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The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
Notes on Features of the Gothic
The story is retrospective, typical of the Gothic genre, which also hints to the reader that
the protagonist is alive at the end of the story.
The narrator skims over the time of her courtship with the Marquis, writing in more depth
about the events following their wedding, and skimming over her life after the
catastrophic events that take place. This places emphasis on the period of marriage,
drawing out a relatively short period of time.
In the pages as the Marquis arrives, the protagonist having seen his torture chamber,
structural techniques are used to draw out the moments when she waits for him to arrive,
increasing the suspense. Long sentences broken up into short phrases by commas
increase the tension, along with many questions the protagonist asks herself, which
highlight her doubt and fear and prolong the moment. Words such as "slowly, slowly"
also create tension along with ellipsis.
The division of the story into "episodes" separated by blank lines helps in drawing out
the central events, and also suggests time passing, representative of the ennui the narrator
feels as a rich man's wife.
The castle alternates between two settings. The first, a fairy-tale castle: "unearthly," "a
floating garland of light", "faery solitude", "a sea-siren of a place". This is how the
narrator chooses to view the castle, rather than facing the reality: she skims over the
features which define it as a medieval castle, such as the "courtyard", "spiked gate", and
"casements" which are all architectural features of medieval castles.
The bloody chamber itself is described like a tomb; it could be seen to represent the
body's darkest desires, with the castle symbolic of the body as a whole: it literally hides
the chamber from view, unlit by electricity. The walls seem to be "sweating with fright"
suggesting that the castle is almost guilty the protagonist has found it, and is just as afraid
of its contents, which links to Freud's theory of the Id, the unconscious, dark desires of
the unconscious mind.
The Marquis refers to the chamber as "the kingdom of the unimaginable." Carter uses
Gothic imagery in describing the door as shutting "like the door of hell", which is
supported by the Marquis' own description of it as his "enfer", the French for hell.
The bed is representative of destiny, and fits in with Gothic tradition: it is carved with
"sardonic masks of ... gargoyles" and is described as "ancestral." It is a huge, dominant
image, the only part of the bedroom that is immediately memorable.
Light and dark are contrasted; the narrator expresses a desperate wish to have every room
in the castle filled with light: "Lights! More lights!" In contrast, she enters the chamber
and is surrounded by "absolute darkness", a single sentence and repeated to emphasise
the suffocating nature of the darkness. This is another tool employed by traditional
Gothic writers which Carter makes use of.
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Carter deliberately chooses words which will often elude the reader; unusual, pretty-
sounding words which create a feeling of both luxury and opulence and the unknown,
such as "deliquescent" and "liminal". This mirrors the narrator's own preconceptions of
marriage to the Marquis: opulent, but unknowable.
Metaphor is used extensively to convey certain images. The Marquis is bestial in the way
he is described: he has a "mane" rather than hair, the shape of his head is "leonine," there
are "teeth" in his kiss.…read more
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She claims, "I only did what he knew I would" to which the piano-tuner responds, "like
Eve." This can be read in one light as defiance, as Eve defied the rules set down for her
by the patriarch, God, replace by the Marquis in this story. However in another light she
is succumbing to temptation, a weak trait.
The narrator is not unaware of her own split identity.…read more