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"Bluebeard" and "The Bloody Chamber": The Grotesque of Self-Parody and Self-Assertion Author(s): Kari E.

"Bluebeard" and "The Bloody Chamber": The Grotesque of Self-Parody and Self-Assertion Author(s): Kari E. Lokke

Source: Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1 (1988), pp. 7-12

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Bluebeardand The

The Grotesque of Self-Parody and Self-Assertion

Bloody

Chamber:

KariE. Lokke

Like many fairy tale motifs,

tesque in essence.Thistaleof

aristocratwho murdersseven

the Bluebeard legend is

gro-

the wealthy,seemingly chivalrous

brides and intersthem

young bringstogether violenceand love, perversion and deathand marriage in an unsettling combination.

in his cellar innocence,

The intermingling of seeminglyincongruous elementsandthe

juxtaposition of oppositeschallenge audience expectation and

habits of thinking in a manner typical of the grotesque as

defined by theoristsas variedas WolfgangKayser andMikhail

Bakhtin.1

expect the grotesque in fairytales, perhaps

becausethesestoriesare displaced to a never-neverland beyond

thedemandsof

logic rect in asserting thatthe grotesque aestheticin literatureand

art is an

popularculture,2 thenthe reasonsforthe predominance of the

grotesque in

and the Renaissance, Bakhtin suggests, the grotesque had an

emancipatoryfunction, forthe juxtaposition of opposites broke

downfalsesocietaland

thetruth

of life's

unity

tions. Bakhtinsees Kayser's "timeless conception

As readerswe

andverisimilitude.Andif Bakhtinis cor-

outgrowth of medieval carnivals, folk festivals, and

folktalesbecomeself-evident.IntheMiddle Ages

ideological barriersto expose

unpredictability and

to

spontaneity and to celebratethe

project the modem

grotesque

and power of thatlife in all itsmost corporeal manifesta-

of the gro- grotesque as defined

to a fundamental absurdity, a

tesque"3 as an attempt

backwardsinto history. In this modem

by both theorists, the juxtaposition of incongruous elements

points

even a demonic disorderin the universe.

terrifyingemptiness, and

Perhaps we tend,

as moderns, totell ourselvesthattheworld

of the fairy taleis notour own, buta morenaiveand primitive

one of long ago and far away. Witness Charles

Perrault,

defenderof themodems against theancientsin the seventeenth- centuryQuerelle des Ancienset des Modernes,trying to com- forthimself andhis readerwith this ironicmoralto his own

rendering of

describedin this story took

husbandwoulddarebe half so terrible,

wife

quarrelsome or jealous, she tells him to. And whatevercolourhis beard mightbe, it's to see which of the two is the master."4

easy In fact, two contemporaryauthors,Angela CarterandMax

Frisch, seem to disagree with Perrault's urbane,sensible, and

Bluebeardtale.Carter

in The Bloody ChamberandFrischin Bluebeardhave

this ancient fairy talemotifat the heartof recentnovellaswith

the obviousintentof makingstrong statementsabout violence,

exploitation,alienation, andlonelinessin contemporary male- female relationships. Neither Carternor Frisch makes Per- rault'scavalier assumption thata wife is always her husband's "master."As Carterstatesin the forewordto her translation

of Perrault's tales, "Each

fairy tales

might add for emphasis.

theBluebeardtale:"Itis easy to see thattheevents

No modern

placemanyyearsago.

nor to demandof his

suchan impossiblething as to stifle her curiosity. Be he

he'll toe the line as soon as

ever so

"enlightened" attitudetowardthe

grisly

placed

century

tendsto createor re-create

after its own taste."5And in its own image, one

These two recreationsof the Bluebeardtale certainly reflect

differentauthorialstancesand backgrounds. Max

strikingly

along with Friedrich Diirrenmatt, one of the most

prominent andbestknownof contemporary Swiss authors, uses

his

Frisch,

published diariesand diary-likenovels, includingStiller,

rational,empir-

ical conception of self as a logical, coherent, definable entity.

Frisch'swork represents the position, both privileged andunen-

viable, of the male heir to the

HomoFaberand Montauk, to underminethe

Westernpatriarchal tradition

Kari E. Lokkewill join

the faculty of the Universityof California, Davis in September 1988as assistant professorof English

recentlypublished bookG6rardde Nerval:The Poetas Social Visionary(FrenchForum,1987)

and comparative literature.Her

discusses the political implicationsof

in the aesthetics of the grotesque and the sublime.KariLokkeis grateful to the Editorial Board of FRONTIERS for insightful

Nerval's mysticism. Thearticle published here is relatedto her currentresearchinterests

commentary on The Bloody Chamberthatallowedher to make significantimprovements in her analysisof thisremarkablenovella.

FRONTIERSVol. X, No.1 o 1988FRONTIERSEditorialCollective

8

FRONTIERS

who examinesand describesthe dissolutionof thatintellec-

tual and political tradition.

