The Bloody Chamber

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The Bloody Chamber
First edition
Author Angela Carter
Cover artist Malcolm Ashman
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Magical realism, short story anthology
Publisher Gollancz
Publication date
Media type Print (Paperback)
ISBN 0-09-958811-0 (ISBN 978-0-09-958811-5 from January 2007)
OCLC 409990414

The Bloody Chamber (or The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories) is a collection of short fiction by English writer Angela Carter. It was first published in the United Kingdom in 1979 by Gollancz[1] and won the Cheltenham Festival Literary Prize. The stories share a theme of being closely based upon fairytales or folk tales. However, Carter has stated:

My intention was not to do 'versions' or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, 'adult' fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories.[2]

The anthology contains ten stories: "The Bloody Chamber", "The Courtship of Mr Lyon", "The Tiger's Bride", "Puss-in-Boots", "The Erl-King", "The Snow Child", "The Lady of the House of Love", "The Werewolf", "The Company of Wolves" and "Wolf-Alice".

The tales vary greatly in length, with the novelette "The Bloody Chamber" being "more than twice the length of any of the other stories, and more than thirty times the length of the shortest [the vignette "The Snow Child"]."[3]:viii

The anthology's contents are also reprinted in Carter's Burning Your Boats.

Story summaries[edit]

The stories within "The Bloody Chamber" are explicitly based on fairy tales. Carter was no doubt inspired by the works of author and fairytale collector Charles Perrault, whose fairy tales she had translated shortly beforehand.

The Bloody Chamber[edit]

(based on "Bluebeard")

The narrator, a beautiful teenage girl, marries an older, wealthy French Marquis, whom she does not love. When he takes her to his castle, she discovers his collection of pornographic images and takes pleasure in her embarrassment. She is a talented pianist, and a young man, a blind piano tuner from the local town, hears her music, he falls in love with her. The narrator's husband tells her that he must leave on a business trip to New York and provides her with a chain of keys. However, he forbids her to enter one particular room while he is away. When he leaves she feels melancholy and telephones her mother. Afterwards, she starts going through the Marquis's things in order to learn more about him. She enters the forbidden room in his absence and realizes the full extent of his perverse and murderous tendencies when she discovers the bodies of his previous wives. She confides the newly discovered secret to the piano tuner when suddenly the Marquis returns home for his business trip was canceled. He discovers that she has entered the room and proceeds to try to add her to his collection of corpses through beheading. The brave piano tuner is willing to stay with her even though he knows he will not be able to save her. She is saved at the last moment at the end of the story by her mother, who bursts into the mansion and shoots the Marquis just as he is about to murder the girl. The girl, her mother and the piano tuner go on to live together and the young widow opens a little music school on the outskirts of Paris. Most of the money she inherited is given away to various charities and the castle is turned into a school for the blind.

The Courtship of Mr Lyon[edit]

(based on Beauty and the Beast — the concept of the Beast as a lion-like figure is a popular one, most notably in the French film version of 1946)

Beauty's father, after experiencing car trouble, takes advantage of a stranger's hospitality. However, his benefactor – the Beast – takes umbrage when he steals a miraculous white rose for his beloved daughter. Beauty becomes the guest of the leonine Beast, and the Beast aids her father in getting his fortune back. Beauty later joins her father in London, where she almost forgets the Beast, causing him to wither away from heartache. When Beauty learns that he is dying, she returns, saving him. Beauty and the Beast disclose their love for one another and the Beast's humanity is revealed. They live happily ever after.

The Tiger's Bride[edit]

(also based on Beauty and the Beast)

A woman moves in with a mysterious, masked "Milord", the Beast, after her father loses her to him in a game of cards. Milord is eventually revealed to be a tiger. In a reversal of the ending of "The Courtship of Mr Lyon", the heroine transforms at the end into a glorious tiger who is the proper mate to the Beast, who will from now on be true to his own nature and not disguise himself as a human.


(based on "Puss in Boots" and similar to The Barber of Seville)

Figaro, a cat, moves in with a rakish young man who lives a happily debauched life. They live a carefree existence, with the cat helping him to make money by cheating at cards, until the young man actually falls in love (to the cat's disgust) with a young woman kept in a tower by a miserly, older husband who treats her only as property. The cat, hoping his friend will tire of the woman if he has her, helps the young man into the bed of his sweetheart by playing tricks on the old husband and the young woman's keeper. Figaro himself finds love with the young woman's cat, and the two cats arrange the fortunes of both themselves and the young man and woman by arranging to trip the old man so that he will fall to his death.

