January 2016

I have been reading this all wrong

When I first approached The Bloody Chamber, I admittedly probably got way too excited. This being our first feminist text in Arts One, I wanted to read into everything and I wanted to see all the bits of feminist commentary that is slipped between the lines. Naturally, I wanted to believe that Carter was making some revolutionary and challenging statements about the treatment of females in society, etc., etc. To be fair, she does. She does seem to be making some strong statements about how women are viewed, about sexuality and the beastly, domineering male figure.

However, for some reason, I worked from the impression that Carter was trying to make some overarching, moralizing, feminist statements, and because of this, much of the book confused the heck out of me. Because while Carter was making some hints at feminism, she also seems to put a lot of her characters in the socially constructed boxes that I thought she would be trying to break free from.

Of course, as I have realized, Carter is anything but straight-forward. Clearly the objective of simply breaking free from stereotypes and social constructs would just be far too easy. After lecture on Monday, I walked away from Allard Hall with my head spinning, because there was just so much good content in those 2hrs. Even as I look back at my notes now, I’m, like, “Yes. This is all yes. I love all of this.” All the stuff about female virtue being valued because it restricts women to simply “being” and not “doing”, females being the makers of history rather than slaves, “a free woman in an unfree society will be a monster”, the absurdity of a universal female experience — SO GOOD I WANTED TO SCREAM.

But okay, back to the topic at hand: as Professor Mota pointed out, Carter did not write these stories with the sole purpose of just proving that WOMEN AREN’T JUST ONE DIMENSIONAL DISNEY PRINCESSES WITH NO DESIRES OR INTERESTS OF THEIR OWN. She did manage to achieve this, but she also threw in some curveballs that pissed some of her readers off. None of the women in the stories were really free from the prospect of marriage or living free from the shadows of men. The violent, sexual violation of dead girls. The girl in “The Bloody Chamber” did not actively try to escape from her fate on her own, instead relying on the piano tuner and waiting for her mother. The emphasis on purity and virginity. The fraility of the vampire in “House of Love” waiting for someone to save her. The selling of the girl’s body in “Tiger’s Bride”. How could all of this be included in the book but still consider itself a feminist piece of work, I pondered before the lecture. And still pondering it now.

Professor Mota mentioned that Carter resented the notion of “a universality of female experience”. Then, if you relate that to the four dichotemies of female roles in fairy tales, you can see why Carter possibly chose to rewrite fairy tales – she’s rejecting the idea that females can be put into such positions in the first place, because once you box characters into shells of “The Good Girl” or “The Evil Queen”, “The Madonna” or “The Whore”, etc. it makes it difficult to see the characters in any other ways, therefore stripping of the power to deviate from their descriptions. The princesses in these fairy tales – Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, etc. – they’re certified “Good Girls”. They’re pretty, pure, and virtuous. They just want to save their fathers, or visit their grandmas, or find their One True Loves. Carter takes these Good Girls and gives them sexual desires, self-interests, even murderous intents. But she also does not remove them completely from the Good Girl descriptions. They retain their status as commodities, things to be passed from parents to husbands, and as desiring to be saved, and as sexual objects, but only desirable if they are pure.

What could Carter be trying to do by doing this? Why create unconventional female characters just to restrict them yet again? Why are you so complex, Ms. Carter?! I have a few ideas about all of this, but I can’t wait to hear what you all have to say on this as well. Feminist discourse gets me so heated, but I will do my best to contain myself. When I woke up late on Wednesday, I was literally so upset and I ran to class in record time without putting on makeup. THAT’S how seriously I take this book. Anyway, can’t wait for more discussion on Friday! It’s going to be a good one, I can feel it in my bones.

What the heck is up with “The Snow Child”?!

I haven’t finished reading The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter yet (about thirty pages to go!), but let me tell you about what I’m feeling because I’m feeling a lot of things.

First of all, FEMINIST INTERPRETATIONS ABOUND and this makes me so very happy. Notice that all of the books and movies we have read so far have been by old, snooty, white men (and we will continue to only read books by snooty white men except with this and Toni Morrison – c’mon Arts One, step it up!), so I’m so very pleased that we’re reading something by a woman that’s focused heavily on a female perspective and has so much underlying feminist commentary.

Second, this prose throws Conrad out the window. Like, wow. The writing is gorgeous, cloaked in a rich, gothic atmosphere. It, admittedly, gets too caught up in its prose-y-ness at some parts and gets hard to figure out what exactly is going on (see: The Erl-King), but that’s cool. I don’t always know what’s going on in life, but I, too, pretend to know what I’m doing behind a facade of pretentious adjectives. So I definitely feel you, Angela Carter.

Third, I am a 7 year old girl at heart. I will always love fairy tales, as objectionable as they are. I just love the idea of a bloody, sexual rewrite of fairy tales, especially as they have been bastardized and made cute by Disney, bless his heart.

I have lots to say on pretty much every story I’ve read so far, but in this post, I’ll just ramble a bit about”The Snow Child” because it’s short, but punchy and just has so much going on. If you haven’t read the story yet, go read it. It will take literally 3 minutes. Go. I’ll wait.