The English iconoclastand feminist,AngelaCarter, on the

other nand,consistentlyrepresents the outsiderin her novels,

short stories, and essays.

eerie portrait of Jeanne Duval,

"The Cabinetof Edgar Allan Poe" gives us Elizabethand

Virginia Poe, writer.TheSadeian Womanexaminesthecultural significance

of the life and

century Madame dAulnoy, Cartertakes myth and folklore, the

of the Marquis de Sade. A twentieth-

"Black Venus," for example, is an

Baudelaire'sCreolemistress.

themotherandwifeof thecelebratedandhaunted

writings

world of collective subjectivity, as her

fantasticFireworkstales to her carnivalesque novel Nights at

inspiration. Fromher

the Circus, Carter's writingsbring

calls "popular culture"into contemporary Britishliterature by

translating the motifs of myth and

of the sophisticated aesthete.Thus the collection The Bloody

Chambercontains renderings of severalwell-known fairytales,

including "Puss-in-Boots"and "LittleRed

well as the title

who

the vitality of whatBakhtin

folkloreinto the language

RidingHood," as

story In the folktale, Bluebeardis a wealthy merchantor

that retells the tale of Bluebeard.

king

marriesand thenmurdersa series of wives, usually threeor

seven. After marriage, each wife is given the key to a forbid-

den chamberof horrorswherethe formerwives are interred, and, of course, each wife breaksthe tabooandentersthe for-

biddenroomwhenthehusbandis absent.The "disobedience" of each wife is, in turn, betrayed when the key becomes in-

is brokenwhenthelastwife

deliblybloody.Finally, the cycle

is savedand Bluebeardhimself murdered,by the bride, her

brothers, or a page, dependingupon the specific versionof the tale.

widespreadEuropean folktalewith many

Bluebeardis a

variants-German,French,Basque, and Estonian, to namebut

a few. In Norway the husbandis a troll, in Italy, a devil, and

in an ancientGreek version, deathitself. According to Funk

and

the centralmotif of

den chambermotif.6CharlesPerraultseems to agree, forhis

first moral to

"Curiosity is a charmingpassion, but may only be satisfied

at the

sand examples of thissadtruth everyday.Curiosity is themost

fleeting

exist and it

andFrischseem muchless willing to place the womanin the wrong,8 and for them it is the murderoushusbandor the murderous marriage thatis the object of interestandcriticism.

Thesetwonovellashaveother significantsimilaritiesbesides thematicones. Eachis a structuraland stylistictourdeforce, the Cartertext throughgrotesque overstatementand excess, the Frisch throughequally extreme sparseness,reticence,and

understatement.Eachtext

symbolism, with much of the symbolismpresentedtongue- in-cheek.And finally,powerfulirony and parody of traditional plot andnarrative expectations areessentialto bothBluebeard and TheBloody Chamber.Yetif the similaritiesbetweenthe two worksare important, the tonaldifferencesareevenmore striking. Frisch's grotesque is closer to the modern concep- tion of the grotesque bornof Romantic introspection,individ- ualism, and alienation,whereasCarter'sis more akinto the original, emancipatory Renaissance grotesquecalled "gro- tesque realism" by Bakhtin.

Wagnall'sDictionaryof Folklore,Mythology and Legend,

is the broken taboo, the forbid-

the story

the story reads as a warning to young wives:

price

of a thousand regrets; one sees aroundone a thou-

satisfied, it ceases to

of pleasures; the momentit is

alwaysprovesvery, very expensive."7 But Carter

has a strong elementof grotesque

person, a point of view

foreign

narrative perspectives seem to have almost nothing in com-

mon.

ing of a younggirl's seductioninto and

Both novellasare told in the first

to the traditionalfolktale.But

The Bloody

marriage. The readeris

these two first-person

Chamberis theintenseandbreathlessretell-

escape froma deadly

pulled intothe flowof the lush, erotic,

rhythmicprose from this first remarkablesentence:

I remember how, that night, I

a tender, delicious ecstasy of

pressedagainst the impeccable linenof the pillow

pounding of my heart mimicking thatof the greatpistons

ceaselesslythrusting thetrainthatboreme through the

away from Paris,away from girlhood,away fromthe white,

night,

enclosed quietude of

able country of marriage.9

lay awakein the wagon-lit in

excitement,myburning cheek

andthe

mymother'sapartment,

intothe unguess-

Eachdetail-from the

whitenessof herhusband's

face, to his leather-bound pornographiclibrary, to the "cruel

necklace," the priceless "bloodybandage of

forcesherto weararoundherfrailneck-increasesthereader's

horrorat the seeming inevitability of the victim's death by

decapitation. The

common to both the best erotic fiction and the best horror

storiesis the trademarkof thistale. Atthe same time, thenar-

rativehasan ironic quality of

genreparody becausethe reader

very tell her tale. ThusCarter's prose has the power to do the im-

possible,

suspense simultaneouslyexperiences intenseemotionalinvolvementin

the

story Carter's storytelling skills. The height of bothreaderinvolve- ment and irony in the tale comes at the moment when the

