‘Images send us back our gaze.’
- 1 I am grateful to Liliane Louvel for drawing my attention to Hans Belting’s study. The translation (...)
Hans Belting, La vraie image. Croire aux images ? (167)1
- 2 Although Jakobson’s model gives pre-eminence to the linguistic sign, it extends to other forms of (...)
- 3 ‘Le terme de translation est suffisamment plastique pour décrire ce qui advient lorsque l’on passe (...)
1In recent years, the ordinary sense of translation as the transfer of a text from one language to another has been extended to the arguably even more complex transposition of verbal text into visual image (or vice versa). Following Roman Jakobson, translation is no longer limited to interlinguistic mediation but has come to encompass intersemiotic transposition.2Liliane Louvel, for example, has developed the idea that the interplay of text and image implies operations that are akin to translation in L’oeil du texte (1998), and she has outlined the modalities of this dialogue in Texte/Image: Images à lire, textes à voir (2002), where she argues that ‘the term of translation is flexible enough to describe what happens when we move from image to text and vice versa in a configuration of dialogue and responses, an operation of translation or interpretation’ that stems from their mutual relationships. She goes on to describe the interplay of text and image in terms of a differential structure of analogy and difference (or, rather, différance) that arises from their tension, so that ‘the passage between the two semiotic codes is to be read in-between’.3 The dynamic process of intersemiotic (or intermedial) translation therefore requires a form of active reading on the part of the reader/viewer who is made to move to and fro (Louvel uses the term oscillation) between text and image.
- 4 Gillian Lathey remarks that ‘One of the most notable differences between translating for adults an (...)
- 5 It ranges from Shakespeare to Sade, Perrault to Poe, Dickens to Baudelaire, to name a few of its n (...)
- 6 Carter polemically argued that Sade put pornography ‘in the service of women’ in The Sadeian Woman(...)
- 7 See, for instance, Crofts 2003, Munford 2006, and Kerchy 2011. I discuss the influence of ‘horrorz (...)
- 8 See hennard Dutheil 2006.
2Most people today, including children, become familiar with Perrault’s contes through illustrated books or animated films. But it is significant that in the last decades of the twentieth century, the fairy tale was also revived as a genre for adults in the English-speaking world. Angela Carter played an important role in the development of this parallel tradition through her collection of fairytale-inspired stories, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979), which started a veritable fashion that lasts to this day. Significantly, Martin Ware’s artwork for The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault (1977), Carter’s translation of Perrault’s tales published two years earlier, already modernizes them and goes against the Disneyfied reception of the genre.4 Ware’s images depart from the conventionalized reception of the fairy tale even more radically than Carter’s translations, which are still governed by the assumption that Perrault’s tales were written for children (she refers to them as ‘nursery stories’). By contrast, the illustrations are aimed at an adult audience and they self-consciously foreground the formal and visual dimensions of the tales. In this sense, they prefigure The Bloody Chamber, which re-envisions the traditional stories of Bluebeard, Little Red Riding Hood, and Beauty and the Beast through the prism of Western art, literature and culture. The palimpsest quality of Carter’s richly allusive fiction has been well documented.5 Likewise, Carter’s interest in the visual arts (predominantly painting and cinema) has been examined in relation to the author’s concern for the impact of visual culture on women’s self-representations and social roles, and to her intervention in the debate on the ‘male gaze’ and pornography that animated feminist circles in the late 1970s and 1980s.6 More recently, critics have traced the influence of film, surrealist art, painting and comic books on her work, and shifted attention from Carter’s fiction to her lesser-known radio plays, film scripts, journalism and cultural criticism, as well as to Neil Jordan’s and David Wheatley’s cinematic adaptations.7While Carter’s nuanced criticism of the politics of vision and the ‘male gaze’ has been much discussed with regard to ‘The Bloody Chamber’, however, little has been done on the interaction of the textual and the visual regimes in her work, which to me is a key to her creative process.8
- 9 This may have to do with the poor status of translation, seen as a ‘secondary’ activity. See Henna (...)
