Angela Carter's "The Bloody Chamber"

Welcome. I have created this webpage for everyone who would like help in deciphering and writing about Angela Carter's "The Bloody Chamber." I was supposed to be writing an essay on the short story, and needed help myself. However, I couldn't find any reference material on the web. So this is a collection of my notes, links, etc. If you have anything to contribute, please e-mail me with an appropriate subject line. I'd love to post other peoples' ideas and information so that everyone can share in them. Thanks for visiting; I hope you find this useful.

Note: This page only covers information concerning the title story of the collection.

[Plot Summary]
Our narrator, who is never named, has been proposed to by a very wealthy man. She accepts against both her mother and old nurse's wishes. The narrator and her husband take a train to settle in to his "castle of murder," and she is amazed by it (988). After he deflowers her, he goes away on a supposed business trip, leaving her with the keys to every lock in the house. He forbids her from entering one particular room, and of course she looks anyway. There she finds the dead bodies of all three of her husbands' late wives, and panics. He then returns home early, and she is caught. He places the bloody key on her forehead, marking her forever. Then, as he is about to decapitate the narrator, her mother comes riding up on a horse and shoots the husband. She returns home to marry the castle's piano tuner, giving the castle and wealth away to charities.

[Essay Topics/Ideas]
Obedience vs. liberty
Gender and Power
Youth vs. Age
Innocence vs. Experience
Geography, Places
Womenís vs. Menís opportunities (rights)
Mental health
Acts of reading
Locks and Keys

[My Double-Sided Notes for Jewelry & Flowers]
This technique works well for any topic in any essay. Write down every occurrence you can find of a word or theme that you want to discuss/write/think about. Then write down anything that comes to mind about that quote - how it serves as an interpretation or helps to support an overall theme, or anything that you can think of.

Page J/F Occurrence Notes
968 J "when he put the gold band on my finger, I had, in some way, ceased to be her child in becoming his wife"
969 F "bouquet of hot-house flowers"
969 F "a one of those cobra-headed, funereal lilies whose white sheaths are curled out of a flesh as thick and tensely yielding to the touch as vellum" Here she describes her husband; menacing, dark, harsh, tense; "cobra-headed": about to strike; like vellum (thick, strong paper), he is thick and unyielding/unbending;
969 J "the ring ready in a leather box lined with crimson velvet, a fire opal..complicated circle of dark antique gold...every bride that came to the caste wore it" Connotations of crimson/red: blood, evil; "fire opal": destructive, evil, uncontrollable; the fact that every bride in the castle had worn it warns us that she will be experiencing the same things that they did
971 J "choker of rubies, two inches wide, like an extraordinarily precious slit throat...bright as arterial blood" Note the origin of the necklace: the woman who survived the Terror and having her head chopped of wore it; "slit throat": death (slitting of throat, obviously); "bright as arterial blood": again the blood/red, evil, sinister/dark description
971 J "the way the muscles in my neck stuck out like thin wire. I saw how much that cruel necklace became me. And for the first time in my innocent and confined life, I sensed in myself a potentiality for corruption that took my breath away" Foreshadowing: the beginning of her corruption/downfall/metamorphasis; "cruel": the cruelty of the necklace that was given to her by her husband is a symbol for his cruelty
971 J "This ring, the bloody bandage of rubies..." "Bloody bandage": blood, death, evil indicated by the ruby choker
972 F "a collar from which my head rose like the calyx of a wildflower"
972 J "My husband liked me to wear my opal over my kid glove, a showy, theatrical trick - but the moment the ironic chauffeur glimpsed its simmering flash he smiled, as though it was proof positive that I was his master's wife." "Simmering flash": to stew gently below or just at the boiling point/to be in a state of incipient development; because the opal has "fire" in it, its simmering indicates something bad is brewing, about to happen; foreshadowing; erie, foreboding
972 F "And we drove towards the widening dawn, that now streaked half the sky with a wintry bouquet of pink of roses, orange of tiger-lilies, as if my husband had ordered me a sky from a florist"
973 J "sultry, witchy ring" "Sultry": hot with passion or anger; "witch": a woman practicing usually black witchcraft often with the aid of a devil or familiar/charming or alluring girl or woman - the ring itself was part of the reason that the narrator was lured into the marriage (to get away from her poverty); the ring has dark, supernatural powers, indicating the bad things that are coming; almost powerful
974 F "his white, heavy flesh that had too much in common with the armfuls of arum lilies that filled my bedroom in great glass jars, those undertakers' lilies with the heavy pollen that powders your fingers as if you had dipped them in turmeric. The lilies I always associated with him; that are white. And stain you." She associates her husband with the lilies that she associates with death ("undertakers' lilies"); when you touch them, you are stained by them, as her husband will stain her both emotionally (seeing the dead bodies, taking her virginity, trying to kill her) and physically (the blood on her forehead from the key)
976 J "He made me put on my choker, the family heirloom of one woman who had escaped the blade. With trembling fingers, I fastened the thing about my neck. It was cold as ice and chilled me...And he kissed those blazing rubies, too. He kissed them before he kissed my mouth. Rapt, he intoned: 'Of her apparel she retains/Only her sonorous jewllery'" The ruby choker is acting as a symbol of what is to come. It foreshadows that she will face the same situation that the woman who first had it created will. He is obsessed with her neck. "Blazing rubies": like the fire in the opal - destructive, evil, uncontrollable
976 F "My husband, who, with so much love, filled my bedroom with lilies until it looked like an embalming parlour. Those somnolent lilies, that wave their heavy heads, distributing their lush, insolent incense reminiscent of pampered flesh" The bedroom now looks like death to her; "somnolent lilies" (sleep-inducing) - bringing on death?; they become overbearing, as if death is closing in on her
977 J "I know quite well that this child I've bought with a handful of coloured stones and the pelts of dead beasts won't run away" The fate the jewels have been trying to warn her of is now inescapable
977 J "But he would not let me take off my ruby choker, although it was growing very uncomfortable" It is physically uncomfortable, but this quote also is saying that the choker is becoming tighter, the inevitable is getting closer, the tension is rising
978 J "and the keys to his safes, where he kept the jewels I should wear, he promised me, when we returned to Paris. Such jewels! Why, I would be able to change my earrings and necklaces three times a day, just as the Empress Josephine used to change her underwear" She has been "bought" with jewelry, but the jewelry seems like it is trying to warn her and get her to run away
979 F "The perfume of the lilies weighed on my senses; when I thought that henceforth, I would always share these sheets with a man..." The fact that the lilies are becoming more and more overbearing indicates that death is imminent
980 F "the last thing I remembered, before I slept, was the tall jar of lilies beside the bed, how the thick glass distorted their fat stems so they looked like arms, dismembered arms, drifting drowned in greenish water" Death, dismemberment (beheading?), they are being drowned in the water as she is now trapped/doomed by the marriage; erie, disturbing
981 F "I did not like to linger in my overcrowded dressing room, not in my lugubriously lily-scented bedroom"
981 J Opening of the safe
982 J "But I would not find his heart amongst the glittering stones"
982 F "I had the brief notion that his heart, pressed flat as a flower, crimson and thin as tissue paper, lay in this file. It was a very thin one." Smallness of his heart; "crimson" - evil, bloodshed
984, 985 F "Yet at the center of the room lay a catafalque, a doomed, ominous bier of Renaissance workmanship, surrounded by long white candles and, at its foot, an armful of the same lilies with which he had filled my bedroom, stowed in a four-foot-high jar glazed with a sombre Chinese red."

