Characterisation in the Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

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The narrator protagonist

In The Bloody Chamber:

  • The bride recalls the process by which her innocence was stripped away from her.
  • Her narration begins with a flashback through linked memories (on the train, thinking of her mother alone at home, the delivery of the wedding dress, the courtship, going to the opera on the night before her wedding), though the tale generally follows a traditional chronolical recounting of events.
  • In the many mirrors set in "stately frames of contorted gold" that surrounded the Marquis's bed she becomes a "multitude of girls", a "harem" for the Marquis to enjoy. She reports the moment of consummation of her marriage through the reflections in the mirrors, as if she only exists in the Marquis's frame of vision.
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Continued...

  • When left alone, her idle existence as a rich man's wife is oppressive. The creatice act of making music is her escape, her gift of self-creation and self-realisation.
  • After she has discovered the truth of the secret room, she copes with the imminent threat to her life by adopting the "theraputic task" of playing some challenging music by Bach.
  • She remains an odd combination of fearlessness and resignation - "I knew I must meet my lord alone" - dependent on her mother, her "avenging angel", for her salvation.
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The narrator protagonist

In The Tiger's Bride

  • The girl in The Tiger's Bride is immediately presented as a tougher personality, a survior who chooses her experiences carefully, but is equally powerless in many respects.
  • She represents the way she is unable to prevent her circumstances growing steadily worse under her father's neglect. She describes his "special madness", his "debauchery", as the "sickness" of gambling.
  • Her "heartless mirth" in response to The Beast's request to see her "Desnuda" is the response of a person hardened by experience.
  • Carter alludes to the well-known axiom that anticipates an improbable reconciliation between the powerful and the powerless: 'the lion shall lie down with the lamb'. Typically, Carter's woman understands this by turning it around: "The lamb must learn to run with the tigers"
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Continued...

  • The anthropomorphic transformation she undergoes at the end of the tale is a remarkable compromise.
  • She rejects the values of her father's civilisastion but confirms the possibility of a "peaceable kingdom" by becoming the tiger's bride and rejoicing in the revelation of her 'beautiful fur'.
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The narrator protagonist

In Puss-in-Boots:

  • Puss-in-Boots is an anthropomorphic caricature of masculine opportunism, and an amusing buffoon who boasts he is "a cat of the world, cosmpolitan, sophisticated"
  • His narrative voice is in the manner of an old theatrical bore. He relishes his role as a raconteur and his language is overloaded with rhetorical flourishes, particularly when embellishing his part in the story.
  • He often refers to himself in third person - "Puss takes his promenade" or "Puss can perform a back somersault" - a habit often taken as asign of egocentricity.
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Continued...

  • In one respect, it is misleading to call Puss-in-Boots a protagonist, as the real protagonist, the "sleek, spry tabby", is hidden in his story.
  • Puss-in-Boots claims all the credit, but the success of his ventures has, in fact, entirely depended on the tabby cat's wily perspicacity and resourcefulness.
  • Without her "keening encouragement" Puss-in-Boots would have not jumped up to the lady's windowsill; the tabby feeds him and arranges the rats in the house according to her scheme to bring the lovers together; the "shadow-camouflaged young tabby" disposes of the old man.
  • The old feminist jibe that history should be rewritted as herstory is brought to mind by this tale. This also raises the question of why Carter chose not to bring the tabby cat forward as narrator.
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The predatory patriarch & the absent father

The Marquis:

  • The most dangerous patiarch of all, the Marquis, combines the inherited wealth & position of the aristocrat with the power of the bourgeois financier.
  • The Marquis, his title alone being an obvious and derivative reference to the Marquis de Sade (who gave his name to an entire range of activities considered to be beyond the norms of sexual behaviour), represents selfish indulgence.
  • He is a dangerous and menacing predator. The narrator compares him to a lily and almost immediately describes that flower as "cobra-headed".
  • By extension, the cold-blooded, reptilian nature of the Marquis is formed alongside more obvious references to his "leonine" head with its "dark mane".
  • He has the ability to move with the stealth of a hunter, creeping coldly around "asif his footfall turned the carpet into snow".


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Continued...