3While Carter’s collection of ‘stories about fairy stories’ (Carter, 1998, 38) has generated a great deal of critical interest, her translation of Perrault’s contes into English has long been neglected, even though these two projects were conducted more or less simultaneously.9I wish to argue that translation and rewriting were not only closely related in terms of chronology and genre, but that considering them together sheds new light on the dynamics of creation in The Bloody Chamber, which emerged partly as a response to Martin Ware’s artwork for her translations. The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault marked a turning-point in Carter’s career as it changed her perception of the fairy tale and raised central issues that the writer was to pursue in The Bloody Chamber collection. The interplay of text and image in The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault also enables us to re-read Perrault’s tales differently, as it highlights the specific nature of each medium as well as their intricate relations.
- 10 The book was reissued in a different form (and format) as Sleeping beauty and Other Favourite Fair (...)
- 11 ‘The notion of the fairy tale as a vehicle for moral instruction is not a fashionable one. I sweat (...)
- 12 From her translation to her rewrintings, Carter moves from a child reader to a knowing, sophistica (...)
4The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault was first published by Victor Gollancz Ltd in 1977.10 While Carter’s translations adapt Perrault’s tales for modern-day children (especially girls) with a view to conveying their ‘politics of experience’, to borrow her own words (Carter, 1998, 452)11, Ware’s artwork for The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault provides an intriguing counterpoint to the translator’s understanding of the nature, purpose and readership of Perrault’s contes. In this sense, Ware’s etchings anticipate a shift in audience (from children to adults) and a concern for visuality that becomes central in The Bloody Chamber.12 Further, Carter adapted specific elements from Ware’s illustrations in her collection of fairytale rewritings, including visual details and strategies that she transposed to the realm of verbal narrative.
- 13 A successful, independent publishing house created in 1927, Victor Gollancz Ltd was sold to Hought (...)
5The circumstances of the collaboration between the writer and the visual artist draw attention to the role of editors and publishers in the making of a book which was to play a major (and so far underestimated) role in Carter’s development as a writer. Angela Carter was commissioned by Victor Gollancz Ltd to do a new and fresh translation of Perrault’s collection in 1976. In a private correspondence, Martin Ware confirms that even though The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault was marketed as a children’s book, he took it to be aimed at an adult audience while hoping that it would be appreciated by younger readers as well.13 Ware’s illustrations are set in strong contrast to Carter’s rendering of Perrault’s tales, insofar as there is nothing child-like about them. Besides challenging generic expectations, they also foreground the issue of vision in the tales. This is particularly striking in Bluebeard, a tale based on a visual prohibition, but also in The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, where the famous scene of the encounter of the Prince and the Princess reworks the erotic topos of the ‘belle endormie’, and in Little Red Riding Hood, a tale which notoriously revolves around deceptive appearances.
6In her 1976 essay for New Society, ‘The Better to Eat You With’, Carter records her experience of reading Perrault’s contes in French prior to translating them into English, and she opposes their sound worldly pedagogy to the irresponsible escapist tradition of fairyland. She admires Perrault’s ‘Le Petit chaperon rouge’ for the narrative economy of the tale that so effectively conveys its basic conflict by privileging action over narration and description, and relying on characters reduced to types or ‘functions’:
And what a craftsman Perrault was! ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ is a classic of narrative form. The plot arises from the interaction of the wolf and his hunger, and the child and her ingenuity. The suspense springs from our knowledge of the predatoriness of wolves and our perception of Red Riding Hood’s ignorance of it. No child reared on these austere and consummately constructed narrative forms is going to be easily fobbed off with slipshod stream-of-consciousness techniques, or overheated poetic diction. (Carter, ‘The Better to Eat You With’, 1998, 454)
7Carter is here concerned with the politics of style and narrative form: her reading of the tale as a warning against deceptive speech and rhetorical manipulation, embodied by the wolf, is in turn reflected in her translation of Perrault’s text, which further simplifies the grammar, syntax and style of the story in keeping with its cautionary moral. And yet, clear-cut binary oppositions and fixed roles are inevitably complicated insofar as the plot revolves around deception, disguise and substitutions. This is what Martin Ware’s full-page etching suggests, as it depicts two brief moments of narration inserted between the famous dialogues:
Le Loup ne fut pas longtemps à arriver à la maison de la Mère-grand ; il heurte : Toc, toc. [...] Ensuite il ferma la porte, et s’alla coucher dans le lit de la Mère-grand, en attendant le petit chaperon rouge, qui quelques temps après vint heurter à la porte. Toc, toc. (Contes, 1981, 144)
The wolf soon arrived at Grandmother’s house. He knocked on the door, rat tat tat. [...] 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. (Fairy Tales 24; 26)
8While the tale is plot-driven, centering on dramatic action, dialogue and sound effects (onomatopoeia), Ware chooses to focus on a structural aspect, namely the repetition of the scene.
