The Bloody Chamber

The Bloody Chamber

infobox Book |
name = The Bloody Chamber
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption =
author = Angela Carter
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = Great Britain
language = English
series =
genre = Magical realism, short story anthology
publisher = Vintage
release_date = 1979
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Paperback)
pages =
isbn = ISBN 0 09 958811 0 (9780099588115 from January 2007)
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"The Bloody Chamber" (or "The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories") is an anthology of short fiction by Angela Carter. It was first published in the United Kingdom in 1979 by Vintage and won the Cheltenham Festival Literary Prize. All of the stories share a common theme of being closely based upon fairytales or folk tales. However, Angela Carter has stated:

My intention was not to do 'versions' or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, 'adult' fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories. [Angela Carter in John Haffenden's "Novelists in Interview" (New York: Methuen Press, 1985), p 80 ISBN 978-0416376005.]

The anthology contains ten stories: "The Bloody Chamber", "The Courtship of Mr Lyon", "The Tiger's Bride", "Puss-in-Boots", "The Erl-King", "The Snow Child", "The Lady of the House of Love", "The Werewolf", "The Company of Wolves" and "Wolf-Alice".

The tales vary greatly in length, with the novelette "The Bloody Chamber" being "more than twice the length of any of the other stories, and more than thirty times the length of the shortest [the vignette "The Snow Child"] ." [Helen Simpson, Introduction to Angela Carter’s "The Bloody Chamber" (London: Vintage, 1979 (2006)), p viii.]

The anthology's contents are also reprinted in Carter's "Burning Your Boats".

tory summaries

The stories within "The Bloody Chamber" are explicitly based on fairytales. Carter was no doubt inspired by the works of author and fairytale collector Charles Perrault, whose fairytales she had translated shortly beforehand.

The Bloody Chamber

(based on Bluebeard)

A teenaged girl marries an older, wealthy French Marquis, whom she does not love. When he takes her to his castle, she learns that he enjoys sadistic pornography and takes pleasure in her embarrassment. She is a talented pianist, and a young man, a blind piano tuner, hears her music and falls in love with her. The woman's husband tells her that he must leave on a business trip and forbids her to enter one particular room while he is away. She enters the room in his absence and discovers the full extent of his perverse and murderous tendencies when she discovers the bodies of his previous wives. The brave piano tuner is willing to stay with her even though he knows he will not be able to save her. She is saved at the end of the story by her mother, who arrives just as the Marquis is about to murder the girl and shoots him.

The Courtship of Mr Lyon

(based on Beauty and the Beast — the concept of the Beast as a lion-like figure is a popular one, most notably in the French film version of 1946)

Beauty's father, after experiencing car trouble, takes advantage of a stranger's hospitality. However, his benefactor — the Beast — takes umbrage when he steals a miraculous white rose for his beloved daughter. Beauty becomes the guest of the leonine Beast, and the Beast aids her father in getting his fortune back. Beauty later joins her father in London, where she almost forgets the Beast, causing him to whither away from heartache. When Beauty learns that he is dying, she returns, saving him. Beauty and the Beast disclose their love for one another and the Beast's humanity is revealed.

The Tiger's Bride

(also based on Beauty and the Beast)

A woman moves in with a mysterious, masked "Milord," the Beast, after her father loses her to him in a game of cards. Milord is eventually revealed to be a tiger. In a reversal of the ending of "The Courtship of Mr Lyon", the heroine transforms at the end into a glorious tiger who is the proper mate to the Beast, who will from now on be true to his own nature and not disguise himself as a human.


(based on Puss in Boots)

Figaro, a cat, moves in with a rakish young man who lives a happily debauched life. They live a carefree existence, with the cat helping him to make money by cheating at cards, until the young man actually falls in love (to the cat's disgust) with a young woman kept in a tower by a miserly, older husband who treats her only as property. The cat, hoping his friend will tire of the woman if he has her, helps the young man into the bed of his sweetheart by playing tricks on the old husband and the young woman's keeper. Figaro himself finds love with the young woman's cat, and the two cats arrange the fortunes of both themselves and the young man and woman by arranging to trip the old man so that he will fall to his death.

The Erl-King

(an adaptation of the Erlking in folklore; a sort of goblin or spirit of the woodlands)

A maiden wanders into the woods and is seduced by the sinister Erl-King, a seeming personification of the forest itself. However, she eventually realises that he plans to imprison her and so she murders him.

The Snow Child

(based on an obscure variant of Snow White. [Helen Simpson, Introduction to Angela Carter’s "The Bloody Chamber" (London: Vintage, 2006 (1979)), p xvi.] )

A Count and Countess go riding in midwinter. The Count sees snow on the ground and wishes for a child "as white as snow". Similar wishes are made when the Count sees a hole in the snow containing a pool of blood, and a raven. As soon as he made his final wish a child of the exact description appears at the side of the road. The Count pays immediate attention to the child, much to the chagrin of the Countess. At the Countess' command, the girl picks a rose but is pricked by a thorn and dies, after which the Count rapes her corpse. After this, her corpse melts into the snow, leaving nothing but a bloodstain on the snow, a black feather and the rose that she had picked.

