Discursive Essay Animal Rights A feminist appropriation of misogynist and by fse11171


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									    A feminist appropriation of misogynist and patriarchal texts: Angela Carter's The Sadeian Woman
                                      and The Bloody Chamber.

               By Roxie Drayson, Year 3, Goldsmiths College, University of London

It seems incongruous that a self-avowed feminist concerned with the empowerment of women

should find anything of value in the writings of the Marquis de Sade, a misogynist libertine who

openly advocated the punishment and control of women through sexual means. It is a challenge

Simone de Beauvoir undertook in her essay Must We Burn Sade?, in which she attempted to

demonstrate „the supreme value of his testimony‟.1 Like Beauvoir, Sade understood the powers of

mystification, and his writing also unmasked the fictions of bourgeois gender constructs. When he

writes that „every man wants to be a tyrant when he fornicates‟,2 he reveals the reality of male

desire and it is in this possibility that his importance for Beauvoir and other feminists partly lies.

Beauvoir remarks that for Sade, „sexuality was not a biological matter, but a social fact‟.3 He did

not believe that sexuality was intended only to satisfy the requirements of procreation, and argued,

that under the prohibitive social conditions of bourgeois morality, which undermined individualism

in favour of an abstract repressive universality, sexual cruelty and violence could provide a

subversive political strategy through which to reestablish individuality and passion. Beauvoir comes

to view him as a philosopher of freedom, suggesting that „it is as a moralist rather than as a poet that

Sade tries to shatter the prison of appearances‟4 by making of „his sexuality an ethic‟.5 His work

therefore has an exemplary character to the extent that this ethic provides us with „insights of

surprising depth into the relation of sexuality to social existence‟.6 Beauvoir is able to appropriate

Sade for her own ends, weaving her interpretation of his work into an implicit criticism of the

conservative morality and hypocritical bourgeois universalism that were employed to undermine

female individualism in her own time.

 Beauvoir, Simone de, Must We Burn Sade?, trans. by Annette Michelson (New York: Grove Press, 1953) p. 64.
 Ibid., p. 8.
 Ibid., p. 43.
 Ibid., p. 75.
 Ibid., p. 15.
 Ibid., p. 38.
        Twenty-four years later, in The Sadeian Woman, Angela Carter similarly appropriates the

writings of Sade to further her own feminist project of 'demythologising' hegemonic and

essentialist conceptions of female sexuality. Like Beauvoir, she also considers his pornography to

be unique in that he used it to reveal rather than conceal the actuality of sexual relations „in the

context of an unfree society as the expression of pure tyranny‟.7 The source of Carter's interest in

Sade is the exposure of the important role that sexuality plays in maintaining the social status quo:

„since he is not a religious man but a political man, he treats the facts of female sexuality not as a

moral dilemma but as a political reality‟.8 Like Beauvoir, she views him as a philosopher of

freedom who „urged women to fuck as actively as they were able [...] to fuck their way into history

and in doing so change it‟.9 However, published during the early development of the anti-

pornography debate that was to divide the feminist movement throughout the course of the next

decade, contemporaneous and subsequent feminist critical responses to The Sadeian Woman

demonstrated a profound unease with the ethics of any appropriation of Sade by feminism, an

imaginative leap deemed by some impossible to make. Several critics, such as Susanne Kappeler,

have stated that Carter's use of Sade's misogynist works did little other than reinforce degrading

patriarchal representations of women. Her accusation that Carter is simply „playing in the literary

sanctuary‟10 implies a refusal to acknowledge that some pornographic literature may be open to a

subversive re-appropriation which could challenge the political and social status quo. Similarly,

Patricia Duncker commented in relation to Carter's use of the traditional fairy tale in The Bloody

Chamber „that the infernal trap inherent in the fairy tale, which fits the form to its purpose, to be the

carrier of ideology, proves too complex and pervasive to avoid. Carter is rewriting the tales within

the strait-jacket of their original structures‟11. It is indeed not coincidental that The Bloody Chamber

was published in the same year as The Sadeian Woman, as Carter's revisionary fairy tales mark a

