Once upon a time (or in a decade not so long ago), an academic feminist/sociologist sought to redefine the gendered politics of fairy tales.
Fascinated by mutations to myth, a process acknowledged in her renowned preface to the fairy tales of Charles Perrault, Carter sought to utilise the established genre of fantasy fiction to re-write the definition of Western femininity.
If the concept of Bluebeards mother-in-law seeking revenge or Little Red Riding Hood with an attitude seem farfetched and unlikely, this collection of short stories will change your mind. Perhaps one of the most striking elements of Carter’s re-writing of fairy tales in her honesty to the original narratives. She does not change the tales as much as elaborately infuse them with allusions to high art and popular culture, a feature prevalent in many post-modern fictions which would emerge in the decades to follow the publication of the Bloody Chamber.
Historically, the text marks the beginning of a cultural shift towards post-modernism, but perhaps more importantly, it lends a more specific critique of the nature of gender relations as they existed in the 1980’s. Fuelled by the development of academic theory relating to gender, Carter sought to advocate the notion that both gender and identity are social constructs and elaborates upon the ways that our desires and values are shaped by various cultural forces. Unlike the original fairy tales, however, adherence to stereotypes is not rewarded. The strictly passive female identity has no place in Carter’s gothic world . Having said that, her emphasis on sexual aggression and it’s relationship with violence yields a troublesome commentary to the 1980’s feminist movement. Perhaps Carter’s own controversial reputation and her paradoxical nature could be understood as illustrative of the fragmented nature of second-wave feminism.
Having said that, this text is a marvellous example of the ever evolving gothic fantasy genre which can be enjoyed as a light weekend read. The Bloody Chamber is among a vast collection of remarkably complex works; Carter’s style is rich, eloquent and confident but is perhaps best enjoyed with an online dictionary open to tease out the fabulous poetic knots which lend so much detail.
Boroondara Library Service also holds a wonderful collection of books by Angela Carter or about the author and her life.
Reviewed by Tammy