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‘In The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter reverses gothic traditions so that the males become the victims instead of the females’. Discuss this view with reference to two stories from The Bloody Chamber


Some of Carter’s gothic short stories within The Bloody Chamber such as The Snow Child do concur with gothic traditions seeing that it is the female in the short story that dies and is sexually exploited. However, in The Lady Of The House Of Love (TLOTHOL), it can be seen that it is both the males that become victims which sees Carter reverse stereotypical gender representations. In The Courtship Of Mr Lyon (TCOML), the juxtaposition between the genders is hardly to distinguish due to the fact the gender representations are slowly transformed throughout the short novel. Just because gender representations have been reversed does not entirely mean gothic traditions have been reversed too. The elements of a gothic story are all in TCOML and TLOTHOL: the only reversal is the genders.
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In TCOML, the idea the male becoming a victim is not displayed at the start of the short story. Being a pastiche of Beauty and The Beast, we can gather straight away that the ‘Beast’ will be powerful and to-be-feared from adopting some of the animalistic characteristics of a Lion, ‘a great roaring’. From this, the reader is doubtful that this ferocious animal cannot be the victim of females. However, when Beauty’s father passes over a picture of Beauty to the Beast, the reader gains a sense of a weakness from the Beast, ‘with a strange kind of wonder, almost the dawning of surmise’. This contrasts to the behaviour signifying his vulnerability to women: he has gone from a dangerous animal to an animal which, ‘took good care not to scratch the surface with his claws’. This makes clear that the woman, being Beauty, has control over the Beast because even without her presence and barely an image, she has managed to calm him to a humane animal. For this reason, the start of TCOML starts off with gothic traditions. However, once Beauty has been introduced to the novel to the Beast, the traditions of the woman being the victim slowly reverse.

The reversal of gothic traditions are much more easier to see in TLOTHOL due to the ‘black and white’ definitions of who the victims are in the pastiches and therefore short story. TLOTHOL is mainly a pastiche of Jack and The Beanstalk with elements of Sleeping Beauty too. This is made clear from what the Countess says, ‘Fee fie fo fum / I smell the blood of an Englishman’. The fact that the giant from Jack and The Beanstalk is a woman makes clear that Jack or the soldier is going to be the victim. Although the language from Jack and The Beanstalk has been copied completely without any alterations, Carter has cleverly changed the complete meaning of the above quote. The reference of blood could suggest menstrual taboo. However, more importantly, the soldier is a virgin and this is what attracts the Countess to him. She might be smelling the blood from the soldier. But, the likelihood is that is that she can smell his virginity. This is made clear by the way Carter describes the soldier, ‘One hot, ripe summer in the pubescent years’. Carter is linking the weather to the soldier’s sexual state. To describe the weather as ‘ripe’ refers to a fruit’s readiness to eat. Therefore, it is clear the soldier is ready to lose his virginity. This juxtaposes against ‘pubescent’ which could possibly mean that the soldier is ready to lose his virginity but not right now to this Countess. From the use of Jack and The Beanstalk, it makes clear that the pastiche Carter has used makes it easy for the reader to know that the gender roles have been reversed with the man being the prey and a possible victim.

The theme of roses in both TCOML and TLOTHOL makes clear that the woman in both short stories are never victimised but in fact powerful creatures and that it is the men that are victimised. In TCOML, the story is based around a white rose, grown in the middle of the winter, which represents Beauty: her perfection, her purity and her virginity. At the end of the short story, the rose dies, ‘the roses she had sent him...were all dead’. This tells the reader that Beauty has undergone a transformation. At the start, she was the perfection, purified and the epitome of a virgin. Now, she has transformed to a woman because the Beast took her virginity. At the very end, she is named as ‘Mrs Lyon’. Before, she was ‘Miss Lamb’ which can be seen to be the prey of the Beast. However, she has now become on level terms with the Beast. As well as also throwing up ideas that everyone has an inner ‘Beast’ inside them, it is more that Beauty has accepted her masculine submission. This can be supported from the fact Mr and Mrs Lyon walk, ‘in a drift of fallen petals’. The innocence of Beauty has all gone with the only remains being a few scattered petals. From this, it makes clear that Beauty has metamorphosed into a much more masculine and powerful woman. Whereas, Beast has gone from a powerful individual to a helpless animal dying, ‘cracked a whisper of his former purr’. This brings the point that at the end of the short story, Beauty has become much more powerful than the Beast, almost like she has taken some of the power away from the Beast and this is what makes the Beast a victim.

The theme of roses in TLOTHOL demonstrates the gender reversals in the short story making clear that the soldier has been victimised by the Countess. At the end of the short story, the roses are described to still be alive, ‘the flower did not seem to be quite dead’. The roses were given to the soldier because the Countess died before she could lose her virginity. Therefore, the roses are also a representation of her virginity. However, the fact that even after she has died, the roses are still alive (just about) brings forward the point that the woman in TLOTHOL are much more powerful than the men and, because of this, are much harder to die. The rose, a representation of the Countess, is much harder to die because it posses the power of the Countess. This agrees with the male figure being a ‘soldier’: someone who is constantly endangered by war. Carter has given the impression that the male figure in TLOTHOL is easy to kill and the female figure is much harder to kill. The hypocritical aspect arises when the female dies making clear that although the soldier was the victim in the short story due to the overwhelming power of the Countess, the Countess is the figure that ends up being the victim creating a juxtaposing twist at the end of the story.

Ultimately, Carter has been able to reverse stereotypical traits of males and females in gothic texts and even fairy tale stories too because the pastiches she bases her stories on always has the male figure as the dominative powerful figure such as in Beauty and The Beast. From reversing gender presentations does not mean, though, that she has completely reversed gothic traditions. Her stories are still based in gothic settings which are isolated from humanity. The main characters are alienated away from society (which is why Beast does not have any human servants at all). Yet, due to the twist of gender representations being reversed again in TLOTHOL, it is difficult to see whether it is the males are in fact victims or not. The Beast was saved on his deathbed by Beauty who then, the reader presumes, lives happily ever after. The soldier is left alive to be ‘embarked to France’. If there was any victimisation of male figures in these two short stories, it would be from the fact that the males have to suffer losing their female partners. The Beast was ‘sick’ for the love he had for Beauty to not, ‘kill the gentle beasts’, and required Beauty’s love to keep him alive. The soldier suffered for he loved the Countess which was why he, ‘decided to try and resurrect her rose’. In both short stories, the women are portrayed as figures or power at the end and because both male figures suffer due to the woman’s actions and due to this it can be seen that Angel Carter does reverse gothic traditions where males have become the victims instead of females.

About Will Green

A student in England studying Automotive Engineering with Motorsport, Will created Ask Will Online back in 2010 to help students revise and bloggers make money. You can follow AskWillOnline via @AskWillOnline.

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