Bluebeard, p.1Angela Carter
‘Curiosity is the most fleeting of pleasures; the moment it is satisfied, it ceases to exist and it always proves very, very expensive’
Born 7 May 1940, Eastbourne
Died 16 February 1992, London
All stories in this collection first published in Great Britain in The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, 1977.
ALSO PUBLISHED BY PENGUIN BOOKS
The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault • Heroes and Villains • The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman
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Selected from The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, published in Penguin Classics 2008
This edition published in Penguin Classics 2011
Translation and copyright © Angela Carter, 1977
All rights reserved
Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
Little Red Riding Hood
Puss in Boots
The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood
Cinderella: or, The Little Glass Slipper
Ricky with the Tuft
The Foolish Wishes
There once lived a man who owned fine town houses and fine country houses, dinner services of gold and silver, tapestry chairs and gilded coaches; but, alas, God had also given him a blue beard, which made him look so ghastly that women fled at the sight of him.
A certain neighbour of his was the mother of two beautiful daughters. He decided to marry one or other of them, but he left the girls to decide between themselves which of them should become his wife; whoever would take him could have him. But neither of them wanted him; both felt a profound distaste for a man with a blue beard. They were even more suspicious of him because he had been married several times before and nobody knew what had become of his wives.
In order to make friends with the girls, Bluebeard threw a lavish house-party at one of his country mansions for the sisters, their mother, three or four of their closest friends and several neighbours. The party lasted for eight whole days. Every day there were elaborate parties of pleasure – fishing, hunting, dancing, games, feasting. The guests hardly slept at all but spent the night playing practical jokes on one another. Everything went so well that the youngest daughter began to think that the beard of the master of the house was not so very blue, after all; that he was, all in all, a very fine fellow.
As soon as they returned to town, the marriage took place.
After a month had passed, Bluebeard told his wife he must leave her to her own devices for six weeks or so; he had urgent business in the provinces and must attend to it immediately. But he urged her to enjoy herself while he was away; her friends should visit her and, if she wished, she could take them to the country with her. But, above all, she must keep in good spirits.
‘Look!’ he said to her. ‘Here are the keys of my two large attics, where the furniture is stored; this is the key to the cabinet in which I keep the dinner services of gold and silver that are too good to use every day; these are the keys of the strong-boxes in which I keep my money; these are the keys of my chests of precious stones; and this is the pass key that will let you into every one of the rooms in my mansion. Use these keys freely. All is yours. But this little key, here, is the key of the room at the end of the long gallery on the ground floor; open everything, go everywhere, but I absolutely forbid you to go into that little room and, if you so much as open the door, I warn you that nothing will spare you from my wrath.’
She promised to do as he told her. He kissed her, got into his carriage and drove away.
Her friends and neighbours did not wait until she sent for them to visit her. They were all eager to see the splendours of her house. None of them had dared to call while the master was at home because his blue beard was so offensive. But now they could explore all the rooms at leisure and each one was more sumptuous than the last. They climbed into the attics and were lost for words with which to admire the number and beauty of the tapestries, the beds, the sofas, the cabinets, the tables, and the long mirrors, some of which had frames of glass, others of silver or gilded vermilion – all more magnificent than anything they had ever seen. They never stopped congratulating their friend on her good luck, but she took no pleasure from the sight of all this luxury because she was utterly consumed with the desire to open the door of the forbidden room.
Her curiosity so tormented her that, at last, without stopping to think how rude it was to leave her friends, she ran down the little staircase so fast she almost tripped and broke her neck. When she reached the door of the forbidden room, she stopped for a moment and remembered that her husband had absolutely forbidden her to go inside. She wondered if he would punish her for being disobedient; but the temptation was so strong she could not resist it. She took the little key, and, trembling, opened the door.
The windows were shuttered and at first she could see nothing; but, after a few moments, her eyes grew accustomed to the gloom and she saw that the floor was covered with clotted blood. In the blood lay the corpses of all the women whom Bluebeard had married and then murdered, one after the other. She thought she was going to die of fright and the key fell from her hand. After she came to her senses, she picked up the key, closed the door and climbed back to her room to recover herself.
She saw the key of this forbidden room was stained with blood and washed it. But the blood would not go away, so she washed it again. Still the blood-stain stayed. She washed it, yet again, more carefully, then scrubbed it with soap and sandstone; but the blood-stain would not budge. It was a magic key and nothing could clean it. When the blood was scrubbed from one side of the key, the stain immediately reappeared on the other side.