-Courtesy of Orion Books
- 14 Ware’s emphasis on frames and enclosures (rooms, doors, windows, etc.) suggests the multiple meani (...)
9Ware translates this visually on the page by juxtaposing images that represent those two transitional moments as variations on the same situation: in the top frame, the spectator is inside the grandmother’s bedroom, looking out: the old lady, seen almost in profile, is wearing a nightcap and nightgown. She sits straight in her bed (as if waiting for someone to arrive), staring stonily ahead, while the head of the wolf, framed by the open window, is visible from the spectator’s point of view, but not his future victim’s.14 Below, the setting and perspective are identical, except for the characters swapping places: the wolf has now replaced the grandmother, and he is wearing her nightcap (but no nightgown) to signal his usurpation of her identity, while the head of the heroine (light-haired, age uncertain, wearing her hood) is visible through the window: she is looking in, seemingly at the reader, who can only stare back helplessly: we know that wolves are dangerous, but she doesn’t and we cannot warn her of the impending danger. Thus, whereas Carter seeks to emulate the masterfully constructed plot and effective style of Perrault’s tale in her translation, Ware interprets the story visually as being about the old woman’s and the little girl’s inability to see the wolf and the danger that he represents. His characters are impassive, still, and expressionless, to the point of undermining the dramatic action and its impact on the reader that supposedly drives the cautionary message home, according to Carter in her essay. The marked absence of visible emotions (in face, attitude, or gesture) in the pictures thus shifts the focus from action to narrative form, story to discourse, affect to critical distance.
10Ware’s defamiliarizing strategies invite alternative interpretations of the tale and thereby draw attention to significant differences between the visual and textual regimes. However, they also complicate any attempt to oppose them, since the juxtaposition of two almost identical scenes in the picture conveys an idea of elementary sequence and development that is characteristic of narrative, as opposed to the alleged descriptive nature of illustration. The brutality and violence of the devouring of the grandmother and the girl that follows upon each scene of waiting is elided, although the fact that the wolf moves from outside to inside the house, from background to foreground creates a sense of suspense and threat, suggesting that he might even step outside the frame to devour the reader. Ware also pays homage to his predecessors: the night bonnet worn by the grandmother and appropriated by the wolf seems to allude to Gustave Doré’s well-known illustration of Little Red Riding Hood in bed with the wolf.
11Significantly, the bonnet passes from grandmother to wolf in the tale, just as the motif passes from Doré to Ware in the iconographic tradition.
12In turn, structural, narrative, generic and stylistic experimentation becomes a key feature of The Bloody Chamber, where Carter proposes several variations on the story of Little Red Riding Hood that explore the disquieting confusion between the grandmother and the wolf, the girl and the wolf, the hunter and the wolf, etc. The possibilities opened up by role-switching, substitutions and conflated identities are notably exemplified in ‘The Company of Wolves’, where the story is retold from different perspectives and in different modes, styles and contexts. In keeping with Carter’s association of the wolf’s smooth tongue with the dangerous seductions of language (after Perrault’s moral cautioning against the ‘Loups doucereux’ 145), the following passage combines textual and visual effects to ambiguous ends. It is written in an excessive and self-consciously visual style that evokes a scene full of eyes and (literal and metatextual) reflections:
At night, the eyes of wolves shine like candle flames, yellowish, reddish, but that is because the pupils of their eyes fatten on darkness and catch the light from your lantern to flash it back to you – red for danger; if a wolf’s eyes reflect only moonlight, then they gleam a cold and unnatural green, a mineral, a piercing colour. If the benighted traveler spies those luminous, terrible sequins stitched suddenly on the black thickets, then he knows he must run, if fear has not struck him stock-still. (‘The Company of Wolves’, The Bloody Chamber, 110-111, emphasis mine)
13The narrator/storyteller addresses the implied reader/audience as ‘you’ and thus casts ‘him’ in the role of Little Red Riding Hood, unless the central trope of the reflecting eyes governing the passage suggests that there is something wolf-like about us too. ‘Images send us back our gaze’, according to Belting, but some texts have the same effect too. While the declared intention of the narrator seems to be to warn ‘the benighted traveller’ against the danger represented by wolves, the elaborate, ornate, alliterative style dazzles and confuses all the better to trap ‘him’ in the yellow, red and green lights reflected in the wolves’ eyes that glow in the dark. Her role becomes even more ambiguous when s/he invites the ‘benighted traveller’ to run, only to stop ‘him’ ‘stock-still’ at the end of the sentence and paragraph. This strategy is reminiscent of ‘The Bloody Chamber’, which seemingly condemns the perverse (and deathly) seductions of art represented by the murderous Marquis and yet couches the story in a densely allusive and baroque, artful and artificial language that ambiguously enacts what it cautions the reader against. Unlike the straightforward message conveyed by the translation, then, Carter’s rewritings teach a lesson in the ambiguity and complexity of meaning, and of shifting subject positions.
