The Bloody Chamber

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I generally love anything Angela Carter has written. She simply had magic in her fingers, or perhaps in her mind, and she passed away too young. But as much as I admire her novels, her short stories have made the strongest impression on me. Whenever I’m in a bad mood and need to lose myself in stories, I pick up a copy of The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. It’s a slim volume, but packed with beautifully crafted words.

Originally published in 1979, Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is the kind of collection of short stories that makes you feel as if your own vocabulary is sorely lacking. One of the most distinctive features of her writing style is her ability to combine sensuality and witty profanity with such skill. Usually, authors like to move in one direction or the other, not both. On the cover of my copy of The Bloody Chamber is a quote by Ian McEwan in which he describes the book as ‘magnificent set pieces of fastidious sensuality’. That’s the perfect way to describe Carter’s writing in general: fastidious sensuality. She can capture desire, sexual energy, passion and love in ways that aren’t cliché or flowery, but yet, are still somehow abundantly evocative and stirring. Since so many writers, in my opinion, relegate desire to the realm of stereotypes, Carter’s ability to describe it in such an authentic yet carefully thought-out manner is truly surprising.

But above all, The Bloody Chamber is all about fairy tales. The book is essentially a collection of modern fairy tales, reworked in a blatantly political manner. And by ‘political’, I mean ideological. As a feminist writer, Carter doesn’t just appropriate the familiar narrative territory of fairy tales for the sake of creating beautiful stories (although, this would have been enough). Rather, she shows us the politics behind these original stories: Beauty and the Beast taught girls the virtues of self-sacrifice, docility and passivity; Little Red Riding Hood demonstrated what happened to bad little girls seduced by cunning wolf-men; and most fairy tales extol the virtues of physical beauty and the assumption of women as victims, waiting to be saved by a prince. Carter makes this explicit. She is aware that most fairy tales began their life as stories for adults, not children, and she creates her own, very adult modern fairy tales. More than that though, she seeks to transcend the gendered assumptions in traditional fairy tales, suggesting that men and women really are more complex and interesting than simple generalisations about their nature would allow.

When I saw Chiara Fersini’s beautiful photography, I immediately thought of Carter’s words. All of the images you see in this post are by Chiara, who like Carter, breathes new life into familiar visual imagery. I love how her photography suggests the fairy tale mode, but also hints at other, unknown and yet to be written narratives. Thank you Chiara, for letting me feature your work in this post.

I love all the stories in Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, but I have four particular favourites. I feel like my words are inadequate in describing why I love these stories, so instead, I will let Carter do the speaking, along with Chiara’s beautiful images. Hopefully, these small glimpses into the introductory passages from my favourite four stories will tantalise and inspire you to pick up a copy of The Bloody Chamber and continue reading.

the bloody chamber

: : The Bloody Chamber

I remember how, that night, I lay awake in the wagon-lit in a tender, delicious ecstasy of excitement, my burning cheek pressed against the impeccable linen of the pillow and the pounding of my heart mimicking that of the great pistons ceaselessly thrusting the train that bore me through the night, away from Paris, away from girlhood, away from the white, enclosed quietude of my mother’s apartment, into the unguessable country of marriage. (p. 7)

beauty and the beast

: : The Courtship of Mr Lyon

Outside her kitchen window, the hedgegrow glistened as if the snow possessed a light of its own; when the sky darkened towards evening, an unearthly, reflected pallor remained behind upon the winter’s landscape, while still the soft flakes floated down. This lovely girl, whose skin possesses the same, inner light so you would have thought she, too, was made all of snow, pauses her chores in the mean kitchen to look out at the country road. (p. 41)

snow white

: : The Snow Child

Midwinter – invincible, immaculate. The Count and his wife go riding, he on a grey mare and she on a black one ... ; and she wore high, black, shinning boots with scarlet heels, and spurs. Fresh snow fell on snow already fallen; when it ceased, the whole world was white. ‘I wish I had a girl as white as snow,’ says the Count. They ride on. They come to a hole in the snow; this hole is filled with blood. He says: ‘I wish I had a girl as red as blood.’ So they ride on again; here is a raven, perched on a bare bough. ‘I wish I had a girl as black as that bird’s feather.’ (p. 91)

wolves

: : The Company of Wolves

One beast and only one howls in the woods by night. The wolf is carnivore incarnate and he’s as cunning as he’s ferocious; once he’s had a taste of flesh, nothing else will do. At night, the eyes of wolves shine like candle flames, yellowish, reddish, but that is because the pupils of their eyes flatten on darkness and catch the light from your lantern to flash it back to you – red for danger; if a wolf’s eyes reflect only moonlight, then they gleam a cold and unnatural green, a mineral a piercing colour. (p. 110)

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All images are copyrighted to Chiara Fersini, all rights reserved. Visit her website and flickr account to see more. Thanks Chiara, I have no idea how you can create such spectacular images.

All excerpts are from: Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, London: Vintage, 1995.