 Carter, Angela, The Sadeian Woman (London: Virago, 1979), p. 24.
 Ibid., p. 27.
   Kappeler, Susanne, The Pornography of Representation (Cambridge: Polity, 1986), p. 134.
   Duncker, Patricia, „Re-imagining The Fairy Tales: Angela Carter's Bloody Chambers‟, Literature and History, 10:1
    (1984), pp. 3-14 (p. 6).
similar attempt to demonstrate how inherited patriarchal discursive structures are not innately

monolithic or resistant to appropriation. Carter connects the two texts herself by arguing that Sade's

„straitjacket psychology relates his fiction directly to the black and white ethical world of fairy-tale

and fable‟.12 If her discussion of Sade's work stresses its fairy tale abstractions, then her own

revision of the classical fairy tale attempts to emphasise the pornographic nature of the

representations of women that it circulated. Both texts, like Beauvoir's essay, highlight the

connection that binds sexual and socio-economic relations within a patriarchal society. In her fairy-

tale revisions, Carter attempts, just as Sade did in his black fairy-tales, to expose a reality that those

tales sought to disguise: that female virginity operates as a token and guarantor of the ruling classes'

property rights. Carter writes in The Sadeian Woman that „sexual relations between men and women

always render explicit the nature of social relations in the society in which they take place and if

described explicitly will form a critique of those relations‟.13

        According to the critic Betsey Hearne, the original eighteenth-century tale of 'Beauty and the

Beast' by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont – upon which two of Carter's stories in The Bloody

Chamber are based – can be read as a proto-feminist text. Beaumont lived at a time when the

archaic tradition of arranged marriage based on social position and wealth was being challenged by

the progressive concept of courtly love. In the classic pattern of courtship, Beauty is represented as

having a choice.14 The Beast repeatedly asks for her hand in marriage which she chooses to refuse

on several occasions, suggesting that her final decision to wed is entirely voluntary and therefore

indicative of romantic love. However in truth, when Beaumont's Beauty first considers the

possibility of marrying the Beast, her motivations are primarily those of practicality and gratitude

for the generous gifts lavished on her: „“Am I not very wicked,” said she, “to act so unkindly to

Beast, that has studied, so much to please me in everything? [...] It is true, I do not feel the

tenderness of affection for him, but I find I have the highest gratitude, esteem and friendship; I will

   Carter, The Sadeian Woman, p. 82.
   Ibid., p. 20.
   Hearne, Betsy, Beauty and the Beast: Visions and Revisions of an Old Tale (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
     1989) p. 16.
not make him miserable, were I to be so ungrateful I should never forgive myself”‟.15 She is not a

woman in love, but someone calmly calculating her prospects and economic obligations. She can

therefore be read as a representation of female collusion within the patriarchal exchange system of


        Mimicking Sade by adopting the role of „moral pornographer‟ who „through the infinite

modulations of the sexual act‟16 reveals „the historical fact of the economic dependence of women

upon men‟,17 Carter uses her first revision of Beamont's 'Beauty and the Beast' to illustrate the

system of material exchange upon which the original's romantic concept of marriage is in fact

founded. In the ironically titled 'The Courtship of Mr Lyon', she highlights the construction of the

female as a circulating object of exchange by allowing, in a sentence concerning the white rose that

Beauty's father had promised to buy her, a fleeting syntactic ambiguity about what is being bought,

Beauty or the rose: „not even enough money left over to buy his Beauty, his-girl-child, his pet, the

one white rose she said she wanted‟.18 The white rose, signifying Beauty's status as a commodity,

later becomes a token of exchange in a system of private ownership between the male Beast and

Beauty's father. The Beast's estate bespeaks a materialism reserved for the male patriarch, it is „a

place of privilege‟.19 Just as Beauty's father is the proud owner of „his girl-child, his pet‟,20 the

Beast is similarly accustomed to being the possessor of beautiful and valuable objects. Carter

highlights the inexorability of the male-defined economy that structures the original narrative in a

sly aside after the Beast's quid pro quo proposal: „and what else was there to be done‟.21 Beauty is

represented as aware of, yet powerless to contravene, her position in this system of symbolic

exchange: „she stayed and smiled, because her father wanted her to do so [...] For she knew with a

pang of dread that her visit to the Beast must be, on some magically reciprocal scale, the price of

   Beaumont, Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de, 'Beauty and the Beast', 9 January 2007
     <http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/beauty.html> [accessed 14/05/2010], para 58 of 64.
   Carter, The Sadeian Woman, p. 19.
   Ibid., p. 6.
   Carter, Angela, The Bloody Chamber (London: Vintage, 2007) p. 43.
   Ibid., p. 44.
   Ibid., p. 43.
   Ibid., p. 47.
her father's good fortune‟.22