  • He is a seriel killer and torturer of women.
  • One of Carter's most provocative acts in these stories as a whole is to make his femal prey respond to his attentions with arousal.
  • But this character is incapable of considering the possibilty of female fulfilment. 
  • For the Marquis, sex is an act performed on another body, not something shared with another person. He rejects his prey as soon as there is evidence of mature independent sexuality.
  • One could even argue he is the patriarch as child abuser, the deepest & darkest betrayl of the father's role. 
  • This idea is hinted at when the narrator links the aroma of the Marquis's cigars "a warm fug of Havana", with "little girl" memories of her father "before he kissed me and left me"
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The predatory patriarch & the absent father

In The Snow Child:

  • The Count of The Snow Child is an equally repellent figure, indulging his desires far beyond any notion of acceptable behaviour.
  • Carter's sardonic comment on his sexual prowess - "he was soon finished" - shows the short-lived nature of his virility and undermines the power that his sexuality might have.
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The predatory patriarch & the absent father

In Wolf Alice:

  • The Duke in Wolf-Alice; yet another aristocrat, is completely indifferent to himself as a monster because he cannot see himself as others see him without the care and support of Wolf-Alice.
  • Here Carter is using the device of a wolf-mad man, with no real character, to show how identities can be transformed through care and sensitive compromise.
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The predatory patriarch & the absent father

In The Courtship of Mr Lyon:

  • Mr Lyon, the Beast in The Courtship of Mr Lyon, is a manipulator.
  • His courtship of Beauty is conducted through the father, as would be expected in the traditional patriarchal manner, but her persuades beauty's father to hand over his daughter through economic blackmail & ensures Beauty returns to him through the emotional equivalent.
  • His decision to starce to death in her absence is reminiscent of self-pitying, jilted lovers who threaten suicide as a form of manipulation.
  • He recovers his appetite swiftly enough on her return.
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The predatory patriarch & the absent father

  • The improverished noblemen of The Tiger's Bride and the ruined businessman of The Courtship of Mr Lyon are examples of the absent father, the father who fails to provide for and then abandons his child: a common enough villain in folklore and myth alike.
  • Both characters put business affairs and riches ahead of their real "treasures", their daughters.
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The innocent male

In The Bloody Chamber:

  • The piano-tuner of The Bloody Chamber is blind. He is helpless and non-threatening; he listens; he is supportive and gentle.
  • He is also unable to see the evidence of his lover's past transgressions, which can be seen as a very forgiving and unusual train in a man.
  • Carter has created, with the strategic choice of his disability, a model of the male that was to be echoed in media & marketing hype in the early 1980s as a 'new man', a caring type who was not threatened by women's empowerment.
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The innocent male

In The Lady and the House of Love

  • The soldier in The Lady and the House of Love typifies the bumbling, if well-intentioned, idiot who messes up the world for a woman.
  • His defining characteristic is "lack of imagination". Given that the imagination is so important to Carter, such fundamental human quality, it makes this "blond beauty" appear almost inhumanly dull.
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The Matriarch

In The Bloody Chamber

  • The pianist's mother has all the traits of a masculine hero from the world of adventure stories: she shoots wild animals, she fights off piratres & generally has had an adventurous past.
  • Carter also makes her a capable nurse, something more commonly thought of as a passive female role, but here given equal status with more conventionally heroic deeds.
  • She is equipped with "maternal telepathy" - Carter avoides using the patronising and cliched phrase 'feminie intution' - so she is the very model of feminist virtue.
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Continued...

  • She is an empowered mother, taking on the conventionally male roles of the capable parent and rescuer of distressed females.
  • She is romantic, having "gladly, scandalously, defiantly beggared herself for love". As a widow, she is "magnificently ecentric" in black silk.
  • Carter is presenting an all-action female who is not obliged to abandon her feminity to compete with men.
  • At the beginning, Carter seems to suggest that this is all part of her wild youth, an "adventurous girlhood" she has grown out of by becoming a woman.
  • But her reappearance at the end of the tale, crashing through the waves on horseback with her "black skirts tucked up around her waist", is given more romantic & glamerous.
  • The wild & wind-blown image of the mother, "black lisle legs exposed to the thigh" astride a "rearing horse", also identifies her with the power of the natural eleements.
  • She is the Marquis nemesis, the emodiment of "furious justice."
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The Matriarch

In The Snow Child

  • The Countess of The Snow Child is a more complex examination of the mother role, & she is closer to the fairy-tale figure of the wicked stepmother, in so far as the child is not her daughter but is 'conceived', as it were, by the Count.
  • Carter examines through the Countess;s actions the jealousies involved in competing for male attention with another woman.
  • They symbols of her sexual appeal, the furs & riding boots, are transferred to the child despite the Countess's efforts to shake off her rival.
  • The rose, as a symbol of romance, is a dangerous weapon in her hands.
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Continued...

