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Erotic Infidelities

Love and Enchantment in Angela Carter's the Bloody Chamber

Kimberly J. Lau

Award Winner

Women's Studies, Literary Criticism and Theory, Fairy-Tale Studies, Cultural Studies, Folklore, Queer Studies

Raphael Patai Series in Jewish Folklore and Anthropology

Published: December 2014
ISBN: 9780814339336
Pages: 198 Size: 6 x 9
Published: December 2014
ISBN: 9780814339343
Pages: 198 Size: EPUB

In the thirty-five years since the publication of The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter's reimagined fairy tales have inspired an impressive body of criticism. Yet none has addressed the ways her fairy tales grapple with and seek to overcome the near impossibility of heterosexual love and desire under patriarchy. In Erotic Infidelities: Love and Enchantment in Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, author Kimberly J. Lau argues that the strangeness of Carter's fairy-tale enchantments—the moments when love or erotic desire escape the deeply familiar, habitual structures and ideologies that contain them—show the momentary, fleeting possibilities for heterosexual love and desire.

Lau begins by situating her reading of The Bloody Chamber—as individual stories and as a collection—within and against the critical literature, especially that which addresses Carter's relationship to psychoanalytic theory and issues of language and desire. In chapter 2, she illustrates Carter's construction of gender and language as labyrinthine structures—complex cultural edifices constructed and augmented over time. She moves on to consider Carter's "feline stories" in chapter 3—"The Courtship of Mr. Lyon," "The Tiger's Bride," and "Puss-in-Boots"—as an initial move away from the labyrinthine structures and toward an alternate erotics. In chapter 4, she reads "The Erl-King" and "The Snow Child" as another pair of mirrored tales, while chapter 5 elaborates on the pedophilic and necrophiliac fantasies of a pornographic culture, introduced in the previous chapter with the Count's desire for the Snow Child. In chapter 6, Lau situates Carter's three concluding stories—the wolf trilogy—within the context of feminist psychoanalytic understandings of infidelity as that which destabilizes patriarchal hegemonies and constructs.

Lau argues that Carter's "erotic infidelities" work against our culturally determined expectations and longings and usher us into welcome new enchantments. Situated at the intersection of feminist, psychoanalytic, literary, and fairy-tale studies, readers interested in a variety of scholarly disciplines as well as scholars of Carter's tales will enjoy Lau's look at enduring questions of gender, sexuality, and desire.

Kimberly J. Lau is professor of literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of New Age Capitalism: Making Money East of Eden and Body Language: Sisters in Shape, Black Women’s Fitness, and Feminist Identity Politics.

Dr. Lau’s beautifully written book revisits one of the most beloved, perplexing fairy-tale texts of the twentieth century, Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, and dwells in its most unfamiliar and challenging moments in order to illuminate its unique, destabilizing enchantments. Working at the intersection of fairy tale, folklore, feminist, and literary studies, Lau explores the ways in which desire and infidelity can disrupt patriarchal norms and constructs.

– The 2015 Elli Köngäs-Maranda Prize Committee, American Folklore Society (AFS)

In this significant contribution to second-wave Carter criticism, Kimberly J. Lau returns to The Bloody Chamber to tease out the transformative strategies and emancipatory force of its ‘alternate erotics’ against love’s entrapment in fairy-tale tropes and cultural myths. True to the author’s project, Lau’s subtle and thoughtful close readings capture the ethical implications of Carter’s literary experimentations that reconcile intellect and affect, theory and literary practice, poetics and politics, and thus highlight the utopian potential of enchantment.

– Martine Hennard Dutheil de la Rochère, author of Reading, Translating, Rewriting: Angela Carter’s Translational Poetics (Wayne State University Press, 2013)

Kimberly Lau’s book-length study of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber seeks to explore not only the individual stories of Carter’s famous collection, but also the poetics of the volume as an aesthetic whole. This is one of the most innovative aspects of the book, as this dimension of Carter’s work has often been neglected.

– Michelle Ryan-Sautour, Gramarye

Lau's Erotic Infidelities provides a new generation of readers with the tools to unpack Carter's exploration of sexual subjectivities and the instabilities inherent in negotiating desire and the opportunity to (re)discover for themselves this wondrously complex circle of short stories and the excitements of its metanarratives.

– Merja Makinen, Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature

Lau's scholarship is engaging, and her writing is technical without being abtruse. Erotic Infidelities is accessible to newcomers and explores the possibilities for alternative erotics and transgressive enchantments created by The Bloody Chamber as a whole, while offering interesting insights to those more familiar with the subject matter.

– Victoria L. M. Harkavy, Journal of American Folklore

In Erotic Infidelities, Kimberly J. Lau shows via close and brilliantly astute readings how ‘fantastically strange couplings and wonderfully disorienting endings’ in Carter’s metanarratives seek to liberate us humans from ‘enduring narratives’ about women’s sexuality and more generally about gender, desire, and language. By focusing on The Bloody Chamber’s gnawing away at these formative narratives of psychosexual development, Lau illuminates the intertextual relations Carter’s stories have with fairy tales as well as other enduring narratives, such as Romantic poetry, pornography, and an exclusionary form of humanist subjectivity.

– Cristina Bacchilega, author of Fairy Tales Transformed?: Twenty-First-Century Adaptations and the Politics of Wonder (Wayne State University Press, 2013)

This book offers intelligent insights to the reader of Carter’s work. Because Lau’s discussion makes consistent, sophisticated use of theory, academic readers are the ideal audience. Lau’s familiarity with Carter’s thinking, the array of Carter critics she deploys, and the variety of texts she handles in her arguments reflect an extremely well-researched book. All scholars interested in Carter’s The Bloody Chamber would benefit from reading Lau’s book. Her reading of the tales as part of a larger arc that moves from familiar to unfamiliar, from civilization and culture to nature and from tradition to exploration of difference convincingly realigns our view of Carter’s work. Readers will enjoy Lau’s combination of close reading, juxtaposition of texts, and energetic prose.

– Susan M. Bernardo, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

  • 2016 Elli Kongas-Maranda Prize - Result: Winner of the 2016 Professional Prize