LITB3

AQA LITB3 Revision – The Bloody Chamber – Notes by theme

*NOTE: this is a particularly lengthy post because I have quite literally analysed the vast majority of the story, so take what you will!!*


Entrapment

  • ‘this lovely prison of which I was both the inmate and the mistress and had scarcely seen’ – here, the narrator’s feelings of both sexual and literal imprisonment to the Marquis’ castle are made evident. The use of ‘mistress’ here implies the Marquis’ feelings towards his new bride are more fetishistic than those of new, marital bliss. Links to the fact that she is wound like a chain on a ‘spool of inexorability’ which indicates the perceived impossibility of her escape.
  • I knew I had behaved exactly according to his desires; had he not bought me to do so?’ – The Marquise entrapped by her husband’s desire and controlled as he had planned. The notion that he has ‘bought’ her implies marriage as a mode of prostitution; acts to challenge the objectification of women.
  • ‘how tenuous, I thought, might my authority be here!’ – The narrator recognises the lack of power that she is able to assert in her new home, indicating her entrapment under the Marquis’ patriarchal oppressiveness.
  • ‘Into marriage, into exile; I sensed it, I knew it – that, henceforth, I would always be lonely.’ – This signifies not only the narrator’s isolation/rejection from civilisation following her marriage, but the use of ‘exile’ also implies that this is perhaps against her will. ‘Unguessable country of marriage’ also alludes to Shakespeare’s Hamlet – it echoes his description of death, linking marriage, sex and death.
  • ‘Yet that was part of the already familiar weight of fire opal that glimmered like a gypsy’s magic ball, so that I could not take my eyes of it when I played the piano. This ring, the bloody bandage of rubies, the wardrobe of clothes from Poiret and Worth, his scent of Russian leather – all had conspired to seduce me so utterly-’ – The narrator is evidently entrapped by the displays of wealth that the Marquis asserts. Could be interpreted as her moral corruption, the power of the aristocracy, or a selfless sacrifice to ‘banish the spectre of poverty’ that preys on her family. In addition, the imagery of the ‘fire opal’ ring that ‘glimmered like a gypsy’s ball’ indicates an almost supernatural control over the narrator, and that her future is in fact, predetermined.
  • ‘Coffee and croissants to console this bridal, solitary waking.’ – Again, here, Carter presents an image of isolation and melancholy. What should be a happy awakening is subverted.
  • Time was his servant, too; it would trap me, here, in a night that would last until he came back to me, like a black sun on a hopeless morning’ – Carter manipulates the theme of entrapment in order to build tension and forebode the Marquis’ impending return. The prospect of a ‘hopeless morning’ creates a particularly oppressive atmosphere/setting in addition to the pathetic fallacy of the ‘Black sun’ implying that the story is overshadowed by imminent death.
  • On the dressing table, coiled like a snake about to strike, lay the ruby choker’ – Satanic imagery of the snake implies that the narrator’s entrapment under a higher power. Symbolic of the aristocracy – she is entrapped by the wealth and ancestral power that he exerts. Imagery of the choker as a ‘snake’ indicates that she is figuratively asphyxiated as she wears her extravagant (or ‘sonorous’ ) jewellery.

Corruption (Is the narrator already corrupt, or is she corrupted by the Marquis?)

  • Corrupted by Marquis
  • ‘And in the midst of my bridal triumph, I felt a pang of loss as if, when he put the gold band on my finger, I had, in some way, ceased to be her child in becoming his wife’ / ‘—girlhood, away from the white, enclosed quietude’ – this quotation outwardly suggests that the narrator is revoked of her innocence through her marriage to the Marquis (Ie. she is no longer a ‘child’ and corrupted through her experience of being a wife as she fulfils expectation to have sex with her husband on the wedding night), it is suggested through Carter’s description of the narrators ‘bridal triumph’ that the marriage is perhaps something of a prize. Here, it is implied that the narrator views her marriage merely as a ‘triumph’ to ‘banish the spectre of poverty’ of her childhood, revealing that her motives are not all pure (Ie. ‘Innocent, but not naive’).
  • Or – as the narrative is retrospective/self-reflexive, the narrator’s retelling of her experience is in fact, merely coloured by her corruption.
  • Innocence of narrator via. characterisation – ‘my young girl’s pointed breasts and shoulders’ / ‘narrow berth’ / ‘nervous pianists fingers’ / ‘I was seventeen and knew nothing of the world’ / ‘I was only a baby
  • ‘I was not afraid of him; but of myself. I seemed reborn in his unreflective eyes, reborn in unfamiliar shapes’ – Here, not only does the narrator voice her fear and awareness of her corruption through her marriage to the Marquis, she voices her realisation of his ‘ominous’ power. See Characterisation of the Marquis/The gothic villain.
  • ‘in the foolhardiness of my already subtly tainted innocence’ – As above.
  • ‘his chaffing had made me bold’- As above.
  • ‘Yet I had been infinitely dishevelled by the loss of my virginity’ – As above.
  • ‘(I swear to you, I had never been vain until I met him)’ – Again, the idea that the Marquis has asserted his wealth in order to corrupt the Marquise is made evident.
  • ‘The lilies I always associate with him; that are white. And stain you’Here it is implied that the narrator has been literally and physically corrupted (or ‘stained’), perhaps by sex with the Marquis. The inherent links between death, corruption and the Marquis are made evident here through the motif of the lily.
  • Already Corrupt
  • ‘My satin nightdress had just been shaken from its wrappings; it had slipped over my young girls breasts and shoulders, supple as a garment of heavy water, and now teasingly caressed me, egregious, insinuating, nudging between my thighs-’ – again the sexual language and the word ‘egregious’, meaning both ‘wicked’ and ‘good,’ is reflective of the narrator’s own duality and indeed, her ‘potentiality for corruption,’ perhaps she is not as innocent as she implies. 
  • Counterargument: Also, in this quote, the word ‘egregious’  also corrupts a seemingly biblical image of new life through the description of the night dress as a ‘garment of heavy water’ – here it is implied that the Marquise is figuratively given ‘new life’ by her sexual awakening through her marriage to the Marquis.
  • ‘I sensed in myself the potentiality for corruption’ /‘your thin white face, with its promise of debauchery only a connoisseur could detect’/‘rare talent for corruption’ – The narrator’s admission that she sensed the ‘potentiality for corruption’ within herself infers that she is already corrupt; her marriage to the Marquis is merely the realisation of this facet of her character. However, the self-reflexive, first-person narrative reveals through the free-indirect speech of the Marquis a manifestation of the male gaze – the Marquis himself ‘detect[s]’ / ‘sense[s]’ the narrator’s ‘debauchery’/’corruption’, inferring that she is merely seen as a sexual object through his ‘unreflective eyes’.
  • Each time I struck a match to light those candles round her bed, it seemed a garment of that innocence of mine for which he had lusted fell away from me.
  • ‘ I longed for him, but he disgusted me’ – reflects the narrator’s convoluted, ambivalent feelings – she is not innocent, as she longs for a man she knows to be disturbed and allows her feelings of sexual desire to override her moral vision. (Also shown through the narrator’s antithetic reference to her feelings of ‘desirous dread’ for the Marquis – see also, ‘Lust/Sex’).
  • Counterargument:  ‘I felt a vague desolation that within me, now my female wound had healed, there had awoken a queasy craving like the cravings of pregnant women for the taste of coal or chalk  or tainted food, for the renewal of his caresses’
  • ‘I could not say I felt one single twinge of regret for the world of tartines and maman that now receded from me as if drawn away on a string, like a child’s toy, as the train began to throb again as if in delighted anticipation of the distance it would take me.’ – The lack of regret here shown by the Marquise indicates her now, materialistic nature and moral corruption. This is fuelled by the sexualised language (Ie. ‘throb’ / ‘delighted anticipation’ ), yet, she acknowledges the Marquis’ almost puppeteer control over her, once again, reinforcing the argument that he is to blame for her corruption.
  • ‘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.’ – Use of ‘whore’ here is shocking. The Marquise is reprimanded for having base desires, as the Marquis himself has ‘carnal desire[s]’ altogether more shocking. Exposes an inequality between males and females – perhaps how women are criticised for sexual promiscuity, whilst men are praised.

