The Bloody Chamber

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Themes and Colors
Sexuality and Violence Theme Icon
Virginity Theme Icon
Metamorphosis Theme Icon
Power and Objectification Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Bloody Chamber, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Virginity Theme Icon

Related to the principle theme of sexuality is the idea of virginity, and many of the heroines (and one hero) of the stories are virgins. In the world of The Bloody Chamber, virginity is both an invitation for corruption and a kind of strength or shield. In the stories that focus on sexual violence and manipulation (like “The Bloody Chamber” or “The Tiger’s Bride”) the virginity of the heroines is their most attractive quality to the bestial men who desire them. To the Marquis, for example, the heroine’s virginity is an innocence that can be corrupted and destroyed.

Though virginity inherently means a kind of innocence, in Carter’s stories it has a unique strength as well. Twice she describes a character’s virginity as like a “pentacle” protecting them from harm, and she illustrates the power of virginity as the power of potential, like a stone about to fall. In several stories, when the heroine loses her virginity this act also releases a kind of transformative power that is more than sexual – often a kind of metamorphosis. Throughout the book virginity is like the blank slate, the potential for sexual violence, a metamorphosis of the self, or both.

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Virginity ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Virginity appears in each story of The Bloody Chamber. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Virginity Quotes in The Bloody Chamber

Below you will find the important quotes in The Bloody Chamber related to the theme of Virginity.
The Bloody Chamber Quotes

I saw him watching me in the gilded mirrors with the assessing eye of a connoisseur inspecting horseflesh, or even of a housewife in the market, inspecting cuts on the slab. I’d never seen, or else had never acknowledged, that regard of his before… When I saw him look at me with lust, I dropped my eyes but, in glancing away from him, I caught sight of myself in the mirror… I saw how much that cruel necklace became me. And, for the first time in my innocent and confined life, I sensed in myself a potentiality for corruption that took my breath away.

Related Characters: Heroine (The Bloody Chamber) (speaker), The Marquis
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Marquis stares at the Heroine, regarding her as a mere object for his sexual gratification: a toy to be played with. The Marquis stares at the Heroine, even when she's not staring back--the very definition of the "male gaze." Furthermore, the mirrors of the opera house (the setting of this scene) make it seem that the Marquis surrounds the Heroine on all sides, symbolizing his power and total domination.

And yet the passage also suggests that the Heroine herself is somewhat complicit in her own objectification. Unlike many feminist writers of the era, Carter isn't afraid to suggest that a woman can enjoy being sexualized or objectified, and here, the Heroine seems to be getting subtle pleasure out of the way the Marquis treats her. Indeed, she thinks of the Marquis as uncovering her secret, corrupt side--the latent potential of her present innocence and virginity. Things aren't black and white in Carter's stories--they are often undeniably about male oppression and female attempts at liberation, but they also toy with sadism and masochism, and the idea that some kinds of objectification can be sexually attractive.


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He stripped me, gourmand that he was, as if he were stripping the leaves off an artichoke… And when nothing but my scarlet, palpitating core remained, I saw, in the mirror, the living image of an etching by Rops… He in his London tailoring; she, bare as a lamb chop. Most pornographic of all confrontations. And so my purchaser unwrapped his bargain. And, as at the opera, when I had first seen my flesh in his eyes, I was aghast to feel myself stirring.

Related Characters: Heroine (The Bloody Chamber) (speaker), The Marquis
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the Marquis has taken the Heroine, his new wife, back to his home. There, he undresses her and prepares to have sex with her for the first time. The Heroine notes that the Marquis "owns" her completely--it's implied that she has no rights, no ways of fighting back against the Marquis. As in the previous passage, she watches herself in the many mirrors on the walls, and again sees herself as an object--here presented as food to be inspected and consumed, an "artichoke" or a "lamb chop."

