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Angela Carter's "The Bloody Chamber" and the religious/mythic

Updated on February 26, 2013

There is so much content in this short story that I can only skim the text here, but I hope that you find this brief analysis of value. It is known that this story is based on the Bluebeard folktale, ans Carter actually translated Perrault's story from French. If you are interested in pursuing the themes discussed below, I would suggest reading her translation as well as looking into ideas she might have been involved with concerning feminism or patriarchy. I wrote a paper about this story being a re-imagining of the story of Genesis, and its implications about God's role in the Fall of Man, and you can be certain that the ideas below tie into that.

The religious/mythic subtext in this story I found very interesting. Some very obvious allusions to original sin are laid all about “The Bloody Chamber”, and Carter raises an interesting criticism/observation on the subject.

Probably most blatant is the comparison of the heroine to Eve and Pandora, and how she is being “punished” for “disobeying” her master. Eve and Pandora are interesting to compare to the heroine for 3 reasons: firstly, these myths are symbolic for a ‘dangerous temptation/curiosity’, secondly Pandora’s and Eve’s actions cause the release of mankind’s evils into the world, and thirdly the nature of the tempted and objects of temptation comes into question.

Just like Eve and Pandora’s drive to discover forbidden knowledge, our heroine faces a similar circumstance as she is tempted by this apple/box/key to discover the true nature of her master (a closeness with God? consider just what it means for Eve to eat the fruit, and for the heroine to open the door).

Just like Eve and Pandora, the heroine’s actions lead to her own corruption: in succumbing to her curiosity, she damns herself. I found the blood on the key/forehead here very interesting. I’ve read a couple of fables (East of the Sun and West of the Moon, The Black Bull of Norroway) where the protagonists (both females) are tasked to clean a washcloth of a wax or blood stain. The pagan figures (trolls and witches) were unable to clean the cloth, but the protagonists, because of their purity, were able to clean the stains. Carter’s heroine is unable to clean the bloodstain from either object. She has branded herself with SIN. It should be mentioned that all the women who’ve ‘sinned’ like the heroine in this story are subsequently sent to the Marquis’ “enfer” after they have died. The Heroine makes a similar comparison of the chamber/hell later ([the chamber door] “crashed to… like the door of hell”).

Now, what is driving these characters to their transgressions? Pandora is actually moulded by the Gods (i.e. her nature is determined by her very existence, for the Gods naturally chose that she be curious), and her box of horrors is actually gifted to her by those same Gods! Well, by Zeus anyway: the figurehead/all-father of the pantheon. Eve is also a product of God (fashioned by him from Adam’s rib), and Carter’s observations surface when questioning the nature of her Sin and damnation. Where exactly did this apple come from? While some may reason that the serpentine devil is the one to tempt Eve, it is arguable that God is in fact the one responsible for original Sin. The very presence of this tree/apple is what causes Eve to transgress God, and just by placing them there and telling her not to eat this fruit is he tempting her. Why in hell is this tree put there and given special attention to by God? Well, it is clear to Carter that it’s the same reason that the Marquis so clearly does the same with this key. The Marquis is careful to pretend reluctance to hand over the key, and the fact that it’s door is literally the only thing that the Marquis denies the heroine. What’s the reason? It is because he wants her to betray him in her pursuit of forbidden knowledge. It should be mentioned that the heroine's "corruptibility" is said to be integral to her, even before she loses her purity to the Marquise, and notice how the Marquise reminds her of her father (cigar aroma). Carter is less-than-subtle as she describes his “guilty joy as he slowly ascertained how I had sinned.”

There is a ridiculous amount of stuff in this text, and many points can be raised further, such as the likeness of the Marquis to God (he tells the heroine to kneel before him, he talks like he's communing with God), the symbolism of the lilies (religiously symbolic of purity and chastity, and they are important to the Marquis. Interesting how he is only interested in the heroine because she is a virgin and naïve – i.e. she hasn’t sinned/is pure), the unending use of the symbolic colours white/red, and the mentions of St. Cecilia/Martyrdom, and the relationship between Liebestod and the nature of God's apparently very sinister nature behind our covenant with Him. Just some ideas to be explored further!

Further Reading

Angela Carter's "The Bloody Chamber"
NOTE: This link will download a word document with the full text. I cannot find a webpage that supports the whole story, and so I will consider posting it myself at a later date.

Pandora: The First Woman
NOTE: A substantial explanation of the mythological figure of Pandora, for those who are unfamiliar with the myth.

The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault
NOTE: This particular translation is done by Robert Samber and J.E. Mansion, not Angela Carter. I cannot find her translation for free, so I would consider ordering it if you are interested in pursuing the relation of Bluebeard with "The Bloody Chamber." I will perhaps write an analysis based on the Bluebeard fairytale in the future.


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