14In another variation on the story, ‘The Werewolf’, Carter proposes alternatives to the familiar plot when the grandmother, who turns out to be a werewolf in disguise, is neutralized by her bold and armed granddaughter; or alternately (depending on how we read the tale) the granddaughter plots against her grandmother, accuses her of being a witch, and appropriates her belongings. Here also, the meaning of the tale remains ambiguously open. These complex reconfigurations of the constitutive elements of the tale call into question the simple conflict and clear message that Carter praised in her essay about Perrault and sought to emulate in her translation. The text-image interaction that characterizes The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault thus suggests a variety of possibilities for interpretation that the writer explored in The Bloody Chamber.
- 15 In a footnote to Perrault’s Contes, Jean-Pierre Collinet lists dozens of references to the theme o (...)
15‘La Belle au bois dormant’ (‘The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood’), as the title of the tale suggests, presents a variation on the topos of the ‘belle endormie’ which raises the question of the gendered gaze, visual pleasure, and desire and/or love at first sight, but also of violated intimacy and voyeurism.15 In the galant style, Louis-Marin Bonnet’s engraving of ‘Mars et Venus’(1772) foregounds the erotic implications of the famous scene of discovery that remain chastely ‘veiled’ in Perrault’s literary rendering:
-Courtesy of Affordable Art
- 16 In the fourteenth-century prose romance Perceforest, a king’s daughter named Zellandine is made pr (...)
16The visual dimension of the scene is highlighted by Mars opening the curtains to unveil the naked body of the sleeping Venus (literally, Beauty!). The curtains thus dramatize the conditions of visibility of the picture while clearly associating vision with sexual intimacy, sensual pleasure and erotic desire (see Louvel, 2002, 140). Writing in a more prudish context, Perrault also mentions curtains but there are no references to nakedness and the erotic/voyeuristic implications of the discovery of the sleeping woman so present in the literary and visual tradition are attenuated.16 Instead, he highlights the admiration of the young Prince at the dazzling spectacle of the sleeping princess, conveyed in a hyperbolic and humorous fashion: enshrined in a golden room, her face radiates light (‘éclat resplendissant, lumineux et divin’) to the point of triggering in the young man a mixed aesthetic, amorous and mystical experience, which also comically recasts the young woman as a female equivalent of the Sun King. The galant elements of Bonnet’s licentious picture and complex humour of Perrault’s description disappear altogether in Carter’s translation for children, which reorients the ‘marvellous’ (merveilleux) of the French conte de fées towards the more ordinary and yet subjectively magical encounter between a young man and a ‘lovely’ girl (‘she was so lovely that she seemed, almost, to shine’). Ware’s visual illustration of the passage, in turn, goes against the licentious tradition exemplified by Bonnet’s picture, but to different effects. It emphasizes the theatricality of the scene, but does not play up either its erotic, humoristic or romantic/sentimental associations which characterize the twentieth-century reception of the tale (including, of course, Disney’s movie).
