Wednesday 11 July 2012

The Bloody Chamber

(June 2012)

I should have read this years ago. Literally. I did English electives at uni and this was required reading for one of them. Didn’t read it back then though. Was too busy indulging other pursuits and just winged it in the tutorial. In retrospect if I had actually read the damn thing, it might have saved me a fair bit of grief.

These are retellings of fairy tales through a feminist prism, with the sexual aspects amped up to eleven. And it really is; the level of sensuality is thick enough to feel slightly overwritten; the prose is so purple that it’s almost smotheringly unsexy. Like being spanked with a velvet pillow instead of a riding crop, sometimes things can be too lush and plumped up.

So, the titles are all fairy stories. Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast are fairly obvious candidates for this treatment, and get a good working over. The longest story though – which also lends its name to the collection – is a reworking of Bluebeard, which is somewhat less famous. I had to look it up. Having done so, I have one question: what’s the point?

Plot summary: Ingénue marries powerful aristocrat. “Go in any room you like except that one.” Goes in that one. Dead wives, argh! “Now you know my secret and must die.” Deus ex machina. Now not-so-ingénue inherits a fortune and lives happily ever after.

What’s the moral there? Don’t marry serial killers no matter how rich they are? But she’s fine in the end and gets all the loot. Don’t look where you’re not meant to unless you have at least one relative capable of killing on your behalf? Stick your keyring up your arse?

Maybe I’m looking at it from the wrong side. Maybe it’s meant to be a precautionary tale for obscenely wealthy psychopaths, in which case the moral might be, ‘Don’t let anyone into your secret torture chamber unless you’re actually going to use it then and there.’ I think we can all learn something from that, at least.


  1. "Was too busy indulging other pursuits and just winged it in the tutorial. In retrospect if I had actually read the damn thing, it might have saved me a fair bit of grief"

    If you'd taken a pass on 'other pursuits' and possible 'grief', you'd've ended up exploring and experimenting at a later point in life when it just seems sad to still be doing so.

    Trust me, I've been doing it...

    1. True that. Except it's only sad if you're not learning from it. Or dancing. Seriously, no-one above the age of 30 should dance. And very few people under, come to think of it.

  2. For some reason, I'm trying to remember a story where the man with very sharp teeth eats his wife in a pie, who knew she was going to be eaten (I think because that's what had happened to her sister). He ate her and then exploded because she'd ingested some kind of special poison. Not quite Bluebeard...

    Riding crop... now I'm thinking Mapplethorpe... but that's not quite right either. He posed with a whip in a playful self portrait.

    Wealthy psychopaths need not be obscene. Extreme, but not obscene.


    1. Finally, someone brave enough to speak up for wealthy psychopaths. The voice of the voiceless. If not you, then who?

      As for the pie, are you sure that wasn't just a dream you had? Let the therapy commence... ;)