From Marina Warner on why Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber still bites at The Scotsman:
Fairy tales were reviled in the first stirrings of post-war feminist liberation movements as part and parcel of the propaganda that kept women down.
The American poet Anne Sexton, in a caustic sequence of poems called Transformations (1971), scathingly evokes the corpselike helplessness of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, and scorns, with fine irony, the Cinderella dream of bourgeois marriage and living happily ever after: boredom, torment, incest, death to the soul followed.
Literary and social theorists joined in the battle against the Disney vision of female virtue (and desirability); Cinderella became a darker villain than her sisters, and for Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, in their landmark study The Madwoman in the Attic (1979), the evil stepmother in Snow White at least possesses mobility, will and power – for which she is loathed and condemned. In the late Sixties and early Seventies, it wasn’t enough to rebel, and young writers and artists were dreaming of reshaping the world in the image of their desires. Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan had done the work of analysis and exposure, but action – creative energy – was as necessary to build on the demolition site of the traditional values and definitions of gender.
In this context, Angela Carter made an inspired, marvellous move, for which so many other writers as well as readers will always be indebted to her: she refused to join in rejecting or denouncing fairy tales, but instead embraced the whole stigmatised genre, its stock characters and well-known plots, and with wonderful verve and invention, perverse grace and wicked fun, soaked them in a new fiery liquor that brought them leaping back to life.
From her childhood, through her English degree at the University of Bristol where she specialised in medieval literature, and her experiences as a young woman on the folk-music circuit in the West Country, Angela Carter was steeped in English and Celtic faerie, in romances of chivalry and the grail, Chaucerian storytelling and Spenserian allegory, and she was to become fairy tale’s rescuer. Her first collection of tales, Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces (1974), was followed, five years later, by The Bloody Chamber, which has now become a classic of English literature, far beyond the moment and historical circumstances of its origins.
The article "is an edited extract of Marina Warner’s introduction to the Folio Society edition of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and other Stories, available from foliosociety.com." I just quoted the first few paragraphs, but the article is quite long and an excellent read.
Carter's works change titles depending on the country where an edition is published. These days, in the US, it's easiest to Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories to have a collection of her works if you want more than The Bloody Chamber.