young brideis rescued by her strong,courageous motherand

Carter

ditions for that

are in fact nonexistent.The reader

pallid,fleshy

rubies"thathe

tension-almost, butnot quite unbearable-

first word thatthe heroine survivesto

knows from the

to create overwhelmingsuspense evenwhenthecon-

anda moredetachedandintellectualadmirationfor

turnsthe tables on an

age-old literary and the WesternWorld:

explicitly mythictradition, the traditionof Love in

The Marquis stood transfixed,utterlydazed, ata loss.Itmust havebeenas if hehadbeen watching hisbelovedTristanfor the twelfth, thethirteenthtimeandTristan stirred, then leapt fromhisbierinthelast act, announcedina jaunty ariainter-

posed fromVerdithat bygones were bygones,crying over spilled

milkdid nobodyanygood, andas for

to live happily everafter.The

wide-eyed,impotent at the last,

their strings, abandontheritualshehadordainedforthemsince time began andstartto livefor themselves; the king,aghast, witnessesthe revoltof his pawns.(44-45)

himself, he proposed

puppetmaster,open-mouthed,

sawhis dollsbreakfreeof

Frisch'stext plays a similarly sophisticated but opposite game. Frisch createsthe interior monologue of a character,

Felix Schaad,who has recently been acquitted of murdering his sixthwife andwho obsessively relivesthetrialin his mind. Schaad'sconsciousnesshas, in fact,beenso invadedandover- whelmed by his ownmemories,his sense of guilt, the persis- tent questions of the prosecutor, and the testimoniesof the many witnessesthathe has become a totallyfragmented and

self-alienatedhuman being. The fragmentation

reachesthe gro-

tesque as personal memoriesand ridiculoustestimoniesfull of irrelevanciesandnon sequitursminglewithaccountsof his current attempts to appease his sense of guilt with billiard games:

-And whenhewas drunk, FrauSchaad-andthisis

my final

question--what didhedowhenhehadtoomuchtodrink?

-He talked.

-What about?

-Always the same thing

-And thatwas?

-I

-You can't remember

Sometimesthe presidingjudge hasalsohad enough:

-Can the witnessnowbe allowedto standdown?

Thewitnesstakes up her handbag.

-The trialis adjourned to Mondaymorning at eight.

I placemy billiardcuebackin therack.I put on

I hadnotremovedmytie forthegame; I pullit tight

I lookformy car.No ticket,thoughmy parkingmeterhas

runout.I

at the

the ignitionkey andask myself whereI am living

can'tremember.

myjacket.

get inbehindthe steering wheel.Itis raining. I insert

moment.10

Eventually all his meditationsandrecollectionsseem to take the formof question and answer, offense-defensebetweendif- ferent parts of himself:

-Youwere deeplyupset when you sawthe policephotograph,

the body on the carpet, thefivelilieson the body

-It washorrible.

-It wasnot

-There wereoftenliliesthere.

-You nevermentionedthat

-Always

-Why

you

who gave herthoselilies?

five.

didn't you mentionthat?

-I

don'tknow

-Yourdetentionlastedalmostten months, Herr Schaad, the trialitself threeweeks;you had plenty of time, Herr Schaad, to mention everything.

-It

-And today, here in the woods, withno judge to questionyou,

escapedmy memory.

it suddenly comesto your mind:therewereoftenliliesthere.

(127-8)

The

abrupt,disjointedquality of Frisch's prosediscourages

of Carter's

readerinvolvement just as

style drawsone into her fictionalworld. The

space, and contextin Frisch'stext slow one down and force

one to approach it as an intellectual game

remainas alienatedfromFelix Schaadas he is from himself

surely as the fluidity

leaps in time,

or puzzle. Thuswe

in

his obsessive attempts to objectify,numb, and reify the pain

of

his past without expressingany feeling. He is like a walk-

ing deadman, an automaton,a machine,images commonto

the contemporarygrotesque from Kafkato Beckett.11 At the beginning of the work, Schaad's acquittal does not seemto provideconvincingproof of hisinnocence,yethis con-

fessionnearthe end

we finallylearnthe identity of the real murderer,the revela- tionis totallyanticlimactic.Theworkhasproceededby simul- taneouslybuildingup and undercutting the suspense surround- ing the question of Schaad's guilt until finallytheanswerseems totally irrelevant.Schaadhas shownsuchemotional emptiness andsuchan overwhelming sense of guilt thatthe readertends to condemnhim, as he condemnshimself in his final false confession,even if he did not committhe actualmurder.As

Sven Birkerts, The New Republic'sreviewer, emphasizes,

of the novellaseems equally false. When

Lokke

9

"Whatdoes emerge from the variousaccountsis thathe has

lived his life as a supremely egotistical

He did

not murder Rosalinde, but he could have. The murderwas a

specific event, but his guilt

technicalexonerationof Schaadandthe confessionof the real

murdererseemas

beard and the rescue of her heroine are exhilarating and liberating. In Felix Schaad, Frischhas createda pathetic andridiculous figure who is forcedto confrontthe ludicrousloneliness of

his existenceas reflectedin the testimoniesof the witnesses.

