Friday, 9 March 2012

The Worst Essay Ever Completed.

Yesterday I finally handed in the Dreaded Essay. It took me ages to understand the question and then ages to answer it, too! I wasn't the only one to find it difficult, so that makes it slightly better. However, in the end I was a little bit proud of all my hard work, I read through so many books from the library, and I most of what was said went right over my head. I can't imagine all my work will account to much though, but as long as it's over a 2:2 that's fine. Oh no, I'm worried I've jinxed it now!

Anyway, I was so proud of it I though I would post it here, you know, creative work and academic work; I'm so versatile! It's over 1500 words and has a lot of footnotes, which don't look so bad spread over six pages, but the list looks endless here.

If you see any mistakes please don't point them out, I've already handed this essay in and I can't do anything about it now!

I used to recommend reading The Bloody Chamber but now I warn you to stay away from it! It will eat your soul!

 ‘All works of art either uphold the status quo, or challenge it.’ 

This essay will focus on Angela Carter’s story The Bloody Chamber. It will examine whether the text challenges or upholds the status quo through comparison of traditional fairy tales, the exploration of the feminist movement, heterosexual relationships, and the importance of the mother figure.

In 1979, when The Bloody Chamber was published, the women’s movement, referred to as ‘second-wave feminism’[1], was already in motion. These feminists arrived in a society where gender relations had been changed dramatically after the war when women had joined the workforce. During the 1960s and 1970s ‘detraditionalization processes occurred which transformed the institutions of marriage, the family, and gender’[2] which is apparent in Carter’s writing. Carter twists the traditional fairy tales and gives the female characters new, stronger, more sexual roles. Carter had been re-reading fairy tales and Sade’s The Misfortunes of Virtue together and ‘bleakly contemplating the fate of good, powerless girls, the Red Riding Hoods and Sleeping Beauties of the world.’[3] The protagonist in The Bloody Chamber is more heroic and active than in Charles Perrault’s Bluebeard. The bride in Bluebeard waits for her brothers to come to her rescue, reinforcing Zipes’s theory of ‘The male acts, the female wait’[4]. Although Carter’s protagonist is also saved by another, her mother, she does try to save herself by using sex as a weapon: ‘I forced myself to be seductive…and I saw how he almost failed to resist me. If he had come to me in bed, I would have strangled him, then.’[5] While her plan did not work, it is this activeness, rather than passivity, that saves the protagonist from a gruesome end. The protagonist through this experience is no longer naive about situations, ‘though she may be naive about her courage and ability to kill her husband.’[6] This is different from Perrault’s Bluebeard in which ‘Earth-shaking events have taken place in the story and nobody is better for them.’[7] Whereas Carter’s protagonist realises it is not all about money and security but about finding someone that loves you no matter what, like the blind Jean-Yves, who sees her ‘clearly with his heart’[8] and is preferable to the Marquis.

Fairy tales, and their underlying morals, were used to construct the roles children were to grow into. Perrault’s Bluebeard was written in the 1600’s in a time when writers ‘created their fairy tales for the most part to express their views about young people and to prepare them for the roles that they idealistically believed they should play in society.’[9] The Bloody Chamber was written in the 1970’s, a similar time to many radical feminist texts, and ‘the work of the women’s movement from the early nineteenth century onwards has done much to set new agendas for the liberation of both women and the relations between the genders more widely.’[10] Carter’s daring writings about ‘women’s waywardness, and especially at their attraction to the Beast in the very midst of repulsion’[11] made her unpopular in some areas of the feminist movement. The Bloody Chamber allows readers to explore the other agendas the classic fairy tale offers through intervention. By challenging the preconceptions of the fairy tale Carter’s work ‘excites contradictory and powerful feelings…while openly challenging conventional misogyny they also refuse the wholesome or pretty picture of female gender and deal plainly with erotic dominance as a source of pleasure for men – and for women.’[12] The heroine and Marquis engage in sexual relations, and the first time is all about the male taking the girl’s innocence, while later the protagonist uses sex for her own gain, showing she is not so inexperienced due to seeing the chamber.

