The Sexual Content in Angela Carter? s “The Bloody Chamber” The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, is a selection of fairytales which have been re-written by Angela Carter to place them in the modern day. Carter has taken seven fairytales whose “latent content” she says were “violently sexual”, (qtd by Robin Sheets, “Pornography Fairy Tales and Feminism” 642). The stories include a variation of classics fairytales such as “Bluebeard”, “Beauty and the Beast” and “Little Red Riding Hood” with sometimes more than one version of the same original tale, for example “Wolf-Alice” and “The Company of Wolves”.
In re-writing these fairy tales Carter has given the new versions a specifically sexual content and focuses on the female protagonist, which as a result, has become the issue of much debate and criticism. In particular, the sometimes explicit sexual content of the stories has raised questions among some feminist writers regarding Carter? s stance on the issue of the role of women and pornography. Focusing mainly on the main story of the collection, “The Bloody Chamber”, this essay will aim to highlight Carter? s intentions for the sexual content of her stories.
In doing so, whilst commenting from some critical essays regarding Carter? s stance on pornography, this essay will also address “Lovely Linda”, a review of Inside Linda Lovelace, by Linda Lovelace a porn actress, which was written by Angela Carter. In her essay, Robin Sheets compares “The Bloody Chamber” to another of Carter? s books The Sadiean Woman and the Ideology of Pornography. Sheets takes one of ten short stories in the collection and using only this story tries to define Carter as either one of “Sade? new Juliettes” or a “new Justine”, (qtd. by Sheets pp636-637). These titles, which make reference to characters from works by the Marquis de Sade, were created by Robin Morgan in her criticism of feminist activists who opposed or supported the antipornography movement, those who support pornography being the “new Juliettes” as they align themselves with sex based on domination, where the “new Justines” are said to always portray themselves of the victims of male brutality. Antipornography activists described pornography as a “cause of women? oppression”, (Sheets 637), and Sheets focuses on this in “The Bloody Chamber” as a means to decide which flag Carter is flying. Like all fairy tales the original story of Bluebeard contained a moral. Sheets comments that although over time there have been variations made to the story in order to change the moral the one that has prevailed has been that which advises women against curiosity, (Sheets 643). Whilst comparing the Marquis of the story to the Marquis de Sade, Sheets links the sadistic acts of the Marquis in “The Bloody Chamber” to that of de Sade.
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When one takes into consideration Carter? s review of Linda Lovelace? s book, Inside Linda Lovelace, when addressing the sexual content of “The Bloody Chamber”, it is easy to understand Carter? s opinion of pornography and as result her reasons for using it in her stories. At the start of the review Carter describes Lovelace? s fame as a result of the “demands of a society that uses libidinal gratification as a soporific in a time of potential social disruption”. From the outset of this review Carter? negativity towards “our Lady of Hard-Core Porn”, is evident, so what is different about Linda Lovelace and the content of her own works that attracts so much argument regarding its pornographic nature? In her review she goes on to remark that “libidinal gratification” is now unlimited but that this has changed as a result of society changing as in short that although we are sexually free now it is only because society says so, which means that if we have to wait for society? s permission we still are not free, (Angela Carter, Shaking a Leg 54). This oppression of women is one of the most commonly debated aspects of pornography.
The debate develops into deciding what pornography is and what is erotica, the difference being (if one uses Gloria Steinem? s definition as example), that erotica is “mutually pleasurable, sexual expression between people who have enough power to be there by positive choice”, (qtd. by Sheets 637). Although Linda Lovelace claims sexual freedom and wants to be equal in bed, Carter makes sure to point out that the sexual acts that Lovelace boasts about being able to do with her mouth and her vagina she has learned from a man, Chuck, (Carter, Shaking a Leg 54).
