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A Level English Literature Teacher’s Guide | The Bloody Chamber

Theresa Sowerby | Friday May 09, 2014

Categories: Hot Entries, Prose, The Bloody Chamber , EDEXCEL A Level English Literature, 6ET04, Gender, Gender Resources, AQA A Level English Literature B, LITB3, KS5 Archive, AQA A Level, EDEXCEL A Level


Carter’s collection of short stories The Bloody Chamber is taught for many A level courses across all exam board. It is especially popular with AQA ‘B’ teachers. It was published in 1979 alongside her study of the work of the 18C French aristocrat and sexual libertine, the Marquis de Sade, entitled The Sadeian Women. De Sade gave his name to the word Sadism and led a dissolute life, writing lengthy pornographic novels, the most famous of which is Justine. Carter argues against de Sade’s division of sexual partners into the opposing categories of predator and prey, with only the predator capable of gaining pleasure from the act. She also takes issue with his division of women into two types – Justine, the passive suffering sacrificial victim and Juliette, the remorselessly cruel female interested only in her own gratification. Such binary oppositions, she argues, are limiting to both sexes and she regarded passivity in women as a form of weakness and self-pity. The title story in The Bloody Chamber and much of the discourse in the other tales could be seen as her creative fictional response to her views on de Sade’s limited categorization.

The stories reference and offer creatively imagined re-tellings of old folk or fairy tales and Carter uses aspects of the Gothic genre in ways that allow her to develop absorbing plots that allow a persuasive exploration of ideas of identity, sexual passion, power relations and ‘transformation’. The surface variety of the stories is underpinned by recurring motifs and ongoing ‘oppositions’ between the conflicting needs and desires that, from Carter’s perspective, is what make us human.

The following guide does not offer a story by story analysis; instead it attempts to group similar ideas and ways of reading the whole text.

Quotations from Angela Carter

Carter was eloquent about her creative work and it is helpful to bear in mind some comments she made about her...

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