Corruption of the aristocracy

  • ‘I felt a faint resurgence of my ill-defined fear of his waxen stillness’ – Here, the conventional gothic double is implicit as Carter explores the duality of the human psyche through the Marquis’ characterisation, perhaps in order to critique the corruption of the aristocracy. By establishing that the narrator’s ‘ill-defined fear’ of the Marquis (who is representative of the aristocracy) is intrinsic to his deathly and mask-like ‘waxen stillness,’ Carter presents the notion that the false ‘carapace’ of the aristocratic ‘public person’ is ‘self-sustaining,’ – his status as the ‘richest man in France’ in hides an ominous immorality that he takes no pains to disguise.
  • ‘the enigmatic, self-sustaining carapace of his public person, while the real man, whose face I had glimpsed in the storm of orgasm-’ As above.
  • ‘On the dressing table, coiled like a snake about to strike, lay the ruby choker’ – See Entrapment.

Lust/Sex – (also, the intertwining of sex and pain/sadomasochism and fetishism)

  • ‘delicious ecstasy of excitement’ / ‘great pistons ceaselessly thrusting’ / ‘pounding of my heart’ / ‘burning cheek’ / ‘bore me through the night’ / ‘tender’— though the innocent connotations of the ‘impeccable linen pillow’ that the narrator describes indirectly characterise her as innocent, through the sexual and sensuous imagery used to describe the journey to Brittany, an intense dormant sexuality is revealed. Also, this sexualised language immediately creates very sensuous mood about the story.
  • as he had once done before, twisted my hair into a rope and drew it away from my neck’ – The power that he exercises in sex, he also does in attempting to kill his wife. Reflects his oppressiveness.
  • There is a striking resemblance between the act of love and the ministrations of a torturer,’ opined my husband’s favourite poet; I had learned something of the nature of that similarity on my marriage bed’allusion to Baudelaire reveals the Marquis’ psychological depravity/sadomasochistic fetishes. (Characterisation. Carter’s exploration of love and pain could potentially be her method of addressing a power imbalance within relationships, due to the link that this allusion has to both the setting of the bedchamber and of the Bloody Chamber itself.
  • ‘the supreme and unique pleasures of love is the certainty is that one is doing evil’ – Baudelaire. As above.
  • ‘Shall I come up to heaven to fetch you down, Saint Cecilia? You wicked woman, do you wish me to compound my crimes by desecrating the marriage bed?’
  • ‘her cunt a split fig below the great globes of her buttocks on which the knotted tails of the cat were about to descend, while a man in a black mask fingered with his free hand his prick, that curved upwards like the scimitar he held’ – Extremely fetishistic imagery here, as the narrator’s inspection of the Marquis’ pornography reveals his dark fetishises. This serves the purpose of foreboding/aiding his characterisation to be a rather ominous figure.
  • ‘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 jewellery’ ’ – The intertextuality of Baudelaire’s Les Bijoux’ creates an immediately erotic atmosphere in addition to the Marquis fetishistic actions. Again, serves the purpose of indicating a truer facet of the Marquis’ characterisation (as he reveals his true self through sexual acts).
  • A dozen husbands impaled a dozen brides while the mewing gulls swung on invisible trapezes in the empty air outside’ – Double entendre. Both inherently sexual and violent. Could be perceived both as a vulgar description of sex/stripping a new bride of her virginity, and as a method of foreshadowing the chamber itself later in the story.
  • ‘He stripped me, gourmand that he was, as if he were stripping the leaves off an artichoke – but do not imagine much finesse about it; this artichoke was no particular treat for the diner nor was he in any greedy haste’ – The reference to the Marquis as ‘gourmand’ indicates his insatiable, animalistic sexual desire. Again, serves to characterise as a predator.
  • ‘And when nothing but my scarlet, palpitating core remained-’ – Again, highly sexualised language from the narrator. Indicates both the process of her corruption and raw vulnerability as she is ‘stripped’/denuded by the Marquis. 
  • ‘And I began to shudder, like a racehorse before a race, yet also with a kind of fear, for I felt both a strange, impersonal arousal at the thought of love and at the same time a repugnance I could not stifle’ – Carter addresses the narrator’s ambivalence and sexual desire again.
  • ‘- a room designed for desecration and some dark night of unimaginable lovers whose embraces were annihilation’ – alludes to The Lady Of The House Of Love and links subtly to the themes of religion and corruption (Via. ‘desecration’ – link to the Marquis via the language/imagery here could potentially indirectly characterise him as a satanic figure), but is still sexualised. Foregrounds the narrator’s own degradation by the Marquis later.

