Witch Week 2015: Readalong of The Bloody Chamber

This post is part of Witch Week, an annual celebration of fantasy books and authors. This year’s theme is New Tales from Old, focusing on fiction based in fairy tale, folklore, and myth. For more about Witch Week, see the Master Post.

Please don’t miss the chance to enter the giveaway for a gorgeous Folio Society edition of The Bloody Chamber, open through November 7.

© Igor Karash, 2012 - The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories
From the Folio Society edition of The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, © Igor Karash, 2012

Today, we’re discussing Angela Carter’s landmark 1979 collection of dark, sensuous variations on the fairy tale theme. If you’ve read the book, either now or at any time in the past, please share your thoughts in the comments. You can also post on Twitter using the hashtag #WitchWeekECBR.

My own first impression was of how vividly Angela Carter evokes the sensory world with her lush, baroque language. I loved her unusual turns of phrase, and her musical sense of sound and rhythm. Occasionally it could be a bit too much, but overall I enjoyed the word-painting. The stories are very simple in terms of character and plot, so this elaborate language forms an essential element of their structure.

Although various traditional tales are invoked as sources, they seemed to me to be all a variation on Beauty and the Beast. And there is beauty and beastliness within each of us, male and female, human and animal. The emphasis on sexuality can be wearying, ground-breaking though it must have been at the time. I felt like saying “Yes, but what else?” There’s more to human beings than genitalia and lust.

The stories have the weakness of most short stories in my experience: they don’t go on long enough to develop the themes or characters much. The images are powerful and rich, but they pass too soon and too simply.  I enjoyed the narrative voice in “The Bloody Chamber” and “The Tiger’s Bride” in particular, and would love to have seen these developed with more complexity into a novel.

I was struck by this quotation from “The Company of Wolves”: “There is a vast melancholy in the canticles of the wolves, melancholy infinite as the forest, endless as those long nights of winter and yet that ghastly sadness, that mourning for their own, irremediable appetites, can never move the heart for not one phrase in it hints at the possibility of redemption…” How do the stories play on these “irremediable appetites,” and is there any hint of redemption to be found in any of them? Can Beauty ever overcome the Beast? Or is there beauty within beastliness?

Have you read The Bloody Chamber? What do you think about how Angela Carter twists and transforms familiar tales? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

© Igor Karash, 2012 - The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories
From the Folio Society edition of The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, © Igor Karash, 2012


11 thoughts on “Witch Week 2015: Readalong of The Bloody Chamber

  1. I’ve just finished ‘The Tiger’s Bride’, further than I got when I first began this Gothick collection a few years ago, and so far it’s my favourite, with that exquisite twist in the tale (or is it tail?) which hints at your final comment, “Is there beauty in beastliness?”

    It also underlines the inadequacy of many words to describe the positive aspects of our innate animal nature; “beastliness” suggests being beastly or horrible to someone, “bestiality” is the wrong word entirely.

    Anyway, really enjoying these, and I second your remarks on Carter’s use of language.


    1. I think The Tiger’s Bride was my favorite as well. After the rather bland B&B retelling in “The Courtship of Mr. Lyon,” it was refreshingly pungent.


  2. Great review! I love these stories including the rich language – and I actually don’t think I’d want any of them extended into a novel, it would just be too much. I wonder if language is how the beastliness is overcome in these stories? I agree they are very focused on (women’s) sexuality and that’s a political decision, but parental relationships are also important (one is really horrid, I am sure you know the one I mean).

    The illustrations for the Folio edition are beautiful!


    1. Hm, I know what you mean about the novel length being too much. Something would have to be moderated in order for it to work, and Carter is not really about moderation.

      Interesting point about language. The language of the stories certainly is highly UN-natural in some ways, yet that helps to startle us into a visceral experience of the natural and sensory world.


      1. Yes, that’s really true, both good points. I agree that moderation is not what she’s about – in fact I have the impression in some of her novels that her ideas and imagination veer out of control sometimes, perhaps intentionally, if you can be intentionally out of control.

        I wonder if she’s also somehow referencing the very ‘artificial’, highly polished world of the French eighteenth-century fairy tales. But that might be too fanciful, especially as those I’ve read aren’t lush in the way that hers are. What you suggest certainly strikes a chord.


  3. Wow the images for this edition of the book are gorgeous! I haven’t read this one, but the pictures alone (how shallow of me haha) are making me want to read it. I’ll be prepared now to expect a focus on sexuality and the unfortunate case that a short story can’t develop the story as fully. But this looks like a wonderful, thought-provoking read.


    1. Not shallow at all — the pictures are indeed gorgeous and suit the stories perfectly, so if you find them intriguing I think you’ll be interested in reading the book as well.


  4. Great commentary on these stories.

    I am always saying that I need to read more short stories but I never seem to actually do. I think that I share your longing for more depth and development of ideas and characters.


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