Thursday, March 18, 2010
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Bluebeard doesn't have a horrific dungeon in which he hides the hacked up remains of his past wives, but rather just a cabinet with women painted on the walls. He doesn't want his wife to go into the cabinet out of genuine concern that the images might frighten her. France legitimizes the idea that this is a history with his specific use of names. It reads at times like a genealogy chart. Bluebeard, for example, becomes Bernard de Montragoux, and his series of misguided wives are all also assigned titles of the privileged French. Anatole's repeated use of French titles also seems in itself a bit of a critique. The formalism of the French upper class comes across as fickle and sadist. Bernard becomes a tragic figure, in constant search of happiness but repeatedly exploited by those he tries to love. His wealth, which seems of so little value to him, prevents him from being happy, as it rather than himself is the object of desire for these women. The death at the end is not heroic. The brothers don't ride in at the last moment to save the day. Bernard's death is unearned and unjust. France fittingly ends the piece by reporting that the outcome of the story is identical to that of the fairy tale. The last wife inherits the wealth and honors that were her now deceased husband's and her companions whom helped her vanquish the previous lord become noblemen themselves.
I was pleasantly surprised by this story, and by Thackeray’s ingenuity in using a horrific fairy tale as a springboard for a humorous, entertaining, and complex social drama. It’s clear from the last paragraph (“Psha!”) that the author certainly enjoyed himself while writing this one, and I have to say that his brand of thoughtful playfulness shines through on every page. The story very quickly establishes that it is NOT, like the story it’s based on, a fairy tale—there are nuanced characters that Thackeray slowly characterizes through dialogue and oblique descriptions (Mr. Sly “never drinks anything stronger than tea,” sister Anne is hilariously often referred to as a “minx” or “hussy”). We have not quite left the realm of magic, to be sure, but the otherworldliness here is of the same sort found in, say, Irving’s Sleepy Hollow; the plot veers into a “spookiness” of natural origin, not the uncanny horror of the other Bluebeard stories. Thackeray thrills us rather than terrifying us, for by the time the “ghost” appears we’ve already been conditioned by the multiple foiled suicide attempts not to take even the serious things too seriously. (At times this approach to humor gets a tad too dark: Doctor Sly wonders why his nephew hasn’t tried to commit suicide again after being rejected for the last time.)
The shift in genre also allows the story to offer a different sort of commentary than the very primal/psychological take on male-female relationships in the original Bluebeard fairy tales. The apparent Stockholm Syndrome (this probably isn’t the right term) going on with Mrs. Bluebeard in the beginning of the story is particularly interesting, as there wouldn’t really be any need to venerate the old murderer if all she cares about is money (as hinted by the narrator’s line about throwing a grand funeral for whoever left him a fortune). The scene with Mrs. Bluebeard and her sister going through the former’s late husband is comical, of course, but I wonder if Thackeray is playing her “condition” for more than just laughs. There’s a similar conundrum in the character of Mr. Sly—his morbid attempts to win Lady Bluebeard’s heart are very funny, but there’s also something poignant and pathetic in his efforts to put on false masculinity (both figuratively and literally, with the Bluebeard costume). Even as I laughed, some surprisingly sober thoughts of gender constructions couldn’t help but bubble up in the back of my head.
Now, the old woman, the old crone, what's up with her? Why does she even decide to help the girl when she has clearly seen many females before her go probably without a second thought. As a matter of fact, I'm not even sure why the basin of blood is even necessary because the nobleman gave his wife the autonomy to explore the castle completely. I think he is a serial killer and recruits women to kill for his own sadistic pleasure. The old woman is responsible for telling the girl that only her and the nobleman are allowed to enter this death chamber but it's obviously too late at that point. Through the goodness of the old women, the girl escapes and tells the lord of the castle that she escapes to about the nobleman. The lord of the castle holds a great feast and the nobleman's attendance at that feast seals his fate to be imprisoned. The girl tells her story, the nobleman is taken away by the authorities and she marries the lord of the castle.
What an utterly unsatisfying story. There is motive driving the nobleman's desire to kill girls, the girl escapes without any proof so she could just be lying on the nobleman and to set all things right in the world, she gets married to the lord of the castle and obtains all of the nobleman's treasures. I'm not sure what to consider this story. Something about it is just distasteful to me. It seems like an incomplete fairy tale and one that the title does not easily translate. At least with the Bluebeard stories, there is no intermediary that helps the girl and it seems like she should have listened to the requests of her husband and now she has to suffer since she didn't (although she is exonerated). Here is a tale of a what you see is not what you get and now you'll die, the end. BUT lucky you, the old crone will be nice today and you get to imprison instead of have the psychopathic man killed. Oh, isn't that swell?
The Brothers Grimms’ Blue Beard type story, “The Robber Bridegroom” is the most fairytale-like of all the Blue Beard stories we have read. In class we discussed that Blue Beard stories are generally different from the other stories we have read because it is a horror story that takes fear into reality instead of displacing it with magic. What makes horror so terrifying is that it takes something that is real or within the realm of possibility of the real and turns it from something know-able and safe into something horrible and scary so that what is natural to us becomes unnatural and foreign and therefore disgusting and horrible. This version is a lot like the Mr. Fox Tatar version but still is more fairytale-like.
The miller’s daughter didn’t love him like she should, she shuttered when she saw the bridegroom. In this story we don’t get a blue beard or some outward indicator of evil or unnatural-ness, only a “shutter” to identify the bridegroom as bad. Interestingly we as an audience automatically side with her that since something is off he must be evil. Moreover, his house is in a dark forest which in fairytales is the typical place for evil and challenges. As in Little Red Riding Hood, the bridegroom lures her into the forest, and reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel he spreads ashes for her to follow. She follows the ashes but adds peas and lentils which is again like Hansel and Gretel. Unlike other stories nature comes to the maiden’s aid or tried to as the bird calls out to her that she should turn back. There is a magical response where nature helps heroine as in most fairytales, the peas and lentils grow up and guide her home . She also finds the typical fairytale old crone who warns her. Interestingly she gets out of the danger with evidence of her challenge, the finger with the ring which follows the fairytale motif of a heroine holding a body part of another girl which is excused because there is valuable jewelry attached to it.
Furthermore the maiden gets away without immediate confrontation. And of course as we expect with Grimms tales it reads that “she got safely through with the help of God” as is consistent with Christian morals and Protestant values of the times. She says she had a strange dream but retells fairytale, alike old oral tellers retelling tales to an audience. Key elements are repeated and by doing so at end everyone thinks they’ve heard a tale but the twist is she shows the evidence and proves the fairytale wasn’t a story after which of course the robber bridegroom gets punished and everyone lives happily ever after with order and justice in place.