Fairytale elements/Folklore

Carter argues that her tales are not reworkings and that the original tales contain latent sexual content and disturbing elements.

The genre is actually subverted, as fairytales are usually told by a third person, omniscient narrator – Carter uses a first person/intradiegetic/retrospective/self-reflexive narrator in order to give the heroine of the story a voice, allowing a sense of female empowerment in the text.

  • ‘Turrets of misty blue’ – This description of the Marquis’ castle is specious and misleadingly fairytale-esque. The contrast with the ‘spiked gate’ is more foreboding than it is of a happy ending.
  • ‘All the better to see you with.’ – Intertextuality of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. Link to sex (in the ‘broad daylight’) exposes the latent sexual content of fairytales and depicts the Marquis as a lecherous, predatory character again.
  • ‘-the sword still raised over his head as in those clockwork tableaux of Bluebeard that you see in glass cases at fairs.’ – Comparison of the Marquis to Bluebeard is a direct acknowledgement of the Bluebeard folklore and highlights Carter’s bid to expose the latent content of fairytales, as with the intertextuality of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’.
  • ‘There was a Marquis once who used to hunt young girls on the mainland’ / ‘Oh madame! I thought all these were old wives tales, spooks to scare young bad children into good behaviour’ – See Parody of the Gothic genre.

Excess/greed

  • My cup runneth over’ – biblical intertextuality/prose from Psalm 23:5 is indicative of the narrator’s corrupt morals as it juxtaposes the material worth of the narrator’s new ‘poiret dress’. See also, Corruption.

The gothic double

  • The Marquis
  • ‘ – the significance of the possessions implied by that bunch of keys no longer intimidated me, for I was determined, now, to search through them all for evidence of my husband’s true nature’ – Here, the narrator acknowledges a dark, hidden facet to the Marquis.
  • ‘And this absence of the evidence of his real life began to impress me strangely; there must, I thought, be a great deal to conceal if he took such pains to hide it.’ – As above.
  • ‘I felt a faint resurgence of my ill-defined fear of his waxen stillness’ – Here, the conventional gothic double is implicit as Carter explores the duality of the human psyche through the Marquis’ characterisation, perhaps in order to critique the corruption of the aristocracy. By establishing that the narrator’s ‘ill-defined fear’ of the Marquis (who is representative of the aristocracy) is intrinsic to his deathly and mask-like ‘waxen stillness,’ Carter presents the notion that the false ‘carapace’ of the aristocratic ‘public person’ is ‘self-sustaining,’ – his status as the ‘richest man in France’ in hides an ominous immorality.
  • that shadowed reality of his that came to life only in the presence of its own atrocities’ – Appearance vs. Reality. Interestingly, the Marquise could actually be considered to be one of the Marquis’ ‘own atrocities’ – he breaks his ‘deathly composure’ at the orgasm. The notion that the narrator herself is an ‘atrocit[y]’ indicates her corruption.
  • ‘the enigmatic, self-sustaining carapace of his public person, while the real man, whose face I had glimpsed in the storm of orgasm-’ As above.
  • ‘In the course of that one-sided struggle, I had seen his deathly composure shatter like a porcelain vase flung against a wall; I had heard him shriek and blaspheme at the orgasm; I had bled. And perhaps I had seen his face without its mask; and perhaps I had not.’
  • Antithetic allusions to the Marquis as both God and Satan. – Representative of the power and equally, the ability of humanity to be diabolical.
  • The narrator (counterargument)
  • See Corruption. The dual meaning of the word ‘egregious’ captures not only the narrator’s ambivalent feelings towards the Marquis, but also, her own duality and the obscurity of her position between the innocent and the corrupt.
  • ‘and what, precisely, was the nature of my desirous dread for this mysterious being’ – Antithesis of the narrator’s dual feelings of both ‘desir[e]’ and ‘dread’ highlights her duality as above.

