The Bloody Chamber

Wednesday, 1 June 2011


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)


: : 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)


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.


Tana said...

J`adore the images and the excerpts.I will definitely try to find carter`s book. The music on chiara`s site is magnificent and of course the pictures are wonderful!

Sarah said...

Those images are stunning! I wish I could take some photos like that... simply breath-taking. I agree, they echo Carter's words (I also really love her writing, a twisted pleasure to read) xox By the way, blogger has been playing up, but I wanted to tell you I featured you yesterday in my blog post. :) xox

pRiyA said...

The subject I chose to explore for my Master's in Illustration (years ago in Brisbane)was Angela Carter's perspective on Fairy tales. I illustrated her stories and wrote my thesis about them. Maybe I should dig out these illustrations and use them as my next blog post.

I love the way you've written about her, so I'd like to quote from your post if I may with a link back to your post and to your beautiful blog.

hila said...

of course you can priya!

Olesya said...

On the first day of summer, you! : *
I like this post:)

come and see me too in the blog ^ ^

LORENA said...

(gasp!) these images are just too amazing! that first one especially, wow, beautiful.. will have to look at more of this artist's work..
and you have me super interested in this bloody chamber story too! LoL
definitely following!

pRiyA said...

Thank you Hila :-)

Claudia Rose said...

i want to thank you sincerely, for not only introducing me to a story - or, actually, an entirely different author i had no idea about - but for introducing me to a way of putting everything on a shelf, and engulfing my mind, my soul, my essence into each encapsulating word printed finely, and ever so articulately on the pages of the bloody chamber and other stories book.

vintageveggie said...

there are not words to describe how beautiful these are...

i am in love with the flower tattoo.

Olga said...

I really like the combination of your images and words. You find a nuanced way to connect them.

Sarah Allegra said...

I've been a fan of Chiara Fersini's for a long time, and I've also been meaning to read The Bloody Chamber for a long time. It's moved up to the top of my list :) The images pair so beautifully with the writing segments!

Alyce said...

here's the link I was talking about. A new way to think about writing/creativity ~ enjoy

Dichotomous Darling said...

Everything about this post is beautiful. I think I may just have to put The Bloody Chamber on my 'to read' list. I'm definitely intrigued.

Anita said...

This post is beautiful :)

Thea said...

Yes, I adore The Bloody Chamber. I have not even read all of the stories - it is a collection that I dip in and out of, and I always know there will be a mystery of unread words between the pages, always something new and delicious to discover. Angela Carter is so, so inspiring. And this photography is simply stunning.

tywo said...

Her writing is magical. just like these images.


aldrin said...

I really like "the snow child" passage and how she manages to evoke the image of riding through the alliterative flow of words.

"fresh snow fell on snow already fallen; when it ceased, the whole world was white"

very cool!

Christine said...

The perfect combination of words and images. I must read her stories now.

Jazzy E (hivenn) said...

SO beautiful. x hivenn

naomemandeflores said...

Beautiful images! You have such an amazing ability to combine images and words Hila. That's why I adore this blog!

Camila F.

jodeska said...

Wow. Gorgeous images- her Flickr is well stocked! I'm going to keep an eye out for the book too. x

Lyndall said...

Your blog is so lovely <3

This post is magical~ I adore these images and you're right, they fit so well with Carter's wonderful writing. She's one of my favourite authors, I think I will have to re-read 'The Bloody Chamber' very soon!

CloudyKim said...

I love this post! I got to know about Carter pretty well in college because a friend of mine chose her for our senior project. I still haven't read all of "The Bloody Chamber," but I've liked what I have read.

In addition to the stories you listed, I like "The Lady of the House of Love." It's sad, but beautiful and creative.

As a budding writer who's immersed in fairy tales, I do look up to her. However, I tend to get sick of modern fairy tales that are too dark - it's become a bit of a cliche now. So Carter is great because her language goes beyond that and creates something beautiful as well - three-dimensional.

thea said...

we are kindred spirits. We worked with chiara earlier this year to create some Spoonful posters. her work is quite magical :)


P.S. I'm on the search for the perfect photography to go with your article. I loved your friend's work but am still on the lookout a little :) *wink

Felix Curds said...

I've yet to read any of angela's words and already (because of you!) I love her. There really aren't enough short stories out there. Also, these images are so great and do tell a story in themselves.

Tracey said...

The images are divine indeed. The excerpts you've provided have me wanting to read much more of Angela Carter's work ... I do enjoy a collection of short stories (sometimes I think they have the ability to strike at the heart more powerfully than a novel).

andrea said...

Hey lady, you made it to my weekend links this week. TWICE! <3

Emily said...

Angela Carter, one of my true favourites so this post is a treat for me. Amazing photos, wish I could do something similar. As I've mentioned before, the film of The Company of Wolves is also brilliant.

hila said...

tana: I agree, her website is wonderful.

sarah: thanks again, that was so sweet of you. I do wish blogger would stop acting up, I wonder what's going on?

priya: your masters sounds fascinating, I would love to hear more about it.

olesya: thanks, although it's winter on my side of the world :)

lorena: I'm glad to have perked your interest :)

claudia rose: thanks, it's my pleasure

vintageveggie: I know, isn't it wonderful? when I first saw it I immediately thought of the rose in Beauty and the Beast.

olga: thanks!

sarah allegra: I know, it's as if the images were made for Carter's writing.

alyce: thanks!

dichotomous darling: oh I hope you do read it, it's fantastic.

anita: thank you

thea: I adore angela carter, I wish I could write as well as her.

tywo: yep, magical.

aldrin: I know, that's one of my favourite lines.

christine: yes, please do!

hivenn: I agree, the images are stunning.

camila: oh thanks! how sweet :)

jodeska: yep, I've been stalking her flickr account for a while now :)

lyndall: thank you!

cloudykim: there's always humour and realism in Carter's fantasy and darkness, that's what I like about her. And yes, I really like "The Lady of the House of Love", it's such a great story.

thea: wink back at you :) like I said, I'm happy with whatever you choose to accompany my words. And yes, I'd have to agree that we're kindred spirits - I didn't know you worked with Chiara for spoonful, that's so cool! xx

felix curds: yeah, the short story is an under-appreciated form. I really do love short stories, I wish there were more good ones around.

tracey: maybe because they have an immediacy that novels don't always have - you know, you get a feeling of the whole story immediately. although I do love a good novel too.

andrea: thanks! that's so kind of you :)

emily: I love the company of wolves - both the film and the story.

andrea despot said...

the bloody chamber is one of my favorite books! i love fairy tales and i love them even more when they are told realistically and sensually and darkly. i can't recall a favorite but i remember immediately rereading "the snow child" as soon as i finished it - so visually descriptive!

by the way, since you're obviously a reader, you're no doubt familiar with the little orange/black/white penguin logo for penguin books. on the illustrated editions of carter's books, it changes:

a heart-breasted penguin for "love," a marionette penguin for "the magic toyshop," a devil penguin for "the bloody chamber," a clown penguin for "nights at the circus," a masked penguin for "wise children," a broken-in-half penguin for "shadow dance."

this is the version i have of bloody chamber:

i think it's the coolest thing and was so smitten when i noticed it!

hila said...

andrea: oh that is so cool! I think I saw this before, but you reminded me of it :)