The Bloody Chamber Summary

Analysis of The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

 ‘The Bloody Chamber’ is the first story in Angela Carter’s short-story collection The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979). The story revolves around the young narrator and her husband, the Marquis, and how things take a dark turn when she learns about the latter’s past deeds. This story is a retelling of the French folktale ‘Bluebeard’.

The Bloody Chamber | Summary

The first-person narrator, also the heroine of the tale, remembers the train journey taking her away from Paris to the castle of her husband. During the journey, she thought of her mother who was a strong-willed, independent person who had once shot a man-eating tiger. Her mother asked the heroine before the marriage if she loved the man she was about to marry. The narrator did not, but she wished to marry him nevertheless since he was a rich and influential Marquis and this arrangement could pull the heroine and her widowed mother out of poverty.

The heroine describes her husband as a big man who used to stealthily come up to her sometimes when she used to play the piano. The young girl was the Marquis’s fourth wife. She is only seventeen and the Marquis is quite older. He gave her a ring with a fiery opal in it. The girl’s old nurse complained that opals were bad luck. 

The narrator cannot understand why the Marquis would like to marry her. After all, he has been married to an opera singer, a famous model, and a Romanian countess before. In fact, the girl actually saw his first wife perform in an opera once where her superb performance had transfixed her.

The Marquis is very rich. He took the narrator to an opera show the day before they married. There she wore his wedding gift, a ruby choker. It was a necklace that looked like a slit throat. Everyone had showered the young girl with attention. At the opera, she saw the Marquis looking at her with ‘carnal avarice’ and felt her own ‘potentiality for corruption’. The next day they married.

In the present day, the train comes to a halt. The Marquis lights a huge cigar and escorts the girl to the chauffeur who she thinks is comparing her with the Marquis’s previous wives. They go to the castle together. The castle is huge and luxurious but isolated from the mainland. The interaction with the housekeeper momentarily makes her self-conscious about the status of poverty she has recently come from. But the surrounding luxuries and wealth make her feel like the ‘Queen of the Sea’.

The Marquis leads her to the bedroom where no less than twelve mirrors are present. He approaches her and starts undressing her. The young girl is both shy and aroused. However, the Marquis leaves her in that state. She tries playing the piano but it is out of tune. She is bored. That night, she stumbles into some sadistic pornography in the Marquis’s library. However, the Marquis appears behind her and finds her looking at the pornography. He mocks her innocence. That day, they consummate their marriage. The young girl describes the sex as the feeling of being ‘impaled’. After the act, the Marquis falls asleep as the heroine keeps pondering over her lost virginity.

The Marquis gets a call and informs the girl that he has to leave for the United States to attend to an urgent business-deal worth a lot of money. However, he tells her that he will have dinner with the new bride before he leaves. The couple partakes in beverages, and the Marquis notes how this is the first time that his wife has been a virgin. The narrator starts wondering if it is her innocence after all that attracted the Marquis to her.

The Marquis then shows her the picture gallery where there are many famous portraits. He remarks how the narrator is innocent but with a ‘promise of debauchery’. She blushes at this. The Marquis then hands over the keys to the various rooms to the narrator, saying he is entrusting the castle to her while he is away. However, he cautions her against using the last key of the bunch. This key is supposed to lead to a room where the Marquis likes to go when he imagines himself to be a bachelor again. He informs her before leaving that a full-time piano tuner has joined the staff.  

That night, the heroine is unable to sleep well. She is both attracted to and repulsed by her husband. She imagines him abandoning her to visit some mistress. She has vivid dreams that night. Waking up, she has a grand breakfast, and then plays the piano for three hours. The piano tuner named Jean-Yves visits her and asks if he could listen to her play the piano sometimes, and she agrees.

Soon, the lonely girl is bored. She calls her mother but starts crying suddenly, even as she assures her that everything is fine. She then decides to explore the rooms the keys lead to. She goes into the Marquis’s office and sees the jewels in the chest. She skips dinner and keeps on exploring whatever she can lay her hands on. She thinks that her husband has many secrets to hide -shady business being one of them- and she thinks that he hides these secrets quite well. She even comes across a letter from the Marquis’s third wife, the Romanian countess. The sophistication and wit of the letter awe her. She finally decides to go into the forbidden room.  

The narrator enters the forbidden room. She finds several torture instruments there. The match goes out but now gripped by a courage she thinks she has inherited from her mother, she lights another to find out everything she can. To her horror, she sees the mutilated corpses of the Marquis’s previous wives. The wounds on the maimed body of the third wife look fresh. The young girl drops the key into the pool of blood by accident. She understands that similar fates await her too.

The narrator is afraid but she knows asking help from others from around here would be futile. She tries to talk to her mother but the telephone lines are dead. She starts playing the piano hoping somehow the music would protect her. The blind piano-tuner appears. She reveals everything to him. He tells her about the popular legend of a Marquis going around hunting down young girls in these parts. 

At this moment the Marquis’s car is seen approaching the castle. The narrator understands that the Marquis set out a trap and now she is caught in it. She tries to wash the blood off the key but nothing can remove the stain. The Marquis tells her that the business deal was canceled at the last minute. She does not believe him. He wants the keys from her. She tries to seduce him but he is adamant. At last, seeing the blood on the forbidden key, the Marquis knows what she has done. He presses the key on her forehead and the bloodstain gets transferred on her skin from the key. He tells her that he would behead her. He has dismissed all the servants already. The narrator can in fact see them leaving, from the window. However, Jean-Yves cannot be seen with them.