        As a governess, Beaumont was viewed as a progressive thinker in her day who had a

„reforming zeal for both the status and the education of women in society‟.23 Originally published in

a book that tells of a governess reciting different lessons and stories to a group of girls in her

charge, 'Beauty and the Beast' was designed as a sex-specific tale intended to present a suitable

model for little girls. However, as the folklorist Jack Zipes states, the story suggests „that the mark

of beauty for a female is to be found in her submission, obedience, humility, industry, and

patience‟.24 Beauty sacrifices her will to that of two men, her father and the Beast, and seeks for her

self-effacement to be praised as a virtuous and courageous act. Carter ironises this position by

permitting the derisive description – „Miss Lamb, spotless, sacrificial‟25 – to emanate from Beauty's

own perspective. In her passive submission, Beauty is revealed to be a copy of Sade's Justine, a

character whom Carter described as „a good woman according to the rules for women laid down by

men and her reward is rape, humiliation and incessant beatings [...] the living image of a fairy-tale

princess‟.26 In 'The Courtship of Mr Lyon', Beauty expedites her own domination by offering

herself to the Beast in desperation, almost as if she fears not being taken otherwise: „if you'll have

me, I'll never leave you‟. Carter is evidently impatient with Beauty's acceptance of her subordinate

status and commented that the original tale is „an advertisement for moral blackmail when the Beast

says that he is dying because of Beauty, the only morally correct thing for her to have said at that

point would be, “Die, then”‟.27 However in her own revision, no such rebellion occurs, instead we

are left with Mr. Lyon's self-regarding, complacent self-satisfaction at the appropriation of his latest

acquisition: „do you know, I think I might be able to manage a little breakfast today, Beauty, if you

eat something with me‟.28

   Ibid., p. 48.
   Clancy, Patricia, „A French Writer and Educator in England, Mme Le Prince de Beaumont‟, Studies on Voltaire and
     the Eighteenth Century 201 (1982), pp. 195-208 (p. 198).
   Zipes, Jack, Fairy Tales and The Art of Subversion: The Classical Genre for Children and The Process of Civilization
     (New York: Routledge, 2006) p. 56.
   Carter, The Bloody Chamber, p. 48.
   Carter, The Sadeian Woman, p. 80.
   Haffenden, John, Novelists in Interview, (London and New York: Methuen, 1985) p. 83.
   Carter, The Bloody Chamber, p. 51.
        In an interview with John Haffenden, Carter commented that „some of the stories in The

Bloody Chamber are the result of furiously quarrelling with Bettelheim‟,29 specifically referring to

'Beauty and the Beast' as a tale of which her interpretation differed markedly from that of the

psychoanalytic critic. While he viewed the fable as an allegory of the successful maturation of the

girl into sexual adulthood, in 'The Courtship of Mr Lyon', she indicates that within patriarchal

society autonomous female growth is in effect stunted. Bettelheim framed his reading of the story

entirely within the Oedipal narrative, suggesting that Beauty, due to the incest taboo and her desire

for her father, has not been able to see the prince correctly and has imagined him as a beast. Once

she is able successfully to sever her Oedipal attachment to her father, she can then see the Prince as

he is and has always been.30 In her second revision of the tale, 'The Tiger's Bride', Carter allows

Beauty to escape from the Oedipal narrative, offering an alternative model for the development of

female sexual desire.

        Carter reverses the child's willingness to sacrifice all for her beloved father into the father's

own willingness to sacrifice all, including his daughter and wife, to his puerile egotism and frenetic

pleasure-seeking. The role of women as objects of exchange in classic fairy tales, adumbrated in

'The Courtship of Mr Lyon', is further accented in 'The Tiger's Bride' as Beauty's father loses her to

the Beast in a game of cards. Appropriating the personal voice, this Beauty avatar not only takes

control of the narrative, and therefore the patriarchal narrative tradition of the fairy tale itself, but in

observing her surroundings from a detached, acrimonious perspective is able to expose the

predicament of women within the patriarchal system: „I watched with the furious cynicism peculiar

to women whose circumstances force mutely to witness folly‟.31 Unlike her twin sister in 'The

