The Gothic Stories of Angela Carter

 Anticipation is the greater part of pleasure

The Bloody Chamber (or The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories) is a collection of short Gothic novels by English writer Angela Carter. She bases the stories on fairy tales, especially the folk tales of French collector Charles Perrault, whose prose Carter translated beforehand. Carter rewrites the plots of famous fairy tales in a unique style. This article contains a few spoilers.

Let’s start with the first novel, Bloody Chamber. A beautiful teenage girl marries an older wealthy French Marquis whom she does not love. He gifts her a choker made of rubies, warning her against taking it off… This story is based on the famous fairy tale The Bluebeard. Gloomy husband, curious bride, a forbidden place, a disobedient wife… and a twist. In Carter’s story, a mother saves a young girl from becoming part of a specific collection. Does it have a happy ending? Our beautiful girl receives a red mark on her forehead, and a key in a memory of her spouse.

The novels The Courtship of Mr Lyon and The Tiger’s Bride explore the story of Beauty and the Beast. A father who steals a miraculous white rose for his beloved daughter, and a father who loses his daughter to strange Milord in a game of cards… But in a twist ending, one of the heroines transforms at the end into a glorious tiger like her chosen one, because love takes many forms.

Other novels are also easily recognizable by the title. Like Puss-in-Boots whomAngela Carter has described as “the Cat as Con Man… a masterpiece of cynicism… a Figaroesque valet—a servant so much the master already.” The Snow Child is a reference to 19th-century German fairy tale Snow White or a character from the the Russian taleThe Snow Maiden (Snegurochka).

In the novel, The Lady of the House of Love, the main heroine is a vampire who lives inRomania in a mansion… She herself is a haunted house. She does not possess herself; her ancestors sometimes come and peer out of the windows of her eyes and that is very frightening. She falls in love with a virginal English soldier who accidentally trespasses in her home. The heroine changes her immortality to experience love and death. An impregnable castle, beautiful mistress with a secret, knight without fear and reproach? It must be Sleeping Beauty!

 Those are the voices of my brothers, darling; I love the company of wolves

One of the most interesting stories lies in the novel based on Little Red Riding Hood, The Company of Wolves. This novel even has its own film adaptation, directed by Neil Jordan and starring Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, Stephen Rea and David Warner in 1984. This was Carter’s first experience in writing for film. The beginning of the novel describes the wolf as an evil thing. The film adaptation includes four stories related to werewolves. One tells us about a young bride whose groom escaped on their wedding night, feeling “the call of nature.” Another narrates the story of the young witch angry at the local nobles. She turned all who came to the wedding into wolves by declaring “the wolves in the forest are more decent.”

The main story is about the dreaming girl Rosaleen in the modern day. In Jordan’s opinion, such structure makes clear the story’s focus on subconscious fears and desires. But what fears? And which desires?

Young Rosaleen on her way to grandmother encounters in the wood an attractive huntsman whose eyebrows meet (one of the main signs of werewolf). Rosaleen again meets the huntsman in her grandmother’s house and understands that something is wrong. The heroine sympathizes with the hunter and asks him to give her a kiss. What big teeth you have! After Rosaleen “accidentally” injures the huntsman with his own rifle, he transforms into a wolf. Rosaleen takes pity on the wounded beast, noting that his pack could leave him behind. Poor creatures. It’s freezing cold out there. No wonder they howl so.

Rosaleen does not fear wolves in their true form. Earlier in the story, Rosaleen spoke to her grandmother about her missing sister.

Granny: Your only sister, all alone in the wood, and nobody there to save her. Poor little lamb.

Rosaleen: Why couldn’t she save herself?

– The Company of Wolves

This dialogue exposes Rosaleen’s mood. She believes a heroine is responsible for herself and should not be afraid to face an unknown force, even if this force is the primal instinct of a wolf. When huntsman threatens, Rosaleen just laughs in his face and wants to expose him, stripping off his clothes and throwing them into the fire. Ordered innocence conquers his uncontrollable instinct and his defeats wolf thirst. We keep the wolves outside by living well. But then what do we keep inside? Maybe Rosaleen can answer on this question. Taming a wolf is a great merit, but taming a wolf in yourself is no less a victory, because “every wolf in the world now howled a prothalamion outside the window as she freely gave the kiss she owed him…”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marianna Kaplun was born in Moscow. She is candidate of philological sciences specializing in the first Russian drama and theatre of XVIIth century. She’s also a film and TV critic by calling. You can find her essays on her Lumiere page and on her blog.

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