Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is a transgressive and eroticized reworking of traditional fairy stories which explores feminist concerns about male and female identity and which combines, devastatingly, genres such as Gothic terror and horror, magic realism, black comedy with elements of satire, feminist agitprop and rococo exuberance. Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights interrogates Victorian notions of class, morality and gender through its account of the intense and tumultuous passion between Catherine and Heathcliff. A “Bible of Hell” as described by Gilbert and Gulber. Both texts, though, despite their differences, examine, challenge and play with different dimensions of masculine identity, including men as evil predators, men as helpless victims, men as chivalrous gentlemen, and even men as effeminate and womanly.
First, then, both texts present men as violent, predatory, and exploitative. In “The Bloody Chamber”, the first short story of Carter’s collection, the male protagonist, the Marquis — his name an allusion to Marquis de Sade, author of the notorious and extremely pornographic book The One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom — is presented as a brutal, patriarchal villain with sadomasochistic desires. The Marquis’s power is revealed through the physical description of his “white, heavy flesh” as well as by the fact that even when the Marquis is absent the unnamed heroine feels as if “the eye of God — his eye — was upon me”. Similarly the description of how the Marquis takes his bride’s virginity while she is made to watch through a dozen mirrors — “a dozen husbands impaled a dozen brides” — shows his dominance and power, with the past participle “impaled” suggesting that sex between them is violent and almost murderous, rather like in “The Snow Child”. The fact that the heroine observes this in a mirror suggests her subordination and objectification, while her description of the Marquis “gazing at me” may allude to Laura Mulvey’s notion of the “male gaze” and to feminist critiques of patriarchy more generally. The violence and exploitativeness of the Marquis is brought into particularly sharp focus by the heroine, who is by contrast young and innocent. “He was older than I,” she says. “He was much older than I.” She speculates that “he might have chosen me because, in my innocence, he sensed a rare talent for corruption”, suggesting that the Marquis sees the girl as someone whom he can exploit to fulfil his dark desires. In a letter to a friend Carter wrote, “I really do believe that a fiction absolutely self-conscious of itself as a different form of human experience than reality (that is, not a logbook of events) can help to transform reality itself”; and so perhaps, by exposing the darkness and violence of this man, Carter was trying to inspire women to not be complicit in their own objectification but to save themselves and the women around them, much like the heroine’s mother does.
Though he is perhaps not as extreme and bloodthirsty as the Marquis, Heathcliff, from Wuthering Heights, is also villainous and cruel. Like the Marquis, he is described as physically imposing and rough, through the metaphor of an “arid wilderness of furze and whinstone”. Heathcliff’s violence and sadism is revealed when he states to Nelly, with rhetorical exclamatio: “I have no pity! I have no pity! The more the worms writhe, the more I yearn to crush out their entrails!” He is cruel towards his sickly son, Linton, whom he calls a “puling chicken”. He not only does not love his wife, Isabella, but brutally insults her, calling here a “mere slut”. In an act that some critics, such as Neville Symington, have interpreted as psychopathic, he hangs Isabella’s dog, saying: “The first thing she saw me do, on coming out of the Grange, was to hang up her little dog; and when she pleaded for it, the first words I uttered were a wish that I had the hanging of every being belonging to her, except one: possibly she took that exception for herself.” Adumbrating his future treatment of Isabella, he adds: “if only her precious person were secure from injury!” He smacks Isabella and hurls knives at her; and, like a true Gothic villain, he takes delight, when committing acts of violence and revenge, in the suffering caused to those around him, saying, “”I shall enjoy myself remarkably in thinking your father will be miserable; I shall not sleep for satisfaction”. Interestingly, too, even his romantic interactions with Catherine, the one character to whom he is not violent, are tinged with hints of Marquis-esque male violence, as when Nelly describes how Catherine and Heathcliff were “locked in an embrace from which I thought my mistress would never be released”.