Postmodern Retellings 101: Angela Carter’s The Tiger’s Bride

Foreword

By the second half of the 20th century, modern retellings of fairy tales had spread over the globe for various reasons such as the development of literary criticism or postmodernist ideas. The former had received critical acclaim in the academic field to such an extent that it promoted a reaction against the established social conventions. Therefore, many cultural products and perspectives were revised. All postmodern authors presented in this series take classic (fairy) tales as the foundation for their works and rewrite them. Each transforms the classic tale into a modern creation by presenting them from a postmodern perspective.


The poststructuralist philosopher Jacques Derrida claims that it is necessary to revise all the misconceptions derived from modernity since they do not represent the substance of reality. This process of discovery is named ‘deconstruction‘. Therefore, the authors appropriate classical forms and assimilate them in terms of 1970s postmodernism, which addresses different themes, from feminism and sexuality to psychoanalysis. The purpose of this series is to show how modern retellings differ from the original fairy tales, that is, what elements the authors have changed in their stories to "make them postmodern".


This series will be divided as follows:

  1. Postmodern Retellings 101: Postmodernist Perspectives and Subversion

  2. Postmodern Retellings 101: Robert Coover’s The Dead Queen

  3. Postmodern Retellings 101: Angela Carter’s The Tiger's Bride

  4. Postmodern Retellings 101: Sylvia Plath’s The Princess and the Goblins

  5. Postmodern Retellings 101: Anne Sexton’s Rapunzel

  6. Postmodern Retellings 101: Olga Broumas’s Cinderella


Angela Carter’s The Tiger’s Bride


Western society has traditionally been built on dualities — e.g. female and male, human and animal or mind and body. The parts of these dualities have always been defined by their proximity to the ultimate key binarism: rationality and emotion. Therefore, one term of the duality was valued above the other one because it was reasonable whereas the other one was instinctive. Rationality — according to Western tradition — has always been anthropocentric and male-focused, resulting in fatal consequences for women and the animal world. Angela Carter’s Tiger’s Bride is a modern retelling of the traditional tale Beauty and the Beast and it is interesting to analyse the story in terms of animal studies and human desires to shapeshift into animals.


Carter based her story on the French writer Madame Leprince Beaumont who was a regular in French literary salons in the 17th century. In that period, female writing became one of the driving forces in the narrative genre since women used the subversive nature of tales to deny the patriarchal rules and social conventions. Leprince Beaumont’s story compares the traditional dualism between male and female to the human-beast dichotomy that Carters reinforces in her story (Webb & Hopcroft, 2017).

Illustration of Beauty and the Beast. Janet and Anne Grahame-Johnstone.

Tiger’s Bride presents the story of a beautiful girl born on Christmas Day. She and her father leave Russia to go on a journey to Italy, where they stay in a territory controlled by a creature called ’The Beast’. However, they are unaware that all men who are staying in his territory must play cards with him. When the girl’s father ends up losing all his wealth and properties, he decides to gamble his daughter who he finally loses at cards, leaving her in the hand of The Beast (Bartu, 2016). The creature’s only desire is to see the girl’s virgin body naked to return all his father’s properties, but she refuses to do so every time she is being told to do it. In the end, The Beast exposes himself to the girl revealing his true form — a beautiful tiger with yellow eyes — which encourages her to do the same and provides her with the opportunity to return to the human world. Nevertheless, she finally decides to stay at The Beast’s home where she transforms into another magnificent tiger (Battisti, 2016).

Illustration of the Tiger’s Bride. Joanna Barnum.

Carter highlights the exclusion that the Other — embodied by women and beasts — faces in a civilized society. The girl and The Beast have been denied the possibility to develop a normal and fulfilling life: the young woman has been left alone due to her father’s greed; the creature can only show his real form in the intimacy of his home, although he is forced to wear a large coat, gloves and mask with human appearance to present himself in society (Gemović, 2019). Carter challenges Western understanding of what it means to be human and nonhuman as well as focusing on the definition of the Other (Bartu, 2016). By doing so, she establishes a broader concept of the world, which results from merging rationality and emotion or instinct (Webb & Hopcroft, 2017).