Characterisation of the Marquis/The gothic villain

  • ‘his kiss with tongue and teeth’ – allusion to Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ presents the Marquis a typical gothic villain and implies his dangerous and predatory nature – perhaps a method of foreshadowing his later brutality.
  • ‘The unholy silence of the place shattered in an instant.’ – Alludes to The Marquis as the devil again.
  • ‘His voice was low and had in it the timbre of certain great cathedral organs that seem, when they are played, to be conversing with God.’ – Contrasting descriptions – the Marquis is described as both satanic and God-like. Here, this is perhaps indicative of his omnipotence.
  • dark, leonine shape of his head’ / ‘dark mane’ / ‘a big man’ – the repetition of ‘dark,’ alongside the zoomorphism highlights the Marquis’ animalistic, predatory and dominant/oppressive physical presence.
  • ‘his library seemed the source of his habitual odour of Russian leather’ / ‘A lectern, carved like a spread eagle, that held open upon it an edition of Huysman’s La-Bas, from some over-exquisite private press; it had been bound like a missal, in brass, with gems of coloured glass’ – The motif of ‘Russian leather’ is rather fetishistic, but carries with it a sense of power, characterising the Marquis as an oppressive physical presence. The reference to La-Bas highlights the Marquis’ corruption; religious transgression and sacrilege is implicit in Carter’s use of language here, as a a book containing such satanic themes, which is controversially  ‘bound like a missal’ is almost treated as a bible.  Aids his presentation as a satanic figure.
  • Indirect characterision via. setting – ‘For some reason, it grew very warm’ / ‘the chthonic gravity of his presence’ / ‘‘- a room designed for desecration / ‘A long, a winding corridor, as if I were in the viscera of the castle; and this corridor led to a door of worm-eaten oak, low, round-topped, barred with black iron’ – Again. The Marquis is characterised as a satanic figure as the narrator’s descent into the depths of the castle becomes a literal descent into hell (Ie. The Marquise notes how it ‘grew very warm’). The allusions to the Marquis as a devil-like figure implicit through the setting and references to his ‘chthonic gravity’ are made explicit as he literally refers to the chamber as his ‘enfer’. Here, it could be interpreted that Carter trivialises theological matters in order to appeal to a sceptical reader, reflecting a society that is becoming progressively disenchanted with theological ideology. This could potentially allow her to challenge the irrational and tenuous nature of such beliefs. The Marquis also encounters images of decay within the setting (‘worm-eaten oak’) as she progresses through the ‘viscera’ of the castle, like that of his soul, hidden away and ‘barred with black iron,’ reminiscent of the masking of his deep internal corruption (the ‘carapace’ disguising his true self.). This perhaps signifies a diabolic aspect to humanity and an ability to do evil.
  • ‘In the course of that one-sided struggle, I had seen his deathly composure shatter like a porcelain vase flung against a wall; I had heard him shriek and blaspheme at the orgasm; I had bled. And perhaps I had seen his face without its mask; and perhaps I had not.’
  • ‘A huge man, an enormous man, and his eyes, dark and motionless as those eyes the ancient Egyptians painted on their sarcophagi, fixed upon me. I felt a certain tension in the pit of my stomach, to be so watched, in such silence.’ – The imagery/simile of the ‘eyes the ancient Egyptians painted on their sarcophagi’ is significant here – literally named ‘false eyes,’ act to characterise the Marquis and potentially refer to the gothic double characteristic of the genre.
  • ‘His movements seemed to me deliberately coarse, vulgar
  • ‘And it was as though the imponderable weight of his desire was a force I might not withstand, not by virtue of its violence but because of its very gravity.’ – Another allusion to Satan. Link to ‘chthonic gravity’ . Masculine desire is too virile for the Marquise to withstand.
  • ‘Oh the wonder of it; how all that might of iron and steam had paused only to suit his convenience. The richest man in France.’ – Superlative underscores the power of the aristocracy and the dominance that the Marquis has the ability to exercise. Acts to foreground
  • ‘He stripped me, gourmand that he was, as if he were stripping the leaves off an artichoke – but do not imagine much finesse about it; this artichoke was no particular treat for the diner nor was he in any greedy haste’ – Language suggests that the Marquis is animalistic and uncivilised. Comparison of the narrator to food continues the theme of physical objectification and exposes that the sexual act is not one of tenderness and love. 
  • ‘And when nothing but my scarlet, palpitating core remained, I saw, in the mirror, the living image of an etching by Rops from the collection he had shown me when our engagement permitted us to be alone together… the child with her stick-like limbs, naked but for her button boots, her gloves, shielding her face with her hand as though her face were the last repository of her modesty; and the old, monocled lecher who examiner her, limb by limb.’ – Garners sympathy for the narrator (link to the ‘child with her stick-like limbs’) as parallels can be drawn from the physical appearance ‘monocled lecher’  in the ‘etching by Rops’ and the monocled Marquis. A method of indirect characterisation.
  • ‘Was he not rich enough to do without crime?’ – Corruption/depravity.
  • ‘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.’ – A cutting/humorous remark that alludes to the Marquis’ heartless nature.
  • ‘-Typical Transylvanian Scene – Midnight, All Hallows.’ / ‘On the occasion of this marriage to the descendent of Dracula – always remember, ‘the supreme and unique pleasure of love is the certainty that one is doing evil’. Toutes amities, C.’ – A joke in bad taste. Reinforces the depravity of the Marquis.
  • Counterargument: ‘The atrocious loneliness of that monster!’ / ‘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 begun to fester-’ / ‘And it seemed to me that he was in despair’Here, Carter implies that the immoral and shocking actions are more a result of his weakness to the power of his id. His psychological depravity leaves him in ‘despair,’ but he is unable to stop. Perhaps acts to signify a darker aspect of the human psyche.
  • The puppet master-– Indicative of his control over others. More of a reference to the power of the aristocracy than of patriarchy’s ability to subjugate the female.

Characterisation of Jean-Yves (compare to the Marquis; his foil)

  • ‘I saw not the massive, irredeemable bulk of my husband, but the slight, stooping figure of the piano tuner’ – Antithesis indicates Carter’s use of Jean-Yves as a foil of the Marquis. Emphasises his animalistic nature. Carter not completely chastising men.
  • ‘his lovely, blind humanity’ – Literally (and metaphorically) no male gaze.
  • -though his eyes were blind, they were singularly sweet’ – Contrasts the ‘dark, unreflective’ eyes of the Marquis. Carter’s use of prosody (the sibilant ‘singularly sweet’) is emphatic – almost poetic. Romantic and un-sexualised (compare to the ‘longing’ she feels for the Marquis).
  • ‘Any bride brought to this castle should come ready dressed in mourning, should bring a priest and coffin with her.’ – Direct speech of Jean-Yves reinforces the fear of the reader. Acts to foreground tension
  • ‘he was scarcely a boy-’ – Foil. Direct contrast to ‘He was older than I’.
  • ‘I felt a great deal of strength flow into me from his touch’ – Empowered by his kindness.
  • ‘There was a Marquis once who used to hunt young girls on the mainland’ / ‘Oh madame! I thought all these were old wives tales, spooks to scare young bad children into good behaviour’ – See Fairytale elements/Folklore.

Metamorphoses

  • ‘The puppet master, impotent at the last, saw his dolls break free-’ – Compare with descriptions to God. The Marquis has undergone metamorphosis, from ‘omnipotent’ to ‘impotent’.
  • The monocle had fallen from his face. His curling mane was disordered, as if he had run his hands through it in his distraction.’ – Zoomorphism. Highlights the revelation of his true nature.