That same night, Bluebeard returned unexpectedly from his journey; a letter had arrived on the way to tell him that his business had already been satisfactorily settled in his absence. His wife did all she could to show him how delighted she was to have him back with her so quickly.
Next day, he asked for his keys; she gave them to him but her hand was trembling so badly he guessed what had happened.
‘How is it that the key of the little room is no longer with the others?’ he asked.
‘I must have left it upstairs on my dressing-table
‘Give it to me,’ said Bluebeard.
She made excuse after excuse but there was no way out; she must go and fetch the key. Bluebeard examined it carefully and said to his wife:
‘Why is there blood on this key?’
‘I don’t know,’ quavered the poor woman, paler than death.
‘You don’t know!’ said Bluebeard. ‘But I know, very well! You have opened the door of the forbidden room. Well, madame, now you have opened it, you may step straight inside it and take your place beside the ladies whom you have seen there!’
She threw herself at her husband’s feet, weeping and begging his forgiveness; she was truly sorry she had been disobedient. She was so beautiful and so distressed that the sight of her would have melted a heart of stone, but Bluebeard’s heart was harder than any stone.
‘You must die, madame,’ he said. ‘And you must die quickly.’
She looked at him with eyes full of tears and pleaded:
‘Since I must die, give me a little time to pray.’
Bluebeard said: ‘I’ll give you a quarter of an hour, but not one moment more.’
As soon as she was alone, she called to her sister, Anne, and said:
‘Sister Anne, climb to the top of the tower and see if my brothers are coming; they told me they would come to visit me today and if you see them, signal to them to hurry.’
Sister Anne climbed to the top of the tower and the poor girl called out to her every minute or so:
‘Sister Anne, Sister Anne, do you see anybody coming?’
And Anne, her sister, would reply:
‘I see nothing but the sun shining and the grass growing green.’
Bluebeard took an enormous cutlass in his hand and shouted to his wife: ‘Come down at once, or I’ll climb up to you!’
‘Oh, please, I beg you – just a moment more!’ she implored, and called out, in a lower voice: ‘Sister Anne, Sister Anne, do you see anybody coming?’
Sister Anne replied:
‘I see nothing but the sun shining and the grass growing green.’
‘Come down at once, or I’ll climb up to you!’ cried Bluebeard.
‘I’ll be down directly,’ his wife assured him; but still she whispered: ‘Sister Anne, Sister Anne, do you see anything coming?’
‘I see a great cloud of dust drawing near from the edge of the horizon.’
‘Is it the dust my brothers make as they ride towards me?’
‘Oh, no – it is the dust raised by a flock of sheep!’
‘Will you never come down?’ thundered Bluebeard.
‘Just one moment more!’ begged his wife and once again she demanded: ‘Sister Anne, Sister Anne, do you see anything coming?’
‘I see two horsemen in the distance, still far away. Thank God!’ she cried a moment later. ‘They are our brothers; I shall signal to them to hurry.’
Bluebeard now shouted so loudly that all the house trembled. His unfortunate wife went down to him and threw herself in tears at his feet, her dishevelled hair tumbling around her.
‘Nothing you can do will save you,’ said Bluebeard. ‘You must die.’ With one hand, he seized her disordered hair and, with the other, raised his cutlass in the air; he meant to chop off her head with it. The poor woman turned her terrified eyes upon him and begged him for a last moment in which to prepare for death.
‘No, no!’ he said. ‘Think of your maker.’ And so he lifted up his cutlass. At that moment came such a loud banging on the door that Bluebeard stopped short. The door opened and in rushed two horsemen with naked blades in their hands.
He recognized his wife’s two brothers; one was a dragoon, the other a musketeer. He fled, to save himself, but the two brothers trapped him before he reached the staircase. They thrust their swords through him and left him for dead. Bluebeard’s wife was almost as overcome as her husband and did not have enough strength left to get to her feet and kiss her brothers.
Bluebeard left no heirs, so his wife took possession of all his estate. She used part of it to marry her sister, Anne, to a young man with whom she had been in love for a long time; she used more of it to buy commissions for her two brothers; and she used the rest to marry herself to an honest man who made her forget her sorrows as the wife of Bluebeard.
Curiosity is a charming passion but may only be satisfied at the price of a thousand regrets; one sees around one a thousand examples of this sad truth every day. Curiosity is the most fleeting of pleasures; the moment it is satisfied, it ceases to exist and it always proves very, very expensive.
