Last night I gave a talk about my new anthology of Beauty and the Beast stories at the Harvard Bookstore. It’s spring break week at Harvard, and I was expecting just a handful of true believers in fairy tales. But Harvard Bookstore has its own faithfuls, and what a lively, attentive group it was. Afterwards I browsed the tables and shelves and was reminded of what a powerful intellectual and social experience it is to roam around in that bookstore. If you read this, stop by, browse, and buy at least one volume. And if you live elsewhere, go to your local bookstore and do the same.
My purchase last night will make great reading for today’s Nor’easter. It’s Edmund Gordon’s The Invention of Angela Carter (British cover below), and I can hardly wait to plunge into its pages today. Here’s a link to the Guardian’s review
and also a link to a review by the always brilliant Joan Acoccela in The New Yorker. And if you read that review, your next move will be to go buy the book.
The English novelist Angela Carter is best known for her 1979 book “The Bloody Chamber,” which is a kind of updating of the classic European fairy tales. This does not mean that Carter’s Little Red Riding Hood chews gum or rides a motorcycle but that the strange things in those tales—the werewolves and snow maidens, the cobwebbed caves and liquefying mirrors—are made to live again by means of a prose informed by psychoanalysis and cinema and Symbolist poetry. In Carter’s version of “Beauty and the Beast,” retitled “The Tiger’s Bride,” the beast doesn’t change into a beauty. The beauty is changed into a beast, a beautiful one, by means of one of the more memorable sex acts in twentieth-century fiction. At the end of the tale, the heroine is ushered, naked, into the beast’s chamber. He paces back and forth:
I squatted on the wet straw and stretched out my hand. I was now within the field of force of his golden eyes. He growled at the back of his throat, lowered his head, sank on to his forepaws, snarled, showed me his red gullet, his yellow teeth. I never moved. He snuffed the air, as if to smell my fear; he could not.
Slowly, slowly he began to drag his heavy, gleaming weight across the floor towards me.
A tremendous throbbing, as of the engine that makes the earth turn, filled the little room; he had begun to purr. . . .
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 sandpaper. “He will lick the skin off me!”
And each stroke of his tongue ripped off skin after successive skin, all the skins of a life in the world, and left behind a nascent patina of shiny hairs. My earrings turned back to water and trickled down my shoulders; I shrugged the drops off my beautiful fur.