132: The Bloody Chamber

31 Jul

I love Angela Carter’s version of the Bluebeard story. Her tale The Bloody Chamber put a whole new spin on the virginal maiden brought to the magnificent castle and given a heavy bunch of keys with the tempting caveat: “All is yours, everywhere is open to you – except the lock that the single key fits. You must promise, if you love me, to leave it well alone.”


Carter’s writing is decadent and delicious, full of wicked twists and turns and glorious description. Bryony Lavery seems the perfect playwright to adapt her stories for the stage and she’s done a beautifully true job with The Bloody Chamber. Most of the words are Carter’s. The story follows hers faithfully, with just a few flourishes for the stage: like the beginning which sees the characters anticipating the ending; the gorgeous scene where the mother teaches her daughter to tango; and the embodiment and voicing of the three dead wives who whisper the gory details of their deaths.

In both Carter’s story and Lavery’s play, a wealthy Marquis woos a young girl who is poor and innocent but has amazing “potential for corruption”. She plays piano beautifully and he gives her many lavish gifts, tying her and her family to him with his largesse. The most opulent is a choker of large rubies.

MARQUIS: After the Terror
The Aristocrats who had escaped the guillotine
Liked to tie a red ribbon round their necks
At just the point where the blade would have sliced it
through …

My grandmother
Taken with the notion
Had her ribbon made up in rubies
As a gesture of luxurious defiance!

[To the girl’s mother] How lovely she will look     your daughter
The white dress
The frail child within it
And these round her throat
Bright as arterial blood

In his castle that stands “where the sky meets the sea”, the girl’s innocence is replaced with sensuality, lust and curiosity. Her bridegroom disgusts her but he also captivates her. She walks willingly towards her doom, saved at the last moment by her wild, windswept mother who breaches the castle’s defences to save her daughter.

GIRL: You never saw such a wild thing as my mother
Her hat

MOTHER: Seized by the wind and blown out to sea …

GIRL: Her hair a wild mane
Her black lisle legs exposed to the thigh

MOTHER: Skirts tucked round the waist
One hand on the reins
The other

GIRL: Clasping my father’s service revolver

MOTHER: Just in case

Publisher: Oberon Books

Cast: 4F, 2M (contains some doubling)

Read Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber.

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