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Bodies that bleed

Anna Pasolini

Part 2

2. Exceeding bodily boundaries

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2.1 Becoming animal

1Although the metamorphoses of the often hyperbolic bodies represented in The Bloody Chamber do not challenge the heterosexual matrix, they do challenge patriarchal discourses by being implicated in what they oppose (more often than not the protagonists are introduced as docile bodies, subject to discourse and not yet subjects of power), so that they are able to turn power against itself. Moreover, their agency is made explicit through their disruptive bodily performances, which exceed the norm and/or overthrow it. The bodies of supernatural beings such as vampires or werewolves as they are represented in Carter’s fairy tales belong to the first category, since they are liminal creatures which used to be – but no longer are – subject to human laws. They know what it means to be human but now exceed the human, therefore do not need to abide by compulsory discursive repetitions. Furthermore, they do not belong to human society, and would be marginalised for their difference in any case, because it is synonymous with or brings death. The willing transformations of female characters into animals belong instead to the second category, for they symbolise the decision to refuse humanity and its constraining discursive arrangements in order to embrace another nature, which is free from – and does not care about – power hierarchies, and obeys another law (meaningfully enough, one linked to instinct and thus to desire, and where there is no room for rationality).

2In traditional representations, wild animals and supernatural creatures share some features as well as symbolic attributes such as danger, death, violence or monstrosity. Furthermore, they are usually identified with otherness or with the abject, thus rejected and pushed to the margins, or tamed and kept under control. The categorical association of women with these creatures in a discursive binary logic, which also goes hand in hand with feminine identification with monstrosity, is made explicit by Carter. Representing and investigating women wilfully turning into wild beasts or horrific monsters can unveil the double otherness embodied by the feminine and also scrutinize potentially empowering dimensions of the metamorphosis. Like the grotesque body, the bodies of such creatures signify a collapse of the boundaries between human and non-human, and are thus places of transgression, instability, confusion and change. Moreover, they are abject in that they are places of meaninglessness, which highlight the failure of language in making sense of and defining them (see Creed 1993: 9-10). Yet, for these very reasons they are also the places where new meanings and performances can infiltrate and alternative, re-shaped identities can be developed.

3Escaping the paradigms encoded by established discourses is not an easy task, but Carter sets out to explore ways of amending and changing them through the redefinition – or, in some instances, the rejection – of the confines between the human and the animal, which begins with blurring the boundaries between their bodies. In order to dismiss the negative definition of the animal and its association with woman, animality must be redefined in positive terms, so that when woman chooses to turn into a beast, it becomes a willing act of empowerment and liberation. If the strategy succeeds, patriarchy is once more tricked, and its logic is turned upside-down and against itself, which means that its discourses are subverted as well.

4Even though in Carter’s fairy tales male and female animals and their transformations are tackled in different ways, their bodies share a fundamental feature: openness, which signifies a collapse of the confines between the human and the animal. These permeable bodies are located on the edge of two different states, thus can oscillate between them, and embody the desired features of both. This is an inherently subversive standpoint, as animals have traditionally been defined «the metaphysical other[s] of man» (Braidotti 2002: 121), that is they have historically been set in opposition to the human being in order to point out the differences which emphasise and sustain human superiority. Most remarkably, in the stories of The Bloody Chamber the boundaries between the human and the animal are unsettled and made penetrable through the metamorphosis of the bodies of the protagonists, which goes both ways: from – male – animal to human (in “The Courtship of Mr Lyon”) and vice versa (in “The Tiger’s Bride”, where a woman turns into a beast), and whose nature is investigated and negotiated in “Wolf-Alice” (where a girl struggles to build her human identity after being raised by, and mainly identify with, animals).

5The definition of the human as something different from the animal and characterised by the possession of a soul offered by Descartes (Fudge, Gilbert & Wiseman 2002: 3) has taken roots over time in the desperate undertaking to justify the superiority of the human over the animal. Patriarchal attempts at universalising and naturalising this distinction through binary oppositions have engendered the parallel between woman and animal that Carter’s fairy tales seek to contest and to amend. Woman shares animals’ otherness because she is the negative half of the binary needed by men to assert and uphold the superiority of the rationality they purport to embody. However, like all discursive formations, this is an historically contextual construction, subject to modification through resistance when it is no longer adequate to account for and regulate changing social practices: «The borders between self and other, human and animal […] would seem to offer proof of difference. Yet the borders of the human turn out to change according to context and point of view» (Fudge, Gilbert & Wiseman 2002: 5). Given that «women, too, are found at the border of the human and its others» (7), the category can and must be displaced and questioned in that women, like the animal «other» are of «structural importance […] as props that confirm the “same” in His dominant subject position». In this way, the dominant half of the binary is challenged and displaced in «its very foundations» (Braidotti 2002: 118). One of Carter’s representational strategies which move towards this direction is polemically literalising the association between woman and animal, whereby woman is encouraged to identify with or to become the animal as a means of empowerment. This act, indeed, unsettles normalised power balances and points to the positive potential of the metamorphosis performed through the dissolution of the confines between human and animal bodies.

6In Carter’s fairy tales, animals exceed all their traditional functions; like the Deleuzian becoming-animal, they «are neither functional to teleological systems of classification, nor are they about metaphors: they are rather about metamorphoses» (Braidotti 2002: 126). For starters, their strength «lies precisely in not being-one which is expressed in their attachment to and interdependence on a territory» (133). Re-signifying the identification of women with animals in these terms, which stress communion and mutual exchange, could bring forward the dissolution of patriarchal binary oppositions, so that the emerging subjectivity is «not split along the traditional axes of mind/body, consciousness/unconsciousness, or reason/imagination». On the contrary, it becomes a «forever shifting entity, fundamentally driven by desire for expansion towards its many-faceted exterior borders/other» (131). The subject thus defined, then, exceeds the borders of its body, is able to incorporate the other without consuming it, and celebrates the instability of its identity because it entails forthcoming, endless, change.

7The transformations undergone by the bodies of Carter’s female characters tend to this outcome, that is they show how trespassing and transgressing fixed bodily borderlines challenges discursively imposed behaviours and helps them perform – attempted and provisional but autonomous – identities. In other words, they are examples which indicate how to exceed the norm and propose ways of re-encoding it.

8The body from which Deleuze starts to construct his notion of the «becoming animal» is an «un-organic» body: «a body without organs, a body freed from the codes of phallogocentric functions of identity» (Braidotti 2002: 124). It is not a body literally deprived of its organs, but rather the functions of its organs are creatively rearranged so that the moral and prescriptive values associated with disciplined bodily performances can be re-signified, resulting in the empowerment of the subject who can thus inscribe new meanings on its body:

The un-organic “body without organs” is supposed to create creative disjunction in this system [the phallogocentric one], freeing organs from their indexation to certain prerequisite functions: this is the process of becoming animal. In some ways, this calls for a generalised perversion of all bodily functions, not only the sexual ones; it is a way of scrambling the master-code of phallocentrism and loosening its power over the body. (Ibidem)

9“Wolf-Alice” can be considered an experiment aimed at testing the possibility of plying human bodily functions by integrating them with animal ones in order to detach the human body from the phallocentric pre-eminence of sight, which keeps at a distance and others the observed object while forcing on it a limited set of meanings. That is why, even after having initiated a socialisation process towards womanhood, the wolf-girl still keeps on relying more on the other senses, even if they are traditionally subordinated to sight exactly because of their association with animality: «She can get so much more of the world than we can through the fine, hairy, sensitive filters of her nostrils that her poor eyesight does not trouble her» (Carter 1979a: 119).

The becoming-animal undoes one of the metaphysics of the self, scrambling the distinction between human and non-human. […] It not only engages in dialogue with the classical “other” of Man […which in this case is Woman/Animal] but it also frees the animal [and by extension, woman] from the anthropocentric gaze altogether. (Braidotti 2002: 145)

10As a matter of fact, the invaluable asset at Alice’s disposal in the construction of her identity is the liminal position of her body: neither animal nor human, but an ongoing process of negotiation between the two. The way in which Carter represents Wolf-Alice’s purposely incomplete transition from animal to human, which is paired with her transition from childhood to girlhood, does not meet the standards of normalised subject formation because her animal drives are not «processed and tamed in order to be made tolerable», their «raw intensity» is not «turned down», but rather incorporated in the substance of her womanhood, so that she never ceases to howl at the moon although it is not a «proper behaviour» (141). Like her hyphenated name suggests throughout the text, Wolf-Alice will continue to inhabit the borderless, metamorphic space of interstices, always in-between.

11The physical transformation of the woman into a tiger in “The Tiger’s Bride” is part of Carter’s re-signification and empowerment of the female body under another perspective. Whereas the internal and external metamorphosis of “Wolf-Alice” lead her to humanising the Duke through «instinctual, merciful, maternal» love (Atwood 2001: 147), the physical change of Beauty in “The Tiger’s Bride” is the outcome of sexual drives, of a desiring subject whose passion urges her to exceed the confines of her human body to fulfil those instincts which are proscribed to her or blamed in the light of her femininity. This tale reflects on the interactions between the body and desire and the strategies through which the latter can be freely disclosed and acted upon. The reflections on the topic fictionalised in the story could stem from challenging at least two assumptions. First, that the association between passion and woman has been traditionally pathologised and has served as a weapon for patriarchy to uphold the need to keep female bodies under control. Second, that drawing a clear-cut distinction between human and animal has assisted phallocentric discourses in trying to tame desire – and the animal attributes in the human body – in order to build a model of the body as a «well-organised and functioning organism», whose sexual desires are by extension disciplined, controlled and regulated into «normal orgasms» (Braidotti 2002: 140) – that is, into heterosexual reproduction.

12Braidotti provides a sharp analysis of how passion has become synonymous with dangerous disruption, its attachment to the female body leading to the need of taming and restraining its performances. Then by coupling deconstruction with re-construction, she offers an alternative way of redefining passion and desire in positive terms, in order that they become – as Carter’s story exemplifies – the guiding forces which can trigger change through alternative bodily performances:

Historically, the dangerous tendencies or intense drives towards blurring of categorical distinctions or boundaries have been discursively packaged under the heading of “passions”. The term passion, of course, is of the same etymological root as the notion of pathology. Both of them, in western culture, bear connotations of a disease that shatters the balance of the subject. Since the eighteenth century especially, the pathologization of the passions has led to the modern regime of sexuality that Foucault analyses in terms of ars erotica and scientia sexualis. […] This historical process has also invested primarily the female gender as a high-risk, “emotional” category. The hysterical body of women in some ways marks the threshold of this process of pathologising human affectivity. (143)

13Needless to say, in patriarchal regimes the female body is opposed to male rationality, and the two categories are mutually exclusive. As Braidotti contends, nevertheless, «the process of becoming is collectively driven, that is to say relational and external; it is also framed by affectivity or desire, and is thus ec-centric to rational control» (Ibidem). Albeit dislodged from rationality, and mainly constituted by «unconscious affects, drives or desire», «the processes of change and transformation, however difficult and at times painful, are also empowering and highly desirable events» (Ibidem). These contentions reflect the experience of Beauty in “The Tiger’s Bride”, where the girl at first rationally speculates about the difference between herself – as a human being – and the Beast and its valet – as animals – only to realise that despite being physically human, she has been objectified like a bargaining item. Thereby she comes to the conclusion that the notion of humanity she was taught needs to be reconsidered altogether.

A profound sense of strangeness slowly began to possess me. I knew my two companions were not, in any way, as other men, the simian retainer and the master for whom he spoke […]. I knew they lived according to a different logic than I had done until my father abandoned me to the wild beasts in his human carelessness. This knowledge gave me a certain fearfulness still; but, I would say, not much… I was a young girl, a virgin, and therefore men denied me rationality just as they denied it to all those who were not exactly like themselves, in all their unreason. If I could see not one single soul in that wilderness of desolation all around me, then the six of us – mounts and riders, both – could boast amongst us not one single soul, either, since all the best religions in the world state categorically that not beasts nor women were equipped with the flimsy, insubstantial things when the good Lord opened the gates of Eden and let Eve and her familiars tumble out. Understand, then, that though I would not say I privately engaged in metaphysical speculation as we rode through the reedy approaches to the river, I certainly meditated on the nature of my own state, how I had been bought and sold, passed from hand to hand. (Carter 1979a: 63)

14After realising that rationality does not help her solve the riddle of her identity and humanity, the girl decides to turn to instinct, to let her body be the guide and to embrace the instability of transformation. Most notably, her metamorphosis, as the one advocated for by Braidotti, is not an individual act: it requires the presence of the other – in this case of the Beast – to be fully enacted and achieved. Furthermore, it is a painful process, accounted for by the I-narrator of the story as a sort of «flaying». When the girl takes off her clothes for the second time, in her room, the disrobing hurts because now she is aware of the symbolic reach of this act: she is ready to take off all the meanings imposed on her body, to strip off her flesh and go back to being meat so as to re-signify her body anew.

