The Bloody Chamber

AQA LITB3 – Section B Revision – Gothic quotations from critics and possible questions for June 2015 – Part I

Recently, my tutor gave us a list of critical quotations for us to apply to The Bloody Chamber, The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale and Macbeth to consider different elements of the gothic that may come up as questions for section B of the exam (or maybe even section A) this summer. Obviously, if you’re studying other texts, like Frankenstein, etc., I’m sure you’ll still be able to get something from this post anyway! Hope it helps.


1. ‘The violation of innocence – “At the heart of the Gothic text is the tension provided by the possible violation of innocence – the concept of ‘virtue in distress'”

The Bloody Chamber

Story 1: The easiest story to refer to for a question on virtue in distress would definitely be the eponymous story of the collection. Talking about the Marquise and debating the source of her corruption (whether she is already corrupt from the offset of the story, or whether she is corrupted by the Marquis).

You would need to specify i. What constitutes as ‘virtue’ – so, virginity, purity, innocence, beauty etc. ii. Whether the violation of this innocence and the virtue in distress creates narrative tension. The most obvious line of debate would be that i. The Marquis attempts to corrupt the narrator, and this results in tension as we contemplate whether or not she will die as a result of said corruption. However, you can counter-argue and evaluate by posing that she is corrupt from the outset (here, you’re incorporating structural analysis – which AQA love – by referring to the exposition in this way), marrying the Marquis only for his wealth. Also, you could argue that as Carter adopts gothic conventions in a very melodramatic and perhaps even parodic way, that this means no tension is created.

Story 2: The other story I’d talk about for a question on this is The Erl-King, which is probably the most complex story of the collection, but I think it’d give the best opportunity of getting the most marks due to its difficulty. It allows you to speak about narrative perspective and structure quite nicely, and sets up a debate as to whether the omniscient (and very subjective) narrator is the cause of her own corruption (as she willingly goes to the Erl-King, inciting her own entrapment and that she allows herself to be subjugated by males, as she perceives herself the way they do), or whether the Erl-King is a predatory character, causing her corruption and resulting entrapment. Again, there’s the same debate as to whether this creates tension, as with TBC.

Macbeth

Again, you would be able to write about structure relatively easily with Macbeth by analysing the imagery in the exposition (the perspective that Macbeth is a tragic hero, regressing from high status to that of an ‘abhorred tyrant’ If you’d like to read some analysis of this, my post on how the first few scenes of Macbeth adhere to the gothic heremy essay on Macbeth’s downfall here and my essay on Macbeth as a butcher here should help. When writing about Macbeth though, I think it’d be good to unpick the critical quotation even more, as the presence of the witches and their arguable control over Macbeth from the exposition means that the violation of his innocence is not a possibility, but an inevitability.

The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale

In my opinion, this is the most difficult of the texts to refer to (in most cases actually – I’ve yet to see a question that I find easy to answer). I guess you could talk about i. The concept of ‘virtue in distress’ is shown to a much lesser extent in the prologue/tale, because the Pardoner, nor any of the people he speaks of are virtuous. However, you could talk about how the Pardoner preys on the innocence (and thus, virtue) of his audience for his own gain, as he cons them into paying for his false relics and convincing the uneducated that they have committed terrible sins etc. As for tension, I don’t think the concept of virtue in distress/lack of any virtue in the Pardoner creates any tension as such, but rather evokes the disdain, disgust and contemptuous laughter from the reader/contemporaneous audience, as the Pardoner is so obvious in his evil.


2. ‘The shocking elements of the gothic are selfish and go beyond the boundaries of what is acceptable in society’ – “Gothic fictions seemed to promote vice and violence, giving free reign to selfish ambitions and sexual desires beyond the prescriptions of law or familial duty”

The Bloody Chamber

Again, very easy to classify what is shocking – illicit lust/sexual gratification, language, subversion of religion etc. and how these transgress societal boundaries. I’d personally refer to The Snow Child and The Bloody Chamber for this question. The sexual primacy of the Count most definitely transgresses familial duty as he commits to incest and pedophilia (and necrophilia too), having sex with ‘the child of his desire’ intended merely for his own selfish and sexual desires. He’s unpunished within the denouement (thus, structural evaluation and hitting assessment objectives). You could also analyse the Countess as she ‘reigns in her stamping mare’ and symbolically gives free reign to her husband, as she so evidently cannot control him. In TBC, I’d obviously refer to sexual gratification, the link between sex and pain and how this is selfish, but I’d refer to religious transgression as the Marquis is characterised (hitting more assessment objectives!!) as a satanic figure (‘the key to my enfer,’ the fact he has Huysman’s ‘La-Bas’ ‘bound like a missal’ and treated as prayerbook, his ‘chthonic gravity’ etc.), promoting vice and violence, and how this could be perceived as ‘shocking’. Yet, as the Marquis is killed within the denouement, is such behaviour really promoted by Carter?

Macbeth

The main thing for Macbeth would obviously be his act of regicide, as this definitely goes beyond both the prescriptions of law, and of the divine. Selfish and ‘vaulting ambition’ is clearly exercised in order to bring Macbeth’s wish to be king into fruition. Though the play does also becomes progressively more violent and Macbeth succumbs to vice, the play cannot be said to promote such behaviours, as it could be interpreted that Macbeth is punished in the denouement as Macduff enters bearing ‘Macbeth’s head on a pole’ and Malcolm’s dialogue also echoes the sentiment of a morality play as he exclaims a wish to ‘[Produce] forth the evil ministers of this dead butcher and his fiend-like queen’. Yet, there is a clear absence of unrestrained sexual desire in Macbeth, so this needs to be approached also.

The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale

Though the Pardoner outwardly preaches against vice and violence, chastising his audience against sin; ‘glutonye,’ and all its ‘cursedness,’ ‘lecherye’ etc. through his use of the sermon form and inaccurate biblical allusions, as he only does this for his own gain, ‘prech[ing] nothing but for coveitise,’ and not suffering any punishment for this, it could be said that the tale does does promote vice (but not violence).

AQA LITB3 PPQ – JANUARY 2012 – ‘Carter explores base instincts rather than subconscious desires’

Probably one of the better essays that I’ve written timed/without the book. I got it marked today and it’s a band 6 response, hope it helps!


In ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ it is true that Carter explores base instincts, such as those of the narrator’s father in ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ the depraved sexual primacy of the Count in ‘The Snow Child’ and the malign sexual instincts of The Erl-King. Yet, it is debatable that the exploration of base instincts are favoured by Carter. In fact, in the case of the Count, it could be perceived that base instincts arise from the subconscious mind and that the two are intrinsically linked. Furthermore, by considering the benign nature of ‘La Bestia[’s]’ instincts, in addition to the interpretation of ‘The Erl-King’ as an exploration of the narrator’s subconscious desires, it is clear that Carter does not simply wish to explore base instincts. Ultimately, the two concepts are not mutually exclusive – the ambiguity of Carter’s prose allows her to explore the relationship between the two.

In ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ through the use of parallelism and the motif of the gothic double, Carter explores the base greed of the narrator’s father, which seems to be as instinctive to him as the animalistic ‘ferocity’ of the tiger, in order to convey the innate human tendency to succumb to the psychological id. Within the exposition, the narrator immediately alludes to her father’s base greed through the asyndeton of ‘his gaming, his whoring, his agonising repentances’ that led to the death of her mother. He is characterised as ‘a man in the last stages of debauchery,’ sensually indulging in ‘gambling’ and ‘perpetual pleasure’ and Carter elucidates that such base behaviours are instinctive by utilising the motif of the mask, characterising ‘La Bestia’ as an inverted gothic double, resulting in an ironic caricature of human behaviour. As the tiger wears ‘a mask with a man’s face painted on it,’ where ‘one profile is the mirror image of the other’ Carter echoes Freud’s concept of the uncanny, offering the reader an uncomfortable, yet inherently familiar reflection of uncivilised human instincts, as the tiger is literally a beast behind a guise of civilisation. Perhaps Carter is addressing how humans are either ‘fighting a battle with [themselves]’ as the tiger is, or instinctively succumbing to base and ‘perpetual pleasure’.

