If you enjoy dark, gothic, twisted fairytales with unconventional endings and a touch of feminism, you’re in for a treat. Angela Carter’s collection of short fictional stories will give you the chills and make you reread and reanalyze your favorite childhood stories. She takes the classic tales on a whole different level and opens the possibility of a completely new subgenre in literature.
Carter’s literary success lies in her outstanding representation of female empowerment and her overt depiction of the ways her protagonists act in accordance with the principles of feminism and go against those of patriarchy. The women in her versions of the fairytales are nothing like the traditional female character: weak and helpless, waiting for her rescuer and dreaming of forever after. Angela mercilessly kills every single damsel in distress and transforms them into a femme fatale. Moreover, her narrative style is accompanied by gothic symbolism which makes her stories even more powerful and terrifying in the best way possible.
“The Bloody Chamber” and “The Werewolf” are two of her stories that embody a fierce representation of women where they are given unorthodox roles and defy every social convention.
No need for Prince Charming, mother is here
“The Bloody Chamber” makes an allusion to Charles Perrault’s folktale “Bluebeard”. Both versions are petrifying and spine-chilling, both have manslaughter and heinous murderer and both involve the secret bloody chamber filled with rotten bodies. The storyline may be the same, however, while Perrault gives his female characters the role of a victim or potential target, Carter gives women the upper hand.
Instead of the typical ‘once upon a time’ fairytale start, Carter starts the story by using realistic and dark descriptions, and instead of making the female characters submissive to the male ones, she allows them to become independent. She begins this transformation by granting the narrative voice to a woman, alluding to the fact that with the story she wishes to suppress the patriarchy and give a voice to the female gender.
Just like in the original fairytale, Bluebeard’s wife is given access to every room of the castle except to one, namely, the one in which her husband collects his ex-spouses’ corpses. Since women’s nature is supposed to be wicked and curious (an allusion to Adam and Eve), the wife disobeys his orders and discovers his little hobby. With this deceitful act towards her husband, she breaks the social norms for the very first time. Little did she know that by opening the chamber door, she opened Pandora’s box.
As women are perceived in traditional fairytales as the more fragile sex, they are almost always exposed to danger and hostility. This is no exception. The wife is about to be executed when in Perrault’s “Bluebeard” her brothers are her saviors. In Angela’s story, the heroine’s mother comes to the rescue.
Little Red Riding Hood becomes Little Red Riding Wolf
Carter’s “The Werewolf” is based on Grimm’s “Little Red Riding Hood”. Originally, the Grimm’s story represented a cautionary fairytale with a moral lesson to teach young girls to keep their purity (having in mind that the color red used to be a symbol of promiscuity as in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter) and to not stray away from the social path (as it will be seen later). However, Angela Carter’s version tells us a story about an empowered Little Red Riding Hood, whose personality can be found in striking contrast to the one of the original character.
Brothers Grimm depict their female protagonists as gentle, passive, and always showing stereotypical feminine traits. However, unlike their version of the fairytale in which Red Riding Hood is presented as a helpless little girl in jeopardy, in Carter’s version, she is portrayed as a fearless child who knows the forest inside out. At the beginning of the tale, the child is advised by her mother not to leave the path so she doesn’t come across wild beasts. This can easily imply the fact that leaving the path can be associated with breaking the social conventions which would further lead to being rejected by society.
Nevertheless, Carter’s heroine is no ordinary girl. Her encounter with the wolf is described as a bloody fight in which the beast loses its paw. The protagonist’s impressive defensive skills against wild animals may also allude to the fact that at the same time she also represents the hunter, who in the original story is portrayed by a male.
Last but not least, the typical role of the dangerous villain of the fairytale which in Grimm’s Red Riding Hood is assigned to a male wolf, Carter’s beast is no other than the powerless Granny. What’s more, at the end of the story, there is a hint that Little Red Riding Hood inherits her grandmother’s “condition” and becomes the new werewolf.
By twisting the plot of almost every fairytale we all grew up with, Angela Carter gives us a chance to analyze them from a fresh perspective. For the first time in history, she gives the female characters found in traditional settings an empowered identity and frees them from the patriarchal oppression.