tale is Nosferatu’s only daughter, shut away in her family’s ancient home, hidden from daylight. It is a wonderful combination of a classic fairytale and a penny dreadful. The story is a fight against nature and expectations.
The last three stories in the collection revolve around Red Riding Hood; the grandmother, Red and the wolf reincarnated in different forms.
These are not the cautionary tales of childhood but are equally redemptive and damning. Female curiosity is punished and rewarded, love is corruptive and purifying, and womanhood is undermined and empowered.