However, though Carter does explore some instincts that are base in ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ she does not present all instincts as such. As the narrator undergoes a metamorphosis in the story’s denouement, as she ‘shrug[s] the drops off [her] beautiful fur’ and assumes an animal form, she learns from the benign and pure instincts of the the beast, who is actually a ‘delicate creature,’ as he offers her an escape from her entrapment and ‘balked simulation of life’ by encouraging her to shed superficial appearances in order to achieve liberation, as foreshadowed in the exposition by the ‘introspective’ setting in which he lives – his desire to see the narrator ‘unclothed’ is clearly not the product of base and sexual instincts, but of instincts altogether more positive and natural. Nudity is depicted in a completely un-sexualised manner, disconnected from any baseness, as the narrator who was once ‘unaccustomed to [her] own flesh’ and ‘unused to [her] own skin’ evades the objectification of a society ‘who take no account of [her] existence’ as she ‘peels down to the cold, white meat of [her] contract.’ She is able to find solace and rebirth in a ‘peaceable kingdom’ in which the oppressive base instincts of men ‘need not be [her] extinction.’

Furthermore, similarly to the way in which the narrator’s father succumbs to his greed in ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ it could be interpreted that the Count acts on his ‘base’ and sexual instincts by having sex with the young girl in ‘The Snow Child,’ yet, as she is a manifestation of his subconscious desire, it is more likely that Carter does not favour the exploration of base instincts, but sees the two concepts in relation to one another. As the Count ‘thrust his virile member into the dead girl,’ helplessly ‘weeping’ in the process, it could be perceived that such base actions are instinctive and do come naturally to him, yet it would not only be controversial to suggest that engaging in rape, necrophilia and incest is instinctive, but also, inaccurate. Due to the fact that the girl is ‘the child of his desire,’ manifesting as soon as ‘[the Count] completed his description,’ it is a likelier interpretation that she is therefore, a product of male subconscious desire, as suggested by the anaphora as the Count ‘wish[es he] had a girl as white as snow,’ ‘… as red as blood,’ ‘… [and] as black as that bird’s feather.’ Carter explores how the depraved and unsettling desires of the Count interact with his instincts, as he acts on such sexual impulses, as the girl is ‘stark naked,’ serving no other real purpose than for the Count to fulfil the fantasies of his subconscious, as she dissipates, ‘[beginning] to melt’ as soon as he has raped her.

Within ‘The Erl-King,’ through the narrative voice and the setting of the woods, Carter arguably continues to focus on subconscious desires, rather than base instincts, yet this time, those of the female. Though the Erl-King is characterised as an enticing figure, leading the narrator to indulge in her sexual instincts in ‘profane mysteries under the leaves,’ as ‘he came alive from the desire of the woods’ he is ultimately a construct of her subconscious desire. This sentiment is furthered through the narrative voice, as she deems herself an ‘imaginary traveller’ and alludes to the ‘invented distance’ of the woods, she evidently desires the ‘embracements’ of the Erl-King in spite of the ‘grievous harm’ she knows he is able to inflict. The denouement of the story affirms this interpretation as the Erl-King proclaims ‘Mother, Mother, you have murdered me!’ as she figuratively ‘murder[s]’ and suppresses the desires that she has previously been ‘mother’ to.