Then I took off my riding habit, left it where it lay on the floor. But, when I got down my shift, my arms dropped to my sides. I was unaccustomed to nakedness. I was so unused to my own skin that to take off all my clothes involved a kind of flaying. I thought The Beast had wanted a little thing compared with what I was prepared to give him; but it is not natural for humankind to go naked, not since first we hid our loins with fig leaves. […] I felt as much atrocious pain as if I was stripping off my own underpelt. (Carter 1979a: 66)

15The second step after giving up the meanings and performances imposed on womanhood – i.e. what the girl did on the riverbanks, when she showed her nakedness to the Beast – is stripping off the assumptions that define humanity, whose cultural constructedness is conveyed by the biblical reference. The cultural codes are so deeply inscribed on the woman’s body that she feels a physical, excruciating pain. When Beauty approaches the Beast she is «raw», that is her body has been freed from the weight of the many – metaphorical – constrictive layers of clothes, and she is eager to offer herself to him because she knows that «his appetite need not be my extinction» (67). The pact of reciprocity has been made, and she is ready to undergo the ultimate metamorphosis:

He dragged himself closer and closer to me, until I felt the harsh velvet of his head against my hand, then a tongue, abrasive as sand-paper. “He will lick the skin off me!”
And each stroke of his tongue ripped off skin after successive sin, all the skins of a life in the world, and left behind a nascent patina of shining hairs. My earrings turned back to water and trickled down my shoulders; I shrugged the drops off my beautiful fur. (Ibidem)

16The powerful image of the skin being licked away resonates the depth of the bodily change that the subject needs to painfully endure if it wants to become animal, that is to learn how to dismiss the construction of difference as otherness and «pejoration», and conversely how to incorporate the other – and being incorporated by it – so that desire and pleasure do not entail being taken from, but rather being experienced together and exchanged. The «changes of co-ordinates» required by the choice of embracing metamorphosis as a constructive – albeit unstable and never ending – force, call for

The political and conceptual necessity to change in depth and thus to extract from our enfleshed memory the repertoire of available images for self-representation. […] I would […] describe it as a process of peeling off, stratum after stratum, the layers of signification that have been tattooed in the surface of our body and – more importantly – in its psychic recesses and the internalized folds of one’s sacrosanct “experience”. Like a snake shedding an old skin, one must remember to forget it. (Braidotti 2002: 170)

2.2. Grotesque interlude

17The metamorphosing bodies of Carter’s heroines become permeable in exceeding the boundaries between the human and the animal, that is they open themselves up to absorb and incorporate the substance of the body of the other coming from outside as well as to expose and expel what is inside. The openness and porosity which characterise the body ‘becoming animal’ are to be found also in the bodies of supernatural creatures and monsters dealt with in the stories yet to be investigated, which undergo a transformation, or are inherently metamorphic. These similarities allow one to read all these excessive bodies against the notion of the ‘grotesque body’ under multiple perspectives, which deepens the complexities of the polysemy taken on by the body in Carter’s tales as well as guides and intermingles the analysis of the metamorphic body of the animal with that of the monster.

18So far the body has been analysed in its interrelation with identity, its weight and metamorphoses linked to the construction and development of the subject’s identity in order to show that the materiality of the body is shaped by but also, most importantly, shapes the transformations taking place at the level of subjectivity. The boundaries of these bodies are constructed and deconstructed with relation to psychic processes, that is they can and do change, they can become feeble and permeable, and thus be trespassed when established discourses around the development of subjectivity are contested and rearranged. As Butler would put it, the materiality of the body is not a causal effect of the psyche, the body is not inherently ontological and materialised by a psyche which «establishes its modes of appearance as an epistemological object» (Butler 1993: 66). On the contrary, the psyche is «an epistemic grid through which the body is known» but is also «formative of morphology»: «psychic projection confers boundaries and, hence, unity on the body, so that the very contours of the body are sites that vacillate between the psychic and the material. Bodily contours and morphology are […] tensions between the psychic and the material» (Ibidem).

19In the light of these considerations, calling into question and challenging patriarchal traditional ways of understanding the workings of the psyche and its disciplinary impact on the body entails opening the borders of the body, so that its surface can expand and incorporate new meanings through alternative mechanisms of inscription. That is why the experiences of Carter’s protagonists tend towards openness rather than the demarcation of the boundaries of the skin, which becomes a layer of clothing to be stripped off, or more generally a thin film that can be easily wounded and broken to let out the bodily fluids it contains.

20Among the different characterisations and implications of the notion of ‘grotesque body’, the one that best suits the characters represented in The Bloody Chamber is perhaps its ability to blur «the boundary between self and other» (Creed 1995: 131), which leads to a reciprocal incorporation and emphasises the relational features of the materialisation of an un-disciplined body in Carter’s collection. As Russo explains, the notion of Grotesque/Carnivalesque body introduced by Bakthin already stresses the social, collective nature of the body, whose materiality is not «“contained in the biological individual […] but in the people, a people who are continually growing and renewed”. […] the grotesque body is not separated from the rest of the world; “it is blended with the world, with animals, with objects”» (Russo 1994: 8). Moreover, its subversive character lies in its disruption of what is discursively constructed as the normal, naturalised body – which usually corresponds with a clearly circumscribed body whose boundaries are as tightly closed as possible: «The classical body is transcendent and monumental, closed, static, self-contained, symmetrical and sleek; it is identified with the “high” or official culture of the Renaissance and later, with the Rationalism, individualism and normalising aspirations of the bourgeoisie» (Ibidem). By contrast, due to the binary and mutually exclusive organisation of the categories predisposed by phallogocentric traditions, the opposite, negative, counterpart of this ideal-ised body (often associated with the feminine, but, more broadly, with the body of the other, which is different and unaccountable for whatever reasons) is the grotesque body, which is «open, protruding, irregular, secreting, multiple, and changing; it is identified with non-official “low” culture or the carnivalesque, and with social transformation» (Ibidem).

21The flaws of the grotesque body, then, turn into its assets, as its excesses lead to transformation, whereas the ideal, static, body, is condemned to immobility and to endlessly mirroring itself and its perfection. Carter, thus, chooses to represent open bodies without clear-cut boundaries because only those bodies are capable of becoming vehicles of individual as well as social change. Once again, politics and poetics overlap, and the transgression of patriarchal politics is brought about through the fictionalised, narrative representation of – more or less – transgressive bodies and their metamorphoses.