17The scene represents a moment where vision is overdetermined vision in Perrault’s text, as the visual details, the many occurrences of the verb ‘to see’, the light emanating from the girl that floods the scene, the connotations of the verb ‘admirer’ (which capture the effect of surprise and visual pleasure of the spectacle on the Prince) all show:
il entre dans une chambre toute dorée, et il vit sur un lit, dont les rideaux étaient ouverts de tous côtés, le plus beau spectacle qu’il eût jamais vu : une Princesse qui paraissait avoir quinze ou seize ans, et dont l’éclat resplendissant avait quelque chose de lumineux et de divin. Il s’approcha en tremblant et en admirant, et se mit à genoux auprès d’elle. Alors comme la fin de l’enchantement était venue, la Princesse s’éveilla ; (Contes 135-6, 1981, italics mine)
At last he arrived in a room that was entirely covered in gilding and, there on a bed with the curtains drawn back so that he could see her clearly, lay a princess about fifteen or sixteen years old and she was so lovely that she seemed, almost, to shine. The prince approached her trembling, and fell on his knees before her.
The enchantment was over; the princess woke. (Fairy Tales 64, italics mine)
-Courtesy of Orion Books
18Ware’s drab, somber and almost sinister rendering of the scene evokes a scene from Hamlet (another Prince…), or perhaps a downbeat version of the English pantomime tradition which sometimes features adaptations of Sleeping Beauty. Framed by drawn curtains, the white horizontal rectangle on which the heroine is laid out is opposed to the vertical black backdrop on which the young man, looking surprised or frightened (possibly to convey ‘trembling’) and facing the viewer/audience, detaches himself. The reclining girl is wearing a plain dress and her hair is neatly arranged in a bun while a blank-eyed youth wearing a fur-lined cape and crown is staring at her reclining body (or is it at the spectator?). The Prince’s face is brightly lit from below, and the young woman’s seemingly from above, as if by a spotlight, instead of the radiating light which emanates from her body in Perrault’s text. The visual treatment of the scene thus foregrounds the theatrical aspect of the passage in Perrault’s and Carter’s texts, but deprived of its wonder and splendor, as well as its voyeuristic implications. There is nothing erotic about the dress, the hairstyle or the rigid body of the sleeping girl/woman in Ware’s picture. The idea of the ‘disenchantment’ of the famous bed scene, which occurs immediately after the description of the encounter of Sleeping Beauty and the Prince in the text (‘the enchantment was over’), is therefore represented visually in the etching: the young Prince’s subjective (‘enchanted’ or enamored) perception of the sleeping Princess is replaced by the external, neutral and detached gaze of the spectator. Retrospectively, we are made to notice the presence of the word ‘paraissait’ (seemed) in Perrault’s text, which already suggests that the youthful beauty of the girl may be no more than an illusion and therefore hints at a discrepancy between the naïve and enthralled focalizer on the one hand and the ironic narrator on the other.
19The disenchantment of the fairy tale also characterizes Carter’s rewriting of the story as a Gothic tale in ‘The Lady of the House of Love’, when the female vampire (who is both Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty and her cannibal mother-in-law) lures a young man into her castle but falls in love with him, lets herself be kissed, and dies. The following morning, when the young man wakes up to find the room empty, the sinister decor of the Gothic castle is no more than a paltry illusion, and the morning light lays bare the device: ‘The shutters, the curtains, even the long-sealed windows of the horrid bedroom were all opened up and light and air streamed in; now you could see how tawdry it all was, how thin and cheap the satin, the catafalque not ebony at all but black-painted paper stretched on struts of wood, as in the theatre’ (‘The Lady of the House of Love’, 106). The trappings of Gothic fiction are just a cheap trick of the light – like the illusions of romance that Perrault already makes gentle fun of in his contes, and are further challenged in The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault. Adaptations and rewritings of Sleeping Beauty that exploit the ‘dark’ aspects of the tale abound in English literature and culture, from Carter’s vampire in ‘The Lady of the House of Love’ to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga, which features a heroine called … Bella.
20And thus the interplay of text and image renews our understanding of Perrault’s contes and the power they exert over our imagination. The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault becomes part of a complex creative continuum involving (re)reading, translation, illustration and rewriting. It exemplifies the intricate relations of visual and literary culture, which produces new possibilities for (re)interpretation of the classic tales while transforming our perception and understanding of their significance, since ‘a text or a painting can contribute to the transformation of a view held by the culture in which it functions’ (Bal, 2006, 47).