A fairy tale about the fairy tale…and one tale in particular…Bluebeard.

There once was a man who owned grand estates, in both the country and the city…But this man also had the misfortune of having a blue beard, which made him look so hideously ugly that women and girls alike fled at the sight of him. (Perrault, Contes, 1697).

The Initial Situation.  (At home).

I’d like to tell you a story, so make yourself comfortable by the hearth. I am a teller of Tales, a weaver of Wonders, my story goes something like this…

A long time ago, time out of mind, folktales were folk-tales, that is, they were stories told by folk and ordinary, pagan folk at that. Storytelling was a part of everyday life, dating back many centuries, to the times throughout time when people gathered together to participate in the hearing of stories tied to the beliefs, social structures and histories of their own lives. The oral folktale, and its direct descendant the literary fairy tale, have been likened to a huge mammal of the seas, forever travelling across vast expanses of space and time.

Think of a gigantic whale soaring through the ocean swallowing each and every fish of any size that comes across its path…to grow and survive it constantly adapted to its changing environment. The fairy tale is no different. (Zipes, 2011, p221).

Long before the creation of print, each re-telling of a story was an important part of the oral tradition, as it kept the tales alive and nurtured the motifs carried deep inside them.  These motifs, be they keys, or castles, or forbidden chambers( as in the case of the Bluebeard tale), in one way or another relate to basic human needs; imagine the folktale plot operating at a biological level: a linear story-line translated into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; food, water, shelter, a mate and maybe, only maybe, self-actualisation. Imagine if you can, Proppian functions (Appendix 1) re-imagined as biological necessities, the morphology of a tale in biological terms. Like the whale, the oral folk tale had to constantly adapt to its changing environment, to grow and survive it continually evolved, seeking sustenance in changing cultural times. As they say, everything changes; and the same can be said about stories handed down over many generations, change was sometimes slow, very slow, and sometimes fast, very fast.  Societies and cultures evolve, just as species evolve, sometimes slowly and sometimes fast.  Memes and memetics are not so very different from genes and genetics. Come the invention of the Printing Press, and the progression of the printed word into the lives of ordinary folk, the art of telling struggled to survive. The art of reading began little by little to colonise the areas once home to the art of telling. There is no doubt, it was a fight for survival; the survival of the fittest. The metaphorical whale, the folk tale, would adapt into the literary fairy tale, proving to be the fittest of survivors, we could even say it thrived.

If I can claim a point at which the adaptation of the oral folk tale into the literary fairy tale took place in Europe, I would state the years 1690 – 1710. During these years, change happened very fast. It is at this precise moment the heroine of our story, a certain Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy, makes her first appearance. It was at the close of the 17th Century, d’Aulnoy produced her first collection of printed tales, her Contes de fées; tales about the fairies. The year 1697, was an auspicious one, for it was in this year the literary Fairy Story  was born.  If Catherine d’Aulnoy can claim to be one of the mothers of the literary fairy tale, then Charles Perrault was one of the fathers. His book: Histoires au contes du temps passé, was born the very same year. It is said, our heroine, Catherine was different to Charles because she did not just write her tales. She straddled the transition from oral to literary. She is the heroine because of one important fact, she made the decision to recite her fairy tales, she did not just print them; Catherine read them out loud.  As a sophisticated salonnière and a capricious conteuse she frequented the Parisian salons telling and re-telling her fairy tales. But why did she choose to continue the oral tradition and speak her tales aloud?


All heroines have a canny side to their nature, a mischievous agenda of their own: Catherine was no exception. Her fairy tales provided a safe fortress in which women could recognise their deepest needs and desires. Contes des fées were nothing less than a declaration of resistance, a means of questioning the so called civilised behaviour of the Catholic Church and the Court of Louis XIV.  Fairy tales, a predominantly female genre, provided a 17th Century cottage in the woods.  Catherine’s fairy tale land, reciting her tales in the salonnières of Paris, was a refuge, a fortress, a female place: it was a safe place for women to disseminate information, to defend secular culture and to shelter in unsettled political and social climes. But alas, the art of reading had taken root, the printed tale had already found an evolutionary niche, the survival of the fittest had begun, there was no happy ever after for the oral tradition.