Since fairy tales break down the rules of the real world, metamorphosis and transformations occur regularly as well as the personification of animals. Creatures are never treated as such in fairy tales because they serve to explore the wild and unknown character traits of the human mind (Gemović, 2019). By blurring the line between nature and rationality, Carter dismantles the traditional convention that perceives nature as a primitive state of the civilized world. Carter also challenges the Enlightenment’s ideas on female nature since women were viewed as animals in terms of respect, ownership and decision (Brooke, 2004). Women could be exchanged and manipulated without any punishment in the same way the story’s main character is lost at cards by her father (Webb & Hopcroft, 2017).

Illustration of the Beauty and the Beast. Elisabeth Alba.

However, the relationship between the main character and The Beast — and even with her animality — progresses slowly and goes through different stages. At first, she is reluctant to believe that The Beast is indeed nonhuman and, therefore, she is fixed on social conventions that tend to deny or ignore the Otherness (Haynes, 2008). This is an extended tendency in Western culture that lies at the centre of every racist or xenophobic ideology, that is, the refusal of the Other. Therefore, at first, it seems that Western rationality is deeply integrated and taken in regarding her decision-making process (Gemović, 2019). However, Carter’s Beauty is not like Beaumont’s submissive and angelic heroine since she shows a great intellectual ability to challenge her principles and beliefs to develop her true nature. In fact, in the end, she refuses to go back to her father and the world of humans to embrace her true real nature, although her decision is not rational since she simply follows the instinct that leads her to The Beast (Haynes, 2008). Walking around naked is problematic for her because of the social conventions and moral principles until she reaches The Beast and her shape starts transforming into her animal self. It is not The Beast who transforms into a human being as in the original story, but it is the girl who becomes a tigress (Bartu, 2016). By shapeshifting, she does not deny her human form, but she refuses the social complexity of the human world that makes women void of agency and represses their natural and instinctive desires (Webb & Hopcroft, 2017).

Illustration of the Tiger’s Bride. Joanna Barnum.

In conclusion, Carter’s modern retelling is a critique of human nature and of the dehumanization that aims to make people act as automated systems without fears, feelings or desires. She proposes tales that blur the limits of Western dualisms and, therefore, a wider and more inclusive vision of reality. The nonhuman experience is as valuable as the rational one since humans are made up of both essences. This is well-appreciated in the main character’s swift assessment of the Western dualisms when confronted with The Beast’s nature and the emotion that his eyes express (Webb & Hopcroft, 2017).

Bibliographical references

Bartu, C.M. (2016). The Lambs That Lie Down with the Tigers: Angela Carter’s Feline Tales as Parodic Rewritings of Madame Leprince De Beaumont’s “Beauty and the Beast”. Interactions, 25(1-2), 13–24. Battisti, C. (2016). Bodies, Masks and Biopolitics: Clothing as “Second Skin” and Skin as “First Clothing” in “The Tiger’s Bride”. Polemos, 10(1), 101–123. https://doi.org/10.1515/pol-2016-0006 Beaumont, L. (2017). Beauty and the Beast and other classic stories. William Collins. Brooke, P. (2004). Lyons and Tigers and Wolves – Oh My! Critical Survey, 16(1), 67–88. https://doi.org/10.3167/001115704783473513 Carter, A. (1979). The bloody chamber and other stories. London: Gollancz. Gemović, A. (2019). From captivity to bestiality: Feminist subversion of fairy-tale female characters in Angela Carter’s “The Tiger’s Bride”. Reci Beograd, 11(1), 100–116. https://doi.org/10.5937/reci1912100G Haynes, K. A. (2008). The beast’s wife: Sexuality, gender and the other in twentieth- and twenty-first-century versions of “Beauty and the Beast”. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. Webb, C. & Hopcroft, H. (2017). “A Different Logic”: Animals, Transformation, and Rationality in Angela Carter’s “The Tiger’s Bride”. Marvels & Tales, 31(2), 314–337. https://doi.org/10.13110/marvelstales.31.2.0314

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Ana Isabel Bugeda Díaz

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