The Bloody Chamber: Blood. Using blood as the starting point, my initial thoughts are on Carter’s title, its allusions and its uses in a wider feminist discussion. A woman’s fertility and her sexuality come down to blood:
Hot-blooded, intimacy, rituals, cults and covens, blood bonds;
there’s a mysticism surrounding blood and its potency. Feminist artists have used the body as the site of the self, where object becomes subject: blood forges a primal connection, conveys deeply felt experience and stirs viscerally.
Vampirism. Self Mutilation. The Succubus;
Here there is a critical link between pleasure and pain, centralising blood as a symbol of life. Across ‘The Bloody Chamber’, Carter establishes a series of “bloody chambers”, each bound up in a crucial debate: pointing to the Beast’s room in “The Tiger’s Bride”, the blood-filled hole found in “The Snow Child”, the Marquis’s ‘torture room’ and the grandmother’s house in “The Werewolf” and “The Company of Wolves”. These are sites of desires, combining violence and enlightenment in an overtly sexual manner.
In Jane Eyre ‘The Red Room’ has connotations of sexual awakening, transformation and oppression. Rich with symbols, to be seduced or to devour, the “bloody chamber” makes us conscious of the female body; vaginas and wombs. Carter informs our awareness of bodily experience; made female-centric.
Carter identifies the “latent content” of fairy tales as “violently sexual” and suggests that her stories might “affect men much more than women”. Far from being “consoling”, themes of torture, incest, murder, rape and cannibalism surface.
Yet, the violence that Carter associates with sex is non-gendered, indeed, women themselves engage in sexual violence:
Feminists in the 1970s often align the victimisation of women with male aggression. Does this limit our vision? Carter answers ‘yes’.
Illicit desires stem from curiosity. The Bloody Chamber gives us, as Making points out, a “complex vision of female psychosexuality”.
These women exhibit sexuality and free will where traditionally they would have inhabited the patriarchal space of morality and innocence. Carter’s couplings engage in sadomasochism and power relationships: There is a concern for what constitutes as consensual and what as rape… Sadomasochism is defined as:
The giving and/or receiving of sexually stimulating pain, from acts of infliction or reception of pain and/or humiliation
Today this constitutes a grey-area between that which is perverse, demeaning and unnatural to acts that are empowering, exciting and eroticised: The fantasy realm of kink and fetish.
Carter lays out scenes highlighting the darker elements of heterosexual relationships and complicates the assumption that it is the man who asserts his dominance and power as the sadist.
We are confronted with wide-ranging sexual urges and perpetual shifting power dynamics:
‘But now she is a woman, she must have men’ – The countess embodies potential for the role of aggressor in an alternative lifestyle.
‘Choker of rubies’ – The Marquis claims ownership and is reliant on the heroine’s inquisitiveness to perform BDSM.
The maiden longs to ‘grow enormously small so that you could swallow me’… and begs ‘The Erl King’ to consume her “Eat me, drink me”. Her wild, dangerous lover charges her sex drive.
These women are not fragile, they endure, tolerate suffering and even survive to yield rewards from their sexual experiences. They wield their virginity as a “pentacle” with the power of potential and release from animalistic, bestial, instinctual encounters between captor and captive. These women are not simplistic:
- Women CAN be violent
- Women CAN be active sexually
- Women CAN EVEN CHOOSE to be perverse
Flexibility and gender fluidity is flagged up in Carter’s reworking: these tales are not ‘fixed’ or misogynistic – they are aware; aware of the complications that agency entails, its triggers and its outcomes:
‘Universals’ are ‘false’, sexuality complex, expressed in attraction and violence.
I’ll end on blood. The Countess cuts herself on a fragment of glass and is fascinated by the sight of her own blood. Redness can be as compelling as it can be obscene; it taints, mesmerises and stirs the passions.