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The Bloody Chamber and the Gothic notes from Merja Makinen, Emagazine

In the 1960s Angela Carter derided the Gothic for being all owls and ivy and mad passions and Byronic heroes who were probably damned. Did she change her mind when she wrote the clearly Gothic The Bloody Chamber? Or was her earlier description of the Gothic really missing the point? Typical Gothic Gloomy, imprisoning castles The past medieval times Superstition Fearsome monster or ghost threatening a young woman Atmosphere of fear and horror Twilight world where things only glimpsed until final, dreadful moment The irrational themes of nightmare, madness, taboo and forbidden sexuality Colours of extreme black for villainy, white for innocence and lashings of red for blood. Morals are straightforward the evil predator vs the virginal prey Texts may be divided into texts where the fear is experienced internally we may experience the young female characters worries as she tries to unravel the mystery or texts where the horror is external with bloody corpses and bones strewn around. How does Carter conform or subvert these traditions? The Bloody Chamber opening story fits the tradition in many ways. The Erl King the forest holds a nightmarish quality of labyrinthine enclosure and the narrator uses the metaphor of losing herself and being swallowed up. Narrative changes first, second, third person and past and present tense internal conflict? Ambivalence of wanting and fearing his touch both consoles and devastates me. The girl is trapped as a bird and will lose her sense of self. Angela Carter is most famous for her challenges to the way female characters had previously been represented, particularly when it comes to feminine desire. At the same time as writing these stories she was researching how women who fit into the cultural expectation to be passive, obsessed with their appearance and their virtue, assume the position of victim. She was interested in exploring how young female characters can be active, embrace their emerging sexual desires, not expect a man to be the sole answer to their lives and still be attractive as characters. Even in the Bloody Chamber and the Erl King although the women are virginal victims, they do not fear the men and they try to entice the men into bed in order to kill them. Although, the heroine of The Bloody Chamber does not succeed, her mother does. Women become active saviours not men.

Lady of the House of Love twists gender expectations even more when it comes to the Gothic the woman is the predatory vampire, and the young virgin prey is male, however the femme fatale is shown to need punishing as is typical. The setting is typically Gothic ruined mansion, blood red, moth eaten velvet draperies etc. However, whilst the Marquis cant change his script and must enact the predator, this Lady asks Can a bird sing only the song it knows or can it learn a new song? Must she fit into the expectations laid down for her by past generations or can she learn to behave differently? There is no happy ending but the message is that no one is condemned to enact the past. Carter herself argued that the social fiction of my femininity was created, by means outside my control, and palmed off on me as the real thing. In these stories she rewrites the nature and behaviour of the female heroines into something we are more familiar with in the 21st century. As she said she loved putting new wine(modern views) into old bottles (traditional genres) and watching the resulting stories explode. Fairy Tale or Gothic? Critics have disagreed about whether The Bloody Chamber is a rewriting of the Gothic with fairy tale elements or a rewriting of the fairy tale with Gothic elements. The two genres share many similarities medieval setting, oral folk tale culture, a dangerous supernatural creature who threatens a young girl, transformative elements. Before the stories were written down by men, the female characters were stronger and feistier they only changed as cultural expectations of young women changed and the stories were used to teach young girls a lesson. Carters heroines, like those of the original folk tales, refuse to be passive and frightened, refuse to become victims, and save themselves in whatever way they can. Little Red Riding Hood transforms the wolf and makes him tender. We are given new gendered characterisations different from the past but appropriate for the 1970s and beyond.