Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Review: 'The Bloody Chamber and other Stories' by Angela Carter

49011Angela Carter is the kind of author everyone who does any kind of English literature during school will, at some point, be confronted with. As such, it is a surprise she has so many fans because nothing is better at driving away affection for any piece of literature of author than a few weeks of high-school dedicated to it. I was first introduced to Carter when we were reading Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, a book I haven't reread since because I think I despise it, because her tales offer a new and feminist view on stereotypes in fiction.
From familiar fairy tales and legends - Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, Puss-in-Boots, Beauty and the Beast, vampires, werewolves - Angela Carter has created an absorbing collection of dark, sensual, fantastic stories.
Angela Carter herself said that she didn't want to reinvent or recreate these fairytales, but wanted to 'extract the latent content from the traditional stories'. This is just a fancy way of saying that rather than updating the time in which the stories is set, Carter wanted to explore the purpose for which these tales were originally written. Who was being warned, for whom or what and why? I love this approach because it makes the stories a lot more honest than they were before. Of course there are new narrative elements and they are still stories rather than literary analyses, but there is an element of rawness and reality to Carter's stories that the Grimm or Andersen versions don't have. A story I didn't like was the adaptation of Puss in Boots, but then I never really had a connection with that story before.

My favourite stories are probably those adapated from the classic Beauty and the Beast. I've always loved that story and it is one of my favourite Disney movies. The idea that a beastly inward nature can be perceived by others as your exterior and that that perception can only be changed if you convince them your inner nature has changed always fascinated me. What people sometimes miss, I feel, is that the Beast isn't the only one showing this beastly behaviour but is being judged for showing it to the outside world, whereas everyone else is hiding their crimes under facades of politeness. Carter strips back the layers of morality and shows how even Belle has a beastly nature, which she eventually gives in to when she realises the truth about herself. Once she has been shown the honesty of human nature by the Beast, she can't return to the superficiality of society. I realise this might be quite a heavy analysis, or just really pretentious, depending on your point of view, but it is an example of how Carter's stories make you think quite deeply about your preconceived ideas of these stories!

Some critics have been negative about Carter making her female characters "extremely" sexual. I put extremely between quotation marks because I don't think it is extreme. In my opinion, she simply voices the sexual thoughts that pervade everyone's mind. Any kind of relationship that is entered into brings with it the possibility of love and/or sex, and by allowing her female characters to express these emotions as much as the male, Carter gives them equality and even power. Although many stories find the women in weak positions, they always rise from it through help of their sexuality. By accepting that part of themselves, these women are able to rise above their previous station in life and even gain power over the men in their lives. As such, sexuality is something that is equally utilized by both genders, partially for manipulation purposes. I personally feel that as long as these things are done by both parties and both sides are judged for it in a similar way, they are a sign of equality and should be praised rather than damned.

I give this collection...

4 Universes.

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories is definitely a collection I'd recommend to others. If you're looking at literature from an academic or sociological point of view or want to read new adaptations of old and familiar stories, then this collection it is. Carter's attitude to women and sexuality is refreshing and new, allowing for a different interpretation of these age old fairy tales.

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