Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bluebeard Thinking

Bluebeard by Frederic Theodore Lix

I have been traveling and returned home with a lovely case of food poisoning, so I am even further behind than anticipated this week. But I had to chime in on the wonderful Bluebeard discussions happening around our fairy tale world thanks to Theodora Goss's thought provoking post this past Saturday, On Bluebeard, with InkGypsy's contribution, Of Keys & Bluebeards.

My mind is simply not clear enough to contribute well at this point, but the subject is so very critical to me and one that I am intimate with, especially after the time I have spent reading and translating and editing Bluebeard tales, Bluebeard Tales From Around the World (Surlalune Fairy Tale Series). This post isn't meant to be self-serving but that is unavoidable since my experiences with the tale are connected to my book.

I shy away from the horror genre in general with few exceptions so it has always been a journey of self-discovery to figure out why Bluebeard resonates so strongly with me. The fascination started in high school, not when I read the original tale, but when I read Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories.

Over the years, I've come to accept my fascination with the tale as the warning and acknowledgment of the hidden dangers of some men in our lives. Or as Goss stated:

If you’re a woman, and you’ve lived for a while in the world, you’ve learned to be cautious. You’ve learned that you don’t know who people are, or what they’re capable of, until you’ve known them for a long time, and sometimes not even then.

Most of the women I know are wise to live with a moderate level of caution in their daily lives, a philosophy of living that overreacting is usually safer than no action at all. Violence and death are real possibilities and we all know victims personally if we are not ones ourselves. And, really, most of us have been victims on some level, unfortunately. For me, it was a hand in a dark movie theatre of a strange man sitting two seats away, reaching over to touch parts of me that were not acceptable. I was alone but the theatre was far from empty. I had been cautious in where I went and where I sat. And he waited until the movie was two-thirds done. Then he ran away in the dark, not to be caught or identified by me.

For me, there's the relative who needed the legal system to stop a man from stocking her after a few dates. "A day in jail for each flower you send her," the judge told him. Fortunately, that time, it worked and he stopped. After he had hacked her email and caused her enough embarrassment that a new job was necessary. And after a restraining order that required footwork across the country to be served.

And the blame Goss mentions? It's rampant, no matter the level of abuse/attack that was experienced by the women. The women in my life blame themselves. And some of their friends and families hold them responsible, too, on many levels. Why didn't they know better to be in that place with that person? Bluebeard does this, too, by giving us a woman's "curiosity" as an acceptable reason for punishment/death.

When I translated tales for my Bluebeard collection, one French tale, Barbe Rouge, particularly stood out. It was the only tale to give me a nightmare the night after I first read it, too.

It begins like this:

BARBE Rouge was married seven times and successively lost each of his wives after a short time of homemaking. He lived ten years in harmony with his eighth wife with whom he had two daughters and a son. But after that time, Barbe Rouge took his wife into such hatred that he resolved to get rid of her.

One Sunday, at the moment she returned from Mass, he said to her, “Jeanne-Marie, today I will kill you.”

“Allow me,” the woman replied, “to put on my wedding clothes, those in which I was married to you.”

“Then go up to your room and be quick for I am in a hurry.”

This tale disturbed me because it was so matter-of-fact, there was no reason given for the sudden hatred--not even curiosity--and the only hint of a previous problem is the dead wives--but dead spouses were more common before modern medicine. And there's children, too. This is a mentally disturbed man.

And how many women think of their keys as a weapon when walking anywhere, almost anytime? Mine reside on a wrist strap that turn my keys into an effective mace, too. My husband, as weapon-loving as he is, doesn't think like that in his day-to-day living.

Anyway, enough meandering through my unorganized thoughts, my real job is to recommend Bluebeard resources for further reading:

Secrets beyond the Door: The Story of Bluebeard and His Wives by Maria Tatar

Bluebeard: A Reader's Guide to the English Tradition by Casie E. Hermansson should not be missed. She explores the history and variations of the tale in the greatest detail.

Bluebeard Tales From Around the World (Surlalune Fairy Tale Series) edited by Heidi Anne Heiner--many of tales, plays, etc. discussed by Hermansson are collected here, plus some other materials.

And don't miss Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories

Online, there is also Bluebeard and the Bloody Chamber by Terri Windling.

Finally, a fascinating Bluebeard retelling shouldn't be missed in Ariane et Barbe-bleue by Maurice Maeterlinck. The play appears in my book.

And, of course, where I started it all, The Annotated Bluebeard. (Really, that's where SurLaLune started, with an annotated Bluebeard.)

Finally, the views in the post are mine and based upon my own life and experiences. I am closing the comments for this post because I am not going to moderate a discussion about sexism, discrimination, etc. When statistics show that women and children are not the most victimized members of society with the perpetrators primarily men, I will open the discussion. And that's not happening any time soon, alas. I am grateful for the many, many wonderful and trustworthy men in my life but they do not approach their safety in the same way the women in my life do in their day-to-day living.