22This incorporative notion of the grotesque has become a bodily category which «emerges as a deviation from the norm» (Russo 1994: 11), that is it sets itself in opposition to the normalising drive of patriarchal disciplining bodily practices. As Russo remarks, however, it is necessary to draw a distinction between the general – assumed as universal but actually mainly referred to the male – conceptualisation of the grotesque body offered by Bakhtin, and its implications when it comes to the female body. The «positioning of the grotesque as superficial and to the margins is suggestive of a certain construction of the feminine» (5-6). The genealogies of the female body and of the grotesque are «mutually constitutive» even if there is no «exclusive» or «essential» relationship between them, and most notably despite the correspondence between the two terms being a tautology, since the feminine «is always defined against the male norm» (12). That is to say, the female body is always identified as deviation from a standard in itself; if the «universal thinking-subject position» is assumed to be the «disembodied» masculinity set in opposition to its other, then woman is «over-embodied and dis-identified as the essential other marked by her unthinkable bodiliness» (Kerchy 2008: 39).

23The transformations and transgressions of the bodies described in The Bloody Chamber have been analysed in terms of performative, iterative constructions caught in the tension between complicity with and subversion of the norm. As Butler contends, however,

the normative force of performativity – its power to establish what qualifies as “being” – works not only through reiteration, but through exclusion as well. And in the case of bodies those exclusions haunt signification as its abject borders or as that which is strictly foreclosed: the unviable, the unnarrativisable, the traumatic. (Butler 1993: 187-188)

24This insight is of particular relevance to the investigation of the female grotesque body for at least two main reasons. First of all, it introduces the site of the abject and its association with the female body as source of marginalisation and the designation of woman as monster due to the threatening character of her bodily attributes. Secondly, it discloses the implications of a grotesque body that incorporates the other, thus making its abject experience viable and narrativisable, and helps the subject cope with and overcome traumatic events through reciprocity.

25The grotesque, metamorphosing body devised by Carter is «a paradoxical space that fuses the ideologically prescribed writing on the body with the subversive materially induced writing from the body», where «the body is regarded as a palimpsestic space of polymorphous, antagonistic texts» (Kerchy 2008). The subjects-in-process accounted for in the tales, indeed, «are embodied in Carter’s fiction by the grotesque, freakishly (re)incarnated body generating its subversively somatised narratives» (Ibidem).

26The bodies of the female protagonists of the stories can be considered «in-process» – as can their identities (see Manley 2011) – in that they are subject to change because of the process of growing up (which usually coincides with menstruation), the loss of virginity, or a physical change (like that undergone by the Tiger’s Bride) which points to the choice of giving different meanings to the body, of completely identifying with it and with its desires by welcoming transformation.

2.3. Blood trails

27A further dimension of woman’s bodily experience which is strictly related to the grotesque, but also exceeds it in many ways, stems from the inherent openness of her body, whose changes are foreshadowed by the spill of bodily fluids – more specifically, blood – which on the one hand can be read in positive terms as a symbol of renewed strength and agency, but on the other lead to the coincidence between her body and abjection – and thus to less clear-cut interpretations. Last, but not least, it is thanks to this association that the female body, whose changes always involve the shedding of blood, is constructed as threatening and ultimately monstrous.

28Female spilled blood is a powerful element in Carter’s narrative for its re-signification is crucial to encode and exemplify new paradigms of female agency and empowerment. As Bacchilega remarks quoting Irigaray:

The economic and symbolic revaluing of women’s menstrual and birth blood [is] essential to the transformation of the heroine’s subjectivity. Formerly identified with life itself, blood’s “natural” value has been “covered over by other forms of wealth: gold, penis, child”. In patriarchal economies, women – who represent these “blood reserves” – are exploited because both profit and pleasure require the spilling of their blood. (Bacchilega 1997: 66)

29In “The Werewolf” the blood of grandma-werewolf is spilled by the young girl, who cuts off her arm when she encounters her grandmother in her dreadful wolfish form. As specified by Bacchilega’s interpretation, Carter’s version refers to some folk-tales within the “Red Riding Hood” tradition, where the girl is tricked by the wolf into drinking her grandmother’s blood as a ritual which signifies her transition into adulthood and emphasises her connection with the family and, more specifically with the legacy of its women. The original ritual pattern is however disturbed by Carter, as «instead of drinking her ancestor’s blood to reinforce family/female ties, the girl spills that blood in a scapegoating ritual that ensures her own livelihood. She replaces the old woman, not by assimilation but through a violent severance that reproduces the wolf’s ferocity» (Bacchilega 1997: 61). As the tale shows, then, this is the blood of the ancestors, which needs to be incorporated but also spilled, and could therefore signify the necessity of leaving the past behind if the girl wants to «prosper» in her grandmother’s house (Carter 1979a: 110). As Carter seems to whisper to her readers by breaking the unchanging chain of the ritual, old, monstrous patriarchal ideals of disciplined femininity (embodied by the grandmother, who stands for an example of femininity to be followed by her granddaughter but at the same time turns into a werewolf, thus symbolising patriarchal threats) must be left behind and replaced by a new, uncompromised paradigm of brave, self-aware and cunning womanhood.

30After having spilled the blood of past, acquiescent articulations of femininity, Red Riding Hood embarks on a journey where she can discover desire and negotiate her female identity outside of patriarchal restrictions and reductive span of alternatives. In what could be considered a chronological sequence, this process is represented in the rewriting of the Red Riding Hood theme in “The Company of Wolves”. Blood here turns into the menstrual blood of an adolescent girl, who armed with her empowering virginity looks out into womanhood: «Her breasts have just begun to swell; her hair is like lint, so fair it hardly makes a shadow on her pale forehead; her cheeks are an emblematic scarlet and white as she has just started her woman’s bleeding, the clock inside her that will strike, henceforward, once a month» (Carter 1979a: 113). When she meets the werewolf-hunter, her naiveté prevents her from noticing the threat posed by the predator: «There is a faint trace of blood on his chin» (115). To this spilled blood of a prey which has been consumed, and therefore has become dead meat, the girl counters the blood spilled when she loses her virginity. When she chooses to offer herself to the wolf, indeed, she is not devoured like meat by his appetite, but instead participates with him in the pleasures of sex like lively, desiring flesh. Thus, the spilling of blood in this case symbolises for the girl «act[ing] out her desires», not an act of violence and death (as it was in “The Werewolf”), but one of transformation and life. In a way, her act of reciprocity also manages to tame the hunger of the wolf: «See! Sweet and sound she sleeps in granny’s bed, between the paws of the tender wolf» (118). In the end a double metamorphosis (similar to that portrayed in the variations on “Beauty and the Beast”) is performed: in the girl’s subjectivity and sexual maturation as well as in the animal instincts of the wolf.