It is easy to see that the events described in this story took place many years ago. No modern husband would dare to be half so terrible, nor to demand of his wife such an impossible thing as to stifle her curiosity. Be he never so quarrelsome or jealous, he’ll toe the line as soon as she tells him to. And whatever colour his beard might be, it’s easy to see which of the two is the master.
Little Red Riding Hood
Once upon a time, deep in the heart of the country, there lived a pretty little girl whose mother adored her, and her grandmother adored her even more. This good woman made her a red hood like the ones that fine ladies wear when they go riding. The hood suited the child so much that soon everybody was calling her Little Red Riding Hood.
One day, her mother baked some cakes on the griddle and said to Little Red Riding Hood:
‘Your granny is sick; you must go and visit her. Take her one of these cakes and a little pot of butter.’
Little Red Riding Hood went off to the next village to visit her grandmother. As she walked through the wood, she met a wolf, who wanted to eat her but did not dare to because there were woodcutters working nearby. He asked her where she was going. The poor child did not know how dangerous it is to chatter away to wolves and replied innocently:
‘I’m going to visit my grandmother to take her this cake and this little pot of butter from my mother.’
‘Does your grandmother live far away?’ asked the wolf.
‘Oh, yes,’ said Little Red Riding Hood. ‘She lives beyond the mill you can see over there, in the first house you come to in the village.’
‘Well, I shall go and visit her, too,’ said the wolf. ‘I will take this road and you shall take that road and let’s see who can get there first.’
The wolf ran off by the shortest path and Red Riding Hood went off the longest way and she made it still longer because she dawdled along, gathering nuts and chasing butterflies and picking bunches of wayside flowers.
The wolf soon arrived at Grandmother’s house. He knocked on the door, rat tat tat.
‘Your grand-daughter, Little Red Riding Hood,’ said the wolf, disguising his voice. ‘I’ve brought you a cake baked on the griddle and a little pot of butter from my mother.’
Grandmother was lying in bed because she was poorly. She called out:
‘Lift up the latch and walk in!’
The wolf lifted the latch and opened the door. He had not eaten for three days. He threw himself on the good woman and gobbled her up. Then he closed the door behind him and lay down in Grandmother’s bed to wait for Little Red Riding Hood. At last she came knocking on the door, rat tat tat.
Little Red Riding Hood heard the hoarse voice of the wolf and thought that her grandmother must have caught a cold. She answered:
‘It’s your grand-daughter, Little Red Riding Hood. I’ve brought you a cake baked on the griddle and a little pot of butter from my mother.’
The wolf disguised his voice and said:
‘Lift up the latch and walk in.’
Little Red Riding Hood lifted the latch and opened the door.
When the wolf saw her come in, he hid himself under the bedclothes and said to her:
‘Put the cake and the butter down on the bread-bin and come and lie down with me.’
‘Grandmother, what big arms you have!’
‘All the better to hold you with, my dear.’
‘Grandmother, what big legs you have!’
‘All the better to run with, my dear.’
‘Grandmother, what big ears you have!’
‘All the better to hear with, my dear.’
‘Grandmother, what big eyes you have!’
‘All the better to see with, my dear!’
‘Grandmother, what big teeth you have!’
‘All the better to eat you up!’
At that, the wicked wolf threw himself upon Little Red Riding Hood and gobbled her up, too.
Children, especially pretty, nicely brought-up young ladies, ought never to talk to strangers; if they are foolish enough to do so, they should not be surprised if some greedy wolf consumes them, elegant red riding hoods and all.
Now, there are real wolves, with hairy pelts and enormous teeth; but also wolves who seem perfectly charming, sweet-natured and obliging, who pursue young girls in the street and pay them the most flattering attentions.
Unfortunately, these smooth-tongued, smooth-pelted wolves are the most dangerous beasts of all.
Puss in Boots
A certain poor miller had only his mill, his ass and his cat to bequeath to his three sons when he died. The children shared out their patrimony and did not bother to call in the lawyers; if they had done so, they would have been stripped quite bare, of course. The eldest took the mill, the second the ass and the youngest had to make do with the cat.
He felt himself very ill used.
‘My brothers can earn an honest living with their inheritance, but once I’ve eaten my cat and made a muff with his pelt, I shall have to die of hunger.’
Bluebeard by Angela Carter / Fantasy / History & Fiction have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes