From familiar fairy tales and legends – Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, Puss in Boots, Beauty and the Beast, vampires and werewolves – Angela Carter has created an absorbing collection of dark, sensual, fantastic stories.
Sometimes, I think I know everything. Sometimes, I should just listen when someone tells me they think I might not enjoy something, for whatever reason.
My boyfriend has read Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter and enjoyed it. I picked this up in Kinokuniya and said that I thought it looked interesting.
“Oh, yeah, I’ve read her before. She’s good” he said
“Yeah?? I’ll get it then!” says I.
“Ahh… I’m not sure you’ll like it, to be honest. I’m really not sure it’s going to be your thing”
I scoffed and said that I am the Walrus and do not have a “thing”.
I take it back. I was wrong.
Oh, it could have worked. It could have worked on so many levels. Here we have a controversial female writer- well, you know that’s up my alley. We have frank discussion of sex- there I am again. We have the patriarchy being tipped upside down and shaken around- where do I buy the tickets?
I mean, I’ve never really been into short stories, but didn’t actually realise (because this cover didn’t mention it, grrr…) that it was short stories… but I thought I’d overcome it for this case. I’ve been growing fonder of some writers, like Katherine Mansfield and Kate Chopin, as well as Virginia Woolf’s shorter stories, so why not Carter too? I already don’t like fairytale retellings as well, but thought that a super cool feminist twist would be awesome!
The problem for me is that I really have an issue with what Carter is doing here, and it got in the way of enjoying the stories. I am not a fan of her brand of feminism- that is, demeaning and rejecting feminine traits in favour of more masculine ones in a bid to be “equal”. I felt that she pushed it way too far, to the point of them being anti-feminist. Some of the stories, such as The Snow Child, end up pitting one woman against another… how is that particularly subversive, feminist or different? The protagonist of The Bloody Chamber still needs to be saved, albeit by her badass mum!
Carter believed that passivity is never a virtue, and so women need to be the opposite. My response is, since when was passivity a purely female trait? I agree that being passive to the point of being a doormat isn’t a good thing, but why reject women who are naturally quiet and “soft”? Since when did being soft, sensitive or quiet become a negative attribute? Why is masking your femininity by deliberately being uninterested in your appearance the only way to combat male expectations? Why do women have to become masculine in order to be treated equally?
I’m hardly a passive woman, but I also like being feminine, and there is nothing wrong with that. Just because a woman is feminine and wants to look pretty does not mean a man is collaring her, as literally happens in The Bloody Chamber. Women should be proud of who they are, without having to change the way they look or behave- it is our right to do so, whatever way they choose to do it. If a woman wants to wear makeup, so be it. If a woman chooses not to, that’s fine also. They should both be equally respected, but I feel Carter isn’t doing this.
I’ve done a bit more research on Carter’s views on feminism and sexuality and let’s just say, I’m not a fan. She doesn’t go as far as other radical feminists, but let’s just say that she was a big fan on the Marquis De Sade, and I cannot be okay with that. Her justification of his type of pornography just doesn’t sit well with me at all. I didn’t think a lot of the rape and sexual violence was necessary in the stories that I did read in The Bloody Chamber. I’m not prudish or squeamish, so it wasn’t the necrophilia or gruesome murders that turned me off. I don’t even care about her messing around with fairy tales, since I’m not really into them either.
Frankly, when it came down to it, the decision to abandon this book came down to pure boredom. While reading The Courtship of Mr Lyon, I was bored. I got halfway through Puss-in-Boots and didn’t bother reading the ending properly. I did like The Bloody Chamber, but the heroine bothered me and I felt that the feminist angle was skewed to the point of it being irrelevant.
I think I read just over half of these stories, plus researched, so while I don’t usually do reviews on books I’ve abandoned, I felt that I just had too much to say to let it slide this time. Feminism is such a controversial thing at the moment, and while I applaud Carter for smashing boundaries, I just cannot be okay with the way she has depicted strong women in this work. Taking the “violently sexual latent content” of a fairy tale is fine- admirable even. There’s so much hinted in them that is never addressed or looked at; we gloss right over them to the romance and happily ever afters. I’m just extremely disappointed in this work as a whole, as well as the individual stories.