I felt no fear, no intimation of dread. Now I walked as firmly as I had done in my mother's house.
~ The Bloody Chamber
Sometime during the end of 2011, I happened to read that the Folio Society had organized a competition which required participants to illustrate three of Angela Carter’s stories from The Bloody Chamber. As much as I would have liked to, I was unable to participate due to prior deadlines that had to be met, but I did very much want to try illustrating an Angela Carter story yet again and I finally did manage to do that yesterday.
Years ago, for my area of study for my Master’s degree, I chose to explore the representation of women in Grimm’s Fairytales and encompassed into my studies, contemporary literature with fairytale themes. Naturally, this included the stories from The Bloody Chamber, which apart from being featured largely in my thesis also featured in the body of work that I had to illustrate to accompany it.
Traditional fairy tales have been thoroughly diluted by successive retellings catered to children resulting in stories which are as mass manufactured as a nugget of KFC chicken, losing in the process their depth, function and essence. Angela Carter’s stories in The Bloody Chamber, are modern Fairy Tales with a feminist dimension. Carter describes her stories as extractions of latent content in traditional fairy tales which have been used as the beginnings of new stories. In doing so, Angela Carter returns to fairy tales the complexities of human behaviour, the nuances of emotions and thought, the strength and energy of sexual desire. She uses these facets to influence the story, hurtling it forward into the unexpected and challenging our gender stereotypes with her feminist point of view.
The Bloody Chamber is violent; it hovers over the boundaries of pornography, it weighs heavy with the pungence of symbolism, it is multi-layered, terrifying and beautiful all at the same time. In her story, Angela Carter borrows from the fairytale of Bluebeard to paint an intense visual experience with words. She leads us through dark corridors of the human mind, beyond secret doors into the forbidden, then she holds up a light, and makes us see and acknowledge what resides within our own hidden bloody chambers performing, in doing so, the essential function of a fairytale – that of making us face our fears.
This illustration above was done during my years studying at Queensland College of Art. I was in my twenties then. It is of course, not to be compared with the more recent illustration done so many years later which shows a different aspect of the story and is done with perhaps far more skill than I ever imagined I’d acquire.
The look on the protagonist’s face in this earlier illustration above is one of horror at what she sees beyond her. In the more recent illustration below however, I am reassured to see that her face is a picture of calm in spite of the intense environment around her as she walks purposefully towards her goal.
Innocence is a bleeding wound without a bandage, a wound that opens with every casual knock from casual passers-by. Experience is armour; and she felt already clad.