In turn when one compares this oppression to “The Bloody Chamber” one can see that indeed there are some obvious examples of masochism, one of which being when the narrator describes having sex as being “impaled”, (Angela Carter, Burning Your Boats, 121) by her husband. Indeed the whole story up until the point where she goes to the forbidden room is one of subjugation. When one takes into consideration the remarks that Carter makes in her article of Lovelace about society, it can be argued that the initial argument regarding the intentions of the sexual content in
Carter? s works also stem from the boundaries which society sets. Where some only see the oppression of the protagonist, others look beyond this to see an alternative to the protagonist’s actions. As Merja Makinen points out in “Angela Carter? s The Bloody Chamber and the Decolonisation of the Feminine Sexuality”, there is an alternative argument to that of the narrator of “The Bloody Chamber”. Here, Makinen argues that to an extent the narrator does in fact consent to the “sado-masochistic transaction”, (Makinen 32). This can be seen in the narrator? brief descriptions of the desire that is lurking within her, “I was aghast to feel myself stirring”, (Carter, Burning Your Boats 119). Therefore, it can be argued that rather than being subjected to this act, the presence of consent transforms this into an act of erotica. This could be an example of which Makinen describes as Carter re-writing the old tales by playing with the earlier misogynistic version, (Makinen 24). As mentioned earlier Sheets attempts to brand Carter as a “new Juliette” or “new Justine”, but in the end her argument is inconclusive and cannot decide on one particular side of the fence for the writer.
In comparison, Carter refers to Lovelace as someone who has been “sexually exploited by men”, (Carter, Shaking a Leg 55). Carter makes it blatantly clear in this article that she is against pornography, not because of the acts that take place but because of the oppression of women. She describes Lovelace as someone who lives in a world dictated by men, she has learned her technique from men and although it is a world of sex, the sex itself has been reduced to what Carter calls a “geometric intersection of parts”, (Carter, Shaking a Leg 56).
Carter compares what Lovelace is doing to that of what takes place in a Brothel. She comments that “our society generally denies the prostitute both appreciation and the opportunity to exercise particular sexual virtuosity”, and ironically confirms that “Lovelace is no prostitute”, (Carter, Shaking a Leg 55). Carter portrays Lovelace as what this writer believes is what every anti-pornography activist has in mind when they are condemning pornography, “she is a shaven prisoner in a cage whose bars are composed of cocks”, (Carter, Shaking a Leg 56).
From this review it is a wonder that there would be any debate as to whether or not the sexual content of Carter? s works support pornography, and it is clear that she uses sexual practice based on domination for other means, in her writing. The other stories in The Bloody Chamber approach a different aspect of female sexuality and desire and Makinen implies that it is necessary to read all the stories to understand the intentions of Carter. For example, the story of “The Lady of the House of Love” shows the inversion of the Bluebeard character.
Who can mistake the gothic tropes used to portray the female vampire as a male. The teeth of the vampire which would penetrate the virgin boy, but yet there is still an element of desire for the vampire and in order to obtain that she must pay a price. Makinen argues that rather than being against or for pornography, Carter aims to portray a wider incorporation of female sexuality, and use “feminism to challenge sexist constructions”, (Makinen 25). This, it could be argued, is why the book starts with an obvious description of female oppression.
At the same time however, one also has to keep in mind the variations to the original Bluebeard story that Carter has included. The mother who saves the day, the second husband who is gentle and kind and also the protagonist being the narrator herself, are what Sheets describes as Carter “writing against the interpretive tradition that emphasizes the wife? s sexual curiosity”, (Sheets 644). As we have seen in the review of Lovelace? s book, Angela Carter sees pornography as the oppression of women by men and that she does not look too highly upon this factor.
When one takes this into consideration whilst reading her books, it can be seen then that although she uses material which can be argued to be that of a pornographic nature, she does so not as a means to approve of the oppression of women. Rather she uses this material to “critique phallocentrism” and as a means to demonstrate female sexuality and the representation of femininity, (Makinen p34). Bibliography Carter, Angela, “The Bloody Chamber”, Burning Your Boats, London: Chatto & Windus, 1995.
Carter, Angela, “Lovely Linda”, Shaking a Leg, London: Chatto & Windus, 1997. Makinen, Merja, “Angela Carter? s The Bloody Chamber and the Decolonisation of Feminine Sexuality”, New Casebooks: Angela Carter, Ed. Alison Easton, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000, pp20-36. Sheets, Robin Ann, “Pornography, Fairy Tales, and Feminism: Angela Carter’s “TheBloody Chamber””, Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, No. 4, (April,1997), pp 633- 657 08/04/2011
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