Female Empowerment

  • ‘The puppet master, open mouthed, wide eyed, impotent at the last, saw his dolls break free of their strings, abandon the rituals he had ordained for them since time began and start to live for themselves; the king, aghast, witnesses the revolt of pawns.’ – Symbolic of a female escape from male control – a recognition of their equality and status as an individual. 
  • ‘You never saw such a wild thing as my mother, her hat seized by the wind and blown out to sea so that her hair was her white mane, her black lisle legs exposed to the thigh, her skirts tucked round her waist, one hand on the reigns of the rearing horse while the other clasped my father’s service revolver and behind her, the breakers of the savage, indifferent sea, like the witnesses of a furious justice.’ – Like with the Marquis, Carter also uses zoomorphism to portray the narrator’s mother. However, Carter is able to explore both the struggle for equality between men and women, and also the competition of the superego and the id by her use of colour symbolism. The connotations of innocence that arise from the description of the ‘white mane’ of the narrator’s mother contrast that of the dark Marquis – this could be interpreted as a representation of the divided nature of the personality. Alternatively, rather a signifier of female innocence and male villainy. Note how Carter simultaneously depicts a female struggle to resist the animalistic/wild tendencies of men (‘one hand on the reigns of the rearing horse’) but also, a submission (use of the narrator’s ‘father’s service revolver’) – it could be perceived that man conquers man within the denouement.
  • ‘And my husband had stood stock still, as if she had been Medusa.’
  • ‘On her eighteenth birthday, my mother had disposed of a man-eating tiger that had ravaged the villages in the hills north of Hanoi. Now without a moment’s hesitation, she raised my father’s gun, took aim and put a single, irreproachable bullet through my husband’s head.’
  • ‘-her mother had outfaced a junkful of Chinese pirates, nursed a village through a visitation of the plague, shot a man-eating tiger with her own hand and all before she was as old as I?’ –
  • ‘My eagle featured, indomitable mother’ – Zoomorphism again. Stubbornness of the narrator’s mother counters her own passivity and reviews how women can either accept a subordinate place in society, or develop a sense of independence.

Suspense/Tension

  • ‘It was now the full, pale light of morning; the weather was grey, indeterminate, the sea had an oily, sinister look, a gloomy day on which to die.’ – Pathetic fallacy.
  • ‘I found that I was trembling. My breath came thickly. I could not meet his eye and turned my head away, out of pride, out of shyness, and watched a dozen husbands approach me in a dozen mirrors and slowly, methodically, teasingly, unfasten the buttons of my jacket and slip it from my shoulders. Enough! No; more! Off comes the skirt; and, next, the blouse of apricot linen that cost more than the dress I had for first communion.’ – Here, pace is initially fast, but juxtaposed with the slow, methodic sequence that Carter describes. This, in addition to the free-indirect discourse employed, creates a confusing, suspenseful atmosphere. 
  • ‘-in the foolhardiness of my already subtly tainted innocence, I turned the key and the door creaked slowly back.’ As above (slow, methodic pace).
  • ‘’-I was aghast to feel myself stirring.’ / ‘At once he closed my legs like a book’ / ‘Not yet. Later. Anticipation is the greater part of pleasure’ – Again, Carter seduces the reader, leaving us in a state of confusion as she creates an anti-climax.
  • ‘Fell, indeed; and with the clatter of a dropped canteen of cutlery, for, as I turned the Yale lock, I contrived, somehow, to open up the key ring itself, so that all the keys tumbled loose on the floor.’ – An abrupt change in the pace of the story – creates suspense in its delay of the narrator’s climactic discovery of the chamber.
  • ‘Nothing, here, to detain a seventeen-year-old girl waiting for her first embrace.’

Shock

  • her cunt a split fig below the great globes of her buttocks on which the knotted tails of the cat were about to descend, while a man in a black mask fingered with his free hand his prick, that curved upwards like the scimitar he held’ – Shock factor rests with the blunt, vivid imagery. Conveys the vulnerability and aggression depicted in the image entitled ‘Reproof of curiosity’, a reference to the moral of the original ‘Bluebeard‘. When the Marquis refers to these works of erotic fantasy as ‘prayerbooks‘, he shows his devotion to the pursuit of pleasure: it is his religion. 

Civilisation

  • The monocle had fallen from his face. His curling mane was disordered, as if he had run his hands through it in his distraction.’ – His monocle is a symbol of civilisation – as it falls, so does the facade of civility. 

Setting

  • ‘the faery solitude of the place’ – links also to entrapment and the supernatural.
  • ‘its courtyard, its spiked gate, his castle that lay on the very bosom of the sea with seabirds mewing about its attics, the casements opening on to the green and purple, evanescent departures of the ocean, cut off by the tide from land for half a day…’ – Indicates how the Marquise is physically entrapped (via. The ‘spiked gate,’ ‘evanescent departures of the ocean’ and the fact that the castle is ‘cut off’ from the land. The use of ‘evanescent’ would imply that the narrator has figuratively disappeared from civilisation.
  • ‘That castle, neither at home on land or on the water, a mysterious, amphibious place, contravening the materiality of both earth and the waves, with the melancholy of a mermaiden who perches on her rock and waits, endlessly, for a lover who had drowned away, long ago. That lovely sea siren of a place!’ 
  • My husband, who, with so much love, filled my bedroom with lilies until it looked like an enbalming parlour. Those somnolent lilies, that wave their heavy heads, distributing their lush, insolent incense reminiscent of pampered flesh’ – Link to death and corruption.
  • ‘Sea; sand; a sky that melts into the sea – a landscape of misty pastels with a look about it of being continuously on the point of melting’ – Isolation/entrapment via setting.
  • ‘It was now very late and the castle was adrift, as far as it could go from the land, in the middle of the silent ocean’ / ‘All silent, all still, but for the murmuring of the waves.’ – As above for ‘adrift, as far as it could go from the land’ of the first quotation. The references to silence can be perceived as a kind of menacing foregrounding – allusive to the idiom, ‘the calm before the storm’.
  • ‘For some reason, it grew very warm; the sweat sprang out in beads on my brow. I could no longer hear the sound of the sea.’ – See (indirect) Characterisation of the Marquis.
  • ‘A long, a winding corridor, as if I were in the viscera of the castle; and this corridor led to a door of worm-eaten oak, low, round-topped, barred with black iron’ – As above.
  • – a room designed for desecration and some dark night of unimaginable lovers whose embraces were annihilation.’ – Allusion to The Lady Of The House Of Love. Religious (or sacrilegious) connotations of ‘desecration’ allude to the Marquis as a satanic figure again. 

