Originally published and still available on ZUSTERSCHAP for their “Revolutionary Women” theme (20/03/16).
Unfortunately, I am unable to recall the exact moment that Angela Carter entered my life; one moment she was not there, the next she was. Perhaps it is a testament to both her work and my need for it that her words slipped in and permeated my psyche so seamlessly; there was a thirst and a void that needed filling, and the clout of her fiction sated me.
Whilst the pivotal moment may have passed me by, I can recount a day when –aged 18 and trapped in an awkward induction to first-year university – a lecturer passed back copies of the work would be analysing that day. Flicking through the sheets, I recognised Carter’s three variants of ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ namely ‘The Werewolf,’ ‘Wolf Alice,’ and ‘The Company Of Wolves’. Those unfamiliar with Carter can be forgiven of her solely as a re-interpreter of fairy tales; over her approximate thirty years of publication she wrote nine novels, seven works of short fiction, three poetry collections and three plays as well as children’s books, radio, TV and theoretical writing, whilst also adapting her own work for film. To call her prolific would be an understatement, yet decades on, it is these fairy tales that most strongly persevere.
The Bloody Chamber was – and still is – a shock to the system for the uninitiated, after all in what other capacity does one expect to encounter fantastical interspecies paedophilia or sadist murder in the medium of short story? To describe it as a bonding experience is apt; the discomfort was palpable throughout the lecture hall that day. First came the awkward silence and shifty glances, followed by second-guessing and audible disgust. Accordingly, at the time of publication, a great number of readers would dismiss The Bloody Chamber as scandalous smut for the deviant and block Carter from their minds. I am confident that many in the lecture hall that day did just that, but dig past the surface and you will find such a complex web of sex, social constructs and femininity that you must pause to give Carter’s work the respect it deserves.
As previously stated, The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter’s most famous and widely read work – is a fantastical re-working of familiar fairy tales. Often wrongly they are branded solely as feminist fiction with an ‘adult’ twist (as the American edition once wrongly described), and whilst there are many markings that dictate it to be so, to presume it as Carter’s primary aim is uncouth. She has never (to my own knowledge) declared her intention as intrinsically feminist, but rather to subvert the societal conformities of gender that are reinforced time and again in fairy tale narrative – we all remember the character functions of the princess as a reward, the damsel in distress, the object. Yet female sexual empowerment and ownership permeates its pages.