Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Bloody Chamber - Angela Carter

After reading 'Once Upon a Time' - where Carter is a big presence - it seemed sensible to go back to 'The Bloody Chamber', or to be specific 'Burning your Boats' the collected short stories; great for saving money and space, not so great for introductions which is a shame.

I can't remember when I first read 'The Bloody Chamber', probably some time in my 20's, but I clearly remember the impact they had. Until 'The Bloody Chamber' my experience of fairy tales had been childhood and Disney versions, Carter's opulent, dark, sexually charged versions were unsettling to the point of being iconoclastic. Re reading them now it's still easy to understand why I found the book so disturbing first time round but having encountered so many more tellings of these stories in the intervening years along with a fair amount of theory the effect is somewhat diluted. I can also begin to appreciate how influential Carter has been both on the telling of fairy stories - I was going to say especially to adults, but then started to wonder how versions meant for adults have changed how we present these stories to children - and on my own imagination.

In the absence of an introduction Wikipedia tells me that Carter said "My intention was not to do 'versions' or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, 'adult fairy tales', but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories." The more I think about that statement the less clear I am about what it actually means. As for the stories themselves, most of them seem to be intent on having fun - of which Puss-in-Boots is the best example. It's bawdy and funny; a mildly dirty story that could be told in a pub, along with the wolf stories, and perhaps The Tiger's Bride it also feels the most 'authentic' (for want of a better word) to me.

Authentic is a clumsy choice to try and express what I mean but what appeals to me about the Grimm's tales is the way they're so stripped back to basics. The framework remains and experience shows that each teller can add whatever details appeal, or can be imagined, or seem appropriate for the listener - which is surely how it should be.

The most disturbing tale in 'The Bloody Chamber' is without doubt The Snow Child, as pared down as anything the Grimm's offer up it's deliberately confrontational with something of the feel of a crime report about it. It's brevity gives the reader nowhere to hide, as Puss-in-Boots does, from images which are truly shocking. For all the gothic splendour of the other stories it's The Snow Child that demonstrates Carter's power as a writer, and it's done in just over a page.

Something I'd forgotten about 'The Bloody Chamber' is how Carter recycles her own images and ideas, working out the same plot with different characters in different stories. I'm not sure if this was meant as a collection from the beginning or if it became a place to keep a body of work but there was a point when reading began to feel like an academic exercise, to get the most out of the book it's perhaps best read sparingly, it certainly rewards a bit of time as well as thought.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, I haven't read this yet but I feel I'm halfway as I do have a copy. I loved her Nights at the Circus but then couldn't warm at all to The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (I just don't think I 'do' dystopia), so I've been putting off something that your descriptions tells me that I quite obviously will love.