The Bloody Chamber
You know how you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover? Whoops. The cover of the 75th anniversary edition of The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories by Angela Carter is the reason I read her wonderful collection of fairy tales (note that the collection is a celebration of the 75th anniversary of Carter's birth, not the story (which was published in 1979)). The blurb about the collection (once I got past the cover) (I'm serious its so nice go look at it) captured my attention, describing Carter as a "storytelling sorceress" and as someone who "spins subversively dark and sensual versions of familiar fairy tales and legends." There are ten tales in the collection, each touching on themes of female desire and sexuality, enrapture its readers. As one reviewer writes, "The heroines of these stories are struggling out of the straitjackets of history and ideology and biological essentialism." In the introduction to the collection, Kelly Link writes what makes the collection cohere is "Carter's ferment of ideas about gender and sexuality and story." My favorite story, besides the titular one (the first in the collection pulled me in because of the heroine's dramatic re-writing of her own story), was "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon," a retelling of Beauty & the Beast. It ends, as the Disney tale does, with the Beast transforming into a man:
And then it was no longer a lion in her arms but a man, a man with an unkempt mane of hair and, how strange, a broken nose, such as the noses of retired boxers, that gave him a distant, heroic resemblance to the handsomest of all the beasts.
In "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon," Beauty leaves the Beast's house, and returns on her own prerogative. And just look at that description!!! "Such as the noses of retired boxers." In a later story ("The Lady in the House of Love," about a vampire), I think I re-read this passage about five times before moving on:
He has the special quality of virginity, most and least ambiguous of states: ignorance, yet at the same time, power in potentia, and furthermore, unknowingness, which is not the same as ignorance. He is more than he knows--and has about him, besides, the special glamour of that generation for whom history has already prepared a special, exemplary fate in the trenches of France. This being, rooted in change and time, is about to collide with the timeless Gothic eternity of vampires, for whom all is as it has always been and will be, whose cards always fall in the same pattern.
The focus on male virginity instead of female virginity/purity, plus the off-hand mention of WWI that grounds the story in reality, and then the "timeless Gothic eternity of vampires" .... it all just works so well!! There were other stories I wasn't as crazy about-- the sexual violence in some of the shorter ones (like "The Snow Child" or "The Erl King") felt gratuitous and uncomfortable at times. But maybe they were supposed to make me feel uncomfortable, I don't know. You should decide for yourself. Rating: ★★★★