None of his friendsor his formerwives has

trulypositive or negative to say

propriety seems to reign in all his relationships. Whenasked

if she has feared he was angry, one

to do that" (45). His currentwife calls him ChevalierBlue-

beardas a "termof endearment"not only becausehe "already

had six wives in the cellar," butalso becausehe is so "chival-

rous" (91). Similarly the murderedwoman's apartment man-

ager states that "HerrDoktor

Ultimately Schaadseems reducedto

of tax advisorto all his wives, women whose lives he

posedly once shared intimately. Likehis name, whichis related

to both schaden, to harmor hurt, and schade!, what a pity!,

too bad!, Felix Schaadis both frightening and pathetic. In-

deed, he exemplifies the grotesque characteras defined by GilbertMuller:

is a conditionof the soul."12 The

insignificant as themurderof Carter'sBlue-

anything either

empty

abouthim. A cold and

strangulationby

wife

replies,

her formerhusbandwhen

"Idon'tthinkhe hadit in him

Schaad is a gentleman"(7).

playing

the absurdrole

sup-

The grotesque characteris a comic

Aswiththe

figure. It is impossible

to sympathize with him,despite his agonies, becauseweview

himfroma detached perspective, andwhenwearenotemo-

tionally involvedin his suffering, we areamused

grotesquecharacter, theentire technique of the

forwe always viewthe

grotesque is also essentiallycomic,

grotesquefrom a vantagepoint. Tobecertain, the subject matter ofthe grotesque-the rawmaterialwhichcreatesthevision-is

alwayspotentiallyhorrible, butthetreatmentof thismaterial

is comic:this

bining bothhorrorandthe ludicrous, whichcharacterizesthe

grotesque as an artform.13

explains the peculiarcomplexity of tone, com-

In The Bloody Chamberit is not the heroine-narratorwho

butratherher monstroushusband.He

an inhumanembodimentof sexual perversion anddestruc-

tive power,ultimately a symbol of death itself. His faceis more

is

is the

grotesquefigure,

masklike than

human, never revealingany emotion:

Buthis strange,heavy,almostwaxenfacewasnotlinedby

experience.Rather,experienceseemedtohavewasheditper-

fectlysmooth,likea stoneonabeachwhosefissureshavebeen erodedbysuccessivetides.Andsometimesthatface,instillness

whenhelistenedtome playing,withtheheavyeyelidsfolded

overeyesthatalwaysdisturbedmebytheirabsenceof

seemedto me likea mask,as if his realface,thefacethat

trulyreflectedall thelife he hadled in the worldbeforehe

metme,before,even,I

wasborn,asthoughthatfacelayunder-

neaththismask.Orelse, elsewhere.(3-4)

light,

TheBloody Chamberis a contemporarytransformationof

deathand

the maiden, a modern, feministtransformationin which for once the maidenis victoriousover deathitself. In fact, it is

that quintessentiallygrotesquemotif, the dance of

10

FRONTIERS

the

of life-wealth, beauty,youth, and sexuality-that gives the

symbolism of this novellaits grotesque and uncannypower.

The

worksstillness" (16), is most suggestively identifiedwithdeath

in his associationwith lilies. As

bride'sbedroomwith lilies so thatit looks like an "embalm- ing parlor"(16). In the Marquis'slily-likepresence, deathand phallic sexuality are one:

Marquis, withhis "deathlycomposure"(15) andhis "wax-

interpenetration of deathwith such richly positive facets

doting husband, he fills his

I knowit mustseema

butsometimeshe seemedto melikea

sessedof that strange ominouscalmof a

likeone of those cobra-headed, funereallilieswhosewhite

sheathsarecurledoutof a to thetouchas vellum. (4)

curious analogy, a manwitha flower,

lily. Yes.A lily. Pos-

sentient vegetable,

fleshasthickand tenselyyielding

this rescue, the young

piano

tuner with whom she has fallen in love in the midst of her

nightmarish adventures.In a structuralreversal typical of this

ironic

has been metedout prematurely to the

This archetypal tale of

withthe

innocence, which begins

innocent young lover.

andsets

charity

widow donatesher fortuneto

up house withher motherandthe young blind

fairytale,

the punishment due the villainoushusband

the loss of

pounding of a younggirl'sheart, endsin mixedtones

with the heroine's

recognition

andher acknowledgment of the beauty

appropriate to the grotesque,

of the evil withinher

of her blind lover'sheart:

No paint nor powder, nomatterhowthickor white, canmask

thatredmarkon

notforfearof his revulsion, sinceI knowhe seesme

clearly

withhis heart-butbecauseit sparesmy shame. (46)

myforehead; I

am glad he cannotsee it-

The Marquis'snightmarishyet magical castle by the sea is

a "Universeof

bodying theessenceof the grotesqueaesthetic, it

tion and categorization; "athome neitheron the landnor on

the water," it is "a mysterious,amphibiousplace,contravening

(9). References

to Odilon

Debussy, and Huysmans create an appropriately decadent

atmosphere. This exotic,fairy talecastleis a worldof hothouse

marrons glac6s, Asti Spumante, and wateredblack

flowers,

silk. Perhaps most intriguing

aesthete's paradise, this

its amorality,intensity, and excess, borderson the hellishand

the hideous. The grotesque often revealsthatthe seemingly

ugly

shows that the beautifulcan in fact

Like the "lush, insolentincense"of the

andthe "desirousdread"the

his

seductiveand

drifting

drownedin greenish water" (22). Thereis an edge of violence,

sadism, and corruption to all this

quis's wealth

enslavementand his

of the three women now entombedin his cellar.

Against this background of perverse humor and over- abundantsensuoussymbolism, the symbol of theheartstands

out in

to

As she illuminates every room of the once darkcastle, she sees herselfas searching forherhusband's"truenature"(24), forhis soul. Her exploration of thetorturechamberunderhis castlebecomesan archetypal descentintohell, andthe indel- iblybloody heartthatmarksthe key whensheleavesthischam- beris ultimatelytransferredto herforeheadas theeternalmark

of Cain. This "telltaleheart"is the one unequivocallysuper-

naturaldetailin the story andas suchis stronglyhighlighted.

Finally the young

sold herself to the devil for "ahandfulof coloredstonesand

the pelts of dead beasts"(16), that she has been seducedby

her own

TheBloody Chamberends as a feminist fairy tale should, with the rescue of the daughterby her strong and heroic

mother,an "eagle-featured, indomitable"woman (2). After

In contrastto Carter's opulent, exotic fairytale, the sym-

Em- bolismof Frisch's exaggeratedly mundaneworldis muchmore

Death," both captivating and repellent.

defiesdefini-

subtleanddifficultto

symbolism is nevertheless

responsible for muchof the dry

text.Wecannot suppress a smile when, for example, we learn

that Rosalinde, who wasa high-priced call girl beforeshewas

murdered, livedon a streetcalled Hornstrasseor thatshehad

namedIsolde. (The Tristanand Isolde myth

a

findsits way intoFrisch'stext through ironic detail; it permeates

interpret. This

andunderstatedhumorin the

the materiality of both earthand the waves"

Redon, Gustave Moreau, Puvis de Chavannes,

is

the mannerin which this

worldof overexquisitetaste, through

aestheticallyfascinating, but Carter'sperverse craft

be extraordinarilyugly.

heavy-headedlilies,

lecherous voluptuaryinspires in

this castle is both

cleaninglady

The Bloody Chamberlike a heavy, recurrent melody.) Simi-

chalking

of his phallic billiardcues provoke a chuckle. But, likeso much

moderngrotesque humor-that of Franz Kafka, LouisFerdi-

Nathanael West, and GUinterGrass, for exam-

ple-Bluebeard provokes a

nand

larly, Schaad'sobsessivebutdistracted rubbing and

Cl1ine,

canbe

laughter thatis neverwholehearted

of Rosalinde's corpse suffocated

or full. It occurs against the backdrop of a murderedwoman's

brutalized body. The

with a

strewnwithfive whitelilies hauntsthe readerand

atmosphere of the storyjust

taintsthe beauty of Bluebeard'scastle in the Cartertale.

chamberof horrors

as the

image

dirtysanitarynapkin,strangled with Schaad's tie, and

bloody

poisons

the

powerfulsymbols of deathin both texts, in

in

their

oppressivepresence,

images

with

present in

Rosalinde's apart- on her grave, were

young virgin bride, the atmosphere of

suffocating. Seen through the glass of their vase,

luxury and taste, fortheMar-

upon centuries of exploitation and

the tortureand slaughter

the stemsof the lilies resemble"dismemberedarms,

is

based

pleasureupon

The lilies are

The Bloody

Chamber through

Bluebeard through the relativeabsenceof other

equalsymbolicweight and portent. It turns out, of course, that

the five lilies thatwere so often

ment, like the lilies

gifts fromthe murderer, the young

nificantis Schaad's admission, near the end thathe had sent lilies as a joke on the day of

it possible thatSchaad's superficial, sarcasticgesture, his lack of attunementto the emotionalsignificance of these flowers,

