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…

One Comment

  1. Great questions, Helen! I’ll take a stab at a couple, but I, too, am mostly struggling with this one.

    You ask why a bush in full bloom with flowers in winter. I noticed that image more than once in the collection–it’s also in the Courtship of Mr. Lyon. The father finds one white rose that is still beautiful, still in full flower, under the snow. Not quite the same, but similar: in the Lady of the House of Love, there are roses in bloom even though the rest of the area around the house is cold and dead (if I remember correctly). But here, I wonder if there is something about snow being connected to whiteness and therefore purity and innocence: the child is made of snow and is innocent and virgin at first. The Count just holds her in front of him on his horse as if she were a child. But then when the Countess asks for a rose, she picks it and starts to bleed…hmmmm…is she “flowering” into a woman, with her menstrual cycle beginning? I didn’t make this up; I saw it in some article on the web that I can’t now find again! We don’t know what colour the roses are in this story (unlike in other stories), so we can’t focus on them being white (purity) or red (blood, passion). But maybe they have something to do with her becoming a woman rather than a girl (and the Count only has sex with her after the point that she starts to bleed). But really, I’ve got nothing else on the flowers in the snow. I don’t know what to make of the biting rose, either.

    You also ask why the Countess’s clothes transfer over to the girl. I was thinking that, as you point out, there is female rivalry going on, and the Countess is in some danger of losing her position, her status, her wealth to the new arrival. She could be left out in the cold, figuratively speaking. That’s how I read that part, anyway!

    As for the necrophilia, the things I thought were: (1) the Count might prefer women to be dead, passive objects; (2) it’s the symbolic death of the child and he can have sex with the woman. But that interpretation doesn’t go very far.

    This one, honestly, just throws me.

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