Angela Carter (2006 [1979]) The Bloody Chamber And Other Stories.

Angela Carter died at the relatively young age of 51 in 1992. I’ve been digging up her legacy. I started with Night at the Circus. Life is wonderful and horrific. And if you scratch the surface, magic happens. Heroes are heroines. As they are in the Bloody Chamber. I didn’t find out until later it was meant to be a retelling of The Bluebeard Story.

Carter’s heroines are innocents abroad, crossing the border.

‘And in the midst of my bridal triumph I felt a pang of loss as if, when he put the gold band on my finger, I had, in some way, ceased to be her child in becoming his wife.’

Her husband is the richest man in France. Carter’s villains tend to be rich landowners such as Dracula or Bluebeard. If she’d lived long enough she might have flung in the vampirism of a Rishi Sunak or the buffoonish Boris Johnston. Her heroines are ready to taste corruption, but on their own terms.

Usually there is an old maid for them to fall back on. The virginal narrator’s ‘eagle-featured, indomitable mother. She’d outfaced both Chinese pirates and a man-eating tiger, but also nursed villagers through a visitation of the plague. Old maids always know what young maids do not. But they see little point in telling them. They let them find out for themselves.

Show don’t tell. Carter is master and mistress.

‘He was older than I. He was much older than I; there were streaks of pure silver in his dark mane. But his strange, heavy, almost waxen face was not lined by experience. Rather, experience seemed to have washed it perfectly smooth, like a stone on the beach whose fissures had been eroded by successive tides.’

Her characters are often gruff. Internal monologue rather than dialogue. Few authors use all the five senses. The olfactory sense is often the poor, neglected child, but not in her work. She makes a meal of it.

‘If I rose up on my elbow, I could see the dark, leonine shape of his head and my nostrils caught a whiff of the opulent male scent of leather and spices that always accompanied him…’   

The scent of lilies of death and yet beauty and life is perhaps gilding it. But here the narrator is in the Gothic Breton castle. Virginal and alone.

The master feigns a crisis. Having lost her virginity, she has paid the price and is now the mistress. He hands her the keys. We know it’s a loaded gun. The fairy-tale imperative. Don’t look. Don’t open the door. Don’t turn then key. Don’t eat the fruit from the one tree in the Garden of Eden.

She does, of course. How else can the reader know if the narrator does not have the fruit of knowledge?

Ten stories of varying lengths and quality. I didn’t really get what The Erl-King was meant to symbolise. Puss-in-Boots had a cat as narrator. Funnily enough, it made me think of the cat in Shrek. The Lady in the House of Love was a traditional vampire. Exquisitely beautiful. Daughter of the Drac the Impaler. But she was lost in her own half-life in the castle walls as a kid, addicted to gaming and sleeping through the day. I’ll need to have a read of Carter’s Wise Children. Read on.