The passage emphasizes many of the themes of the story collection. The heroine undergoes a "metamorphosis" (as many of the later characters also will) in being stripped of her outer layers to reveal the "palpitating core" within her. Her virginity is also again portrayed as a kind of power and potential, here an opportunity for both violence and pleasure. Finally, the Heroine witnesses her own disempowerment and objectification, but can't help feeling sexually "stirred" by the sight of herself as a "pornographic" image (the man clothed and the woman naked--the ultimate symbol of female objectification and male power). Violence and sexuality are intimately tied together in Carter's stories, but to slip too far in the direction of violence and dehumanization is to risk entering a state of horror and fear.

I stammered foolishly: We’ve not taken luncheon yet; and, besides, it is broad daylight…
All the better to see you.
He made me put on my choker, the family heirloom of one woman who had escaped the blade… Rapt, he intoned: “Of her apparel she retains/Only her sonorous jewellery.”
A dozen husbands impaled a dozen brides while the mewing gulls swung on invisible trapezes in the empty air outside.

Related Characters: Heroine (The Bloody Chamber) (speaker), The Marquis (speaker)
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Marquis prepares to have sex with the Heroine. He's aroused by the fact that she's a virgin, and can't wait to take her virginity. The Marquis seems to think of the Heroine as a passive part of his own pleasure: he undresses her, and then makes her put on the choker, as if she's a mannequin being arranged on a stage.

The passage uses rich imagery, and even fairy-tale imagery ("The better to see you" comes straight out of "Little Red Riding Hood," often interpreted, including by Carter herself, as a story about sexual seduction) to convey the Heroine's experience. She's surrounded by mirrors, so that she's dominated by the Marquis's presence in all directions (hence the dozen husbands). Furthermore, the Heroine describes the Marquis as "impaling her," conveying the violent nature of his desire for. It's impossible to separate sex and violence in Carter's story: she can't have one without the other.

No. I was not afraid of him; but of myself. I seemed reborn in his unreflective eyes, reborn in unfamiliar shapes. I hardly recognized myself from his descriptions of me and yet, and yet – might there not be a grain of beastly truth in them? And, in the red firelight, I blushed again, unnoticed, to think he might have chosen me because, in my innocence, he sensed a rare talent for corruption.

Related Characters: Heroine (The Bloody Chamber) (speaker), The Marquis
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

Immediately after losing her virginity to the Marquis, the Heroine feels that she's been  "reborn." She describes looking at herself in the "mirror" of her husband's eyes and not knowing herself: it's as if the Marquis has unleashed an inner wildness and corruption in the previously virginal and innocent Heroine, which she's now forced to confront.

The passage suggests the possibility that the Heroine somewhat enjoys being abused and objectified by her husband--a possibility that shocked many feminists of the day. Although the Marquis seems to treat the Heroine as an object, she has also internalized a similar view--she sees herself as passive and virginal, and only now that she is "corrupted" she seems reborn into a new state of sexuality and violence.

The Courtship of Mr Lyon Quotes

How strange he was. She found his bewildering difference from herself almost intolerable; its presence choked her. There seemed a heavy, soundless pressure upon her in his house, as if it lay under water, and when she saw the great paws lying on the arm of his chair, she thought: they are the death of any tender herbivore. And such a one she felt herself to be, Miss Lamb, spotless, sacrificial.

Related Characters: The Beast (The Courtship of Mr. Lyon), Beauty
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

This next story is one of two based on the fairy-tale "Beauty and the Beast." Here Beauty has come to live with the titular Beast. The Beast, later Mr. Lyon, is an intimidating, wild-looking creature, frightening to any "herbivores" (which the virginal, harmless heroine considers herself to be, no matter what she might actually eat). In this passage, Beauty has taken her father's place in the Beast's home, as punishment for her father's decision to steal a rose from the Beast. Beauty feels that she's a helpless object, a sacrificial lamb to be consumed by the Beast: she's sacrificed herself to free her father, after all.

The Tiger’s Bride Quotes

And The Beast gave me the rose from his own impeccable if outmoded buttonhole when he arrived, the valet brushing the snow off his black cloak. This white rose, unnatural, out of season, that now my nervous fingers ripped, petal by petal, apart as my father magnificently concluded the career he had made of catastrophe.