Interdiction and Absentation.

All is well, home is home and a safe haven: but not for long, at least not in a fairy tale.  Something is bound to happen to upset the apple cart, to put the cat amongst the pigeons, it always does…

Whilst Catherine d’Aulnoy was finding refuge in the salonnières of Paris, Charles Perrault printed his own Histoires au contes du temps passé. One tale within his 1697 collection, one of which d’Aulnoy makes no mention, tells the story of a monstrous, murderous husband by the name of La Barbe Bleue.  In this, my story, I summon the presence of Bluebeard, the archetypal ultimate murderer, to bring substance and tension to my tale. Bluebeard’s interdiction and subsequent absentation in Perrault’s La Barbe Bleue  creates, what every tale needs, a substantial injection of excitement and energy. Nothing can stay the same once Bluebeard has entered our story.  It was not only d’Aulnoy who rejected this tale, it did not sit comfortably with Jacob and Wilhelm Grimms’ ideals: they had their doubts about the story. They included La Barbe Bleue in their Kinder- und Hausmärchen first edition (1812) but removed it thereafter.  Just too frightening for children, or was there another reason?


The idea that the Brothers Grimm removed the tale because it was French in origin rather than German is a possibility, or was there another more mundane answer.  Did they believe it was not the real thing, the genuine article, a true conte du temps passé.  Bruno Bettelheim believed that Perrault could even have gone as far as inventing the story…“ there are no direct antecedents as far as we know”.  (Bettelheim, 1976, p299). But there are links, links to tales of the animal-groom, the groom who is not quite what he seems: a half man half beast, and in the case of the suitor known as Bluebeard,  a man with a rather odd, indigo tinge to his beard.


But surely this is simply a tale, as Bettelheim believed, about sexual temptation: childhood is full of fears about adult sexual relations, about the child’s own fascination with sexual feelings.  Bettelheim claimed that Perrault’s story Bluebeard, is neither magical or supernaturalkk( apart from the bit where there is blood found on the key). This then must surely be a cautionary tale for young women, about the destructive aspects of sex. Freud would have helped us take the tale to pieces, to find its hidden meanings, its dominant motifs… I say to you, that the interdiction (Appendix 1) is contained in Bluebeard’s act of giving the key to his young wife. So… the male gives the female a key to his room and then instructs her not to enter, no matter what, she must not enter. Then the absentation (Appendix 1) takes place, Bluebeard goes on a journey: this is the male testing the female’s faithfulness to him. The key is associated with the male sexual organ, especially in Freudian analysis.  Once the young wife uses the key to access the forbidden chamber, the key begins to bleed, and always has a fleck of blood upon it. For Bettelheim, the blood stained key is proof that this story is about “sexual relations” and “marital infidelity”. To put it in the crude words of the hearthside fairy tale teller that I am, it appears to Bettelheim that the woman has had sex and not with Bluebeard. Bettelheim’s interpretation states that the severity of the the punishment for her crime, imminent death, indicates that the crime she committed can only be infidelity. Let us look deeper…


The Complication.

But hold on a moment: surely that can’t be all there is to this story, I hear you cry. Have no fear, I can complicate this tale no end, if that’s what you would like. In Perrault’s Bluebeard, the complication (Appendix 1) arises once the young woman uses the key to open the forbidden chamber. Bettelheim assumes the chamber is a symbol for marital infidelity, for what other reason could there be for a blood stained key.