The Lady of the House of Love

(loosely based upon Sleeping Beauty)

A virginal English soldier, travelling through Romania by bicycle, comes across a mansion inhabited by a vampiress. She intends to feed on him, but his purity and virginity have a curious effect on her.

The Werewolf

(based on Little Red Riding Hood)

A girl goes to visit her grandmother, but encounters a werewolf on the way, whose paw she cuts off with a knife. When she reaches her grandmother's house, the paw has turned into a hand with the grandmother's ring on it, and the grandmother is both delirious and missing her hand. This reveals the girl's grandmother as the werewolf, and she is stoned to death. The girl then inherits all of her grandmother's possessions.

The Company of Wolves

(closer adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood)

A girl meets an apparently charming young man whilst wandering through the forest towards her grandmother's house. She arrives at her grandmother's home, unaware that the same young man has got there before her and killed her grandmother. The young man, who is really a wolf in disguise, instructs her to remove and burn her garments one by one as she makes remarks reminiscent of those in the classic fairy tale, such as "What big teeth you have!" When he replies, "All the better to eat you with," she laughs at him fearlessly. The story ends with "See! sweet and sound she sleeps in granny's bed, between the paws of the tender wolf."


(based on an obscure variant of Little Red Riding Hood [Helen Simpson, Introduction to Angela Carter’s "The Bloody Chamber" (London: Vintage, 2006 (1979)), p xviii.] and with reference to "Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There", this tale explores the journey towards subjectivity and self-awareness from the perspective of a feral child)

A feral child, whom some nuns have attempted to civilize, is left in the house of a monstrous, vampiric Duke when she does not develop the appropriate social graces. She gradually comes to realise her own identity as a young woman and even displays compassion for the Duke.

Publication history

"The Bloody Chamber" was first published in 1979, though many of the stories within the collection are reprints from other sources, such as magazines, radio and other collections. Only two are completely original to this collection, though many were revised or changed slightly from their previously published versions for this collection.

The stories' various origins are listed below

*"The Bloody Chamber" made its debut in "The Bloody Chamber".
*"The Courtship of Mr Lyon" originally appeared in the British version of "Vogue" magazine. Angela Carter, "The Bloody Chamber" (Croydon: Vintage, 1979 (1995)), p 4 ISBN 0 09 958811 0.] It was revised for this collection. [] ]
*"The Tiger's Bride" made its debut in "The Bloody Chamber".
*"Puss-in-Boots" also appeared in the 1979 anthology "The Straw and the Gold", edited by Emma Tennant.
*"The Erl-King" originally appeared in "Bananas". It was revised for this collection.
*"The Snow Child" was originally broadcast on the BBC Radio 4 programme "Not Now, I'm Listening". It was revised for this collection.
*"The Lady of the House of Love" originally appeared in print in "The Iowa Review". However, this story was originally written as a radio play entitled "Vampirella" which was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 1976. The story was revised from the previous printed version for this collection.
*"The Werewolf" originally appeared in "South-West Arts Review". It was revised for this collection.
*"The Company of Wolves" originally appeared in "Bananas". It was revised for this collection.
*"Wolf-Alice" originally appeared in "Stand". It was revised for this collection.

tyle and themes

Angela Carter's short stories challenge the way women are represented in fairy tales, yet retain an air of tradition and convention through her voluptuously descriptive prose. For example, in the opening tale "The Bloody Chamber" which is a retelling of Bluebeard, Carter plays with the conventions of canonical fairy tales; instead of the heroine being rescued by the stereotypical male hero, she is rescued by her mother.

The stories deal with themes of women's roles in relationships and marriage, their sexuality, coming of age and corruption. Stories such as "The Bloody Chamber" and "The Company of Wolves" explicitly deal with the horrific or corrupting aspects of marriage and/or sex and the balance of power within such relationships. Themes of female identity are explored in the "Beauty and the Beast" stories such as "The Tiger's Bride". In one instance, Beauty: the story's heroine, is described as removing the petals from a white rose as her father gambles her away, a seeming representation of the stripping away of the false layers of her personality to find her true identity; an image that finds a mirror in the story's fantastical conclusion.

The stories are updated to more modern settings. The exact time periods remains vague, but they are clearly anchored rather intentionally. For example, in "The Bloody Chamber" the existence of transatlantic telephone implies a date 1930 or later. On the other hand, the mention of painters such as Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon, and of fashion designer Paul Poiret (who designs one of the heroine's gowns) all suggest a date before 1945. "The Lady of the House of Love" is clearly set on the eve of the First World War, and the young man's bicycle on which he arrives at the tradition-bound vampire's house is a symbol of the encroaching modernity which fundamentally altered European society after 1914.