31The last of the tales in the wolf trilogy, “Wolf-Alice”, takes a step further in using the symbol of blood to represent the construction of – positive – alternative patterns of identity development for women. In this tale blood, albeit linked to the sexual maturation of the girl, finally completely coincides with the principle of life. It is through blood, indeed, that the wolf-child begins to perceive a sense of her self, as well as her connection with the world because her first bleeding, tied with the cycles of the moon, also coincides with her first conscious confrontation with her mirror-image. When she does not know how to explain either the menstrual blood or the fact that what she sees in the mirror is her reflection, the girl theorises that another wolf «must have nibbled her cunt while she was sleeping» (Carter 1979a: 122), so goes to the mirror to check if she can see it: «The moon and mirrors have this much in common: you cannot see behind them. Moonlit and white, Wolf-Alice looked at herself in the mirror and wondered whether there she saw the beast who came to bite her in the night» (123). Another strong symbolic meaning of this new self-awareness whose primary vehicle is blood, is the process whereby she learns the notion of time through the regular appearance of her menstrual blood.

Her first blood bewildered her. […] The flow continued for a few days, which seemed to her an endless time. She had, as yet, no direct notion of past, or future, or of duration, only of a dimensionless, immediate moment.
[…] Soon the flow ceased. She forgot it. The moon vanished; but, little by little, reappeared. When it again visited her kitchen at full strength, Wolf-Alice was surprised into bleeding again and so it went on, with a punctuality that transformed her vague grip on time. […] Sequence asserted itself with custom and then she understood the circumambulatory principle of the clock perfectly […] she discovered the very action of time by means of this returning circle (my emphasis). (Carter 1979a: 122-123)

32It is worth noting that a subtle consequence of this coincidence is the different understanding of time Alice gains, which is at odds with the traditional linear development sustained by – and which sustains – patriarchal discourses. Linked to the lunar phases and to the idea of a regularly recurrent cycle, this perception of time is circular, and epitomises the necessity to change traditional cultural approaches to the notion. Although the idea of linear, chronological development apparently entails progress, therefore change, it has instead proved to be unable to account for the transformations of the female body in a positive way. Moreover, a similar, partial and therefore flawed understanding of time has prevented a deeper comprehension of the female changing body, thus contributing to enforce fear for it, and its consequent demonization. Wolf-Alice’s blood instead, like that of the protagonist of “The Company of Wolves”, is a positive token which symbolises life in contrast with the blood spilled by «us» – i.e. the other socialised, allegedly fully human members of mankind – which points on the contrary to death and destruction: «“We” judge and spill blood, while her brave acceptance of difference revalues life» (Bacchilega 1997: 65).

33In the same stories where blood can be positively read a sign of agency, from which young women begin to build their identity, to autonomously confront the world and defy normalised relations, it can also be interpreted in the light of the notions of the grotesque and the abject – therefore bearing a less clear-cut and even more problematic symbolic load. For starters, the abject quality of blood – especially of menstrual blood – is one of the main specificities of the female grotesque body, included by Kristeva in the category of «bodily waists» (Creed 1993: 9), which threatens the stability of the disciplined body by exposing its fissures and its contents.

34The first menstrual blood referred to countless times in The Bloody Chamber locates woman in a liminal position: «at the threshold of womanhood» (Creed 1995: 150), which is grotesque – i.e. it disturbs normality and order – because it hints at «female power associated with bodily change» (Ibidem). This is the case of Red Riding Hood in “The Company of Wolves”, whose shawl stands throughout the story for her first bleeding and locates her on the threshold between girlhood and womanhood: «Her mother and the grandmother […] knitted her the red shawl that, today, has the ominous if brilliant look of blood on snow. […] she has just started her woman bleeding» (Carter 1979a: 113). Later on, her decision to take off the shawl, once again explicitly linked to her menstruation, suggests that she is ready to leave behind her girlhood – i.e. her naiveté, related to fear for what is unknown – to embrace the sexual pleasure associated with womanhood – after she has chosen to overcome fear. Likewise, in “Wolf-Alice” the menstrual blood’s abject quality is inherent in its symbolic association with growing up. In this case the displacement brought about by the abject fluid is even more significant as it also stands for the threshold between humanity and animality. The ideas of transformation and renewal implicit in Alice’s first experience of menstruation are even stronger than those of the previous example, as she believes her bleedings are adding new skin to her body: «She would spend hours examining the new skin that had been born, it seemed to her, of her bleeding» (Carter 1979a: 124). This «new skin» could stand for the new consciousness the girl is acquiring of her body, no longer a functional empty vessel which performs vital functions, but an inscriptive surface on which she can begin to write something new and from which she can look at the world through different senses.

35Within the collection, the blood linked to female metamorphosing body as a site of abjection and threat to the established order is also that which is spilled through the loss of virginity. The stories emphasise the ambivalence of this kind of bloodshed, too, as Carter shows different instances in which the equally abject voluntary or violently imposed loss of virginity signifies different – more or less empowering – processes of appropriation of the body on the part of woman. The eagerness with which Red Riding Hood strips off her shawl, and subsequently her clothes, suggesting that she is ready to lay in bed with the wolf, is at odds with the reluctance of the protagonist of “The Bloody Chamber” to do the same. The latter, indeed, endures all the rituals related to the first sexual intercourse with intentional detachment, expressed by the action of looking away from the mirror or from her husband’s eyes when she glimpses the reflection of the woman, whom she is not ready to identify with yet. The loss of virginity constitutes for her a violation of her body, paralleled by the atrocities she witnesses in the bloody chamber where the Marquis keeps the bleeding corpses of his previous wives and victims. The motif of defloration is expressed by the blood stains on the sheets, when the Marquis ironically remarks:

“The maids will have changed our sheets already,” he said. “We do not hang the bloody sheets out of the window to prove the whole of Brittany you are a virgin. Not in these civilized times. But I should tell you it would have been the first time in all my married lives I could have shown my interested tenants such a flag.” (Carter 1979a: 19)

36Although the words of the Marquis entail an ostensible idea of progress by implying that the wife’s virginity is no longer deemed a vaunted trophy, their meaning suggests the contrary. The husband is in fact proud of being able to boast about the virginity of this young bride, as he would do about a new exotic item in his collection.

37The objectification of this female body and its violation with relation to defloration stands out even more when set in comparison with the experience of the female protagonist of “Puss in Boots”. The gravity with which the topic is tackled in the first story is indeed replaced by mockery and a jovial, comical atmosphere in the second. Here sex is a liberating, playful act, perhaps enjoyed even more profoundly by women since, as the clever cat remarks: «women, I think, are, of the two sexes, the more keenly tuned to the sweet music of their bodies» (Carter 1979a: 78). Towards the end of the tale, the young lady unhappily married with an older, nasty man, finally has the opportunity to enjoy sex with a handsome young boy after being deprived of it by her greedy husband, who does not dare to enjoy any kind of consummation which could occasion a loss of some kind – even of physical energy – or could spoil the perfection of his wife. The sexual encounter is accurately staged like a «grand charade» (Ibidem) by the cat and its master, who pretend to be rat exterminators in order to access the impenetrable house of Signor Pantaleone – symbolically identifiable with the untouched body of his pretty wife. In this case, the blood-stained sheets are comically camouflaged to conceal the betrayal out of which the girl has taken as much pleasure as possible (79), and the bed is turned into the battlefield of a war between cat and mice, whose implicit sexual undertones are easily inferable: «Puss had a mighty battle with the biggest beast you ever saw upon this very bed; can’t you see the bloodstains on the sheets?» (Ibidem).

38Regardless of its positive or negative associations, the loss of virginity is generally dealt with in the collection as the infliction of a bleeding wound on the female body. It is interesting to note that in at least two other instances Carter resorts to the fairy tale motif of the virgin girl pricking her finger. Thus are insinuated the deflorations of Beauty in “The Tiger’s Bride” – the girl pricks her finger with a thorn of a rose that the Beast has given her, smearing it with blood (55) – and of Snow White in “The Snow Child” – the girl born solely out of her father’s desire «pricks her finger on the torn» of the rose the Countess commanded her to pick (92) before dying and being raped by her father.

39A number of other examples in The Bloody Chamber refer to or explicitly mention blood and its flowing with relation both to the female and to the male body. Besides menstruation and defloration, blood usually marks a kind of violation of the body, as it is injured, drained, maimed, torn apart or devoured. This last set of meanings associated with blood is to be placed in the realm of the abject and of the grotesque body as well, but with another connotation. The violent spill of blood, indeed, also stands for another kind of otherness associated with femininity because of the excessiveness of the female body: the erosion of the confines between human and supernatural, life and death. In this respect the body of woman is deemed to be grotesque for it becomes once again a place of transgression, instability and confusion due to change. In addition to the implications investigated so far, however, the grotesque features of the female monstrous body are enriched with the threat of undermining the other – male – bodies’ integrity through its physical attributes and, more specifically, their seductiveness which endangers the stability of established meanings with its potential of engendering change.

2.4. Monstrous femininity – the double abjection of the body of the vampire

40Monstrosity, like any other culturally constructed category, is to be investigated in its gendered specificities as the notion takes on different meanings depending on the sex of the monster, which must be carefully scrutinised outside of simplistic mirroring reversals and binary oppositions. As Barbara Creed claims, there is a substantial difference between the concepts of «monstrous femininity» and «female monster», where the latter is a simple reversal of the «male monster», for the female scares for different reasons and in different ways than the male does: «as with all other stereotypes of the feminine, from virgin to whore, she is defined in terms of her sexuality. The phrase “monstrous-feminine” emphasises the importance of gender in the construction of her monstrosity» (Creed 1993: 3). The inherent monstrosity of female sexuality is grounded in her body on account of its abject transformations. The «abject» is, according to Kristeva, «that which does not “respect borders, positions, rules”, that which disturbs identity, system, order» (Kristeva in Creed 1993: 8), and is therefore marginalised when it cannot be kept under control. «Abjection works within human societies, as a means of separating out the human from the non-human and the fully constituted subject from the partially formed subject» (Ibidem). More to the point, the abject, grotesque body is perceived as dangerous not only because of its permeability, but also for its inherently duplicitous nature. On the one hand it is «the place where meaning collapses» where life is threatened and thus «it must be “radically excluded” (Kristeva 1982: 2) from the place of the living subject, propelled away from the body and deposited on the other side of an imaginary border which separates the self from that which threatens the self». On the other hand, abject is also «that which […] helps to define life» (Creed 1993: 9) because its in-betweenness and its ability to expose and to cross borders entail that the place of abjection is also the place of rebellion and transformation.

41Carter’s female vampire in “The Lady of the House of Love” embodies the features of the monstrous feminine and is characterised by a double abjection: that associated with the female body and its reproductive functions and that linked to the corpse and the body without soul; it stands for both the vitality of generation and the threats of death. «When woman is represented as monstrous it is almost always in relation to her mothering and reproductive functions» (Creed 1993: 7) because they imply a physical change of some sort, the loss of bodily fluids, and/or the exposure of the inside of the body, through which the body exceeds its borders and shape. In addition, as a vampire, the Lady is a source of abjection because her body without soul feeds on other bodies’ source of life, thus wounding them and causing the loss and exposure of blood (10).

42This sort of ambiguity also echoes one of the paradoxes of femininity analysed by Tseëlon, that is, «woman signifies death as well as the defence against it» (1995: 6). Death is one of the major – repressed – sources of fear which cannot be explained in rational terms. Like the abject body of the woman, whose changes scare because they exceed bodily borders, death is uncanny, it «is the opposite of all that is familiar, tame, intimate, friendly, comfortable, arousing a sense of agreeable restfulness and security» (101). The reason why the female body is paradoxical with relation to death is that the sublimation of the fear of death increases the need to fantasise and idealise it. Inasmuch as woman represents death, the uncanny female body is controlled through its aestheticisation, as a way of taming and making sense of death (102).

43The body of the female vampire exposes this covert cultural identification devised by male anxieties towards death, since it is usually a beautiful soulless vessel, inhabited by a deadly threatening monster who kills and incorporates the victims by literally sucking life out of them. The gender attributes of the vampire, whether they are intentionally blurred or clearly described to emphasise the peculiarity of threat and seduction that male and female bloodsuckers embody, can also openly be a vehicle of mortal danger linked to sex. More specifically, in the case of female vampires they are associated with masculine fears of castration, since their bodies epitomise the vagina dentata (toothed vagina – 72):

The fantasy of the vagina dentata, of the non-human state of woman as android, vampire, or animal, the identification of female sexuality as voracious, insatiable, enigmatic, invisible, and unknowable, cold, calculating, instrumental, castrator/decapitator of the male, dissimulatress or fake, predatory, engulfing mother, are all consequences of the ways in which male orgasm has functioned as the measure and representative of all sexualities and all modes of erotic encounter. (Grosz 1995: 203)

44Hence, the female body and its metamorphoses are perceived and constructed as threatening – vampiric – because sexual desire, pleasure and seduction have traditionally been discursively constructed within a patriarchal economy as one-way drives whose subjects are unequivocally men.