Angela Carter had described Puss in Boots as “the Cat as Con Man... a masterpiece of cynicism... a Figaroesque valet – a servant so much the master already”.[4]

The Erl-King[edit]

(an adaptation of the Erlking in folklore; a sort of goblin or spirit of the woodlands)

A maiden wanders into the woods and is seduced by the sinister Erl-King, a seeming personification of the forest itself. However, she eventually realises that he plans to imprison her by turning her into a bird, which he has done with other girls. Realising the Erl-King's plan, she kills him by strangling him with his own hair, thus keeping her freedom.

The Snow Child[edit]

(has roots in various folktales, most apparently The Snow-child, particularly in its variant The Snow, the Crow, and the Blood, but also in tales such as Snegurochka and an obscure variant of Snow White.[3]:xvi)

A Count and Countess go riding in midwinter. The Count sees snow on the ground and wishes for a child "as white as snow". Similar wishes are made when the Count sees a hole in the snow containing a pool of blood, and a raven. As soon as he made his final wish a young woman of the exact description appears at the side of the road. The Count pays immediate attention to her, much to the chagrin of the Countess. At the Countess' command, the girl picks a rose but is pricked by a thorn and dies, after which the Count rapes her corpse. After this, her cadaver melts into the snow, leaving nothing but a bloodstain on the snow, a black feather and the rose that she had picked.

The Lady of the House of Love[edit]

(based loosely on Sleeping Beauty and more directly on a radio play called "Vampirella")

A virginal English soldier, travelling through Romania by bicycle, finds himself in a deserted village. He comes across a mansion inhabited by a vampire who survives by enticing young men into her bedroom and feeding on them. She intends to feed on the young soldier but his purity and virginity have a curious effect on her. When they enter her bedroom she accidentally cuts herself and the soldier kisses it better. He wakes up to find her dead. He leaves to return to his battalion and is assumed to be killed in World War I.

The Werewolf[edit]

(based on "Little Red Riding Hood")

A girl goes to visit her grandmother, but encounters a werewolf on the way, whose paw she cuts off with a knife. When she reaches her grandmother's house, the paw has turned into a hand with the grandmother's ring on it, and the grandmother is both delirious and missing her hand. This reveals the girl's grandmother as the werewolf, and she is stoned to death. The girl then inherits all of her grandmother's possessions.

A closer look into the story might suggest that in fact the girl had set up her grandmother through a set of convenient lies, in order to gain her inheritance. For example, the snow covering any evidence of a struggle with the wolf.

The Company of Wolves[edit]

(closer adaptation of "Little Red Riding Hood")

"Those are the voices of my brothers, darling; I love the company of wolves."

In the beginning of the piece, the wolf is described as an evil thing. One mini story in the beginning is about a witch who turned a whole wedding ceremony into wolves. She likes them coming to her cabin and howling their misery for it soothes her. In another mini story a young lady and a man are about to have sex on their wedding night. As they get ready the husband says he needs to stop and relieve himself in the forest. The wife waits and he never returns. Off in the distance a wolf can be heard howling. She then figures her husband will never return and marries a new man. With her new husband she bears children. Her first husband comes back and sees his wife. The first husband then becomes furious and bites the leg off the eldest child. Her second husband kills the wolf, who dies and looks exactly the same as he had when he disappeared; this makes her cry and her husband beats her. Later we meet a girl walking in the woods. She was loved by everyone and feared nothing. She meets a handsome hunter who makes a deal with her; whoever can get to the grandmother's house first wins, and if the hunter wins she owes him a kiss. She lets the hunter win because she wants to kiss him. The hunter arrives at the grandmother's house tricking her. She is frail and sick. She holds a Bible in her hand for protection. He eats the grandmother, then waits for the girl. When she arrives, she notices her grandmother's hair in the fire and knows the wolf has killed her. He threatens to kill and eat her too, but she laughs in his face and proceeds to seduce him, stripping off their clothes and throwing them into the fire. The last lines are "See! sweet and sound she sleeps in granny's bed, between the paws of the tender wolf."


(based on an obscure variant of "Little Red Riding Hood"[3]:xviii and with reference to Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, this tale explores the journey towards subjectivity and self-awareness from the perspective of a feral child)

A feral child, whom some nuns have attempted to "civilize" by trying to teach her standard social graces, is left in the house of a monstrous, vampiric Duke when she cannot conform. She gradually comes to realise her own identity as a young woman and human being, and even develops compassion for the Duke, going far beyond the nuns' stunted views of life.

Publication history[edit]

The Bloody Chamber was first published in 1979, though many of the stories within the collection are reprints from other sources, such as magazines, radio and other collections. Only two are completely original to this collection, though many were revised or changed slightly from their previously published versions for this collection.