Complicated?  Come, take my hand; let’s analyse Perrault’s version of Bluebeard in more detail, in the shadow of Freud.  First, ask yourself why, once the heroine discovers that Bluebeard plans to kill her, she does not hide or run away?  Could it be that what she sees within the forbidden chamber of infidelity is nothing but the creation of her own anxious mind. No matter, Perrault’s second moral at the end of his printed tale, “No longer are husbands so terrible, demanding the impossible, acting unhappy and jealous”, urges the need for forgiveness.  To tell someone, anyone, “not to go in” is surely to create temptation. The story therefore means, as far as Perrault, and indeed Bettelheim, are concerned is that it is very human to fall into temptation and that the moral is for the man to offer forgiveness to the woman.  It appears straightforward enough, once explained in this way, but literary fairy tales are like opaque opals, you need to turn them to the light, view them from different angles, in that way consciousness grows. A tale about sexual awakening it might be, but that is not the only way to shed light into the forbidden chamber.  From time out of mind, in many cultures, the initiation rites of the young have involved the passing through a secret or locked room. The motif of the” bloody chamber” in Perrault’s La Barbe Bleue is paradoxical in nature. It dawned on her that the floor was covered with clotted blood and that in those pools of blood were reflected the corpses of several women…  A room full of blood has a connection to the womb, hence the sexual relations interpretation of the motif.  But what if the blood is arterial blood, lifeblood itself, it could mean the room represents a place of life and death.  If we focus for a moment on the bloodstains on the key, and widen our view, open our eyes, we may see this story as an initiation of the innocent childlike part of the Self, which on really seeing what lies beyond the secret room full of blood, moves through and becomes aware of the destructive side of existence.  The self or psyche, whatever we choose to call it, in this instance represented by a young woman, can no longer return to its naïve preconscious state. It is passing through, initiating, coming out the other side.


If we sift through the contents of the stomach of the great whale described at the start of my tale, and look closely at other cultural variants of the Bluebeard fairy tale we may come closer to a meaning. The tale called Fitcher’s Bird included in Jacob and Wilhelm Grimms’ Kinder – und Hausmarchen (1857) and Mr Fox written by Joseph Jacobs in his English Fairy Tales (1890) are both variants on the central Bluebeard theme. They are both animal-groom fairy tales and according to the Aarne-Thompson classification system are both fairy tales containing supernatural opponents. The Bluebeard figure in both these tales is other-worldly: in the Fitcher’s Bird he takes the form of a wizard disguised as an old beggar and in Mr Fox, he is as the name implies, a fox disguised in human form.

In the story of Fitcher’s Bird, instead of just giving the young women the keys the wizard also gives them an egg.  In this variation we hear what happens to the first two wizard’s wives; on opening the bloody chamber they are so horrified by what they see, they drop the egg which they have been told to carry with them, and the egg becomes stained with blood.  This blood stained egg is what gives them away to Bluebeard and secures their deaths.


But the third daughter does it differently and I would suggest much more consciously, she recognises what needs to be done to keep her Self safe.  The man went to get the third daughter, but she was clever and sly. After handing over the keys and the egg, he left, but she put the egg in a safe place. She explored the house and entered the forbidden chamber. (Grimms, 1857).The third daughter keeps the egg in a safe place and does not take it into the forbidden chamber. Eggs are a symbol of the self, the self in its pure,” childlike” form: a state of paradisiacal wholeness. This is what the third wife protects throughout the wizard’s testing of her, and that is no coincidence.


Jung’s theories, weird and wild as they are, reminiscent of dreams and tales, suit my story telling self. Before my tale veers off along the path towards the symbolism of the egg, let me explore Jung’s ideas about the Bluebeard archetype. For Jung, Bluebeard is the transpersonal, godlike archetypal force in the psyche, in the psyche of every human individual on earth. Estes describes Bluebeard as the natural predator of the psyche. It is difficult to completely comprehend the Bluebeardian force, for it is innate, meaning indigenous to all humans from birth forward, and in that sense is without conscious origin. (Estes, 1992, p41). Estes goes on to tell us how the natural predator of the psyche, the Bluebeardian force, uses naïve women as his prey.


I’m asking you, I wonder, why in Perrault’s tale, there is a blue beard for the predator of the psyche? Which colour blue; delicate, light sky blue…no I don’t believe that for a minute, and neither should you. I believe it is the dark, heavy soulful blue, the blue associated with sexuality and the shadow side of life. In France, fairy tales are sometimes known as contes bleu: fairy stories are about the dark, instinctive unconscious side of life. The women in all the cultural variants of the tale of Bluebeard, needed to be aware, be astute, and most importantly be conscious, of the pathological, murderous behaviour of Bluebeard.


