‘The Bloody Chamber’ by Angela Carter

Adolescence

I was seventeen and knew nothing of the world…

Angela Carter’s masterly retelling of the story of Bluebeard and his murdered wives begins with the seventeen-year-old narrator travelling by train “away from Paris, away from girlhood, away from the white, enclosed quietude of my mother’s apartment, into the unguessable country of marriage.” She is also journeying into that liminal, unpredictable terrain that lies between child- and adulthood; between innocence and experience; between fear and desire. Of her new husband we are told that he is “older than I. He was much older than I; there were streaks of silver in his dark main.” He is also immensely wealthy and a widower a few times over, and it doesn’t take our seventeen year-old narrator long to realise that she is seriously out of her depth: that she has come too soon to that “unguessable country”; and that she will be made to pay a price for her folly.

‘The Bloody Chamber’ is brilliantly sustained piece of floridly gothic writing – by turns darkly funny, sensuously erotic and humanely moving, with gleeful forays into the blackest horror that lies at the heart of all the best fairy tales. Interestingly – and perhaps provocatively – Carter makes her heroine something more than a mere hapless victim. Throughout the story we are not only reminded of the narrator’s youth and innocence, but also of her “potentiality for corruption” and longing for experience, the narrator seeming to accept some degree of responsibility for the fix she finds herself in:

I could not say I felt one single twinge of regret for the world of tartines and maman that now receded from me as if drawn away on a string, like a child’s toy…

First published in The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, by Gollancz, 1979 and currently available from Vintage Classics. Collected in Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories, Chatto & Windus 1995

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