AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

Madam Has a Word to Say: Power, Gender and Responsibility in Retellings of "Bluebeard"

by Margrét Snæfríður Jónsdóttir 1992

Institution: University of Iceland
Year: 2015
Keywords: Enska
Record ID: 1222123
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1946/21033


This essay explores the “Bluebeard” fairy tale and six works of fiction inspired by it, from a feminist perspective. It mainly focuses on how the difference of power between men and women is portrayed in the stories, as well as where they place responsibility in cases of violence against women. The fairy tales of the “Bluebeard”-type are about a conflict between a serial killer groom and his bride, who discovers his secrets. This conflict manifests itself as a struggle between physical and verbal powers. This is seen in the fact that the bride always saves herself from death by the hand of her lover by using her words, either by buying herself time with the right words or revealing her lover’s secrets through carefully timed storytelling. The concepts of responsibility, blame and repercussion are also touched upon in the tales, as Bluebeard kills his wives when they disobey his rules. The tale is often interpreted as a fable showing the consequences of wifely disobedience, while this essay claims that the story celebrates the heroine’s bravery in opposing the murderer’s patriarchal rules. The essay further examines how these concepts of power and blame are dealt with in six retellings of “Bluebeard” and its variants. These retellings span 150 years and are penned by four male and two female authors. Charles Dickens’ “Captain Murderer” and Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber” underscore the importance of physical power. Dickens’ characters conform to traditional gender roles, while Carter’s do not. Anatole France’s The Seven Wives of Bluebeard and Neil Gaiman’s “The White Road” endeavour to absolve Bluebeard of his sins, while Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr Fox and Vonnegut’s Bluebeard emphasize the severity of them instead. Most of the authors acknowledge the complexity of the fairy tales’ issues and refuse to provide simple solutions to them.