Odajnyk (2004), a Jungian pyschologist, gives an impressive interpretation of the Bluebeard tale and its variants. The fact that Bluebeard gives the eggs to the young women means that he possesses these symbols of the Self, again indicating that he is, indeed, a personification of that archetype. ..we should not view the eggs as concrete objects…the story is saying that Bluebeard was able to recognise the as yet, unrealised and undifferentiated nature of the women – or, in psychological terms, of the psychological contents the young women represent.” (Odajnyk, 2004, p265).


The Bluebeard archetype is aware when a fundamental change has happened to the contents of the psyche, a change from the previously undifferentiated condition, before the woman’s entry to the forbidden chamber. It is the blood on the egg in the Fitcher’s Bird  variant of the tale, which alerts Bluebeard to the change in the psyche.  However in the case of the third young woman, the spell is broken: On his return home, the man asked right away about the keys and the egg. When he was unable to find a trace of blood on the egg, he declared: “You have passed the test, and you shall be my bride.” (Grimms, 1857).


But why does keeping the egg safe, and unstained in blood, prevent the Bluebeard archetype from having any power over the woman, I hear you cry? And well you may ask.  The reason the third woman breaks the spell, conquers the wizard, may be because she maintains her conscious standpoint throughout her ordeal.  She is wholly conscious of the predator, the Bluebeard of the psyche, the natural predator of young women, not literal young women, but what they represent in the psyche: the human archetypal soulful energies of the Self.


But why the rage and severe punishment for, what we would consider, an evolutionary step in consciousness?  This ambivalence within the archetype of the Self to want and deny the evolution of human consciousness is another instance of the play of opposites, of the yin-yang dynamic inherent in all phenomena. (Odajnyk, 2004, p265). It appears that human consciousness, also obeys the laws of nature, there is always a shifting balance, a constant evolution, an eternal cycle of creation, destruction and transformation. Not unlike the fairy tale genre itself. So let us move on, away from destruction and transform this tale.


Entry of the helper… to the end of the first move.

We must have a villain, all stories need a villain, and we have one of the very worst (or best) in this tale. The villainy is performed by Bluebeard, the archetypal murderer, as he prepares to murder the young woman and place her in the bloody chamber, along with all his previous victims. As you my listener, prepare to witness a bloody crime, the woman appears, only appears, to prepare for her own death. In Perrault’s version of the tale, the woman makes a rather feeble attempt at her securing her own rescue.  But is it feeble?


When she was alone, she called for her sister and said to her: “Sister Anne” – for that was her name – “I beg you go to the top of the tower to see if our brothers are on the way here”. (Perrault, 1697). It is her elder sister, Anne, who is one of her helpers, who has been waiting all along to be instrumental in her younger sister’s rescue. It is Sister Anne, whose name is mentioned by the younger sister every time she pleads for her help, who watches from the tower for the two brothers on horseback.


“Just then there was a pounding at the gate so loud that Bluebeard stopped in his tracks. The gate was opened. Two men on horseback – swords in hands – galloped in, heading straight for Bluebeard…He fled at once, hoping to escape, but the two pitiless brothers closed in on him before he could get to the stairs. They ran their swords through him and left him for dead. (Perrault, 1697).Both the woman’s sister and her brothers are there to help the woman secure her victory over Bluebeard. Estes(1994) interprets this immediate access the woman has to her sisters (and eventually her brothers), as a scene of an individual woman’s surge of intra-psychic power. Her sisters – the wiser ones – take center stage in this last initatory step; they become her eyes. The woman’s cry travels over a long intra-psychic distance to where her brothers live, to where those aspects of the psyche that are trained to fight, to fight to the death if necessary, live. (Estes, 1994, p57).