  • Having ensured the death of the Count's child, she is once more in control of the situation, highlighted in the way she restrains her "stamping mare"
  • Carter uses a sensual gesture of possessiveness to indicate the Countess's reassertion of her position and identity "With her long hand, she stroked her furs."
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The Matriarch

In The Werewolf

  • The wolf's transformation into the grandmother in The Werewolf is a particularly disturbing image of the difficult relationship between different generations of women.
  • The child's dramatic discovery that the wolf's severed paw has become "a hand toughened with work and freckled with old age" shows her learning that she cannot trust or respect women of previous generations who have taken on the role created for them by men.
  • Carter's description of the matriarch as "crone", "old woman" and "witch" is a mirror image of the tyrannical patriarch.
  • The child's acts of resistance transforms her circumstances.
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Continued...

  • Her "hard life", part of the cold pattern of "Harsh, brief, poor lives" in a difficult and hostile climate, becomes less difficult; the tale ends with the simple announcement that "she prospered".
  • Carter seems to be suggesting that each generation of women has to free itself not only from the tyranny of patriarchal society, but also from women whose identity and nature hae been warped by men into something monstrous.
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The Matriarch

In Wolf-Alice

  • The eponymous character in the story of wolf-alice is an exploration of the idea of natural impulses in relation to stereotypes such as the 'maternal instinct'.
  • Stripped of the inhibititons of civilisation, Wolf-Alice finds her own way of growing into a role which seems to be part daughter, part lover and part mother, with no clear distniction.
  • Carter describes Wolf-Alices "tender gravity" as she heals the wounds of the Duke at the end of the story, enabling him to be seen as himself again.
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The Victim

In The Bloody Chamber

  • Aside from her role as narrator, the bride in The Bloody Chamber is passive and complaint in the abuse that is planned by the Marquis
  • This is one aspect of Carter's examination of the nature of sadomasochistic relationships, and it is related to her controversial views on the writings of the Marquis de Sade.
  • The character is a submissive woman who enables Carter to explore the attractions of dominance as part of the sexual dynamics of human relationships. The extent to which she might be seen as a willing victim is delineated by Carter.
  • The young wife does not know what she is dealing with, despite her claim that she is "innocent but not niave."
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The Victim

In The Courtship of Mr Lyon

  • Beauty is a worrier, an obedient daughter who becomes a "spoiled child" and then, at last, is redeemed as a prodigal daughter. 
  • She transfers her love for her father to the Beast so she can "come home".
  • She is clearly manipulated, first by her father and then by Mr Lyon, courted into surrendering what little independent will she possess.
  • Her most defining characteristic, more significant than the "invincible prettiness" to which her beauty is degraded through self-indulgence, is her "desolating emptiness"
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The Victim

In The Snow Child

  • The Count's "child of his desire" is a male fantasy who vanishes almost as soon as she is called into existence; she is the ideal woman of male fantasy, unrealisable and impossible to compete with.
  • Yet she is vulnerable to the symbolic touch of love, and she falls victim to "the thorn" which represents the painful aspects of human emotion.
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The Victim

In The Lady of the House of Love

  • The vampire Countess is trapped in a limbo-like existence of permanent youthful beauty. She cannot age.
  • Her release from this empty "imitation of life" and her "balked tenderness" is an accident of fate; she experiences the "pain" of being human - for Carter, to be human is to suffer feelings for others - and then she dies. 
  • But the tale begins by presenting her as a predator.
  • Carter is adept at exploring how seeming opposites can be transformed into one another.
  • Her intended victim, the "handsome bicyclist", unwittingly seals her doom.
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Continued...

  • Carter shows how hunter and hunted are interchangeable roles.
  • The idea of the victim is enlarged at the end of this story to include the millions who perished in the First World War.
  • The imaginary terrors of Gothic monstrosity are dwarfed in comparison with the real unimaginable horrors of the trenches in France.
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