photo & text by nacrowe
back when i was teaching high school english, i absolutely loved teaching my students about wonky literary stuff like INTERTEXTUALITY. such being the concept that WRITTEN TEXTS have capacity to make META-COMMENTARIES on each other through mechanisms like PARODY, QUOTATION, ALLUSION, PASTICHE and so on.
one of my FAVORITE texts for showcasing such was REVERED CANADIAN author ANGELA CARTER's QUINTESSENTIAL collection of FEMINIST RE-IMAGININGS of CLASSIC FAIRY TALES, THE BLOODY CHAMBER (HARPER & ROW, 1979). itd start by having my students read the original 17th century versions of "LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD," "CINDERELLA," "PUSS IN BOOTS," "SLEEPING BEAUTY" and "BLUE BEARD" by FRENCH author CHARLES PERRAULT. then i'd have them read the 18th century versions by GERMAN authors the BROTHERS GRIMM. contrary to the DISNEY presentations of these NARRATIVES, what always stood out was how unrepentantly MISOGYNIST and BRUTALLY VIOLENT these stories were. the basic message being conveyed through such (and remember the audience for these tales were children), was that of compliance to your parents and/or husband or else all varieties of harm such as RAPE, TORTURE and MURDER would be set upon you and be justified in society's eyes. there always came a point during the semester when my students would tell me i ruined DISNEY for them, by reading these centuries-old FAIRY TALES. mission accomplished!
what CARTER BRILLIANTLY accomplishes in THE BLOODY CHAMBER is invert all of the RAMPANT MISOGYNY of these stories on their head and create COUNTER-NARRATIVES of EMPOWERED FEMALE CHARACTERS supporting one another, taking initiative and giving their patriarchal overlords whats coming to them. the fact that my students understood and where familiar with if not two, sometimes three versions of a FAIRY TALE before reading CARTER's version only amplified the resonance of her choices in variating the PLOT and CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT in her STRIDENTLY FEMINIST PARODIES.
and therein is the JOY of the TEXT. it is not only the fact that there is a SATISFACTIONA in the inherent RIGHTEOUSNESS of effectively countering centuries-old deep-seated indoctrinating MISINFORMATION regarding GENDER and WOMEN'S ROLE IN SOCIETY, there is also the hope that these versions could equal the score for posterity. that CARTER's CELEBRATED LITERARY VARIANTS will always by part of the legacy of these NARRATIVES and permanently comment and blunt their effects for those who choose to read them. i just love the fact that to truly absorb and appreciate her the POWER of her IMAGINATIVE GENIUS and BARBED with in these RE-IMAGININGS, one must be familiar with the implications of the innately CHAUVINIST SOURCE MATERIAL, only further cementing the connection between the two. it is an INTERTEXTUAL comeuppance that is so ENJOYABLE as a reader and something my students took to heart and applied to other TEXTUAL REBOOTS from cinema to comic books and so forth. it made them look between the differences and really dig into what messages were being transmitted amongst those VARIATIONS.
THE BLOODY CHAMBER is required reading in my opinion. it is absolutely ESSENTIAL and only grows more and more RELEVANT as our cultural and social mores degrade and implode in on themselves. feels like the UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION is even being inverted upon and PARODIED in a similar fashion these days with all previous understanding of such perverted to a growing REGRESSIVE AUTHORITARIAN perspective devoid of HUMOR or EMPATHY. CARTER's book speaks to a deeper HUMANISM by pointing out how our past misgivings through PARODY. its an open question whether PARODY is currently dead when some of our political leaders (cough, cough, DONALD TRUMP, cough) are beyond such, themselves being UNREPETANT, RIDICULOUS and BEYOND THE CAPACITY FOR SHAME. or maybe this is the PERFECT time to point out that the emperor, in fact, has no clothes.
jury is still out.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
you ruined my childhood.
that's what i loved hearing from my high school students after having them read ANGELA CARTER's genius feminist reinterpretation of classic fairy tales from her 1979 short story collection THE BLOODY CHAMBER (PENGUIN, 1979).
i always loved the idea of a palimpsest, which is an artwork that has layers created over time. think of a wall in NYC that has graffiti, flyers and "post no bills" scribbled and glued on top of one another. there are layers of meaning literally stacked on each other.
same with FAIRY TALES, most were written in FRANCE in the 1700s as a way of controlling young women. many of the stories are exceedingly misogynist and artifacts of their era. many got reinterpreted in GERMANY in the 1800s and then again in 1900s in the UNITED STATES, most predominantly by WALT DISNEY. in many ways the DISNEY films are relaying a similar message about what is expected of young women, namely to seek marriage and motherhood as validation in a male-dominated society. it is super interesting and most don't even give it a second thought.
that is why CARTER and her reinterpretations are so shocking to kids. if you know the basic narrative and its variations, then if you are thrown a new interpretation these new alterations become cogniscent choices and oftentimes criticisms of earlier texts. for CARTER it feels almost as though she is correcting the narrative and releasing it from its chauvinistic worldview. the fact that such is jarring really showcases the level to which our basic identity in western society is built upon such gender power imbalances.
needless to say, my students had a hard time with DISNEY films thereafter. but my hope was that they gained a critical eye towards the relatioship between a coded message and its intended audience.
ah, critical thinking. too bad they can't put that in a scantron test. american education system is screwed. good luck.