The timeframe in which The Lady of The House of Love is set is ambiguous in the sense that the reader is given little information as to its timeframe. The time in which a story is set has a major influence on the gender roles and whether theyd support or defy the stereotype of being male or female. The only evidence we have that suggests it is set in the early 1900s as there is a mention of World War 1, and the soldiers fate in the trenches of France.
However at a glance, the reader may assume that gender roles based from the 1800s is what the title suggests. However, The Countess or the Lady of The House can be shown not to play the classic passive female role, and is more empowered than the title first suggests. The Countess can be interpreted to be symbolic of the trapped housewife; she is constantly haunted by her past relatives whos painted eyes¦ briefly flickered as they passed as they control her like a ventriloquists doll from the grave.
This idea that the past can affect or still be in control of the present seems an supernatural thing, further adding to the Countess lack of control as the supernatural takes hold of her freedom; even though she is an impossible creature herself, she seems unable to fight it. Is Carter suggesting here that all women, even those with powers are forced into submission? She is also continuously held captive by the mute that stays with her. And, her caged lark is symbolic of her own imprisonment.
It is this imprisonment which, I believe, forces her to fulfil her vampiric duties, and be the vicious image of a woman obsessed with freedom. Hollinger comments that this story is in fact an ironic parody of Stokers Dracula which emphases that, in a world defined by the ideology of human rationality, it is, in fact, the vampire here standing in for the realm of the fantastic as a whole who is the real victim, further supporting the idea that the Countess is in fact limited in her control of her own life, similar to the angel of the house in the 1800s.
The Countess vampiric role is what contradicts the other aspects of the passive female. Intertextually, it can be seen within Carters collection of stories in The Bloody Chamber that she remarkably twists a typical fairytale plot with her own modern feminist views and irony, for fairytales used to be told by women to the children as bed time stories and men then took fairytales and twisted them to send their own patriarchal messages this can be interpreted as Carter taking her own feminist stance on fairytales.
This can be similarly seen within Lady of the House of Love. Carter permits The Countess to contradict the typically innocent stereotype with her image, her surroundings, and her behaviour towards the men she entices to perform her obligation. Carter describes The Countess to be a girl who is both death and maiden, with fingernails pared to a fine point. This violent illustration is not typical of a female fairytale character.
And an example of her irony, she further described the Countess to have teeth as fine and white as spikes of spun sugar, this oxymoron observes the violent appearance of The Countess as well as giving Carter the opportunity to use the more fairytale-like referral to sugar adding a duality to Countess . Another more modern female label is that of an empowered temptress which fits more within the temporal context at Carters time of writing during the feminist movement.
The Countess, although a character imprisoned, is able to seduce men into her bedchamber, and fulfil this stereotype. The narrator states that she is an imprisoned woman, And now she is a woman, she must have men. This again is Carter twisting the typical fairytale style and adding a sexual element, for the Countess is dead, and so no longer has a lust for sex, but a lust for blood as she knows only one type of consummation.
The theory is that, due to the Countess devoid for sexual desire, she may have died before losing her virginity, thus she presents the rose symbolic of her own vagina to the soldier and laments And I leave you as souvenir the dark, fanged rose I plucked from between my thighs, suggesting that just as she cannot kiss, but only kill with her mouth, she is unable to gain any pleasure from her thorned vagina.
In addition to the sexual factor throughout The Lady of the House of Love, the imagery of vast amounts of roses suggests a mockery of the Countess for they are symbolic of feminity, love and sex, and the Countess is unable to experience these typical womanly experiences. With Carter emphasising on the Countess lack of femininity, yet having the power to seduce gentlemen to her bedchamber where they cant believe their luck shows Carters feminist streak suggesting femininity is not just one stereotype.
In terms of the male gender within The Lady of The House of Love, the only constant male character is the soldier, who is kept anonymous. The other men who fall into the Countess trap are described as ignorant and foolhardy¦ unwise adventurers a more typical trait of a passive and naive woman, and is ironic as the Countess controlling the men is contradicting the stereotypes. This example if matriarchal control yet again displays Carters humorous style of writing.
The Soldiers character is typically cynical like a mans supposed to be in the 1800s: he is not afraid of being on two wheels in the land of the vampires. His bicycle is his symbol of rationality, and when the mute takes his bicycle, in spite of his protests, he is symbolically denying a belief in the irrational thus foreshadowing an irrational event to occur. Being a rational, cynical man can be seen as typical traits of the male gender role although the Soldier is put into a position where any other man would be suspicious, but the Soldiers lack of realisation proves his naivety and stupidity at the Countess advances.
The story is written in third person, using an omniscient narrator, this allows the narrator to speak the characters thoughts, for example the soldiers reaction What a macabre bedroom! gives us an insight into his naivety at the fact that the Countess is planning to kill him whilst he is judging the decor. His innocence is more typical of a female role, in particular, a female fairytale character being tricked by the wicked witch, which is yet again ironic.
Plus the fact that he is a virgin further proves his femininity, for women are the gender who is honoured for their virginity. Gender is not the only order which is challenged in The Lady of The House of Love, but also the barrier between life and death. This adds a very gothic element to the story, and crossed the genre to more of a gothic fairytale. The story is also an allegory of reason over unreason; life over death. The Countess represents unreason, reason is that death is imminent but the Countess is the living dead.
Her bedchamber is referred to as Juliets Tomb suggesting that just as Juliet in Romeo & Juliet was is a masquerade of death, the Countess is playing the masquerade of life. The Soldier on the other hand represents the side of reason, not only does he have his bicycle as a symbol of his rationality, but he shows no fear at the Countess blatant statement You will be my prey. In addition, near the end of the story where light enters the Countess chamber it is a symbol of rationality invading the realm of irrationality and the Countess alters from an impossible being into a being of reason: a human.
Angela Carter manipulates the gender roles within The Lady of The House of Love, for she miraculously proves within both main protagonists that they can be equally androgynous, sharing both masculine and feminine traits, and overall challenging the stereotypes that society has set.
Bibliography http://www. gradesaver. com/the-bloody-chamber/study-guide/ Making Sense of Language, Form & Structure Worksheet by Ms Carr Vampires, The Body & Eating Disorders: A Psychoanalytic Approach Sally Miller, Royal College of Art, London 1999 Hollinger (ibid. , 205-6) Word Count: 1,235.