Alright, so what the heck, right? There’s a lot going on and a lot to think about, but I’m not sure what to make of it all.

By Paulis (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Paulis (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

There’s the element of competition between women for the affections of men, for sure. Why did the Count desire “a girl”? Was the Countess getting too old for the Count? Not enough sexual satisfaction? It’s weird because the Count asked for a girl and originally, the queen in Snow White wanted a daughter, so I drew the link between that and the Count wanting a daughter, which is innocent enough until it turns uncomfortable.

Speaking of wanting a daughter, how is it that the Count lists the things he wants in a girl and poof, there she is, naked and ready? Some weird witchcraft going on here, but I won’t question it too much. It kind of reminds me of the rosebush they eventually come upon though – “They came to a bush of roses, all in flower” (Carter 92). It is winter and there is snow all over, as established at the beginning, so how can there be a random bush of roses in bloom? Can we parallel the roses to the girl? Hmm…

Speaking of the girl, it seems significant that she be naked when she appears because she will eventually strip the Countess of her clothes. But why? What’s with the transfer of the Countess’ furs and boots to the girl and what does that represent? The Count’s love being transferred? The Count’s sexual desires? But why the clothes? Being naked can represent being newborn and therefore being pure (which seems to be something Carter tends to play on a lot), so perhaps the girl becoming tainted or socialized by being clothed. But what would it mean for the Countess to lose her clothes? I thought maybe it had something to do with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, so I decided to consult Brandon. He explained to me that after Eve and Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge, they realized that they were naked and that they felt shameful because of it, so they fashioned clothing out of fig leaves and loincloths. In this way, clothes represent the hiding and covering up their bodies, which are a source of shame. Relating this back to the Countess and the girl, perhaps this can be seen as the Countess’ growing shame that she was “losing” to the girl, and her shame becoming more and more exposed. Somehow I’m not convinced that this is the way to look at it, but that’s all I have for now.

And for the rose, what is the significance of it? What does it symbolize? I drew the connection between the girl and the rose bush earlier but I’m not convinced that that’s the way to interpret it. It was the thing that killed the girl and at the end, the Countess touches it and drops it, claiming that “It bites!” (92) So with that, I thought that maybe it represents jealousy – jealousy was what led to the girl dying and it certainly hurts, so that’s definitely a possibility. Or maybe it represents the Count’s love or, to take it to the next level, maybe the patriarchy. In the context of the story though, the rose was what the Countess wanted the girl to pick for her; the Count, taking pity on his wife, lets the girl pick the rose; the rose kills the girl; and the Countess touches the rose and drops it, despite it being what she what she asked for. The strange thing is, when the Countess told the girl to pick up her gloves or fetch her diamond brooch, she has some pre-conceptions about how the act would kill the girl. But when she asks her to pick the rose, she doesn’t say anything about how the rose might kill the girl. So either she knew that the rose would be the girl’s undoing (the previous two times, she “meant” or “thought” that going to pick up the gloves or the brooch would kill the girl) or she didn’t know or mean for that to kill the girl and just simply wanted a rose. That would change the meaning of the rose altogether, but I’m not sure how to interpret it. And why did the rose bite at the end? If it’s a symbol for the girl, it could simply be the girl taking revenge, but like I said, I’m not sure that’s what the rose is symbolizing. I have no idea.

And then I just have so many questions about the necrophilia. If the Count meant for the girl to be his daughter, then the sex takes on a whole new edge of incest. And perhaps pedophilia, if the girl was a child (which, as the title says, she probably was.) But why did he do that and what does it mean? As if it couldn’t get weirder, the Countess stands by passively and watches him do the deed, not stopping him or anything. You would think, considering her jealousy, she would react differently, but it’s all good. It seems that as long as the girl dies, she’s fine with it – which comes with the idea of women and competition amongst each other, again, and women destroying women. As for the Count, the sex seems to either be his end goal or he has a corpse fetish. He either wanted to have sex with the girl all along and did it to her even though she was dead, OR he has a thing for dead girls and did it because she was dead. Also, how can we relate this thing to the contruct of masculinity and the patriarchy? And why doesn’t the girl ever get to say anything? What’s the connection between a creepy necrophiliac, his murderous wife, and a mute girl they manipulate and kill? I’ll have to think about this a little more, but I’m sure there is a rational explanation for ALL  of this.

This is getting super long, but it’s amazing how much can come out of a tiny little one-page short story. I just had a lot of thoughts I needed to deposit somewhere and try to make sense of. I’m doing a presentation on Bloody Chamber in the coming week, but I’m not even sure I will be talking about this story because there’s just so much I want to talk about. For now this is just a collection of thoughts and maybes.

Thanks for reading my ramblings once again and if you didn’t read them, tl;dr what the heck is up with “The Snow Child”?! Hope you’re enjoying The Bloody Chamber as much as I am and I’m so looking forward to the discussions that will come out of it!

AMENDMENT (Jan 25th): I just went through our Arts One texts and counted. We’re also going to be reading David Dabydeen, Stephanie Strickland, Laura Mulvey, and Osamu Tezuka. Still, out of 31+ texts and movies, only 6 are by women or racial minorities…