“Although terrifying, many of the stories are also darkly comic.”
Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber’ certainly embeds an element of terror within the collection. However, despite claims of horror apparent in the Marquis from the very start, it is also reasonable to argue that the tale also combines elements of dark comedy within the text provided by the very uncanny male protagonist. By the “leonine” portrayal of the Marquis, to his obvious fascination with murder; The Bloody Chamber could be seen to be crafted as too melodramatic and surreal, therefore setting itself up as dark comedy rather than a text of Gothic literature.
A sense of foreboding is created within the first paragraphs of The Bloody Chamber as the female heroine is constantly referring to the childhood that she “had abandoned.” The tale is set in retrospect and therefore alludes a Romeo and Juliet style tone, by stating the fate of the young girl by her opening lines: “I remembered”; she survives. One reading could suggest that Carter sets up the framework of a young girl telling her horrors from the past as an account, and therefore makes her story more dramatic as the events are gradually unfolded. However, it could also be argued that by the use of telling readers that the young girl survives, Carter steals the tension away from readers in the novel, by allowing us to approach the text with a more light hearted and almost dark comedy style approach to the text by knowing she eventually survives.
Indeed, an insane Marquis’ obsession with murder is surely terrifying, as he possesses a chamber of bodies in his very own castle. Despite one of the bodies being fresh from the “blue imprints” that the Marquis had left, she lay with “dead lips smiling.” Here, Carter combines a very much oppressed taboo of the 1970′s, death, with the slightly uneasy thought of masochistic behavior and the dead victim’s pleasure at feeling pain. It is clear that the juxtaposition of the deep, melancholy feelings associated with death, against the healthy and positive connotations of “smiling” is created to stimulate an unrealistic tone to the story, and therefore Carter reduces the tension in the story, so that it does not overpower the true message hidden within the novel in a way that becomes ineffective: Carter effectively emphasies her traditional feminist criticisms of the complicit female nature.
In addition, it could be argued that the “faery solitude” of the castle, and the abhuman feel of a man that “moved as softly as if all his shoes had soles of velvet” all adds to the tone of creating surrealism within the short story and thus Carter removes the room for almost any realistic aspects in the story. By emphasising the ghostly, uncanny features of the Marquis, as well as detaching the narrative “away from Paris” (symbolising civilisation,) Carter begins to shift away from any reality in the narrative, almost in attempt to allow the terrifying events of discovering a gallery of dead bodies seem dreamlike and unreal and inevitably as far away from reality as possible. Thus, consciously separating the two, The Bloody Chamber is constructed in a matter that shifts away from the true possibility of humans and the real corruption of men. It could be argued that through this, Carter’s The Bloody Chamber allows for a dark comical reading, as it is set up to say that these horrors are impossibilities to real life and therefore, as readers, gives us the permission to laugh at the extent of horror that goes on in the Castle, almost as if it is all too surreal to be true.
Similarly, the review “Carter-Gothic Terrorist” argues that Carter’s aims to shock readers in The Bloody Chamber are ineffective due to being written post World War 2. It argues that the War exposed the brutal capabilities of man in a manner that such butchery is no longer an idea created to instill fear into readers, but an actual real life event. Therefore, The Bloody Chamber is received as a text of pure reality, as opposed to a short story exposing potential human corruption and thus The Bloody Chamber is no longer a text that can be approached with amusement, but a confirmation of excessive terror seen in history.
However, this is not to say that none of the events that occur in The Bloody Chamber appear slightly humorous to readers. Upon finding pornographic material “suffused in [the Marquis] library,” the Gothic protagonist comments “my little nun has found the prayerbooks, has she?” followed by asking “have the nasty pictures scared Baby? Baby mustn’t play with grownups’ toys” the questions in which the Marquis uses to mock the narrator, adds an almost teasing tone to the narrative allowing readers to find amusement in the conversation. However, as with all Gothic literature- things do not always appear ‘black or white.’ Here, Carter uses the question asked by the Marquis to allow readers an insight to what men appear to value most. Through referring to the sexual material as “prayerbooks” it becomes clear that the Marquis worships sexual gratification instead of traditional values of God and religion. Additionally, the playful mocking that the Marquis talks to the young girl appears almost pedophilic and therefore Carter comments on the utmost serious issue of child abuse, echoing that this is far more alarming than an ephemeral piece of “dark comedy.”
Despite the few, if any, instances of dark comedy that Carter incorporates in to her Gothic literature, it is clear that her stories are overpowered by the element of terror- in a way that dark comedy can no longer be sustained in The Bloody Chamber.