45The bodily performance of “The Lady of the House of Love” is disturbing and subversive, all the more as its paradoxes succeed in exposing and deconstructing the naturalisation of the female body as monstrous accomplished by phallogocentric discourses. First of all, the female vampire discloses the patriarchal construction of woman as monstrous for, as Carter reveals from the very beginning of the story, her monstrosity is grounded in the impossibility of changing. That is to say, the Queen of the Dead incarnates death not because of the threatening attributes of her reproductive organs, but thanks to her immortal nature, which implies that her body needs to feed on death in order to survive, and that it is sterile, i.e. under no circumstances can it be source of life. Trapped in this world and instinctively forced to hunt in order to preserve her flesh, this apparently soulless body cannot change, let alone give birth, and despite causing bloodshed while feeding, does not know what it means to bleed – thus it is impossible to attach menacing meanings to its menstruation, defloration of childbearing: «she is herself a cave full of echoes, she is a system of repetitions, she is a closed circuit» (Carter 1979a: 93).

46Secondly, in the usual fashion through which Carter exposes patriarchal discursive constructions before challenging them, at first the description of the Lady apparently meets all the standards of the paradoxical identification between female beauty and death pointed out by Tseëlon. Her beauty is linked to disorder, deadly threat, soullessness:

She is so beautiful she is unnatural; her beauty is an abnormality, a deformity, for none of her features exhibit any of those touching imperfections that reconcile us to the imperfection of the human condition. Her beauty is a symptom of her disorder, of her soullessness. (Carter 1979a: 94)

47Moreover, she incarnates the abject features of a grotesque body which exceeds the borders between human and animal: despite her human appearance, her ravenous hunger and her hunting instincts being beastly:

On moonless nights, her keeper lets her out into the garden. […] When the back door opens, the Countess will sniff the air and howl. She drops, now, on all fours. Crouching, quivering, she catches the scent of her prey. Delicious crunch of the fragile bones of rabbits and small, furry things she pursues with fleet, four-footed speed; she will creep home, whimpering, with blood smeared on her cheeks. She pours water from the ewer in her bedroom into the bowl, she washes her face with the wincing, fastidious gestures of a cat. (95)
The Countess wants fresh meat. When she was a little girl, she was like a fox and contented herself entirely with baby rabbits that squeaked piteously as she bit into their necks with a nauseated voluptuousness, with voles and fieldmice that palpitated for a bare moment between her embroidress’s fingers. But now she is a woman, she must have men. (96)

48Interestingly, though, all the descriptions of her hunger and of her hunts are paired with singular statements asserting the reluctance with which she performs the animal rituals she is doomed to. Clearly she refuses her animality, not so much because of its unruly associations and the aggressive potential it entails, but rather as it is symptom of her changeless immortality:

The voracious margin of huntress’s nights in the gloomy garden, crouch and pounce, surrounds her habitual tormented somnambulism, her life or imitation of life. The eyes of this nocturnal creature enlarge and glow. All claws and teeth, she strikes, she gorges; but nothing can console her for the ghastliness of her condition, nothing. (Ibidem)
The beautiful somnambulist helplessly perpetuates her ancestral crimes. (93)
Everything about this beautiful and ghastly lady is as it should be, queen of night, queen of terror – except her horrible reluctance to the role. (95)
She loathes the food she eats […] but hunger always overcomes her. […] A certain desolate stillness in her eyes indicates she is inconsolable. (96; my emphases)

49The conflict experienced by the female vampire, who cannot put up with the requirements of her monstrous body, is expressed through the recurring motif of the tarots, which the Lady constantly, hopelessly and pointlessly interrogates, even if the cards always send the same message:

She counts out the Tarot cards, ceaselessly construing a constellation of possibilities as if the random fall of the cards on the red plush tablecloth before her could precipitate her from her chill, shuttered room into a country of perpetual summer and obliterate the perennial sadness of a girl who is both death and the maiden. (93)
These and teeth as fine and white as spikes of spun sugar are the visible signs of the destiny she wistfully attempts to evade via the arcana. (94)
In her dream, she would like to be human; but she does not know if that is possible. The Tarot always shows the same configuration: always she turns up La Papesse, La Mort, La Tour Abolie, wisdom, death, dissolution.
[…] She resorts to the magic comfort of the Tarot pack and shuffles the cards, lays them out, reads them, gathers them up with a sigh, shuffles them again, constantly constructing hypotheses about a future which is irreversible. (95)

50The Lady cannot come to terms with and accept her state because it is proof of her body being an empty vessel, a puppet through which her ghastly ancestors are free to peep and speak:

the beautiful queen of the vampires sits all alone in her dark, high house under the eyes of the portraits of her demented and atrocious ancestors, each one of whom, through her, projects a baleful posthumous existence.
[…] She herself is a haunted house. She does not possess herself; her ancestors sometimes come and peer out of the windows of her eyes and that is very frightening. […] The beastly forebears on the walls condemn her to a perpetual repetition of their passions. (93, 103)

51The destiny of eternal repetition of her ancestor’s passions already suggests that she does not possess a voice of her own, but she is condemned to endlessly repeat the dreadful message of death to those who regrettably approach her: «Her voice is filled with distant sonorities, like riverberations in a cave: now you are at the place of annihilation, now you are at the place of annihilation» (93). This parallel culminates, as has already been pointed out, with the young cyclist describing her voice as «disembodied», like that of a «ventriloquist doll» (102).

52Significantly, then, the kernel of her paradoxical state aptly devised by Carter is that the she-vampire is disembodied. Although the construction of monstrous femininity stems from the over-identification or reduction of woman to her body, the vampire being one of the most suitable incarnations of this process, this monstrous woman-corpse is anomalously discarnate. This does not mean, however, that the Countess wants to get rid of the physical constraints of her body in order to overcome the limits of a body whose attributes are demonised because of their association with threatening sexuality and desire. Her impossible dream of becoming human in fact imply the contrary, that is the possibility of experiencing love and change, even if they require pain and death. She is convinced that «love would free me» (105), and turn against itself the fatal ritual of seduction through which she lures her victims with the promise of pleasure, but which inevitably ends with their demise and her annihilation. Her tempting invitation, «“My clothes have but to fall and you will see before you a succession of mystery”» is aimed at masking the fact that instead:

She has no mouth with which to kiss, no hands with which to caress, only the fangs and talons of a beast of prey. To touch the mineral sheen of the flesh revealed in the cool candle gleam is to invite her fatal embrace; in her low, sweet, voice, she will croon the lullaby of the House of Nosferatu. (94-95)

53Yet, thanks to the encounter with the young cyclist – and, possibly, with love – she is able to breach the endless repetition of her murderous ritual and to turn into a human being, even if it means dying, breaking the spell, thereby exposing the fake tawdriness of her surroundings.