The stories' various origins are listed below

  • "The Bloody Chamber" made its début in The Bloody Chamber.
  • "The Courtship of Mr Lyon" originally appeared in the British version of Vogue.[5] It was revised for this collection.[6]
  • "The Tiger's Bride" made its début in The Bloody Chamber.
  • "Puss-in-Boots" was intended for a 1979 anthology The Straw and the Gold, edited by Emma Tennant, but the anthology was never published.[5]
  • "The Erl-King" originally appeared in Bananas.[5] It was revised for this collection.[6]
  • "The Snow Child" was originally broadcast on the BBC Radio 4 programme Not Now, I'm Listening.[5] It was revised for this collection.[6]
  • "The Lady of the House of Love" originally appeared in print in The Iowa Review.[5] However, it was originally written as a radio play entitled Vampirella which was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 1976.[7] The story was revised from the previous printed version for this collection.[6]
  • "The Werewolf" originally appeared in South-West Arts Review.[5] It was revised for this collection.[6]
  • "The Company of Wolves" originally appeared in Bananas.[5] It was revised for this collection.[6]
  • "Wolf-Alice" originally appeared in Stand.[5] It was revised for this collection.[6]

Style and themes[edit]

Angela Carter's short stories challenge the way women are represented in fairy tales, yet retain an air of tradition and convention through her voluptuously descriptive prose. For example, in the opening tale "The Bloody Chamber" which is a retelling of Bluebeard, Carter plays with the conventions of canonical fairy tales; instead of the heroine being rescued by the stereotypical male hero, she is rescued by her mother.

Carter effectively draws out the theme of feminism by contrasting traditional elements of Gothic fiction – which usually depicted female characters as weak and helpless – with strong female protagonists.[8] By contrasting the barren and horrific atmosphere found typically within the Gothic to the strong heroines of her story, Carter is able to create sexually liberated female characters that are set against the more traditional backdrop of the fairy tale. In doing so, Carter reinvents the outdated conventions of fairy tales and offers insight on the archetypes and stereotypes of women in these well-known and celebrated stories. It is notable that the conventions Carter analyzes and reimagines are of a patriarchal nature. Many of the original fairy tales that she draws inspiration from illustrate female characters in a vulnerable, damsel-in-distress position. It is clear that in giving her female characters more agency, Carter is directly responding to and critiquing these traditional patriarchal tropes.

The stories deal with themes of women's roles in relationships and marriage, their sexuality, coming of age and corruption. Stories such as "The Bloody Chamber" and "The Company of Wolves" explicitly deal with the horrific or corrupting aspects of marriage and/or sex and the balance of power within such relationships. Themes of female identity are explored in the "Beauty and the Beast" stories such as "The Tiger's Bride". In one instance, Beauty: the story's heroine, is described as removing the petals from a white rose as her father gambles her away, a seeming representation of the stripping away of the false layers of her personality to find her true identity; an image that finds a mirror in the story's fantastical conclusion.

As a whole, The Bloody Chamber can be treated as a collection of short stories that speak to a bigger narrative that deals with issues of feminism and metamorphosis instead of a set of individual tales. Although each particular narrative deals with a different set of characters, the 'oppressed female seeking liberation' is a common theme and concept that is explored throughout the collection. The characters seem to blend into each other and become indistinguishable from one another when recognising this theme in the text.[9]

The time periods of the stories remain vague. For example, in "The Bloody Chamber" the existence of a transatlantic telephone implies a date of 1930 or later. On the other hand, the mention of painters such as Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon, and of fashion designer Paul Poiret (who designs one of the heroine's gowns) all suggest a date before 1945. "The Lady of the House of Love" is clearly set on the eve of the First World War, and the young man's bicycle on which he arrives at the tradition-bound vampire's house is a symbol of the encroaching modernity which fundamentally altered European society after 1914.



The Bloody Chamber won the Cheltenham Festival Literary Prize in 1979.

Critical reception[edit]

The Bloody Chamber has received heavy praise and attention from numerous critics such as Jack Zipes (who called it a "remarkable collection"[10]) and Marina Warner (who, on its inspirational nature, said it "turned the key for [her] as a writer"[11]).

Several critical works have been published that focus on Carter's use of fairy tales in The Bloody Chamber and her other works[12] and the anthology is also frequently taught and studied in University literature courses.[13]

It has been used as part of the AQA English Literature, the OCR English Literature and Edexcel English Language/Literature syllabus for A-Levels in some schools in the United Kingdom.

