?How do you respond to the view that in the stories in The Bloody Chamber Angela Carter presents a sinister distortion of family relationships? Within Carter’s short stories, she may present a sinister distortion of family relationships by subverting ‘typical’ family roles, perhaps in a way that has a harmful or negative outcome for particular family members. She could appear to do this through the presentation of the parent and child relationships in The Snow Child, or the husband and wife relationship in The Bloody Chamber.
The Gothic element of the stories is emphasised through the ‘sinister’ aspect of these distortions, as the relationships Carter presents can be somewhat disturbing. However, in some of her stories it appears that family relationships are not distorted, such as the mother and daughter relationship in The Bloody Chamber or the father and daughter relationship in The Courtship of Mr Lyon. In The Snow Child, Carter may subvert the typical expected roles of parents as the behaviour of the Count and Countess towards their ‘child’ is deemed very unusual.
The Count behaves in a particularly alarming manner, portraying an obvious sexual attraction to the girl who appears before him after listing the qualities he desires. She is a clear manifestation of his fantasy, and is described as the “child of his desire”, which immediately signals abnormality for the reader as “desire” perhaps suggests a sexual element whilst “child” reminds us that she fulfils the family role of a daughter, thus highlighting her childlike innocence.
The girl is described as “stark naked”, implying an eroticism about her, and alluding to the idea of female nudity as a part of male fantasy which is disturbing and sinister for the reader considering the Count is a father figure to her. Also, after the child’s death Carter describes how the Count “thrust his virile member into the dead girl”, and this explicit, shocking description of the sexual act emphasises the disturbing nature of the father and child relationship.
It is possible that Carter chose to describe this act of necrophilia so explicitly in order to emphasise to the reader the harsh realities of some perhaps sexually abusive relationships within families. The helplessness of the “dead girl” and the Countess simply watching on perhaps highlights how females are often the victims of men and can be powerless, so fulfilling Carter’s feminist agenda that is evident in many of her other short stories.
Carter may also present a sinister distortion of family relationships through the husband and wife relationship portrayed in The Bloody Chamber. The Marquis is obviously dominant within the relationship, exercising an excessive control over his new bride that eventually proves to be a serious threat to her once she discovers that he aims to murder her as he did his previous wives. Carter presents the ruby choker as a symbol within the story that represents the Marquis’ control over his bride.
It is described as “clasped around my throat”, the violently threatening word “clasped” creating a sinister tone as it alludes to the image of strangling, thus suggesting the Marquis has an aggressive control over his wife. The ruby choker is also likened to “an extraordinarily precious slit throat”, again connoting danger for the bride and perhaps suggesting the potentiality for her to be a victim of murder.
The Marquis himself is described as a powerful and dominant figure, as animalistic imagery is used to emphasise his authoritative nature within the relationship. The description of the “leonine shape of his head” and his “dark mane” liken him to an animal such as a lion, and so suggest a natural authority about him whilst highlighting his ability to perhaps behave like a predatory animal. The Marquis also has a clear sexual dominance within the relationship, as the bride describes; “his movements seemed to me deliberately coarse, vulgar”.
The adjectives “coarse” and “vulgar” suggest a lack of romantic intimacy within the relationship, and the Marquis acting “deliberately” creates a sinister tone as it suggests he is fully aware of the power he is purposefully exercising over his bride. However, the father and daughter relationship in The Courtship of Mr Lyon may suggest that Carter does not present a sinister distortion of family relationships as despite the father’s recklessness, the paternal love he has for his daughter is evident to the reader.
She is described as “his Beauty, his girl-child, his pet”, suggesting his affectionate love for her and the possessive pronoun “his” emphasises their physical connection as father and daughter. Beauty also shows her concern for her father and eagerness for him to return home, as Carter describes her thoughts of, “I hope he’ll be safe”. This makes it evident to the reader that both father and daughter share an emotional bond, so implying they have a healthy and loving relationship. The father also wishes to give Beauty what she desires, in this case a single white rose.
He becomes so desperate to fulfil her wishes that he resorts to stealing a rose from the Beast’s garden despite having just heard “a mighty, furious roaring”; the justification for doing this is “because he loved his daughter”. This portrays the strength of paternal love, as it has caused the father to go to extreme lengths to please his daughter, in which he is fully aware of the threat it poses to him. The father in The Courtship of Mr Lyon is not without fault; not only does he steal the rose, but the reader learns that he has lost his fortunes through gambling.
However, through the portrayal of the positive father-daughter relationship, Carter may be showing how the flaws of the father along with the love he has for his daughter makes him human, which links to the metamorphosis of the Beast to a human in the ending. Therefore, Carter may be suggesting that love and positive family relationships are what make us human. Overall, it appears that in some cases Carter does present a sinister distortion of family relationships, and often it is this element of her stories that emphasises their Gothic aspect.
The subversion of typical family roles in a way that is nonconforming to what the reader considers the norm often proves to be disturbing and adds to the suspense of the stories. Carter often uses the distorted family relationships to suggest that danger can come from within the home. However, this is not always the case as some family relationships within Carter’s stories are deemed as normal and positive, and Carter uses other elements of the stories to conform to the Gothic genre. The positive relationships portrayed may be a way for Carter to present other ideology, often about how ‘love conquers all’.