Metamorphosis of the Feminine – The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Georges Méliès, Bluebeard, 1901.

Georges Méliès, Bluebeard, 1901.

The following essay performs a close textual reading of two extracts from Angela Carter’s, The Bloody Chamber. Given the constraints of the assignment [1,000 words] this is a rather crude analysis which, unable to unpack its implications, leads in some respects to the generic and the obvious. In spite of these concerns I have nevertheless aimed for perceptual depth. Since the two passages are analogous I have privileged the former while drawing upon the latter. Rather than litter the post with copious footnotes you can read the Angela Carter Extracts here.I have given the page numbers for reference.

“His wedding gift, clasped round my throat. A choker of rubies, two inches wide, like an extraordinarily precious slit throat.” [p.6]

Carter’s employment of language here is extremely precise. The idea of clasping, of holding fast suggests power and possession (to have and to hold until death do us part?), as if the Marquis’ hands are literally round her throat. If we read this metaphor as asphyxiation, of becoming unable to breathe, and the ‘choker’ as a restriction of the body, particularly the neck (an erogenous zone) and vocal cords this would also increase the awareness of one’s own body as an object. His apparent gift is not just a symbol of wealth but a contractual exchange to which the female protagonist is committed by receiving and wearing it. At this point the choker metaphorically pre-figures the female protagonists fate in the final act and what appears to be her inevitable decapitation.

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Metamorphosis of the Feminine – The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter and Paula Rego

Image by Paul Rego

Image by Paul Rego

Drawing on the violence of her Portugese background and it’s folklore Rego’s world conjures up allegorical tales of the physical and psychological violation and repression of feminine experience through often surreal, psychologically, metaphorically and symbolically charged imagery. In these claustrophobic settings and often domestic interiors these female figures, cut off and contained by the frame of the image, often dominate the scene.

Rego’s Women have powerfully robust physiques and the characters in her paintings, drawings and prints are often portrayed in uncompromising and contorted positions including bending, kneeling, lying, squatting, cavorting, undressing. The abject appears in the form of urinating and defecating. Like Smith the female and the bestial are often interchangeable. There is something of the carnivalesque and the grotesque about Rego’s characters, the dancers that appear regularly in her work draw as much on James Ensor as they might on Degas. Rego has also made controversial work about female genital mutilation and abortion. Continue reading