Courtship of Mr Lyon', she does not construct herself as a delicate „pearl‟32 but as a stronger, more

resilient „woman of honour‟33 who refuses to play the role of victimized pawn. The white rose,

   Haffenden, p. 83.
   Bettelheim, Bruno, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, (Harmondsworth:
     Penguin, 1978) pp. 303-309.
   Carter, The Bloody Chamber, p. 56.
   Ibid., p. 49.
   Ibid., p. 66.
which referred in the previous story to Beauty's status as cultural commodity, is disdainfully

returned by this Beauty to her father „all smeared with blood‟.34 When the Beast asks her to undress,

she refuses to discharge her father's debt and submit to the Sadeian one-way pornographic gaze

which she believes will objectify and other her. However, just as this Beauty does not represent the

archetypal Beauty, this Beast does not represent the archetypal Beast. He is no longer a man with

the appearance of a lion but a tiger wearing the crafted, „beautiful‟35 mask of a man, suggesting that

identity is in itself an artefact. Beauty is fascinated by his otherness, and she is soon able to perceive

that beneath the constructed façade of his social appearance, they share an innate commonality: „we

could boast amongst us not one soul since all the best religions in the world state categorically that

not beasts nor women were equipped with souls‟.36 Both excluded from patriarchal society, their

relationship can therefore escape androcentric structures in which sexual relations are governed by

male discourses of sexuality. It is the tiger who first undresses, revealing his animality behind his

human mask, allowing her, asserting herself, to do the same. Rather than othering its object, the

tiger's gaze instead requires the engagement of another subject, acknowledges „no pact that is not

reciprocal‟.37 Moved by his restrained ferocity and non-differentiating gaze, she exposes herself to

him and in doing so finds her perception of the „fleshly nature of women‟38 transformed.

         Reading The Bloody Chamber alongside The Sadeian Woman, Patricia Duncker comments,

in reference to 'The Tiger's Bride' , that „all we are watching, beautifully packaged and unveiled, is

the ritual disrobing of the willing victim of pornography‟, believing that Carter has absorbed Sade's

misogyny and can therefore have „no conception of women's sexuality as autonomous desire‟.39

This interpretation undermines the agency that Beauty displays in refusing to allow the Beast to

cover himself and in stripping herself. Not to do so would have confirmed the patriarchal view that

she has no animal self to expose. In the story's final moments, the Beast licks away Beauty's skin,

   Ibid., p. 61.
   Ibid., p. 58.
   Ibid., p. 70.
   Ibid, p. 71.
   Ibid., p. 72.
   Duncker, p. 7.
revealing the beautiful tiger beneath. Instead of the male animalistic libido devouring the sexually

unmotivated female, Beauty is in fact revealed to possess an autonomous sexual libido of her own.

Her transformation from object of exchange into independent subject is solidified when she

dispatches her mechanical twin, a clock-work doll, back to her father: „I will dress her in my own

clothes, wind her up, send her back to perform the part of my father's daughter‟.40

        Like Duncker, Avis Lewallen similarly suggests that the tale is trapped in „the Sadean

framework, fuck or be fucked, both in the literal and in the metaphorical sense‟.41 It is an

interpretation rooted in Lewallen's misreading of Carter's critique of Sade's dualistic Juliette/Justine

paradigm in The Sadeian Woman. While Lewallen believes that „Carter is attempting to promote an

active sexuality for women within Sadean boundaries‟,42 Carter's analysis of Juliette/Justine, the

female libertine and the sacrificial victim, stresses that ultimately „Juliette's triumph is just as

ambivalent as Justine's disaster‟;43 she believes that „the Sadeian woman does not subvert her

society, except incidentally, as a storm trooper of the individual consciousness. She remains in the

area of privilege created by her class just as Sade remains in the philosophic framework of his

time‟.44 In 'The Tiger's Bride', Beauty is not based on Sade's Juliette. Moving from clothes to skin to

fur, she represents the multiplicity of female identity. Whereas Beaumont's story emphasises the

potential danger of the polymorphousness latent in each individual and tries to castrate and channel

it in accordance with the requirements of a fixed social structure, Carter celebrates indeterminacy

and liminality as a desirable and excitingly perverse state. In her revisionary tale, Beauty and the

