Mothers' Day: The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

published 1979

The puppet master, open-mouthed, wide-eyed, impotent at the last, saw his dolls break free of their strings, abandoned the rituals he had ordained for them since time began and start to live for themselves; the king, aghast, witnesses the revolt of his pawns.

You never saw such a wild thing as my mother, her hat seized by the winds and blown out to sea so that her hair was her white mane, her black lisle legs exposed to the thighs, her skirts tucked round her waist, one hand on the reins of the rearing horse while the other clasped by father’s service revolver and, behind her, the breakers of the savage indifferent sea, like the witnesses of a furious justice. And my husband stood stock-still, as if she had been Medusa, the sword still raised over his head as in those clockwork tableaux of Bluebeard that you see in glass cases at fairs.

And then it was as though a curious child pushed his centime into the slot and set all in motion. The heavy, bearded figure roared out aloud, braying with fury, and, wielding the honourable sword as if it were a matter of death or glory, charged us, all three.

On her eighteenth birthday, my mother had disposed of a man-eating tiger that had ravaged the villages in the hills north of Hanoi. Now, without a moment’s hesitation, she raised my father’s gun, took aim and put a single, irreproachable bullet through my husband’s head.

observations: Well, the Marquis/ husband had been about to execute her daughter, so fair enough. On Mother’s Day, what better example than a mother racing in so dramatically to save a life – exciting and heart-stopping stuff, but of course no more than we’d all do for our children.

This is one of Angela Carter’s fairytales retold, a genre she made her own, this time the story of Bluebeard. The first couple of lines in the extract, about the puppet master outraged at losing control, can be seen as a key concept – it is crystal clear that she was re-writing the stories as feminist, radical texts. Carter is often seen as exemplifying ‘carnivalesque’ – described on Wikipedia thus:

a literary mode that subverts and liberates the assumptions of the dominant style or atmosphere through humor and chaos.

This seems a very good description of her work. She explored the fairytales a lot – wolves and Red-Riding Hood were a particular favourite theme – and then in her final two novels (Nights at the Circus, Friday’s International Women’s Day book, and Wise Children) pursued a theme of theatre and performance, again in carnivalesque mode.

Links on the blog: Last year’s Mothers’ Day entry was the stepmother Topaz in I Capture the Castle making a sacrifice, very different, yet somehow just the same.
The first picture is a rodeo rider around 1912, from the Library of Congress.The second is of a Suffragette parade and is from the Bain Collection,also at the Library of Congress.  Angela Carter would surely have approved of both forms of liberation.


  1. Moira - I love that image of the mother riding to the rescue like that! Of course it doesn't hurt matters that I love riding. Still, what a great idea for fairy tale re-telling.


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