Supernatural/magical realism (link to religion)

  • ‘the metal shell of the Iron Maiden emitted a ghostly twangbuilds tension and apprehension / creates an atmosphere of terror.
  • ‘…briefly wondered how I might install my old nurse, so much loved, however cosily incompetent, in her place. Ill-considered schemings! He told me this one had been his foster mother; was bound to his family in an almost feudal complicity, ‘as much part of the house as I am, my dear.’ ’ – Free-indirect discourse of the Marquis can be perceived as a coincidental collision of thought with the narrator, or telepathy.
  • ‘The candles flared, as if in a draught from a door to elsewhere. The light caught the fire opal on my hand, so that it flashed once, with baleful light, as if to tell me the eye of God – his eye – was upon me’ – the explicit connection between the supernatural and the biblical here not only serves to manipulate narrative tension up to the narrator’s climactic confrontation with the Marquis later on, but also acts as a criticism of religion (the implication that supernatural incidents, which are now considered to be absurd by many, are as plausible as the divine.)
  • And we drove towards the widening dawn that now streaked half the sky with a wintry bouquet of pink of roses, orange of tigerlilies, as if my husband had ordered me a sky from a florist. The day broke around me like a cool dream.’ – the notion that the Marquis can control sky could perhaps be perceived to be supernatural, but it also emphasises his oppressive and powerful nature.
  • ‘I had played a game in which every moved was governed by a destiny as oppressive and omnipotent as himself; since that destiny was himself-‘ – Allusion to pre-ordained fate could be perceived as supernatural (though a religious connection is more likely).
  • ‘I scrubbed my forehead as I had scrubbed the key but this red mark would not go away, no matter what I did, and I knew I should wear it until I died, though that would not be long’ – Here, the supernatural emphasises the corruption/staining of the narrator.

Religion/transgression

  • ‘The candles flared, as if in a draught from a door to elsewhere. The light caught the fire opal on my hand, so that it flashed once, with baleful light, as if to tell me the eye of God – his eye – was upon me’ – See Supernatural/Magical realism.
  • ‘The longer I dawdled over my execution, the more time it gave for the avenging angel to descend.’
  • The bloody chamber is ‘filled with a sacerdotal reek’ – Underscores the conflicting characterisation of the Marquis. He is both God and anti-christ. Perhaps another indicator of the divided nature of humanity.
  • ‘I put a match to my little taper and advanced with it in my hand, like a penitent
  • Enough! No; more! Off comes the skirt; and, next, the blouse of apricot linen that cost more than the dress I had for first communion.’ – Antithesis of religious and sexual imagery. Acts to emphasise the corruption of the Marquise.
  • ‘A lectern, carved like a spread eagle, that held open upon it an edition of Huysman’s La-Bas, from some over-exquisite private press; it had been bound like a missal, in brass, with gems of coloured glass’ – A highly subversive text and ‘bound like a missal’. Pornography and satanic literature is the bible of the Marquis. Emphasises his corruption again.
  • ‘I only did what he knew I would.’ / ‘ Like Eve.’ Temptation.
  • ‘The mark of Cain.’ – Allusion to Cain and Abel. Likens to Marquis to God again.
  • ‘Shall I come up to heaven to fetch you down, Saint Cecilia? You wicked woman, do you wish me to compound my crimes by desecrating the marriage bed?’ – Characterises the narrator as a martyr. 
  • ‘And yet, you see, I guessed it might be so – that we should have a formal disrobing of the bride, a ritual from the brothel.’ – Here, Carter makes a political and social point linking marriage, which should be something sacred, to prostitution. Could imply an imbalance of power within marriage and a female duty to sex. Critiques the view that women are merely sexual objects used for male gratification.
  • ’The mass of lilies that surrounded me exhaled, now, the odour of their withering. They looked like the trumpets of the angels of death.’ – Foreboding, yet deceptive/misleading. Implies that the narrator is likely to die, yet she doesn’t. Crafts narrative tension.
  • ‘His voice was low and had in it the timbre of certain great cathedral organs that seem, when they are played, to be conversing with God.’ – Synecdoche. Allusion to God.
  • ‘I had played a game in which every moved was governed by a destiny as oppressive and omnipotent as himself; since that destiny was himself-‘ – Allusion to God again.

The ‘male gaze’/Objectification of women

  • See also, ‘Corruption’
  • I saw him watching me in the gilded mirrors with the assessing eye of a connoisseur inspecting horseflesh, or even a housewife in the market, inspecting cuts on the slab’  – Links to the ‘etching by Rops’. A literal and physical manifestation of the male gaze – the narrator is objectified – she sees how the Marquis ‘assess[es]’ her with carnal, base desire. The ‘gilded mirrors’ symbolically expose this view of female objectification by males in society. 
  • ‘I’d never seen, or else had never acknowledged, that regard of his before, the sheer carnal avarice of it’ – Perhaps alludes to how female objectification has become commonplace in society – the narrator has ‘never acknowledged’ his regard. However, this could also be perceived as the awakening of the Marquise – she is becoming aware of her objectification. Perhaps didactic, as with the fairytale form.
  • ‘And so my purchaser unwrapped his bargain.’ – Implies that the Marquise is a possession of her husband – she is degraded and not treated according to her true worth.
  • ‘I have a place prepared for your exquisite corpse in my display of flesh.’
  • ‘No paint nor powder, no matter how thick or white, can mask that red mark on my forehead; I am glad he cannot see it – not for fear of his revulsion, since I know he sees me clearly with his heart – but because it spares my shame- .’ – Concerned with how he would view her (due to the fact that she is not chaste) with the power of vision and the ability to assess as the Marquis does. Carter is optimistic in her indication that ‘the male gaze’ and the objectification of women is not innate – it is learned and so, can be unlearned.

Patriarchal dominance

All quotations below establish the Marquis as the dominant figure within the marriage and the Marquise as a submissive and passive participant rather than an equal. 

  • ‘he made me put on my choker’
  • ‘I was his master’s wife
  • ‘He lay beside me, felled like an oak, breathing stertorously, as if he had been fighting with me. In the course of that one-sided struggle, I had seen his deathly composure shatter like a porcelain vase’
  • ‘He sharply ordered ‘Kneel!’ ’

Horror

The distinction between horror and terror is a standard literary and psychological concept applied especially to Gothic literature and film.Terror is usually described as the feeling of dread and anticipation that precedes the horrifying experience. By contrast, horror is the feeling of revulsion that usually occurs after something frightening is seen, heard, or otherwise experienced. It is the feeling one gets after coming to an awful realisation or experiencing a deeply unpleasant occurrence. In other words, horror is more related to being shocked or scared (being horrified), while terror is more related to being anxious or fearful. Horror has also been defined as a combination of terror and revulsion.

