Carter: Providing Pairs of Perplexing Parallels


So yeah, that title showing off consonance may or may not be intentional. You know what is intentional (and better put together than my lame attempt of a title)? Angela Carter’s stories, particularly in their relation to one another despite being separate stories.

First off, can I just quickly say that I loved this book? It was such an interesting and in some ways familiar experience to me because of the connection to Margret Atwood. When I heard in lecture that Atwood was a fan of Carter’s work and took some inspiration from her, my face was practically left in a permanent smile for the rest of the lecture because now I knew why reading The Bloody Chamber felt so familiar to me.

The Handmaid's Tale

In a dystopia where the US becomes a theocratic state with mass infertility due to pollution, the few fertile women left are forced to be “handmaids” whose main purpose was to bear children for elite, infertile couples.

Previously in high school, I read arguably one of Margret Atwood’s most famous books The Handmaid’s Tale, and I loved it. Well, not what happens in it (I certainly wouldn’t want to be stuck in that world cause it’s just so depressing), but how engrossed in the story I became and it was one of those stories that made me really start to think on the issues that the book brings up. That’s a little parallel in it of itself now that I think about it; while both texts were a bit hard to handle at time due to the events occurring within each book being fairly gloomy, they both showed Carter’s and Atwood’s explorations and debating on women’s roles in a master slave relationship as well as the use of sexual desire and violence (though more so in Carter’s case).

Anyways, enough nerdiness for now. Back onto the subject at hand. One major thing that I noticed while reading The Bloody Chamber was that there were two pairs of stories that cover the same fairy tale, but each story being a different take of the original tale, and I focused on how The Courtship of Mr Lyon and The Tiger’s Bride are both based on Beauty and the Beast and how The Werewolf and The Company of Wolves are both based on Little Red Riding Hood.

I know that we covered the first two stories in seminar back on Wednesday, but I also connected the other pair of stories to this particular pattern that I noticed. So that leaves me to question this: What kinds of similar themes/ideas did these story pairs and that all four stories in general cover and why is it that each fairy tale pair is different in terms of how they execute the story (Beauty’s different reactions to the stay with their respective beast and how Red reacted differently with the wolf in both stories for example)? In general, why did Carter choose these two stories in particular to make two alternate versions of instead of making similar pairs with other fairy tales or simply focusing on other fairy tales?

2 thoughts on “Carter: Providing Pairs of Perplexing Parallels

  1. helen zhou

    FREAKING YES, I LOVED THE HANDMAID’S TALE TOO AHHHHHH. I read it for my women’s literature course and I wrote my final on it and everything. I loved it so so much.

    Not really sure of how to answer your questions though, to be honest. First of all, with “Tiger’s Bride” and “Mr. Lyon”, the two stories are so very different. My impressions of the two girls in the stories are that they are so very different from each other. The Beauty in “Mr. Lyon” was more like… flat? She seemed very different from the other heroines in Carter’s stories and much more like her Disney counterpart: chaste, sweet, and “a good girl”. While the Beauty in “Tiger’s Bride” was like her rebellious and spunky little sister, not afraid to speak up for herself and take charge of her sexuality. “Mr. Lyon” in general seemed more mild (comparatively speaking) and more like the Disney version, while “Tiger’s Bride” seems more Carter’s style, kind of intense, zero-chill, more horror-y. Perhaps Carter did this in order to really highlight the contrast between a watered down version and True Carter-ian Story ™. Notice that “Tiger’s Bride” came AFTER “Mr. Lyon”, so the difference between them feels hella stark. They are clearly based on the same thing but reading the two stories side by side, one after the other, you really notice Carter’s writing skills too, to be able to switch from writing a straight-forward, beautiful but less adventurous version of Beauty and the Beast, to a crazy, omg-what-is-even, sexy version of the exact same premise.

    Or perhaps, as always, it’s not uncalled for the consider that perhaps Carter just wanted to write two versions of the same story. I’d prefer to think that everything happens for a reason though, so I’m looking forward to what we come up with for this tomorrow!

  2. Oh gosh, I just realized I didn’t get around to commenting on this post earlier! So sorry about that.

    I think the questions you raise here are very interesting. Thinking in particular about the two “Beauty and the Beast” stories, I noticed that the first one is much closer to the original than the second. The original fairy tale (though it has multiple versions, most likely…I’m thinking the original by Perrault) also has a father who has financial problems, who steals a rose from the Beast’s garden, who would have been punished by the Beast except that Beauty was essentially traded for this, and also has Beauty leaving for awhile and the Beast nearly dying while she’s gone. In the end, the Beast turns into a man. This is all very similar to “The Courtship of Mr Lyon,” though Carter’s story also has Beauty being much more complicated of a character, ending up being more conceited, than the original Beauty–she was pretty pure and good through and through, and stays away too long from the Beast because her evil sisters cried and asked her to. And also, in the “Mr Lyon” story, it’s hinted at at the end that maybe he was all along really more like a man than she noticed, and she didn’t see it because she was just seeing herself when she looked at him.

    But in “The Tiger’s Bride” things are radically different. The father is clearly a much worse character, and the “trade” of Beauty in order to save her father is much more direct–it’s quite clear in this version she’s being sold and bought, whereas in the original, even though that’s there, it’s more hidden. When Beauty refuses to show herself naked in front of the Beast and insists instead that he buy her like a prostitute, I felt like she was just trying to bring out the truth of this “transaction” between her father and the Beast. But then, of course, things take a very strange twist, and, as you point out in your essay, we could even consider that her “humanness” is just an outer skin and inside she is really animal like the Beast.

    I wonder if the “Mr Lyon” version of the story is a kind of tame, minor retelling, bringing out a criticism of being too focused on ourselves and how we see the world, whereas the “Tiger’s Bride” version is a more radical overturning of the original in which the whole boundary between human and animal is questioned.

    I don’t really have much more than this to offer at the moment, and it’s not terribly deep!

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