Yet, it could be considered that whilst Carter does explore the subconscious desires of the narrator, she does this in order to expose how females perceive the base instincts of men. The Erl-King is characterised as a powerful and ‘irrevocable’ figure, able to lead the narrator astray, and Carter alludes to his base intentions by utilising intertextuality from Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ as she equates his actions the ‘…thirsty, cankered..’ ones of the goblins of the poem. However, it is inferred that she will be ‘trapped in her illusion’ and her own subconscious desires, as she is essentially, aware of the Erl-King’s dangerous sexuality. Carter proposes that females metaphorically ‘[lose] themselves in the woods’ – it is their perceptions and toleration of male sexual instincts that are more damaging and thus, she explores both subconscious desires and base instincts in relation to one another.

Ultimately, Carter does not explore base instincts at the cost of subconscious desires, but views them as joint, exploring the relationship between the two. Thus, she shows how subconscious desires can be equally sordid and dangerous, and that baseness need not always arise from instinct.

AQA LITB3 PPQ – June 2013 – ‘It is ironic that the beasts are more humane than the humans in The Bloody Chamber’ consider this in light of two stories in the collection.

Hey guys! This is an essay I wrote quite recently for homework, and one that I have to admit, I enjoyed writing (for the most part!), and it received a band 6 mark of 34.


Just a quick note before you get to reading the essay: I went to a really interesting lecture on gothic literature quite recently and it generally focused on how psychoanalytic/Freudian concepts are cohesive with the gothic genre. The lecture really elucidated meanings of some of the more complex aspects of Carter’s stories, such as the role of the gothic double and why we ultimately enjoy reading texts that horrify, shock and disgust us. For this particular question, the knowledge and understanding of Freud’s concept of the uncanny (or if we’re being pedantic, ‘Das Unheimliche’) that I gained at the lecture was absolutely invaluable (and also, brilliant AO3) when exploring the theme of liminality and evaluating a more contextual point on the male gaze.  If anybody wants me to share my notes on the lecture or a link to Freud’s essay on the uncanny, then I’d be more than happy, just let me know!


In ‘The Bloody Chamber’ Carter subverts the reader’s expectation by depicting the beasts as more humane than the humans, critiquing the submission of men to their base instincts as a result. However, the use of ambiguous language in the process of characterisation leaves whether this is actually ironic open to debate. Many of the characters in the collection, such as La Bestia in ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ and The Marquis in the eponymous story, are in liminal states and encompass both bestial and human attributes, regardless of whether they are humane or depraved. By blurring the lines between human and animal, Carter is thus able to assess the internal conflict of animalistic and moralistic drives and consequently, what it means to be human. In ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ Carter contrasts the narrator’s immoral father, ‘a man in the last stages of debauchery’ with the more compassionate Tiger who is ‘[struck to the heart]’ as the narrator misunderstands his request to see her unclothed. In spite of the potential for destruction his ‘great, feline tawny shape’ and ‘savage geometry’ permits, he is indirectly characterised as more thoughtful and contemplative by the ‘introspective’ region in which he lives. The setting echoes his bid for the narrator to see past appearances and look deeper and straight to the ’spongy pith of the lungs’ just as the damp chill does and strip herself of material luxuries. Contrastingly, within the narrative, Carter uses the tedious asyndeton of the father’s ‘[his] gaming, [his] whoring, [his] agonising repentances’ to exemplify the human capacity to be self-serving – continuously and powerlessly yielding to their vices to the extent it is a ‘sickness’. This could certainly be perceived as ironically inhumane compared to the ‘self-imposed restraint’ and control that the beast exhibits, as he remains composed when he would ‘rather drop down on all fours,’ never resorting to such degeneracy. It is perhaps the beasts and not the humans that the reader seeks to identify with.