The brothers, the part of the woman’s unconscious that has the ability to take action and to have strength (Jung named this the animus), do indeed take action and use their strength to slay Bluebeard and leave him for dead. This action leads to the liquidation of misfortune and an improvement in the lives, not only of the woman, but of her sister and brothers as well. All these parts are strengthened, made richer as it were, by the woman’s inherited fortune. My listener, don’t just take this literally, think wider, think deeper.  As Jung and Estes would have us believe, the individual psyche is made stronger by exercising its internal sisters and brothers in this way. But this is only one version of the Bluebeard tale, (Perrault’s); there are others, and one which has within it a complex conversation with Perrault himself. Written many, many chronological years later, but in a time of upheaval and rapid change to rival that of late 17th Century France,  I refer to The Bloody Chamber  written by Angela Carter in 1970s Britain. Carter too, recognises the importance of the helper in the story of Bluebeard.  She interprets the helper in her own way, in complex dialogue with Perrault; so come closer, let me explain.

In late 17th Century France, contes took the shape of elaborate texts for a predominantly, sophisticated female audience.  Angela Carter began her own journey into the realm of French literary fairy tales when, in 1976, she translated and adapted Perrault’s tales for English readers.  I guess that it was this process of adaptation from French to English that started her on her own creative journey, of recreating fairy tales for her own time and place. This re-creation, an evolutionary adaptation under changing cultural and social determinants, was Carter’s way of appropriating and reinterpreting fairy tales to tell the story she wanted to tell. Her moral in the story The Bloody Chamber directly addresses the moral(s) of Perrault’s story La Barbe Bleue.  The woman’s curiosity; to know, to sniff out the facts, to be aware, to be conscious, is what is at stake, in both tales. Perrault, in his first moral at the end of his story La Barbe Bleue, makes the issue of his version: the woman’s misplaced curiosity, the dangers to all if women are curious and how we should all take measures to curb it. Women give in, but it’s a fleeting pleasure; once satisfied, it ceases to be. And always it proves very costly. (Perrault, 1697).Modern listener that you are, you cannot fail to notice the pervading sense of patriarchal oppression: why this judgement of women, in the light of Bluebeard’s crime of multiple murder? But hold on to that anger, harness it, it could be useful.


Angela Carter reframes the tale, which she interprets as the biblical story of Eve. In The Bloody Chamber, the woman’s curiosity is rewarded; Carter interprets the act of curiosity, as an invitation to knowledge. In opposition to Perrault, Carter’s feisty, young heroine refuses to take the blame. The motif of the forbidden chamber, the hidden room, is associated with the rites of initiation: with the downright, absolute necessity for the heroine to open the door and see what is beyond, to pass through, to learn a little or in this case to learn a lot, and in a very short space of time. In the post-liminal, retrospective, adult woman’s voice narrating Carter’s story we hear a new moral to the story. Carter has eliminated the gendered address, removed both the terrible judgement surrounding women’s “curiosity” and the punishment for female transgression and turns this tale on its head by making it an investigation of masculine behaviour.  But wait, my path has gone off into the woods, I need to get back to the main track, my fascination with the role of the helpers.


Carter has humorously changed the helpers in The Bloody Chamber using a feminist reversal of Perrault’s two main helper configurations. Let us explore further.  Carter begins her story, in the retrospective adult voice of the female heroine of this tale, with thoughts of her mother, the mother who later becomes one of the helpers. My eagle-featured, indomitable mother; what other student at the Conservatoire could boast her mother had outfaced a junkful of Chinese pirates, nursed a village through a visitation of the plague, shot a man eating tiger with her own hand and all before she was as old as I am? (Carter, 1979, pp1-2). It is this female figure who later recognises when all is not well with her daughter’s situation and comes to her rescue without being asked. This is very different from Sister Anne in Perrault’s La Barbe Bleue, Sister Anne has be called several times by the younger sister and be asked to check on the progress of the brothers. In Carter’s version, the helper with the more passive role is that of the young, blind man who tunes her piano. He was blind, of course, but young, with a gentle mouth and grey eyes that fixed upon me although they could not see me. (Carter, 1979, p20). Although the man cannot see, he is conscious and aware of the woman’s distress and imminent danger.