"And this skull was strung up by a system of unseen cords, so that it appeared to hang, disembodied, in the still, heavy air, and it had been crowned with a wreath of fhite roses, and a veil of lace, the final image of his bride"
Dark, scary, evil, death; at this point it is clear that the narrator will die too - they are all surrounded/touched by white flowers; the red = bloodshed, evil
985 J "The light caught the fire opal on my hand so that it flashed, once, with a baleful light, as if to tell me the eye of God - his eye - was upon me. My first thought, when I saw the ring for which I had sold myself to this fate, was, how to escape it." "Baleful": deadly or pernicious in influence/foreboding evil/ominous; she knows that he knows what she has done
986 F "hypocritically innocent flowers"
990 F "Strange. In spite of my fear of him, that made me whiter than my wrap, I felt there emanate from him, at that moment, a stench of absolute despair, rank and ghastly, as if the lilies that surrounded him had all at once begun to fester."
991 J "'Decapitation,' he whispered, almost voluptuously. 'Go and bathe yourself; put on that white dress you wore to hear Tristan and the necklace that prefigures your end.'" "Prefigures": to show, suggest, or announce by an antecedent type, image, or likeness; he has meant it to indicate how she will die
992 F "The mass of lilies that surrounded me exhaled, now, the odour of their withering. They looked like the trumpets of the angels of death." The lilies are beginning to die; as "trumpets" they are indicating death, but maybe by their death the narrator will live?
992 J "On the dressing table, coiled like a snake about to strike, lay the ruby choker." Like the "cobra-headed" description at the beginning of the text, the choker (death) is "a snake about to strike"
993 J "'But does even a youth as besotted as you are think she was truly blind to her own desires when she took my ring? Give it me back, whore!' [New paragraph] The fires in the opal had all died down. I gladly slipped it from my finger and, even in that dolorous place, my heart was lighter for the lack of it. My husband took it lovingly and lodged it on the tip of his little finger; it would no no further." The fires in the opal are gone - the uncontrollable nature of the marriage is about to end; but maybe not in death - her heart feels lighter and the evilness in the ring is gone; also, him taking it lovingly indicates his evil
993 J "And, once again, of my apparel I must retain only my gems; the sharp blade ripped my dress in two and it fell from me."

[Works Cited]
"Baleful." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2002. (16 Feb. 2003).

Carter, Angela. "The Bloody Chamber." The Riverside Anthology of Short Fiction. Ed. Dean Baldwin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. 967-995.

"Prefigures." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2002. (16 Feb. 2003).

"Simmering." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2002. (16 Feb. 2003).

"Sultry." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2002. (16 Feb. 2003).

"Witch." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2002. (16 Feb. 2003).

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Last Updated: 2.16.2003
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