54Pi-tai Peng contends that the tale ultimately does not succeed in conveying a message of female empowerment or liberation, because the vampire’s source of power is a «forever-annihilating» «passivity»: «she desires something she is structured lacking and she falls victim to romance, which is ironically her rescue» (2004: 110). «The countess’ doll-like vampiric desire» is seen as a sign of a «feminine sexuality – voracious passivity», which

Parodies the male-centered rational discourse with its exorcising power, not just to subvert its rational-phallocentrism but to deconstruct the myth of the fearful power that has been imputed to the female vampire, to show that this fearful power is debilitating for women in its empowerment from the phallocentric discourse. (Ibidem)

  • 1It could be hypothesised that rationality in fact leads him to death, as his fate is waiting for h (...)

55In this perspective, female sexuality is still considered a dark continent, whereas masculine rationality is the necessary light which can exorcise the inherent monstrosity of female desire: «The Countess represents the dark space outside the rational discourse, haunting men with her dark excess, while the young man, representing the Enlightenment rationality, exorcises her vampiric power with his rational eye» (Ibidem) Despite the cyclist’s rational speculations, nevertheless, it is not the young man who breaks the spell and performs the vampire’s transformation. His attempts at explaining the oddity of the girl’s body and behaviour by resorting to medical science, indeed, prove to be pointless, and accordingly they never find validation in the story. Their only function is to reassure him and to prove the lack of fantasy which prevents him from dying of fear. Moreover, as the omens throughout the tale and its rather overt end suggest, his rationality will not spare him death at war1. It could rather be argued, therefore, that Carter’s «use of vampiric tropes indicates profound ambiguities at the heart of desire», which are aimed at transgressing borderlines (Sceats 2001: 119). The only reason why in “The Lady of the House of Love” vampirism is not entirely embraced, but itself questioned, is that through her disembodied subjectivity the Lady continues to occupy a liminal condition; she refutes the over-embodied monstrosity discursively linked to woman’s desire, while also struggling to fill her empty, haunted vessel.

56The fantasy of turning into a human being, then, does not point to the impossibility of fulfilling desire outside of patriarchal «enlightened» normalised performances. Instead, it could imply that in order to deconstruct the association female body-monster, woman must re-appropriate her body, that is abandon the established performances of disembodied monstrosity that she is compelled to repeat in order to re-signify them or devise new ones. From a rationalist perspective, «The Countess herself embodies the culturally irresolvable, which is why any attempts to effect a “cure” must culminate in extinction» (Ibidem). From a corporeal perspective, nevertheless, she stands for woman’s willingness to exceed the over-identification with her – threatening – body, which in Carter’s tale is effected through the symbolical death of both the victim and the perpetrator.

57In a cunning interplay of reflections, Carter’s characters once more embody and mirror the complexities of desire, as both can be considered either victim or perpetrator. If the cyclist as perpetrator is hold to stand for patriarchal rationality, for example, then the story seems to insinuate that he – and the system he signifies – must die so as to be replaced by a new power-knowledge formation, as must the product of that system, namely the depiction of female sexuality, and by extension of the female body as the voracious, dangerous abject other. That is why the vampire willingly embraces death: because it actually means welcoming change and possibly changing the ways in which the female body is signified.

58Thus, even if the vampire knows that «there is no room in her drama for improvisation» (Carter 1979a: 106), that is, her deadly, eternal ritual of compulsive repetition does not allow change whatsoever not even in the script, she manages to amend it. While she is taking off her clothes and is about to embrace the cyclist in her ghastly claws as she usually does with her male victims, she starts to cry, which triggers a series of unexpected events leading this monstrous Sleeping Beauty to wound her finger with a piece of glass and to bleed for the first time.

She raises her hands to unfasten the neck of her dress and her eyes well with tears, they trickle down beneath the rim of her dark glasses. […] she has fumbled the ritual, it is no longer inexorable. The mechanism within her fails her, now, when she needs it most. When she takes off the dark glasses, they slip from her finger and smash to pieces on the tiled floor. There is no room in her drama for improvisation; and this unexpected, mundane noise of breaking glass breaks the wicked spell in the room, entirely. […] When she kneels to try to gather the fragments of glass together, a sharp sliver pierces deeply into the pad of her thumb; she cries out, sharp, real. (105-106)

59After the ritual has been disrupted, change cannot be stopped, and the Lady is at last able to turn into a human being and die. Her death is the final blow to patriarchal constructions of female monstrosity, since the vampire is threatening only as long as she cannot change. When she does, she dies and ceases to be dangerous. This suggests that monstrosity is inescapable unless metamorphosis is embraced as a positive force, even when it coincides with suffering and death. Last, but not least, as the story emphasises through the paradoxes embodied by its disembodied protagonist, the construction of the female body as monster because of its inherent changing potential is merely a strategy devised by patriarchal discourses to scare away what seems too difficult to be rationally explained, and perhaps should be simply embraced and cherished as it is the privileged vehicle of life.

60The red, «bloodily reblooming» (Sceats 2001: 113) rose, the only living thing found by the boy in place of the vampire’s body after her death is the last, ominous presage which functions as a reminder. Among the different possible interpretations, it could be read as a token symbolising the deadly consequences of persisting in identifying female sexuality with a potentially devouring vagina dentata while preventing the necessary transformation of the available conceptualisations of the female body due to the scary, excessiveness and ongoing, cyclical change of its boundaries. In any case, as Kristeva would put it, the grim rose which stands for the excessive, monstrous body of its owner advocates against the purification of the abject historically carried out by art and literature in order to «bring about a confrontation with the abject» that is able to «finally eject and redeem the boundaries between the human and the non-human» (Creed 1993: 14). Even after the cyclist has left the enchanted castle to join the army, indeed, the rose he has brought with him still haunts him, as a magic reminder of the impossible experience he has lived, as the abject «rebellion of filthy, lustful, carnal, female flesh» (38). Through the piercing, charming smell of the rose and the luxurious opulence of its petals, indeed, the seductive, dangerous allure of the unconsummated encounter with the monstrous woman is kept alive:

When he returned from the mess that evening, the heavy fragrance of Count Nosferatu’s roses drifted down the stone corridor of the barracks to greet him, and his Spartan quarters brimmed with the reeling odour of a glowing, velvet, monstrous flower whose petals had regained all their former bloom and elasticity, their corrupt, brilliant, baleful splendour. (Carter 1979a: 107-108)


1 It could be hypothesised that rationality in fact leads him to death, as his fate is waiting for him «in the trenches of France», which suggests that he is going to fight in the First World War, sadly notorious for the use of newly devised deadly weapons. Moreover, the fact that he is going to be a casualty of war, which will most likely turn him into a war hero, is implied in the description Carter draws of his heroism. Associated with familiar ideal masculine attributes, this heroism is however deconstructed, it is ascribed to the boy’s virginity (Carter 1979a: 104), which was earlier depicted as «source of power» but only because of «ignorance» and «unknowingness» (97).


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