provoked a murderousfit

lover when he realizedthat someone else had sent her his flowers?This embarrassingly melodramatic question,straight out of a bad detective novel, leaves the reader wondering whetherFrisch is suggesting that Schaad may have "uncon- sciously" knownwhathe was doing, or whetherFrischis in- stead commentinguponSchaad'slackof awarenessof theworld of symbolsand revealing the cruel and horrifyingresultsof Schaad'semotionalblindnessand repression. Here again, Frischseems, consciously or unconsciously, to be engaging in metafiction,to be parodying not only Schaad's emotional insensitivity, but also the style of self-expression, the language, that reflectsit. Frisch'sstyle-the language of

mysteriouslyplaced

Greekstudent. Equallysig-

of the

novella,

her murder.Is

on the part of Rosalinde's

forceful simplicity. The young bride interprets the key

the forbiddenchamberas the key to her husband'sheart.

of jealousy

heroinemust admitto herselfthatshe has

potential for corruption.

his protagonist-issparse,skeletal,stripped of metaphor,sym-

bol, and myth.Nevertheless, thelilieshave precisely the primal

power

surfaceof the textas a fateful symbol of

in spite of-in

to relegate themto the levelof a

Schaad, the proper and well-respected Swiss doctor, is forced

to admitthathis persona has been invaded by the monstrous and mythical characterof Bluebeard.

Similarly, Carterattacks myths as "consolatory nonsense" in the "PolemicalPreface"to her book TheSadeian Woman

and the Ideology of Pornography:

thatSchaadwishes to deny them. They rise fromthe

perversion anddeath

fact, preciselyby

virtue of-Schaad's attempt

silly, slightly cruel joke.

And

Ifwomenallowthemselvestobeconsoledfortheir culturally

determinedlackof accesstothemodesof intellectualdebate

by the invocationof hypotheticalgreatgoddesses,they are

themselvesintosubmission

(atechnique often

simplyflattering

usedonthem bymen). Allthe mythic versionsofwomen

are

tomeafairdefinitionof

consolatorynonsenses; and consolatory nonsenseseems

myth,anyway. Mother goddesses are

just as silly a notionas father gods. 14

YetCarterdoes not escape

how "archaic"and "atavistic"she may considerthem. Her

ownsadistic Marquis is the

archetype described

ductionto the

of deathwho tortureswomanandcutsheroff fromlife. Blue-

beard, Franz writes, "embodies the death-like, ferocious

aspects of theanimusin his mostdiabolical

on theother hand, serves life, andthe anima

in

opposite. He drawswoman away from life and murderslife

for her."15 Furthermore, Carter'sattackon the

in The Bloody Chamber employs a modern, feministversion

of the Demeter-Persephonemyth:

the hell of the self and the

thisrealmof riches.Andher courageousmother-daughter her-

oines are variationson the Amazon

strong-willed, steel-nervedwomenwarriors.In fact, Carter's fairy talesare exemplary instancesof the currentfeministre-

visions of mythic archetypes described by Estella Lauterin

Womenas Mythmakers(1984) andFeminist ArchetypalTheory:

Interdisciplinary Re-Visions of Jungian Thought(1985).

Despite Carter'sown art proves that

myth

or atavistic.What is important is how it is used. Thus The

Chamber creates, fromanancient fairy taleandancient

Bloody

mythicmotifs,a vital originalexpression of a forcefulfeminist

vision. Withthe rescueof theheroineby the powerful mother figure, Carterrewritesthe traditionalfolktale plot in which the heroineis rescuedby herself, a brother,or a futurelover. In TheBloodyChamberthe courageous mothercomes gallop- ing wildly downthe causeway andshootsthe Marquisjust as the rising tide and the murdererare about to separate the heroinefromlife forever.HereCarteris also challenging the traditionof sado-masochism,which,as shebrilliantlysuggests in TheSadeian Woman,is foundedupon a lover's pact with deathanda hatredof themotheras giver-of-life. Forthe sado- masochistthe womb becomes a tomb, a "bloody chamber."

theworldof archetypes, no matter

quintessence of the negative animus

by Marie-Louisevon Franzin An Intro-

Tales-the rulerof a land

Psychologyof Fairy

Woman, entangles a man

The animusin his negative formseems to be the

myths of male supremacy

the archetypal descentinto

the monster keeper of

slaying of

archetype:powerful,

her theoreticalassertionsin

is not

The Sadeian Woman, inherentlyregressive

The genius of thisnovellalies

in itsnarrativestructure,which

firstseducesus intoidentificationwiththemasochisticheroine

Lokke

11

through the richnessand sensuality of its language and then

experience the horrific consequences of the

heroine's surrenderto the

compels

of sado-masochisticself-annihilationas well as its

Marquis. By acknowledging the

us to

glamour ultimate brutality,ugliness, and misogyny, Carterrevealsboth

the difficulty and the absolute necessity

nitionof sexual pleasure anddesire.Thusthehearton thehero-

ine'sforeheadis not only

ity; it is also a badge

the

The

acceptance

of the

perhaps the

ultimateobstaclein the

holy

selves, the source of all opposition to the emancipation of women" (150).