Neil Gaiman cited the book as one of his inspirations.[14]

The critic Patricia Duncker, however, was more reserved in her praise, criticising it for not breaking enough taboos. She said 'Carter could never have imagined Cinderella in bed with the fairy God-mother.'[15]



Carter later adapted "The Company of Wolves" and "Puss-in-Boots" into radio plays which were broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 1980 and 1982 respectively. The 1982 adaptation of "Puss in Boots" (as it was retitled) starred Andrew Sachs in the title role.[7] The scripts for both of these plays were published in Carter's Come Unto These Yellow Sands and later the posthumous collection The Curious Room, which also included production notes.


The 1984 film The Company of Wolves by Neil Jordan was based upon the werewolf stories in this collection, in particular the Little Red Riding Hood analogue "The Company of Wolves". Carter also directly contributed to the screenplay of this film, which bears close resemblance to her 1980 radio play adaptation of "The Company of Wolves." Carter's original screenplay for this film is published in The Curious Room. Jordan and Carter also discussed producing a film adaptation of "Vampirella", the radio drama that became "The Lady of the House of Love", but this project was never released.[16]

Music video[edit]

Punk band Daisy Chainsaw adapted the story of "The Lady of the House of Love" for their 1992 music video for "Hope Your Dreams Come True" (from the EP of the same name and also later the album Eleventeen).[17]


The stories within The Bloody Chamber are a popular subject for theatrical adaptation. The story "The Bloody Chamber" has been adapted for the theatre more than once, including a performance by the "Zoo District" which was accompanied by an amateur film adaptation of "Wolf-Alice".[18] "The Company of Wolves" is also a popular subject for adaptation by amateur/student theatre groups (e.g. by a Welsh drama college[19]).

In August 2013, Melbourne's Malthouse Theatre presented a stage adaptation of The Bloody Chamber by writer Van Badham, directed by Matthew Lutton, with composers David Chisholm (scoring for three live harps) and Jethro Woodward (live and replayed electronic soundscore). Set and costumedesign were by Anna Cordingley with lighting designer Paul Jackson. Save for a relatively brief appearance by Shelly Lauman, the piece was in essence performed by Alison Whyte. The three harpists were Jacinta Dennett, Jess Fotinos, and Yinuo Mu.


The band The Parlour Trick featured a song called "The Lady of the House of Love" on their 2012 album A Blessed Unrest. Angela Carter is listed as an inspiration in the album notes.[20] Wolf Alice is a band which named themselves after the story in the anthology.


  1. ^ "Bloody Chamber", Angela Carter, UK: Fantastic Fiction .
  2. ^ Haffenden, John (1985), "Angela Carter", Novelists in Interview, New York: Methuen Press, p. 80, ISBN 978-0-416-37600-5 .
  3. ^ a b c Simpson, Helen (2006) [1979], "Introduction", The Bloody Chamber, London: Vintage .
  4. ^ Angela Carter (22 July 1976). "The Better to Eat You With". New Society. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Carter, Angela (1995) [1979], The Bloody Chamber, Croydon: Vintage, p. 4, ISBN 0-09-958811-0 .
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Locus Magazine, archived from the original on 6 October 2007, retrieved 23 April 2007 .
  7. ^ a b Mark Bell (ed.), production notes to Angela Carter's The Curious Room (London: Vintage, 1997).
  8. ^ "Gothic Fiction." The Oxford Companion to English Literature n.d.: n.pag. Web. 23 October 2011.
  9. ^ Gamble, Sarah. The Fiction of Angela Carter. Cambridge: Icon Books Ltd., 2001. Print.
  10. ^ Jack Zipes, "Crossing Boundaries with Wise Girls: Angela Carter's Fairy Tales for Children" in Angela Carter and the Fairy Tale, ed. Danielle M. Roemer and Christina Bacchilega (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998), p 159.
  11. ^ Marina Warner, "Ballerina: The Belled Girl Sends a Tape to an Impresario" in Angela Carter and the Fairy Tale, ed. Danielle M. Roemer and Christina Bacchilega (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998), p 250.
  12. ^ e.g. Angela Carter and the Fairy Tale, ed. Danielle M. Roemer and Christina Bacchilega (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998).
  13. ^ e.g. , CA: Simon Fraser University, archived from the original on 11 February 2009  Missing or empty |title= (help); Course outline, UK: University of Essex, archived from the original on 29 September 2007, retrieved 15 May 2007 
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Neil Jordan quoted in the production notes to Angela Carter's The Curious Room (London: Vintage, 1997), p 507.
  17. ^ YouTube, Google .
  18. ^ Bloody Chamber, Zoo District, archived from the original on 2003-08-22 .
  19. ^ Staff, Wales, UK: Trinity CM, archived from the original on 28 September 2007, retrieved 29 June 2007 .
  20. ^ The Parlour Trick, Bandcamp .


External links[edit]