Related Characters: Heroine (The Tiger's Bride) (speaker), The Beast (The Tiger's Bride)
Related Symbols: Roses
Page Number: 52-53
Explanation and Analysis:

In this story, a kind of inversion of the previous one (but another re-interpretation of Beauty and the Beast), the Heroine watches as her father gambles away all his money to the Beast. The Beast gives the Heroine a white rose, which the Heroine nervously rips apart, reflecting her father's plummeting fortunes (and also calls back to the first story, where the Marquis stripped away the Heroine's clothes like the leaves of an artichoke). Soon, we sense, the father will be forced to gamble away the Heroine herself.

Now that we're at the third story, it's clear that certain images, characters, and motifs will reappear in different manifestations throughout the book: roses, beasts, virgins, etc. Carter changes the significance of such objects and characters, however: here, it's not that the Heroine sacrifices herself for her father, as in the previous story; rather, the father selfishly gives up his own child to please the Beast. The Heroine's frantic ripping might symbolize the loss of her innocence and virginity: as we'll see, her time with the Beast will bring out her inner wildness.

The Lady of the House of Love Quotes

He has the special quality of virginity, most and least ambiguous of states: ignorance, yet at the same time, power in potentia, and, furthermore, unknowingness, which is not the same as ignorance. He is more than he knows – and has about him, besides, the special glamour of that generation for whom history has already prepared a special, exemplary fate in the trenches of France. This being, rooted in change and time, is about to collide with the timeless Gothic eternity of the vampires, for whom all is as it has always been and will be, whose cards always fall in the same pattern.

Related Characters: The Countess (The Lady of the House of Love), Young Man (The Lady of the House of Love)
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the vampirish Countess's future victim, a Young Man, enters the story. The Man is virginal, historical rather than fantastical (he will later die in World War I), and intensely rational. And yet the Young Man, in encountering the Countess, is about to be sucked back into the past, into Carter's fairy-tale world of sex, magic, and violence, in which time is an illusion.

There are a few things worth noting here. First, Carter alludes to real historical events (WWI) and purposefully has them collide with the timeless fairy tales she has been reinventing. Second, the roles of men and women are somewhat reversed in this story, as the Young Man is the innocent, virginal "hero" about to encounter the sexual and violent "Beast" (the vampiric Lady). Third, Carter here reiterates the power of virginity as a concept--rather than just being a kind of blankness or ignorance, virginity has its own power in its potential, in its innocence and purity.

Owls shriek; the impedimenta of her condition squeak and gibber all around us. Now you are at the place of annihilation, now you are at the place of annihilation. She turns her head away from the blue beams of his eyes; she knows no other consummation than the only one she can offer him. She has not eaten for three days. It is dinner-time. It is bedtime.

Related Characters: The Countess (The Lady of the House of Love), Young Man (The Lady of the House of Love)
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Countess feels the anticipation of the moment: soon, she's going to seduce and kill the Young Man, as she has always done. Carter associates the Countess's seduction with nothingness itself: she's going to annihilate the Young Man (and the sudden change of tense to second-person makes this encounter especially poignant and powerful). It's important to distinguish the Countess's seduction from some of the others in the book: unlike the Beast who shows the Heroine how to be a tiger, the Countess won't be adding anything to or revealing anything within her virginal victim; she'll just be annihilating him. The final lines of the passage also make clear once again how sex and violence, love and death are intricately intertwined. To the Lady, they are exactly the same--dinnertime is bedtime.

She is not sleeping.
In death, she looked far older, less beautiful and so, for the first time, fully human.
I will vanish in the morning light; I was only an invention of darkness. And I leave you as a souvenir the dark, fanged rose I plucked from between my thighs, like a flower laid on a grave. On a grave.