The dynamic in both texts-the returnof repressedmyth

and

a kind of

microcosm of the development of

attempts to denude

in creating

contemporaryEuropean

literatureas a whole, whichhas foundthat

itself of myth and metaphor have succeeded only

newerandevermore complexmythic structures.Hence Alain

Robbe-Grillet's simplistic attackon

Nature,humanisme,tragtdie(1958)developed intoan obses-

sion with

pour une rvolution

recreatingcontemporary cultural mythology in Projet

came to see his ogies as itself a mythic

skepticism and rationalism,

dra, Christa Wolf,despite all her

of a feministredefi-

of

complic-

breaking

of the humanheart.

a

markof shame, a sign

of courage. She is rewardedfor

a knowledge

patriarchal taboo with

power of

theheartis the unconditional power of love, both

the indomitablelove of the motherand the total

gentle male partner. As Carter suggests in the provocative

conclusionto The Sadeian Woman, fearof love is

way terrorof lovethatwe find, in bothmenandwomenthem-

metaphor, the dialectic of enlightenment-is

of women'sfreedom:"Itis in this

myth and metaphor

in

'aNew York (1970), and RolandBarthes

attempt at demystification of myth in Mythol-

act.16And in her lectureson Kassan-

finds herselfon a visit to Greeceobsessed

with the figure of

the legendaryprophetess and hypnotically drawnto

ta fertilitygoddesses and snake priestesses on the island of

Crete.As Wolf reflects, all poets

of prophecy, the power

terracot-

wantto believein the power

developments

of the word. 17 These

seem to bear out the assertionsof such theoristsas Ernst

Cassirerin Language and

language areinextricable entities, that myth and

centralconditionsof speech and human self-expression.

Myth that metaphor,myth, and

metaphor are

the future,Frisch, however, can

Withno

positive

vision of

see only silenceanddeathas Schaad'savenuesof escape from

the terrifying realmof Bluebeard'scastle.Frisch's novella ends

in disintegration and despair, with Schaad trying to alleviate

his guiltthrough a falseconfessionanda futilesuicide

attempt.

Frisch'sthematic preoccupations in Bluebeardareidenticalto

those of Stiller, his

loneliness,unhappylove, disintegratingmarriages, sexualfear, and cruelty hauntall of Frisch'snovels,Gantenbein(1964)and Montauk(1975)in particular.Stiller,for example, like Schaad, becomesconvincedthathe has murderedhis wife, though she has in fact diedof tuberculosis.Stillerconfessesto hermurder, realizing that"thereareall sortsof ways of murdering a person

or atleasthis soul, andthat's something no police in theworld

can spot."18 "Guiltis ourselves,"19

is the

of WorldWarII, guilt projected onto the faceless foreigner,

the scapegoat, the anonymousGreekstudentwho is the "real murderer."20It is also the collective guilt of man against

suggested is the dominant

woman, which some critics have

theme in Frisch'sentire oeuvre.21The differencesbetween Bluebeardand Stiller are stylistic and structural;Bluebeard

first

major novel. In fact, images of

he announces.This guilt

ubiquitousguilt of the

Germanicraceafterthe genocide

12

FRONTIERS

is a grotesquelysparse andskeletalversionof theearlier diary-

confessional novel.

silence as he hears a doctor's voice, the voice of his own

alienated emotional self, inform him that

Ultimately Schaad'sself seems to

in pain.

disappear into nothingness.

places Frisch squarely

In the end Schaad maintainsabsolute

he is

This reductionto despair andsilence

in themodernisttraditionof Beckettandtheabsurdists. Carter,

on the other hand, as a womananda feminist, is refreshingly

free from this

Bloody Chamberis a lushcelebrationof theheroine's vitality,

sensuality,eagerness for adventure, and love of experience.

Evenher

coming to termswith

ratherthan destructive

whetherthereis not, in contrastto the nihilistic

masculine writers, a twentieth-century feminine grotesque with

exemplars as variedas DjunaBarnes,FlanneryO'Connor, Isak

Dinesen, and Angela

body and soul, its irreverent humor, and its vision of the

regenerativepower of loveand hope, this grotesque fulfillsthe emancipatory functionthatBakhtinattributesto the original

Renaissance grotesque-the destructionof rigidifiedhierarchy

and the celebrationof rebirth.

herself, an acceptance of responsibility

unremittingly bleak male perspective. The

acknowledgment of shameand guilt seemsa healthy

self-deprecation. It is worth asking

grotesque of

Carter.In its joyful acceptance of both

the unendingcycle of life, death, and

Finally, then, the grotesque

in both Bluebeardand The

Bloody

ing, throughexaggeration, dark humor, and irony, the brutal-

ity

tably, becauseFrisch'sworkis told froma male

it becomes

assertion.Carteroffersa wry expression of faithin thehuman

heart, whereasFrisch

European modernisttraditionmen seem to be moving into silence. Women, on the other hand, are speaking out. It is as if Frisch, standing within a Western patriarchal tradition

thathe knowsis

destroy

Chamberfunctionsas an unsettling vehiclefor expos-

of traditional patriarchal attitudestowardswomen. Inevi-

self-parodyjust

perspective,

as Carter'svoice is a voice of self-

gives

us

nothingness and despair. Inthe

moribund, feels an ethical obligation to help

the traditionthat fatheredhim. Carterhas the more

and thankfultask of transforming the ancientand the

joyous

mythic into the radically new.