Zipes says that ‘Perrault argues for the total submission of the woman to her husband. Feminine coquetry disturbs and upsets him: it could be the sign of female independence’[13] hence many of his tales have passive female characters like Patient Griselda and Beauty. In Bluebeard ‘the heroine is beautiful and well-bred but too curious…The moral explains that it is sin for a woman to be curious and imaginative and that women must exercise self-control.’[14] In contrast, men’s disobedience or curiosity is often seen as a virtue: ‘In contesting civil injustice or in resisting tyranny, the rebel’s disobedient methods are called revolutionary and courageous; but woman’s disobedience, forever coloured by traditional interpretations of the first biblical instance of it, is seldom admired.’[15] However, Carter challenges this by having her protagonist saved by her curiosity. Bluebeard wanted his wife to see the chamber and tempted her with the knowledge that she should not go there: ‘but he had given me the box, himself, knowing I must learn the secret. I had played a game…and I had lost.’[16] Nevertheless, if she listened to her husband she would not have known about this chamber full of his dead wives and would have ended up there herself.  Consequently, because she disobeyed her husband she found out about the chamber and was able to avoid being taken there. Through finding the chamber she is also able to ‘understand and survive the deadly peril that kind of marriage holds for her’[17] and realise he is not the man she thought he was.

Many of the books the heroine finds in the Marquis’s library all hint towards the motifs of the story: ‘The Initiation, The Key of Mysteries, The Secret of Pandora’s Box’[18] yet she ignores them. She finds the pornography ironically captioned ‘Reproof of curiosity’[19] not knowing the fate her husband has planned for her is worse. So, while old fairy tales preach that curiosity and disobedience are bad, and one should not stray from the path like in Little Red Riding Hood, this curiosity can lead to knowledge, which in turn leads to power.

The Bloody Chamber may challenge a female’s passivity in gender roles but also encourages a traditional heterosexual relationship. In both versions, Bluebeard successfully woos his bride with extravagant gifts and parties, ‘Bluebeard threw a house-lavish party at one of his country mansions’[20] showing that he has much wealth and can offer security. Carter takes this relationship one step further by having Bluebeard and his wife involved in sexual interactions, a common feature in conventional heterosexual relationships as ‘sexual consummation of the marriage became consequently of crucial importance in the Christian world’. However, the heroine’s attitude towards wealth, sexuality and marriage change after viewing the chamber, ‘Carter exposes her reading audience to a radical view on the fairy-tale marriage’[21] it is not about getting married and living happily-ever-after anymore, for in the privacy of his home the Marquis is brutal, power wielding Sadist.

It is not unheard of a young woman marrying an older man, and the girl’s inexperience is arousing for Bluebeard: ‘it must have been my innocence that captivated him’ [22]and ‘she accepts the stereotypical patriarchal view of a young girl in relationships to an experienced man; he is to initiate her and to enjoy his conquest.’[23] Many countries in the 70’s, including France, started petitions calling for the decriminalisation of all consenting relations between adults and minors. In 2006, in the Netherlands, the ‘Love Thy Neighbour, Freedom and Diversity’ Party’s aims were to ‘decriminalise sexual activities at any age unless dangerous or coerced’[24]. However, many Western cultures still find adult-child sexual relations to be controversial and taboo, though Carter does push the boundaries of this ideal with many of her protagonists being on the cusp of womanhood, such as the girl in The Company of Wolves: ‘her breasts have just begun to swell…she has just started her women’s bleeding’.[25]

Carter also challenges the status quo by having the heroine saved by a woman rather than a man. From the beginning it is made clear that the protagonist’s mother is a strong female character, she has ‘outfaced a junkful of Chinese pirates, nursed a village through a visitation of the plague, shot a man-eating tiger with her own hand’[26] The protagonist respects her mother deeply and is pleased to have her ‘nerves and will’[27] as well as her ‘mother’s spirit’[28]. Not only is she strong but she went against the social norms and married for love rather than money and security. Carter has questioned ‘the usual pattern of separation, transition, and return by making the girl’s mother, as a role model for her daughter, as one who has clearly operated outside the normal status quo of community expectations’.[29] However, the mother suffered the consequences of this decision as her husband died and left her in poverty. None the less, the protagonists embraces her mother’s marriage values, and even takes them a step further by not marrying at all but is happy to be ‘engaged in setting up house’[30] with Jean-Yves.

