Such campaigning for the male agenda begged a feminist response in the Twentieth Century. Through her collection of fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter, Recovered a female tradition of story telling obscured by the popularity of such male adaptations as Charles Perrault, the brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. 1 Carter embraces the subversive potential of the fairy tale and undermines the fixing of gender roles and natural laws through focusing upon the intermediate grey areas between the masculine and the feminine, childhood and adulthood, animal and human.
The impact of the feminist perspective has served to revolutionise a genre that only appears to be impartial and uncomplicated through its categorising as a mode of story telling aimed at children. The feminist perspective has remodelled our reading of the traditional stories of Perrault to form a recognition of their purpose to marginalise otherness. Carter is working to demystify the fairy tale through her reversal of the gender roles and introduction of a new commentary upon the nature of otherness and beastliness; metamorphosis becomes a motif of equality.
Her use of humour and satire critiques modern civilisations and its attitudes to such stereotyping. Warner notes that Carters use of humour signifies her defiant hold on heroic optimism2 the mood she singled out as characteristic of the fairy tale. Carter argued that, While the novel is always tied to the figure of the author, whose name legitimises its status as a unique, original work of art, fairy tale is a more democratic art form. 3 The subversive nature of Carters tales is bound up in the history of the genre and the sources of her stories.
Fairy tales are at once subversive and conformative, both structurally and morally; Carter toys with the disparity of this inherent contradiction. The original sources for Carters works The Werewolf, The Company of Wolves and Wolf-Alice lie in the Little Red Riding Hood stories. Bettelheim reads the original tale as speaking of human passions, oral greediness, aggression and pubertal sexual desires. 4 As the tale has developed and been retold the Red Riding Hood figure has aged so that in the Twentieth Century she has reached puberty, yet importantly her virginity is intact.
In the brothers Grimm telling of the story the characters, especially Red Riding Hood are developed further from Perraults version, each demonstrating their own strain of thought. Bettelheim suggests that Perraults inclusion of the moral transforms Red Riding Hood into a fallen woman. 5 Whereas the brothers Grimm are depicting the danger of the girls, Budding sexuality, for which she is not yet emotionally mature enough¦ a premature sexuality is a regressive experience, arousing all that is still primitive within us and threatens to swallow us up.
Carter exploits this motif through her references to the menstrual bleeding of Wolf-Alice and the flaxen-haired7 girl from The Company of Wolves, whose budding sexuality and her virginity makes her attractive to the wolf. Carter has also focused her attention on the re-writing of the Beauty and the Beast story. Carter returned to the tale both through her collected fairy tales and through her novel The Magic Toyshop. In the novel, beastliness is overcome and rejected in its form as Uncle Philip, and embraced in the figure of Finn.
Melanie ultimately rejects her own beastliness, her vanity, in her acceptance of Finn. The original tale promoted the redemptive power of womens love, compelling women toward the acceptance of the fact it would be unlikely that marriage would initiate with love. The theme of patriarchal ownership implies acquiescence to the fact that the prospective wife would not initially select the chosen husband. The moral of the tale is based on the contradiction that through her name, Beauty, female exteriors must be attractive to allow choice, yet male exteriors are not important; it is a female, not a male lesson.
Bettelheim describes the story as the demystification of the terror of sex created in tales such as Bluebeard. In The Bloody Chamber, Carter follows her adaptation of Bluebeard with an interpretation of Beauty and the Beast where both Beauty and Mr. Lyon undergo some form of metamorphosis, and it is the Beasts love that saves Beauty from the perils of her vanity. Instead of beauty, [and Beauty] a lacquer of the invincible prettiness that characterises certain pampered, exquisite, expensive cats. (p. 49)
Whilst also subverting the image of the metamorphosed beast by presenting him with a broken nose, not the image of princely perfection. The reworking of the fairy tale by Carter allows her to emphasise different aspects of the motifs adapted from the original tales, a technique which appeals to a different audience to that of the childhood stories of the brothers Grimm. Zipes notes that, Little Red Riding Hood in society today is an indication that we are still witnessing an antagonistic struggle of the sexes in all forms of socialisation, in which men are still trying to dominate women.
Carters reaction to this struggle is to undermine the masculine discourse of the traditional fairy tales. The fact that Carters tales are consciously self-referential signifies a reaction to the hidden morals of the original tales. In The Courtship of Mr Lyon, Beauty sits reading a collection of courtly and elegant French fairy tales. (p. 46) In The Tigers Bride, the narrator talks of Old wives tales, nursery fears! (p. 56) Using such phrases as Yes, my beauty! GOBBLE YOU UP! (p.56)
Carter is even confusing the sources of her tales leading to an intertextuality to the collection of stories, each entering into a dialogue with each other. Within this dialogue between the tales and the sources lies the middle ground where Carters main interest rests. Fairy tales often champion lost causes, runts of the litter, the slow witted and the malformed. 9 Carter champions these causes as they occupy the middle ground of her texts, yet she subverts their traditional representations.
In her adaptations of the Red Riding Hood story the figure of the wolf is transformed from its original source. The wolf now appears as a lycanthrope, a grandmother, an attractive male and an adolescent girl. Carter is undoing the expected binary oppositions between human and animal, wolfishness and femininity. Gamble suggests that in The Company of Wolves, the lycanthrope threatens the distinction between humans and nature. She goes on to note that he uses his metamorphosis to escape the regulations of society, bringing primitive forest law into the civilised village.
In The Werewolf, the child overcomes the elderly, female lycanthrope leading to her acquisition of property and thus, power. Due to her gender however, the granny is not recognised as a werewolf by the villagers but the wart on her hand becomes a witchs nipple. (p. 110) An incident reminiscent of the witchs actions in The Company of Wolves, in turning the wedding party into wolves; the wedding representing the middle ground between the single and the couple, the virgin and the mother figure.