Terror

  • ‘I felt a faint resurgence of my ill-defined fear of his waxen stillness’ – Here, the narrator fears the unknown. 
  • ‘Not a narrow, dusty little passage at all; why had he lied to me? But an ill-lit one, certainly’ – Stereotypical Gothic depiction of the unknown. The uncertainty of the narrator and the obscurity of the ‘ill-lit’ passage is chilling.
  • ‘No fear; but a hesitation, a holding of the spiritual breath
  • ‘It was the consciousness of the possibility of such a discovery, of its possible strangeness, that kept me for a moment motionless-’ – The focus on the uncertainness of ‘possibility’ establishes this as terror, leaving the narrator ‘motionless’.

Parody of The Gothic genre

  • ‘Dead. Dead as his wives’ – Mocks some of the excessive use of language characteristic of the gothic genre, Ie. abrupt/hyperbolic use of figures of repetition/rhetoric as seen here.
  • ‘He in his London tailoring; she, as bare as a lamb chop.’ – Bathos.
  • ‘-I at last – oh horrors! – made out a skull; yes, a skull, so utterly denuded, now, of flesh, that it scarcely seemed possible the stark bone had once been richly upholstered with life. 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 that it had been crowned with a wreath of white roses and a veil of lace, the final image of his bride.’ – Amusing image/caricature of stereotypical gothic. Melodramatic interjection (‘oh horrors!’).
  • ‘Oh madame! I thought all these were old wives tales, spooks to scare young bad children into good behaviour’Deliberate and mocking awareness of the purpose of the fairytale/folklore genres. Perhaps Carter’s attempt to make her own authorial intent (didacticism) known to the reader.

Intertextuality/Allusion

  • Perrault’s Bluebeard
  • The Bible – Psalm 23:5 – See ‘Corruption (of the narrator)’ / ‘Excess/greed’
  • Pandora’s Box
  • Baudelaire – Les Fleurs du Mal – Les Bijoux – See ‘Characterisation of the Marquis’ /
  • Stoker’s Dracula – See ‘Characterisation of the Marquis’
  • Huysman – ‘La-basSee ‘Characterisation of the Marquis’
  • LiebestodTristan and Isolde – Foregrounding tension/foreshadowing/Irony (beheading).
  • The French Revolution – the ‘bloody bandage of rubies’ is symbolic of the narrator’s escape from her fate in her confrontation with the Marquis. This also foregrounds said crises.
  • Saint Cecilia – ‘My music room seemed the safest place, although I looked at the picture of Saint Cecilia with a faint dread; what had been the nature of her martyrdom?’ – Consummation of marrriage.
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AQA LITB3 Revision – How does Macbeth adhere to the Gothic? – Act I:I, II and III

Whilst it is not strictly a gothic text (this is something I definitely plan to bear in mind when writing any essays on the play), Shakespeare’s Macbeth does anticipate many elements of the gothic tradition. Whether it is the excessive violence, the inclusion of supernatural and unnatural forces or the exploration of the divided human psyche that runs central to the play, all contribute to the dark, atmospheric intensity of Macbeth, allowing us to label certain aspects of the play, rather indisputably, as being ‘gothic’.


Act I:I

Gothic setting

The ominous setting is described as ‘open ground. Thunder and lightning,’ – here, not only do we have remote and desolate locations (‘open ground’ and a barren ‘heath’), but also, pathetic fallacy within the setting that definitely aids the sense of great foreboding in this scene. The pathetic fallacy is furthered as the witches speak of their next meeting, ‘in thunder, lightning or in rain,’ and this is quite symbolic – we can perhaps interpret the turbulent weather as being representative of disturbances in nature, leading us to the question, are the witches agents of chaos that control Macbeth, leading him to his demise, or is it something else?

The supernatural 

Inarguably, the supernatural is the most obviously gothic aspect of play. I don’t think an explanation for why witches and their familiars are gothic is particularly necessary, but what I do think is worth a mention, is that structure is definitely something to consider here. Why would Shakespeare open the play with the prophesying of witches? The use of the witches and their fateful discussion within the exposition actually sets the tone of what’s to come. They are central to the plot, as they state plainly that they plan to ‘meet with Macbeth,’ and this is, again, indicative of the prospect that perhaps they do control him. If this is the case, then can we label Macbeth as a gothic villain later on? This considered, the form that Shakespeare uses here also aids our interpretation of the witches as the forces of evil in the plan. Act I:I is written in stichomythia (several characters speaking in alternate lines of verse), so the fact that the witches are 1. speaking in unison 2. effectively, finishing each other’s sentences, is disconcerting to say the least. Stichomythia is a technique typically used when a plot is reaching its climactic point or some sort of crisis, so using it here, in the opening of the play does contribute to the sense that something is not quite right. The witches are able to predict what is about to happen, but do they cause it?

Macbeth’s corruption

We’re about to hear all about Macbeth’s ‘valour’ and ‘brave[ry]’ in the upcoming scene, but the final couplet spoken by the witches does put to question whether Macbeth is as noble as he seems. The chiasmus (which simply put, is a reversal of terms) ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair; Hover through the fog and filthy air’ blurs the lines between what is good and what is evil, so already, we have the characterisation of Macbeth of some sort of gothic double, which is something integral to play, as Macbeth progresses to ‘look like th’innocent flower, But be the serpent under’t’.

However, it would be quite reductionist to simply view Macbeth’s divided nature as something intrinsic to him. There is actually debate as to whether the witches are the agents of instability that cause Macbeth to commit regicide, or whether they are merely manifestations of his inner conflict… In Act I:III, Macbeth echoes the chiasmus of the witches in a sort of proleptic irony as he tells Banquo ‘So foul and fair a day I have not seen,’ and whilst he is not definitively speaking about the same matters as the witches are (he’s just talking about the battle), this unconscious repetition could perhaps imply that the witches already have a hold on him.

Equally though, this could just convey his latent evil, as in Act IV:I, in the immortal line, ‘and by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes,’ Macbeth is quite literally referred to as a ‘wicked’ and evil by the witches, who would’ve been perceived (contextually) as proponents of the devil. The notion that an advocate of Satan would view Macbeth as ‘wicked’ is very important to our perceptions regarding him as a gothic villain.