Both helpers have clear consciousness and trust their instincts. So when the struggle with the villain begins they are ideally suited to helping the heroine. I could contain myself no longer. I telephoned my mother. And astonished myself by bursting into tears when I heard her voice. No, nothing was the matter, Mother, I have gold bath taps! No; I suppose that’s nothing to cry about, Mother. (Carter, 1979, p21). It is on this conversation alone, that the mother knows there is something seriously wrong and swings, as the cowboy-like character she is, into action. Impressive stuff, I hear you gasp. How could she know? The fact that the taps are gold appears of such insignificance, but to cry over this fact! Perhaps the mother heard something in her daughter’s voice, even over the terrible telephone line, she heard her daughter’s plea for help. The blind piano tuner too, has heightened hearing, “Forgive me,” said Jean-Yves. “I know I’ve given you grounds for dismissing me, that I should be crouching outside your door at midnight… but I heard you walking about, up and down – I sleep in a room at the foot of the west tower – and some intuition told me you could not sleep, and might, perhaps, pass insomniac hours at your piano. (Carter, 1979, pp 30-31).And it is because of this “intuition” that the piano-tuner retrieves the keys the heroine had lost.  So begins the heroine’s budding relationship with the young man, her gentle and fragile male helper.


By casting the male helper as the sensitive one and the older mother figure as the gun-toting maverick, Carter is playing with a feminist re-writing of the helper role. For Carter, the figure of Bluebeard in Perrault’s tale represents patriarchal oppression and, in essence, the God we encounter in the Book of Genesis. Carter’s story is about a girl’s initiation into the world of women, she does not shy away from the latent sexual content of fairy tales, and that aspect of women’s lives. We feel the latent sexual content implicitly in the tale of The Bloody Chamber. The heroine finds, in the form of the blind piano-tuner, her real lover. My lover kissed me, he took my hand. He would come with me if I would lead him. Courage. When I thought of courage, I thought of my mother. Then I saw a muscle in my lover’s face quiver. “Hoofbeats !” he said. (Carter, 1979, p38).


The courage of the lover/helper, the heroine and her mother all combine to overthrow the murderous villain. But it is the mother who delivers the final blow to Bluebeard. You never saw such a wild thing as my mother, her hat seized by the winds and blown out to sea, her black lisle legs exposed to the thigh… she raised my father’s gun, took aim and put a single, irreproachable bullet through my husband’s head.  (Carter, 1979, p40).Did I hear you laugh? I laughed too, out of sheer joy, the joy of sensing a strong, female helper in her element, her hat thrown to the four winds. But how, I hear you cry, was the misfortune finally liquidated, what happened once the excitement was over? We lead a quiet life, the three of us. I inherited. Of course, enormous wealth but we have given most of it away to various charities. (Carter, 1979, p41).The three of us”, I hear you scoff, yes, I find that amusing too. But everyone deserves to be happy, even the mother: everyone is included in the Happy Ever After. But I get the sense that Carter knows that the Happy Ever After can never be as exciting, as fulfilling, as the terrifying complications in the story itself, and so, for now, the tale leads us home again.



The Second Move.  (or Home Again).

I too, am nearing the end of my story. I have no second move (Appendix 1), only the vague sense of being home again. But our home in home again, is never the same home as the one we started in, at the beginning of our tale. It is always changed, evolved, adapted, or what would have been the point of the interdiction, the absentation, the complication; the suffering endured throughout the story. Let us look at some endings, let us look to the endings of La Barbe Bleue, Fitcher’s Bird and Mr Fox.