The narrator is to take a bath and then wait for the Marquis who would call her when it is time. However, she finds the piano-tuner there. He wishes to help her. At this point in the story, hoofbeats are heard; the narrator’s mother is charging down at the castle. The narrator tries to delay meeting the Marquis as much as she can. When they finally meet, he insults her and Jean-Yves, promising to kill the latter later. However, just as he is about to decapitate her, the narrator’s mother enters the scene. The Marquis charges at the three with his sword but the mother shoots him down.

The narration flash-forwards here and we learn that the narrator has inherited the property of the Marquis. The large castle has been converted into a school for the blind, and the narrator has set up a music school. She, Jean-Yves and her mother live happily now. However, the bloodstain on her forehead is still present.

The Bloody Chamber | Analysis

Angela Carter translated Charles Perrault around the time she wrote The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. Perrault’s works laid the foundation for studying fairy tales. In Carter’s short-story collection, the influences of Perrault are evident. Also, the influence of Marquis de Sade on Carter’s writings, in general, is unmistakable since Carter herself proclaimed the same. Carter’s open discussion of sexuality in the stories of the collection can be traced back to Sade, and of course, Carter’s radical feminism is evident in the stories, this story included. 

The Bloody Chamber | Themes

Violence against women is an obvious thematic concern of the story. Women are constantly made victims of a range of assaults in the story. The Marquis’s treatment of her three late wives and the narrator is very much reminiscent of the rampant misogyny often seen in society. For much of the story, the women enjoy no agency. The narrator is a young girl whom the dominating Marquis almost turns into his play-thing: among other instances, she often ponders over his ‘mastery’ over her, and describes the sex as an experience akin to being ‘impaled’. 

In a society where gender relations are unequal, every marriage has the potential to be a power game in the husband’s favor. In ‘The Bloody Chamber’, this potential is taken to its extreme as the dominating Marquis emerges as a sadistic monster. Carter‘s works often highlight how sex is inextricably linked with violence in a patriarchal society. This short story also brings that to the foreground, not just through the sexual exchanges between the Marquis and the young girl but also through the images of the sadistic pornography she stumbles upon.

Men like Marquis can carry on their heinous deeds with impunity thanks to their massive social and financial capital. In other words, privileges work as a shield in many abusers’ favour. The following passage portrays the helplessness of the narrator, a young girl trying to flee a very powerful man’s clasp:

Might not the police, the advocates, even the judge, all be in his service, turning a common blind eye to his vices since he was milord whose word must be obeyed? Who, on this distant coast, would believe the white-faced girl from Paris who came running to them with a shuddering tale of blood, of fear, of the ogre murmuring in the shadows? Or, rather, they would immediately know it to be true. But were all honor-bound to let me carry it no further.

The loss of innocence is another important theme in the story. The narrator is an innocent girl who is about to get married. Within a few days of her marriage, she has seen scenes of horrendous depravity. The loss of her virginity is also the loss of her innocence, on both literal and metaphoric levels.

Even though the story paints a bleak picture of the condition of women under patriarchy, there is scope for active resistance here too. The Marquis does meet his end at the end of the story, at the hands of the narrator’s mother who is the symbol of hope against patriarchy in the story. Also, the character of Jean-Yves represents a very different kind of masculinity from that of the Marquis’s.

The Bloody Chamber | Characters 

The Narrator: a seventeen-year-old girl when the episodes involving the Marquis occur. She is innocent and marries the Marquis even if she does not love him simply because she wants to lift herself and her mother out of poverty. Her curiosity leads her to the forbidden room, the titular bloody chamber, and things take a very dark turn after that.

The Marquis: the face of unchecked patriarchy and toxic masculinity in the story. He is a physically large, dominating man who lords over the young heroine. His demise at the hands of the narrator’s mother restores moral balance in the world of the story.

The mother: bold, strong-willed and independent. At the end of the story, she emerges as an avenging figure. It is poetic justice that she kills the Marquis.   

Jean-Yves: blind piano-tuner and admirer of the narrator’s piano skills. He is a kind and warm character who does not abandon the heroine even when there is obvious danger. He becomes the narrator’s lover in the end.

Narrative and Literary Techniques

The story is told by a first-person narrator who is the heroine of the story. The narration makes ample use of flashbacks. In the end, the story jumps forward to the future. Also, as a retelling of a popular folktale, the story is self-consciously intertextual

Simile is heavily used in the story in order to describe a variety of things. To take but 2 examples, the face of the Marquis is described as being ‘like a mask’ and ‘like a lily’.

Foreshadowing is also employed in the story. The narrator’s old nurse’s complaint about opals being bad luck foreshadows the trajectory the heroine’s life would take.

The use of metonymy can be seen when the narrator refers to the entire body of the Marquis by using the phrase ‘the rhythm of his breathing, that I should sleep with’ or when she refers to the train by the phrase ‘all that might of iron and steam’. 

The character of Jean-Yves is constructed as a foil to the character of Marquis. Also, several allusions are seen in the story, to Croesus, the Symbolist poetry, the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, among other things.



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