Beast are not trapped within the Sadean fuck or be fucked mentality, they are subverting it as

neither can be read as predator or victim. Their relationship is modelled on Carter's concept of

reciprocal love in The Sadeian Woman which „will not admit of conqueror and conquered‟.45 It is a

model which Carter states Sade explicitly controverted as he „preserves his ego from the singular
   Carter, The Bloody Chamber, p. 65.
   Lewallen, Avis, „Wayward Girls But Wicked Women?: Female Sexuality in Angela Carter's “The Bloody Chambe'r”‟
     in Day, Gary and Bloom, Clive (eds.), Perspectives on Pornography: Sexuality in Film and Literature (New York: St
     Martin's, 1988), pp.144-158 (p.149).
   Ibid., p. 146.
   Carter, The Sadeian Woman, p. 79.
   Ibid., p. 133.
   Ibid., p. 151.
confrontation with the object of reciprocal desire which is, in itself, both passive object and active

subject. [...] It is in this holy terror of love that we find, the source of all opposition to the

emancipation of women‟.46 Beauvoir, similarly admonishes Sade for „never for an instant losing

himself in his animal nature‟,47 and for refusing in his misogyny to acknowledge the way in which

the ambiguity of his fleshed subjectivity could open him reciprocally to the female other. Both

women situate Sade's solipsistic ethic of the erotic against their own feminist erotic, one which

„allows one to grasp existence in one's self and the other, as both subjectivity and passivity. The two

partners merge in this ambiguous unity; each one is freed of his own presence and achieves

immediate communication with the other‟.48

        Carter's dual revisions of the traditional fairy tale 'Beauty and the Beast' act as intratextual

companion pieces within The Bloody Chamber and exemplify the collection‟s textual tactics as a

whole. The first version deconstructs the original story by exposing the contrived gender differences

and positionalities which inform it. The second reconstructs by permitting the feminine subject to

exceed the projected desire prohibited by the patriarchal forces of the classic fairy tale that insist on

restricting female sexuality to that of an economic commodity. Employing Sade's liberatory

philosophy strategically, Carter exposes the patriarchal framework that structures such narratives,

and reformulates it into a feminist tale of erotic experience. As Marina Warner states: „Carter

snatches out of the jaws of misogyny itself 'useful stories' for women. There she found Sade a

liberating teacher of the male-female status quo and made him illuminate the far reaches of

women's polymorphous desires. The effect is to lift Beauty [...] out of the pastel nursery into the

labyrinth of female desire‟.49 By insisting on understanding Sade, by giving themselves over,

through a method of critical sympathy, to the logic of his philosophy, while exposing his misogyny,

both Beauvoir and Carter are able to make Sade work for them.

   Ibid., p. 146 & p. 150.
   Beauvoir, p. 21.
   Ibid., pp. 21-22.
   Warner, Marina in Carter, Angela (ed.), The Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales (London: Virago, 1992) p. x

Beaumont, Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de, 'Beauty and the Beast', 9 January 2007
<http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/beauty.html> [accessed 14/05/2010].

Beauvoir, Simone de, Must We Burn Sade?, trans. by Annette Michelson (New York: Grove Press,

Bettelheim, Bruno, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales
(Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978).

Carter, Angela, The Sadeian Woman (London: Virago, 1979).

Carter, Angela, The Bloody Chamber (London: Vintage, 2007).

Carter, Angela (ed.), The Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales (London: Virago, 1992).

Clancy, Patricia, „A French Writer and Educator in England, Mme Le Prince de Beaumont‟, Studies
on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, 201 (1982) pp. 195-208.

Duncker, Patricia, „Re-imagining The Fairy Tales: Angela Carter's Bloody Chambers‟, Literature
and History, 10:1, (1984) pp. 3-14.

Haffenden, John, Novelists in Interview (London and New York: Methuen, 1985).

Hearne, Betsy, Beauty and the Beast: Visions and Revisions of an Old Tale (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1989).

Kappeler, Susanne, The Pornography of Representation (Cambridge: Polity, 1986).

Lewallen, Avis, „Wayward Girls But Wicked Women?: Female Sexuality in Angela Carter's “The
Bloody Chamber”‟ in Day, Gary and Bloom, Clive (eds.), Perspectives on Pornography: Sexuality
in Film and Literature (New York: St Martin's, 1988) pp. 144-158.

Zipes, Jack, Fairy Tales and The Art of Subversion: The Classical Genre for Children and The
Process of Civilization (New York: Routledge, 2006).

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