At the end of Perrault’s tale we learn the heroine used her inheritance to marry herself to a very worthy man, who helped her banish the memory of the terrible days she spent with Bluebeard. (Perrault, 1697). Well, that’s good I hear you cry. That’s what we expect of a fairy tale, a happy ending with at least one wedding!  In contrast, in the conclusion to Fitcher’s Bird  (Grimms, 1857);  the third and wily daughter, frees her two sisters and avoids a wedding to the evil magician. The daughter’s brothers and relatives are waiting at the wizard’s house; They locked the doors to the house…then set fire to it, and the wizard and his crew were burned alive. (Grimms, 1857). All three daughters are free to move on and marry a more suitable suitor!  Lastly, in Mr Fox (Jacobs, English Fairy Tales, 1890) printed a full hundred years after Perrault’s La Barbe Bleue, the woman being tested, Lady Mary, engineers her own escape from the possibility of marriage to a killer. She holds on to the evidence, in the form of a severed hand from a former victim, and tricks Mr Fox in full view of her family. “But it is so, and it was so. Here’s hand and ring I have to show…at once her brothers and her friends, drew their swords and cut Mr Fox into a thousand pieces. (Jacobs, 1890).A satisfying end to a variant of the Bluebeard Tale, toned down for the audience for which it was meant, predominantly children.


Do you, like me, spot an evolution in the movement of this tale through chronological time? Gone is the overtly feeble young woman of Perrault’s making, she slowly adapts into the evermore conscious heroines of Fitcher’s Bird  and Mr Fox. But it is always the brothers who are there to finish the villain off, to deliver the final blow. But not so with the last cultural variant, I have offered up to your listening ears, that of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. There are no brothers in Carter’s version of Bluebeard. Instead we have the heroine’s mother killing Bluebeard, with the gun once belonging to the heroine’s long dead father. A link to the masculine (father’s gun), but the action is taken by the feminine, the mother; this is progress indeed in terms how I, the storyteller of this my story, can choose to interpret the ending of Carter’s cleverly reframed variant.  At long last, after nearly 300 years of cultural evolution, we have the determining action of the entire tale, performed by a woman.  Bravo, I hear you cry. But wait, listen to the final lines: are we really to believe in the Happy Ever After?

No paint nor powder….can mask that red mark on my forehead; I am glad he cannot see it – not for fear of his revulsion, since I know he sees me clearly with his heart but, -because it spares my shame. (Carter, 1979, p42).Carter tells us the heroine, although free, will always bear a mark. Bluebeard has branded the young woman with the red hot key, and left a heart-shaped stain on the space between the woman’s eyebrows.  This is Carter’s ending to her story; the heroine’s ordinary love for a man who sees with his heart.  Angela Carter knew about satisfaction, pleasure and happiness; in relation to ordinary life. However, she understood that fairy tales were about the utopian dream, the heroine’s optimism, the unobtainable Happy Ever After.



Appendix I

Oral folk tales, (and their printed cousin the fairy tale), no matter how many times they are retold, still maintain a structure we can recognise; or we would not claim that the story is the same (or similar) to one told hundreds of years in the past.  Bluebeard has a linear plot, a plot ripe for a Proppian analysis, hence I have performed one below.

Proppian Analysis of Bluebeard.  Charles Perrault, Contes, 1677


There was once a man who owned grand estates, in both the country and the city…


One of his neighbours, a highly regarded lady, had two daughters, both of whom were perfect beauties.


Every day there were festive activities: picnics, hunting fishing, dancing and dining. They caroused all night long and no one slept a wink. Everything went so well…


Initial situation (α)

Temporal-spatial determination.



Composition of the family:

According to nomenclature and status;

Mother and two daughters.


Well-being, prior to complication (zavjázka)

Domestic; Celebratory, ending in the marriage of the villain and heroine.


But I absolutely forbid you to go into that one room, and if you open it so much as a crack, my anger will know no limits.



After a month had gone by, Bluebeard told his wife that he had to take care of some urgent business in the provinces and that he would be away for at least six weeks…Bluebeard kissed her, got into the carriage, and set out on his journey.



When she reached the door to the room, she stopped for a moment to recall how her husband had forbidden her to open it, and she reflected on the punishment she might incur for being disobedient. But the temptation was too strong for her to resist. She took the little key and, trembling, she opened the door.


…he asked for his keys…”Why isn’t the key to the little room here with the others? He asked. Bluebeard inspected it, then said to his wife: “How did you get blood on this key?”


“You have no idea,” Bluebeard replied. But I have an idea how. You tried to get in that little room…


The Preparatory Section


Contents, form of the interdiction;

Heroine must not enter the Forbidden Chamber.