Related Characters: The Countess (The Lady of the House of Love) (speaker), The Countess (The Lady of the House of Love)
Related Symbols: Roses
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the Young Man discovers that the Countess has been transformed into a mortal woman, and has died. The night before, she had her own blood sucked, reversing her vampirish identity and giving her the ambiguous "gift" of mortality. There is then another lyrical change of tense, as the narrator assumes the voice of the dead Countess, speaking once more in the second-person from beyond the grave (but with a universal, poetic voice that could come from many of the characters in the story sequence.) In the final lines the Countess doesn't seem angry with the Young Man for bringing death to her; on the contrary, she leaves him a strange memento of their time together--"a dark, fanged rose I plucked from between my thighs." In this brief image Carter condenses many of her themes and motifs: beauty, death, sex, virginity, violence, and roses.

The Company of Wolves Quotes

She stands and moves within the invisible pentacle of her own virginity. She is an unbroken egg; she is a sealed vessel; she has inside her a magic space the entrance to which is shut tight with a plug of membrane; she is a closed system; she does not know how to shiver. She has her knife and she is afraid of nothing.

Related Characters: Child (The Company of Wolves)
Related Symbols: Bloody Chambers
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, we're introduced to the heroine of this short story, the child. The child, like most of Carter's heroines, is a virgin; furthermore, she thinks of her youth and virginity as sources of power, rather than weaknesses. Virginity, its own kind of "chamber," as described here, will protect the child--or so she thinks--during her journey through the dark, dangerous forest. (This also echoes Carter's description of the Young Man's virginity in "The Lady of the House of Love.")

The passage is interesting in the way that it subverts various stereotypes of femininity and weakness. The child is a virgin, and yet she seems empowered by her own virginity; she's an innocent girl, and yet she carries a phallic, violent knife. In short, the child is at once mature and immature, a mess of contradictions and ambiguities--like most of the book's heroines.

Every wolf in the world now howled a prothalamion outside the window as she freely gave the kiss she owed him.
What big teeth you have!…
All the better to eat you with.
The girl burst out laughing; she knew she was nobody’s meat. She laughed at him full in the face, she ripped off his shirt for him and flung it into the fire, in the fiery wake of her own discarded clothing…
Carnivore incarnate, only immaculate flesh appeases him.

Related Characters: Child (The Company of Wolves) (speaker), Huntsman (speaker)
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the story, the child (a version of Little Red Riding-Hood) arrives at her grandmother's house and finds the wolf, waiting in bed, disguised as her own grandmother, as other wolves howl a "prothalamion" (a celebration of a marriage) outside. In this retelling, the child isn't fooled or frightened in the slightest: she recognizes the wolf for what he is. And yet the child seems to play along with the wolf's charade: she praises the wolf, and freely offers the kiss he asks for. And when it's time for the wolf to "eat" her, the child instead seduces the wolf, using her confidence and sexuality to conquer him. Unlike the heroines of other previous stories, who are described in terms of food or meat, the child knows she is "nobody's meat."

The passage shows the child using her sexuality and femininity as weapons--asserting her own agency and independence. With sexuality, the child saves her own life; furthermore, she seems to be genuinely enjoying herself, savoring the danger of having sex with a carnivorous wolf. As in some of the other stories in the book, the child emerges victorious by undergoing a metamorphosis into a "wolf" herself; i.e., by transforming from a virgin into a sexualized, "man-eating" beast.

Wolf-Alice Quotes

The wolves had tended her because they knew she was an imperfect wolf; we secluded her in animal privacy out of fear of her imperfection because it showed us what we might have been, and so time passed, although she scarcely knew it. Then she began to bleed.

Related Characters: Wolf-Alice
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we meet "Wolf-Alice" after she has already been raised by wolves, and then "rescued" by humans. The nuns who find her seek to raise her, but then she begins to "bleed" (menstruate), and they decide to give her up to the Duke, a werewolf.

As in most of the stories in the book, a kind of metamorphosis is a central aspect of "Wolf-Alice." At this point, Alice is in a transition state--not a wolf, but not a true human either. This is then connected to her menstruation as another transition state, one involving both sex and violence (blood); she is becoming a woman, and virginity is giving way to sexuality. It's especially notable that Alice is staying with nuns--who embrace virginity and chastity and fear sexuality--and they only give her up once she begins to "bleed."