NOTES

1. See MikhailBakhtin, Rabelaisand His World,trans. Helene Iswolsky

(Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T.Press, 1968), and WolfgangKayser, The Grotesque

inArt and Literature,trans.UlrichWeisstein (1963;reprint New York:McGraw

Hill, 1966). BothBakhtinand Kayseremphasize the juxtaposition of opposites

(life-death,fact-fiction,matter-spirit,comic-tragic,organic-mechanical); the intermingling of incongruouselements; andthe assault upon aesthetic expec- tations, rational thought, andsocietal norms. Butwhereas Kayser sees the gro- tesque as a timeless, ahistoricalaesthetic phenomenon, Bakhtin points to the historical development of the grotesque fromthe Middle Ages to the present.

2. Bakhtindescribescarnivalsas celebrating"temporary liberationfrom

the prevailing truthand fromthe established order;they markedthe suspen- sion of all hierarchicalrank,norms, and prohibitions. Carnivalwas the true

feastof time, the feast of becoming,change, and renewal.It was hostile to

all that wasimmortalized and completed"(10)."Contraryto the modern canons,

the grotesquebody is not separated from the rest

closed, completedunit; it is unfinished,outgrowsitself, transgresses its own

limits

ceeds its own limits only in copulation,pregnancy,childbirth, the throesof death,eating,drinking, or defecation.Thisis theeverunfinished,ever creating

body" (26).

of the world. It is not a

The body disclosesitsessence as a

principle of growth whichex-

3. Kayser,

4. Charles Perrault, The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, trans.withforeword

179.

by Angela Carter (New York:Avon Books, 1979), 41.

5. Perrault,17.

6. MariaLeach and Jerome Fried, eds., Funkand Wagnall's Dictionary

of Folklore,Mythology and Legend, vol. I (New York:Funkand Wagnalls,

1949), 150.

7. Perrault, 41.

8. A comparison of the Bluebeardmotifand the myth of AmorandPsyche

wouldbe rewarding.Curiosity also leads Psyche to "disobey" her husband.

Fora discussionof

in a positivelight, see Erich Neumann, Amorand Psyche: The PsychicDevelop-

ment of the

9. AngelaCarter, The Bloody Chamber (New York: Harper and Row,1979),

theAmorand Psychemyth that interpretsPsyche'scuriosity

Feminine (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton UniversityPress, 1956).

1. All parenthetical referencesin the text are to this edition.

10. Max Frisch, Bluebeard:A Tale,trans. GeoffreySkelton(New York:

HarcourtBraceJovanovich,1982), 46-147.All parenthetical referencesin the

text are to this edition.

11. See Kayser's discussionof themechanicalor technical grotesque, 182-83.

12. Sven Birkerts, reviewof Bluebeard:A Tale,by Max Frisch, TheNew

Republic, 11July 1983, 32-35.

13. Gilbert Muller,Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connorand the

Catholic Grotesque(Athens:University of GeorgiaPress, 1972), 7.

14.

(New

AngelaCarter, The Sadeian Womanand the Ideologyof Pornography York:Pantheon Books, 1978), 5.

15. Marie-Louisevon Franz, An Introduction to the Psychologyof Fairy

Tales(New York: Spring, 1970), chapter8,

43.

16 Michael Spencer, "Avatars du mythe chez Robbe-Grilletet Butor," in

Robbe-Grillet: Analyse, Theorie, ed. Jean Ricardou, vol. 1, Roman-Cintma

(Paris: Union G&nSraled'Editions,1976), 64-84.

17.

Christa Wolf, Voraussetzungen

einer Erzdihlung:

Kassandra (Darmstadt:

Luchterhand,1983), 25.

18. Max Frisch, I'm Not Stiller, trans.MichaelBullock (New York:Vin-

tage Books, 1962), 111.

19. Frisch, I'm Not Stiller, 390.

20. RobertM. Adamsalso discussesBluebeardas an embodimentof the

collective guilt of Germany in his reviewof Bluebeard: A Tale,by Max Frisch,

TheNew

See GerhardF Probstand Jay F. Bodine, eds., Perspectives on Max

Frisch (Lexington:University Press of Kentucky,1982), 3.

YorkReview of Books, 29 September1983, 14-16.

21.