Person performing; Bluebeard leaves the heroine, to go on a business trip.






Violation of an interdiction:

Person performing: heroine enters the Forbidden Chamber.







Interrogation, reconnaissance:

What motivates it; Bluebeard notices the blood stained key.



Nature of the interrogation; the villain asks the heroine if she has entered the Forbidden Chamber.



…but Bluebeard’s heart was harder than stone. “Madam, you must die,” he declared. “Your time has come.”

The Complication (zavjázka)


Person performing; Bluebeard.

Form of villainy; Bluebeard prepares to murder the heroine by cruel means.




When she was alone, she called for her sister and said to her: “Sister Anne” – for that was her name – “I beg you, go to the top of the tower to see if our brothers are on the way here…




Just then there was a pounding at the gate so loud that Bluebeard stopped in his tracks. The gate was opened. Two men on horseback – swords in hands – galloped in, heading straight for Bluebeard…


He fled at once, hoping to escape, but the two pitiless brothers closed in on him before he could get to the stairs. They ran their swords through him and left him for dead.


It turns out that Bluebeard had left no heirs, and so his wife was able to take possession of the entire fortune.



She used some of it to marry her sister Anne to a young gentleman who loved her dearly. And some of it went to buying commissions for her two brothers.





From the entry of the helper to the end of the first move.

The helper:

Nomenclature; Sister Anne and the brothers.

Form of the summons; The heroine calls to Sister Anne, who is in the castle.

Peculiarities of appearance on the scene; the readers had not previously known of the sister’s name.


Struggle with the villain:

Place of the fight; Within Bluebeard’s castle.

Actions preceding the fight; brothers pounding on the gate to get into the castle.



Forms of the fight or struggle; brothers kill Bluebeard with their swords.




Victory over the villain:

Bluebeard is killed and the heroine is freed from her marriage to Bluebeard.



Liquidation of the misfortune;

Role of the heroine: to improve the lifestyle of her sister and brothers.

Means; the heroine uses her inherited fortune.


Auxiliary elements trebled; The happy outcome is not only for the heroine, it is also extends to Sister Anne and the two brothers.



The rest she used to marry herself to a very worthy man, who helped her banish the memory of the terrible days she has spent with Bluebeard.

The second move


The heroine marries a worthy man and has a happy life.




Primary Sources.

Carter, Angela, The Bloody Chamber , (London: Vintage, 1979).

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, “Fitcher’s Bird” in Kinder- und Hausmärchen , (Gottingen: Dieterische Buchhandlung, 1857).

Jacobs, Joseph, “Mr Fox” in English Fairy Tales, (London: David Nutt, 1890).

Perrault, Charles, “La Barbe Bleue” in Contes ou Histoires au contes du temps passé , (Paris: C, Barbin, 1697).

Secondary Sources.

Bettelheim, Bruno, The Uses of Enchantment, (London: Penguin, 1976).

Jung, Carl, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, (Abingdon: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1959).

Carter, Angela, Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales, (London: Virago, 2005).

Estés, Clarissa Pinkola, Women who run with the Wolves, (London: Rider, 1992).

Odajnyk, V. Walter, “The archetypal interpretation of fairy tales: Bluebeard” in Psychological Perspectives: A Quarterly Journal of Jungian Thought,Vol 47, No2, pp247-275, (C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles, 2004)

Propp, V, Morphology of the Folk Tale, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968).

Renfroe, Cheryl, “Initiation and Disobedience: Liminal Experience in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber”  in Marvels and Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies, Vol 12, No 1, pp 82-94, (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998).

De la Rochère and Heidmann, “New Wine in Old Bottles: Angela Carter’s Translation of Charles Perrault’s La Barbe Bleue”  in Marvels and Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tales Studies,Vol 23, No 1, pp 40-58, (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2009).

Tatar, Maria, Secrets beyond the Door: The Story of Bluebeard and his Wives, (Princeton: PUP. 2004).

Zipes, Jack, “The Meaning of Fairy Tale within the evolution of Culture” in Marvels and Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tales Studies,Vol 25, No 2, pp221-243, (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2011).




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