Archive for July, 2014

THE BLOODY CHAMBER by ANGELA CARTER

 

BloodyChamber

The last thing the old lady saw in all this world was a young man, eyes like cinders, naked as a stone, approaching her bed.
Every womans’ dream way to go?

Wiki says

The Bloody Chamber (or The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories) is a collection of short fiction by Angela Carter. It was first published in the United Kingdom in 1979 by Gollancz[1] and won the Cheltenham Festival Literary Prize. All of the stories share a common theme of being closely based upon fairytales or folk tales. However, Angela Carter has stated:

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.[2]

The anthology contains ten stories: “The Bloody Chamber”, “The Courtship of Mr Lyon”, “The Tiger’s Bride”, “Puss-in-Boots”, “The Erl-King”, “The Snow Child”, “The Lady of the House of Love”, “The Werewolf”, “The Company of Wolves” and “Wolf-Alice”.

If you are the kind of reader for whom words like florid, gothic, rich, dark, obscure, over the top and mysterious; generate interest and excitement,  then Angela Carter may be for you. I am one such. if on the other hand you infer from them that the the book is amateurish or old fashioned, trying too hard, or cliched;  then give her a miss.
I loved it for the joy of language. It is full of outlandish and inspired metaphors, similes and adjectives – all the things that have been outlawed from much of modern ‘literary’ fiction.
Count the the number adjectives in the following quote . The only writing of today in which you see such lavish use of adjectives is on the menus of ‘modern australian’ restaurants with their ‘organic, late-picked truss ripened heirloom barossa tomatoes’.
The sharp muzzle of a pretty, witty, naughty monkey; such potent and bizarre charm, of a dark, bright, wild yet worldly thing whose natural habitat must have been some luxurious interior decorator’s jungle filled with potted palms and tame, squawking parakeets
 But she doesn’t just dazzle with an avalanche of descriptors. Sometimes she does it with very few words. In these two cases with  inventive similes, another fabulous time-honoured  literary device now strangely abandoned by the literary although alive and well in football commentary. Going over-the-top as always, she uses two in the one sentence in the second example.
His wedding gift, clasped round my throat. A choker of rubies, 2 inches wide, like an extraordinarily precious slit throat.
He moved softly as if all his shoes had soles of velvet, as if his footfall turned the carpet into snow.

However this wasn’t appealing, or at least not sufficiently appealing, to many bookgroupers. As Wiki pointed out above, the stories are retellings of  fairy tales such as Bluebeard, Puss in boots, vampires,werewolves, and red riding hood. so they are dark and strange. In addition, she was a feminist writer from the seventies so she emphasises the sex blood and death aspects of these stories which means they become even darker and stranger than they were.

Some bookgroupers found this unappealingly obscure and violent, rather than attractively dark and strange. I think these criticisms are fair. If you don’t like the fantastic or the obscure its unlikely to suit you. Particularly towards the back of the book the stories seem to lose structure. The last few stories are a series of remarkable images rather than the coherent stories found in the earlier part of the book. I loved ‘the bloody chamber’, ‘the courtship of mr lyon’ and  and ‘Pusss-in-boots’ after that i felt they progressively dropped off in appeal. Puss-in-boots in particular is a great character and he has some great lines.
Describing the object of his masters desire
She looks out at the Plaza ad the shops shut up, the stalls go down, the night comes on. And that is all the world she ever sees, Never a girl in all Bergamo so secluded except, on Sundays, they let her go to mass, bundled up in black, with a veil on. And  then she is in the company an aged hag, her keeper, who grumps along grim as a prison dinner.
After a big night out gambling and drinking
The pious trot to church already with the little lanterns through the chill fog as we go ungodly rolling home.
At the conclusion of his masters serenade
Then bang! a stern hand pulls the shutters to. And it was as if all the violets in all the baskets of all the flower sellers drooped and faded at once; and spring stopped dead in its tracks and might, this time, not come at all; and the bustle and the busyness of the square, that had so magically quieted for his song, now rose again with the harsh clamour of the loss of love.
She was apparently a well known feminist writer of her day, and if you know that and you try to work it out, some of the feminist messages are strong and cutting. In ‘the snow child’, the count and his wife are an aristocratic and obviously magical couple. They go out riding and he creates the girl of his dreams. Why wouldn’t you if you could?  She immediately hates this creation and quickly conspires to destroy it. Its extremely bizarre and dark, but it does get at something true about the darker desires of men and equally dark jealousies of women, and the way these interact in the lives of  couples.
‘The Erl-King’ is equally bizarre and obscure on the surface. It seems to be about some magical forest king who has trapped a woman as he has trapped numerous birds. All the plants and animals of the forest seem to serve him, but he does not do anything for them in return. They just seem to serve him because he is who he is. It seems like a pretty clear representation of the way some men run their households, and the way some women treat some men, particularly handsome charismatic men.
Although these sorts of messages are there, i’m not sure you would see them if   you hadn’t heard people outline these sorts of arguments and attitudes before. Its not like the stories are just blasting out out an obvious message. If you didn’t know what to look for I think they would just be strange dark stories.
In the end I think its a matter of taste. If you love the fantastic, and you love rich ornamented gothic or Baroque sorts of things, you will probably like Angela Carter. If you prefer neat elegant clean things, you may not.
So I will finish with a  few more quotes to help you decide
Sympathy for a vampire
Now all shun the village below the Château in which the beautiful somnambulist helplessly perpetuates her ancestral crimes.
The baroque forest
There is always something to look at in the forest, even in the middle of winter – the huddled mounds of birds, succumbed to the lethargy of the season, heaped on the creaking boughs and two forlorn to sing; the bright frills of the Winter fungi on the blotched trunks of the trees; the cuneiform slots of rabbits and deer, the herringbone tracks of the birds, a hare as lean as a rasher of bacon streaking across the path where the thin sunlight dapples the russet brakes of last years bracken.
The child raised by wolves (Wolf-Alice) is a buddhist
She inhabits only the present tense, a fugue of the continuous, a world of sensual immediacy as without hope as it is without despair.

 

 

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July 23, 2014 at 11:49 am Leave a comment


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