The mother and the protagonist share a special bond, in the first moment of crisis she goes to call her mother only to find the telephone line dead and yet this does not matter as the mother still arrives at the perfect moment. The protagonist explains it as ‘maternal telepathy’[31] but archetypal ideas say that ‘mother and daughter are a single complete unity’[32]. They also say that fairy tale mothers are different from real mothers as they often ‘possess subhuman or superhuman traits. For one thing they are better or more evil than the average human women.’[33] The mother kills the Marquis ‘without a moment’s hesitation’[34] suggesting she is more evil than average. It can be said that although the mother is strong and independent she still has to use the father’s gun, she could not possess her own.

Carter manages to both uphold and challenge the status quo in The Bloody Chamber through her portrayal of her heroine and the experiences she has. While traditional fairy tales condemned those who are too curious, Carter promotes the idea that a woman’s curiosity will lead to knowledge and power. Carter allows readers to question the original tales they were told as children and expose them to a darker and more sexual adaptation.

[1] Veronique Mottier, Sexuality: A Very Short Introduction, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008) P.55
[2] Veronique Mottier, Sexuality P.55
[3] Eds. Roemer, Danielle M. and Cristina Bacchilega, Angela Carter and the Fairy Tale, (Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 2001) P.67
[4] Jack Zipes, Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion, (Great Britain: Routledge, 2006) P.41
[5] Angela Carter, ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ in The Bloody Chamber, (London: Vintage, 2006) PP. 34-35
[6] Eds. Roemer, Danielle M. and Cristina Bacchilega, Angela Carter and the Fairy Tale P.86
[7] Eds. Roemer, Danielle M. and Cristina Bacchilega, Angela Carter and the Fairy Tale P.96
[8] Angela Carter, ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ in The Bloody Chamber, P.42
[9] Jack Zipes, Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion, (Great Britain: Routledge, 2006) P.30
[10] Ken Plummer, Telling Sexual Stories, (London: Routledge, 1995) P.149
[11] Marina Warner, From the Beast to the Blonde, (London: Vintage, 1995) P.310
[12] Marina Warner, From the Beast to the Blonde, P.313
[13] Jack Zipes, Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion P.41
[14] Jack Zipes, Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion P.40
[15] Eds. Roemer, Danielle M. and Cristina Bacchilega, Angela Carter and the Fairy Tale, P.103
[16] Angela Carter, ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ in The Bloody Chamber, P.34
[17] Eds. Roemer, Danielle M. and Cristina Bacchilega, Angela Carter and the Fairy Tale, P.98
[18] Angela Carter, ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ in The Bloody Chamber, P.12
[19] Angela Carter, ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ in The Bloody Chamber, P.13
[20] Angela Carter, ‘Bluebeard’, in The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, (Great Britain: Penguin Classics, 2008) P.4
[21] Eds. Danielle M. Roemer,  and Cristina Bacchilega, Angela Carter and the Fairy Tale, P.98
[22] Angela Carter, ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ in The Bloody Chamber, P.16
[23] Eds. Danielle M. Roemer,  and Cristina Bacchilega, Angela Carter and the Fairy Tale, P.86
[24] Veronique Mottier, Sexuality P.106
[25] Angela Carter, ‘The Company of Wolves,’ in The Bloody Chamber, P.133
[26] Angela Carter, ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ in The Bloody Chamber, P.2
[27] Angela Carter, ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ in The Bloody Chamber, P.26
[28] Angela Carter, ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ in The Bloody Chamber, P.26
[29] Eds. Danielle M. Roemer,  and Cristina Bacchilega, Angela Carter and the Fairy Tale, P.97
[30] Angela Carter, ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ in The Bloody Chamber, P.42
[31] Angela Carter, ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ in The Bloody Chamber, P.41
[32] Sibylle Birkhauser-Oeri, The Mother: Archetypal Image in Fairy Tales, (Canada: Inner City Books, 1988) P.29
[33] Sibylle Birkhauser-Oeri, The Mother,  P.13
[34] Angela Carter, ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ in The Bloody Chamber, P.41

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