Act I:II

To me, this scene is quite important in terms of evaluating whether or not Macbeth is an inherently depraved character, capable of the actions he later commits. Here, he is depicted as ‘valiant’, ‘brave’ and ‘noble,’ which of course, would lead us assume that Macbeth’s true nature is one of benevolence and self-sacrifice.

So, here are some of the quotations that I think are useful when conveying this perspective, complete with a little bit of analysis:

‘Brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name)’ This doesn’t really need much explaining – the captain quite plainly states that Macbeth is worthy of the praise that he receives, and thus, is not evil.

‘Like valour’s minion carved out his passage until he faced the slave’  Though he is ‘valour’s minion,’ the fact that he quite ruthlessly ‘carved out his passage’ and ‘unseam[s] [Macdonwald] from the nave to th’ chops’ paints Macbeth as a merciless killer. However, as Macdonwald is himself ‘merciless’ and seems to be the greater evil, it’s safe to assume that this was a noble murder (if such a thing exists!).

‘Valiant cousin’/’worthy gentleman’  Again, quite self explanatory! 

‘What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won.’ – Of course we have the interpretation of Macbeth as ‘noble’ and great again, but what’s interesting here is the influence that the past has on the present. The previous Thane of Cawdor is a ‘traitor’ and guilty of ‘treason,’ which as we know, Macbeth also becomes guilty of later in the play. Here, we can consider the rather gothic theme of entrapment. Though Macbeth ‘hath won’ a title, he also inherits ‘borrowed robes,’ [I:III] / ‘strange garments, [that] cleave not to their mould'[I:III] indicating that he is somewhat thrust into a role that doesn’t quite fit or belong to him. I think it’s fair to say that we can feel some sympathy for Macbeth if we interpret his misdoings as a consequence of a future that has been preordained for him – if he is overwhelmed by his new power and has no control over his status, then can we blame him for his actions?

‘Bellona’s bridegroom’ – This metaphor/allusion to Roman mythology references Bellona, the goddess of war and effectively compares Macbeth to Mars, God of war in the process. He’s quite favourably depicted as some sort of supreme being.

‘They smack of honour both’ – Simply put, this envisages both Macbeth and Banquo to be honourable men.

‘They doubly redoubled strokes upon foe: Except they meant to bathe in reeking wounds, Or memorise another Golgotha’ – This is the first indication that Banquo acts as a foil to Macbeth. They are both fighting valiantly, which becomes important later on (if you’re arguing in favour for Macbeth as an innately evil character anyway). However, the latter part of this quotation would potentially suggest that the battle is less noble than we’re led to think.

Leading on from the last quotation, it is entirely possible that we could interpret certain aspects of this scene as actually depicting Macbeth’s ruthlessness – is he innately a killer?

The biblical allusion (Matthew 27:33) references Christ’s death on Mount Calvary – ‘And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull’. According to John 29:34, a Roman soldier pierced Christ’s side as he hanged from the cross. This is particularly interesting, considering Macbeth has previously been compared to the Roman God of war, Mars. This goes some way to depict Macbeth and his army as excessively violent (yet another gothic aspect) and perhaps even sadistic, delighting in the ‘reeking wounds’ that they inflict and making the battlefield as bloody as Golgotha. 


Act I:III (Lines 1-80)

Gothic setting 

As in scene I, we have pathetic fallacy with the ‘thunder’ and the desolate ‘barren heath’. To the theistic contemporaneous audience, the thunder would’ve been perceived as a warning from God – his voice of what’s to come, thus, this contributes to the dark, brooding atmosphere.

Supernatural/The witches

At the beginning of scene 3, we are again presented with the sooth-saying of the ambiguously gendered witches. Their earlier predictions that they will go to the Heath ‘to meet with Macbeth’ are realised upon the third witches’ couplet ‘A drum, a drum, Macbeth doth come!’. This, in addition to the prospect that the witches have control of the elements (‘I’ll give thee a wind’) exemplifies the power that they have over the natural world, and this would definitely fortify the interpretation that they are the manipulators to blame for Macbeth’s hamartia. It is wholly possible that the witches are the sources of inherent evil in the play, as their vengeful attitudes towards a woman’s husband (they state that ‘He shall live a man forbid; Weary sev’nights nine times nine’ and seem to rejoice in the agony that they inflict).

‘The Weyward Sisters, hand in hand, Posters of the sea and land, Thus do go, about, about, Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine, And thrice again, to make up nine. Peace! The charm’s wound up’

Spoken by all of the witches, this bit of verse is particularly ominous and ritualistic. Their collective name ‘The Weyward Sisters’ conjures up (pardon the pun) images of liminality and connotations of the strange and the unnatural, the fateful and the perverse – they are amphibious ‘posters of the sea and land’. This again, is all of course, very gothic.. But their ability to literally conjure Macbeth who enters as soon as ‘The charm’s wound up’ seems to prove their power to control not only the elements, but also, the actions of humans.

Equivocations

Though the witches are formidable in that they have destructive powers, they are not all-powerful. As the first witch curses a ‘man forbid,’ the lines ‘though his bark shall not be lost, Yet it shall be tempest-tossed’ indicates that though the witches can cause a storm, gnawing a hole in the side of the ship, it is ultimately, not in their power to destroy the ship completely. So, we can attribute this piece of information to Macbeth also… We can interpret that they partially lead him to his own destruction by their use of equivocations. Their ‘prophetic greetings’ are only half-truths – they’re not strictly false, but in telling Macbeth that he ‘shalt be King hereafter!,’ they do miss out the slightly vital piece of information that he’s also to be despised as a tyrannical leader and then, murdered. By telling Macbeth snippets of the truth and not any of the repercussions, they essentially drive him to fulfil their prophecies.

Macbeth and Banquo

As I mentioned earlier, Banquo acts as a foil for Macbeth, exposing how he is in fact, driven to corruption. They are both valiant in war and curious about the prophecies of the ‘imperfect speakers,’ but both fundamentally different in their responses. Macbeth fiercely demands them to ‘Stay’ before they ‘vanish’ into thin air and is clearly irked by what he is told – he’s left discombobulated and ‘rapt withal,’ whereas Banquo remains sceptical. Thus, we’re left with the inclination that Macbeth is going to act on what he’s told, complete with dire consequences.