However, as Carter uses equivocation, referring to the Tiger as a ‘man’ – as having a ‘hand’ and not a paw – ‘La Bestia’ is never addressed clearly as human or beast, putting to question whether or not his benevolence can be considered ironic. As he is anthropomorphised, covering himself in ‘civet’ to mask his natural scent and wearing a ‘mask with a man’s face painted on it,’ the Tiger is characterised as a gothic double, implying his liminality and the guise of civilisation. Here, Carter echoes Freud’s concept of the uncanny through the motif of the mask, where ‘one profile of the mask is the mirror image of the other’ in order to offer the reader an uncomfortable, yet inherently familiar reflection of the more primitive aspects human behaviour, as he is literally a beast behind a mask of civilisation. Therefore, the presentation of the Tiger, who embodies characteristics considered to be typically human, is more indicative of human ability to herald both civilised and animalistic tendencies than it is ‘ironic’. Carter is potentially addressing how humans that strive to be moral, as the Tiger is, are either metaphorically ‘fighting a battle with [themselves],’ ignoring their inevitable, basic instincts, or like Beauty’s father, succumbing to their base ‘perpetual pleasure[s]’. However, the interpretation that the Tiger is not humane in his natural state can be discarded, as the narrator states that in actuality ‘nothing about him reminded me of humanity.’ Therefore, Carter’s message is indeed an ironic criticism directed towards humans and their selfish behaviour.

This perspective is furthered by Carter’s illustration of the human Marquis in the eponymous story of the collection, which counters the view that humans have the ability to be humane. The Marquis exhibits his depravity within the setting of the ‘museum of his perversity’ by displaying his murdered wives – all ’victims’ to his inhumane nature. His deep, internal corruption is also implicit in the text by Carter’s reference to Huysman’s ‘La-Bas’, which he has ‘bound like a missal,’ and treats a fundamentally sacrilegious text as his bible. As the story reaches its climactic point, the Marquis’ ‘monocle,’ arguably, a symbol of civilisation ‘fall[s] from his face’ and he exposes his more ‘disordered’ and animalistic tendencies, hidden behind a guise of civilisation. Perhaps if humans are able to conceal such dark impulses behind a ‘self-sustaining carapace,’ then Carter’s presentation of the beasts of more humane than the humans is not ironic, but instead, sincere. Yet, as reference is also made to his ‘curling mane’ at this stage in the story, it is entirely possible that the Marquis could be regarded as more of a beast than a human.  Carter repeatedly utilises zoomorphism throughout the story, citing ‘the leonine shape of his [the Marquis’] head’ and alluding to Dracula as the narrator describes his ‘kiss with tongue and teeth’ to imply his animalistic and predatory qualities. However, though this imagery does somewhat negate any irony and make his oppressive physical presence seem like that beyond normality, the Marquis is essentially human and just a ‘big man’ that displays beastly behaviour. If we assume that it is due to the female perspective of the narrator that we too, perceive the Marquis to be a ‘monster,’ then perhaps this method of characterisation is used to allow the reader to consider a more contemptible facet of male behaviour. As the narrator notes the ‘sheer carnal avarice’ of the Marquis’ regard, Carter criticises the inhumane objectification of women by exposing the sexual power imbalance of the male gaze.

Though Carter envisages humanity as beastly in ‘The Bloody Chamber’ through the characterisation of the Marquis, the juxtaposing character of Jean-Yves completely counters this view. In her relationship with the ‘blind’ piano tuner, the narrator is able to escape the ‘lecherou[s]’ and inhumane hold of the male gaze that the Marquis exerts over her and this is something exemplified by Carter’s manipulation of the motif of eyes. The emphatic prosody of the description of Jean-Yves’ ‘singularly sweet’ eyes acts in stark contrast to the ‘dark, unreflective’ eyes of the Marquis, conveying romance as opposed to degradation. Whilst it could be interpreted that Jean-Yves is merely employed to act as a foil to emphasise the Marquis’ beastliness and a human inclination towards corruption, as he ‘sees [the narrator] clearly with his heart,’ Carter implies a more optimistic and less ironic view that some humans harbour the ‘lovely, blind humanity’ of the piano tuner, rather than the characteristics of a beast.

Ultimately, though the beasts are generally depicted as more humane than the humans, this is not necessarily ‘ironic’. In doing this, Carter is able to exemplify the competition between primary urges and the humane emotions that distinguish us from animals, articulating how humans can revert to their basic or base instincts and as a result, she offers a scathing commentary on civilisation.

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.