That Bloody Chamber: Feminism, Lit Theory and Angela Carter

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Since I am recently out from the red velvet fiction of Ms. Angela Carter’s the Bloody Chamber, let’s talk feminist literary fiction and theory.  That bloody chamber is right.

While reading her work, I admired what I detected as a hidden mirth under a proud and defiant spirit; like a Shakespearean Puck character.  The writing is smart, beautiful, and sexy, to boot; regardless of gender.

When I love, then I dissect, literarily not literally.  To get to know this writer better, a closer examination of the writing was needed, beyond the super-girl, sometimes gothic, persona.

And let me tell you there are some downright rock-star moments in this book.  Rockstar, kick-ass, literary fiction. I never thought those adjectives would go together. I love it!  She is her own freakin’ genre.  (We should blog later about the definitions of literary fiction, as they are dubious; in need of an Other.)

I wondered about Ms. Carter and the era she grew up in.  What was she searching for in her stories?  What was she really telling me through her fiction?  This trail brought me back to that word I haven’t used in a long time: feminism.

... the only writer I’ve ever known to make a widowed mother sound like a rock star ...: It was a confrontational word back when I knew it and when she was living it; there’s no doubt in my mind that it was. But she willingly put herself in that fight by claiming the title. Did she?  Just by the stories she chose to publish in that Bloody Chamber: I think, yes.  But how did she do it?  Happily, defensively, aggressively, angrily? I am sure she needed a high level of certainty about who she was in order to write so sharply, almost like she couldn’t afford doubt.

While I was in school, whenever feminism came up throughout the history of English Literature, from antiquity, Middle Ages, etc, I felt I was being asked to define who I was as a woman, and if I couldn’t, then I had to confess ignorance of my sex and its role in shaping human history.

I was too inexperienced to honestly consider feminism on a personal level.  I was also too busy trying to prove academic opinions when I barely knew enough to have any.   The thesis statement: another bloody chamber.

I eventually learned that I don’t need to be defensive, or offensive, to be comfortable in my definition of myself as an intelligent woman because I make my mark everyday by how I choose to be. ie. Today, this is what a woman does.  Tomorrow, this is what a woman does. And some days are stupider than others.  I adhere to that highly ideal and poetic theory that each one of us essentially define all through being one.  But I appreciate that I enjoy this relaxed stance because those history-making fights for women’s rights, in the Western world, had already been waged for me.

Was Ms. Carter’s fierce brilliance a little defensive?  Her fairy tales leave a lot unsaid. Fairy tales generally do.  To go further into a fairy tale character might reveal an ordinariness behind that magic designed to dazzle us into following after her.  I personally love it when legends become huggable but, sometimes, it is not easy to be both tough and soft.

P.S. On a side but interesting note, after noticing a few references to the Bible — ‘a mark of Cain,’ ‘Eve’s sin’, etc. — in the Bloody Chamber, I wondered if in the process of finding her sense of identity as a feminist and writer, in her era of individualism and defiance for the status quo, Ms. Carter wanted to challenge the biggest male – and arguably literary — presence in her Western culture as an equal — and that would be God.  Now, that’s a pretty big statement but an interesting chew, not just for her, but her generation of writers. Whenever literary fiction has taken direct aim at religion there might be a case to be made for these writers wanting to face their own ‘God’ for an ultimate self-revelation.  Think of the way religion was used as a form of repression during her lifetime.  I might be onto something. Wonder what my former Lit profs would think of that thesis statement …

P.P.S.  Was surprised that I could not find any satisfying illustrations inspired by this book …

© lyw 

Qabbani’s Letter from a Stupid Woman

salsa2The first poem that I read from Nizar Qabbani was ‘A Letter from a Stupid Woman.’  At first, I thought this was a poet who had been bitter towards a lover.  On the contrary, it is a beautiful and thought-provoking poem from a poet who loved women.  This poem’s simple honesty is powerful and elegant and continues to have a lasting impact on me.

Late last year I made the attempt to revitalize my interest in poetry.  When was the last time you asked somebody if they had a favourite poet or poem?  I was jaded but I started that way.  I expected people to tell me that they did not read poetry.  In this way, I met Qabbani’s poetry.  I was lucky to have clicked on this poem first.

The Well-Written Offensive

I picked up an article called, “The sexual fantasies of the working woman,” out of my father’s copy of the Toronto Star’s newspaper and was charmed by the writing style of Katie Roiphe; a sharp, intelligence and passion that was prominent but well-checked.  Class, sex and feminism – I couldn’t remember the last time I read a newspaper article that jumped on that much.  I reserved any judgment on her opinions about the new bestseller, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ because I didn’t want to interrupt the flow.  Through the act of reading the article, I reviewed my own thoughts and feelings about those old debates.  However, at the end of the article, she completed her own thoughts so well, I felt no need to rebut her, in spite of my own.

I decided to ‘Like’ her article.  Thought it was a brilliant slice from a refreshing writer.  Feeling good about that, I decided to Google this artist.  And, wooo!  Quite a controversial career!  At first, I felt like I had ‘Liked’ a monster.  I should have suspected that a mind that good with words came from that highly academic background that sometimes went looking for prey.  After digging further into bio information, her writing, and the writing of her critics — and the critics of her critics, I again became accepting that she is what she is (like Popeye) – a writer sinking her teeth into her subjects throughout a lengthy and very upfront career.  This short cap fits the different positions throughout her body of work.

As much as I felt literary and feminist theory learned me good during my term in post-secondary, I never looked back at it once it was done.  I mean, with my recent talk about the sport of boxing, that world was exactly that.  So many pointy points needing to hit their mark.  And often it felt like the only progression was towards the next round.  Personally, and I guess proudly, I’ve learned to prefer having as many strong opinions as I want but, in writing, to leave the positioning to either the characters or subjects, unless speaking in the first person.  She is, though, much stronger than me.  It makes me curious what that strength has meant to her over the course of her career; the power of her words over her subjects – and herself.  The more I think of it, however, the more exhausted I feel.  Boxing is better, if you ask me.

However, that is not what I think is truly fascinating about this little explosion, as a result of taking my father’s newspaper.  The point that is stickin’ me in the eye right now is how strongly adverse I am to some of her earlier work but this doesn’t change my mind about the beauty in her writing.

I’m talking strictly about the writing.  Rhythm, tone, pace.  I love it.  Subject-wise, I even have to applaud the level of conversation her work generates on feminism which not too long ago I remember reading another article that suggested the term, ‘feminism’, was dead.

Regardless of offense or defense, I personally would love to see her writing reach a balance – a place that doesn’t have to be so punchy to be powerful.   Talent like this is beautiful when it comes full circle.  Perhaps the literary world really needs these punchy intellects to balance it or tip it over.  She is very good at it.

Monster writer, monster feminist, monster monster?  Whatever.  I’ll not judge a working writer.