"The Bloody Chamber" won the Cheltenham Festival Literary Prize in 1979.

Critical reception

"The Bloody Chamber" has received heavy praise and attention from numerous critics such as Jack Zipes (who called it a "remarkable collection" [Jack Zipes, "Crossing Boundaries with Wise Girls: Angela Carter's Fairy Tales for Children" in "Angela Carter and the Fairy Tale", ed. Danielle M. Roemer and Christina Bacchilega (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998), p 159.] ) and Marina Warner (who, on its inspirational nature, said it "turned the key for [her] as a writer" [Marina Warner, "Ballerina: The Belled Girl Sends a Tape to an Impresario" in "Angela Carter and the Fairy Tale", ed. Danielle M. Roemer and Christina Bacchilega (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998), p 250.] ).

Several critical works have been published that focus on Carter's use of fairytales in "The Bloody Chamber" and her other works [e.g. "Angela Carter and the Fairy Tale", ed. Danielle M. Roemer and Christina Bacchilega (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998).] and the anthology is also frequently taught and studied in University literature courses. [e.g. at Simon Fraser University [] , University of Essex [] ]



Carter later adapted "The Company of Wolves" and "Puss-in-Boots" into radio plays which were broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 1980 and 1982 respectively. The 1982 adaptation of "Puss in Boots" (as it was retitled) starred Andrew Sachs in the title role.Mark Bell (ed.), production notes to Angela Carter's "The Curious Room" (London: Vintage, 1997).] The scripts for both of these plays were published in Carter's "Come Unto These Yellow Sands" and later the posthumous collection "The Curious Room", which also included production notes.


The 1984 film "The Company of Wolves" by Neil Jordan was based upon the werewolf stories in this collection, in particular the Little Red Riding Hood analogue "The Company of Wolves". Carter also directly contributed to the screenplay of this film, which bears close resemblance to her 1980 radio play adaptation of "The Company of Wolves." Carter's original screenplay for this film is published in "The Curious Room". Jordan and Carter also discussed producing a film adaptation of "Vampirella", the radio drama that became "The Lady of the House of Love", but this project was never realised. [Neil Jordan quoted in the production notes to Angela Carter's The Curious Room (London: Vintage, 1997), p 507.]

Music video

Punk band Daisy Chainsaw adapted the story of "The Lady of the House of Love" for their 1992 music video for "Hope Your Dreams Come True" (from the EP of the same name and also later the album "Eleventeen"). []


The stories within "The Bloody Chamber" are a popular subject for theatrical adaptation. The story "The Bloody Chamber" has been adapted for the theatre more than once, including a performance by the "Zoo District" which was accompanied by an amateur film adaptation of "Wolf-Alice". [] "The Company of Wolves" is also a popular subject for adaptation by amateur/student theatre groups (e.g. by [ this Welsh drama college] ).



*Anonymous, [ "LS 819: Transformations: Freedom and Magic in Nineteenth Century "Fairy Stories""] , (n.d.).
*Anonymous, [ "School of Theatre and Performance - Trinity College Carmarthen"] : scroll down to Nick Evans for evidence of the production of "The Company of Wolves".
*Charles N. Brown & William G. Contento, 2007. [ "The Locus Index to Science Fiction (1984-1998); The Bloody Chamber and other stories"] , 2004: source for specific contents details.
*Angela Carter, "The Bloody Chamber" (Croydon: Vintage, 1979 (1995)), ISBN 0 09 958811 0.
*Angela Carter, "The Bloody Chamber" (London: Vintage, 1979 (2006)), p 4 ISBN 0 09 958811 0: source for Helen Simpson quotations and references (in introduction).
*Angela Carter, "The Curious Room" (London: Vintage, 1997), ISBN 0-09-958621-5: source for Mark Bell's production notes, which include a quotation from Neil Jordan.
*"Daisy Chainsaw", [ "Hope Your Dreams Come True"] , 1992.
*John Haffenden, "Novelists in Interview" (New York: Methuen Press, 1985), ISBN 978-0416376005: source for Angela Carter quotation.
*Danielle M. Roemer and Christina Bacchilega (ed.), "Angela Carter and the Fairy Tale" (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998), ISBN 0-8143-2905-5: source for Jack Zipes, "Crossing Boundaries with Wise Girls: Angela Carter's Fairy Tales for Children" and Marina Warner, "Ballerina: The Belled Girl Sends a Tape to an Impresario".
*"Zoo District", [ "Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber; Adapted for the Stage and Directed by Kara Feely"] , 2005.

External links

* [,,1804397,00.html "The Bloody Chamber" reviewed at Guardian Unlimited Books]
* [ "The Bloody Chamber" reviewed at 'Pretty-Scary']
* [ Information on the contents of a special edition of "Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies"]
* [ "The Bloody Chamber" contents list ('95 edition) and the sources for the stories]
* [ Full text of "The Bloody Chamber"]

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