Friday Essay – Of Angela Carter, Red Riding Hood, Werewolves and Sex

Little Red Riding HoodAs some of you may have noticed, I have been taking a first-year English class. It has been so much fun!  I read great books and poetry.  I have thought about monsters and monstrosities.  I have written papers.  My final paper was well received by my professor.  In fact, there were a few issues with the format of my citations and a few grammatical errors, but the essay itself was strong, well-argued and cogent.  What more could I ask for?  I really got into the subject and have read an awful lot about Red Riding Hood and werewolves.

As it is coming up to the holidays I am not doing as much writing as perhaps I ought, so I am posting an excerpt from my paper.  The story I examine is ‘The Company of Wolves’ by Angela Carter.  It was published in 1979 in her collection of short stories entitled The Bloody Chamber.  (The Perrault to which I refer is a 17th century version of Red Riding Hood.)  I hope you find it interesting:

“Carter was writing in the latter half of the twentieth century and well into the feminist era for the Western world.  Sexuality and heterosexual relationships had become far more complex and nuanced than marriage was in the seventeenth century.  By pulling out many of the metaphors from ‘The Company of Wolves’ it is possible to argue that Carter saw heterosexual relationships as equal.  Not only that, but she saw both men and women as having strong sexual desires that might be seen as monstrous, but are perhaps more rightly called natural.  Carter’s werewolf, as a metaphor for male sexuality, is rich and deep.  The werewolf encountered by the young woman is a woodcutter, therefore spends time even in his human form in the wild woods. The reader is introduced to a handsome and friendly young man, though his eyes are the eyes of a wolf.  Here is a wolf-man who has to hide his true nature behind a veneer of civility.  His true nature is hungry and wild and violent.  And, yet we know that “the beasts would love to be less beastly.”   He meets his match in the young woman he attempts to seduce.  She not only turns the tables by willingly kissing him and removing his clothes, she accepts his wolfish aspect by grooming him, comforting him and sleeping with him. In the young woman the reader is introduced to a very different Red Riding Hood than the one from Perrault’s tale.  This woman goes into the woods with a knife, prepared for werewolves.  She is confident and unafraid.  She maybe virginal, perhaps a little naïve, but she is not stupid and she understands something of the relationship between men and women.  She looks forward to losing her bet with the woodcutter and freely kisses him when the time comes to pay up. She realizes that fear of this wolf will not help her so she chooses not to be afraid of him. In fact she seems to pity him; at least she pities his cold hungry brothers singing outside.  And, when informed that the wolf intends to eat her, this Red Riding Hood laughs in his face.  She is so confident in herself that “she [is] nobody’s meat.” At this point the reader sees a young woman who is comfortable with her own sexuality.  She removes the wolf’s clothing.  “She will lay his fearful head on her lap and she will pick out the lice from his pelt and perhaps she will put the lice in her mouth and eat them, as he will bid her, as she would do in a savage marriage ceremony.” This young woman has clearly accepted the animal nature of her sexuality, that part of her that so many women are taught to believe is monstrous.

Ultimately, Carter’s story of the woodcutter/werewolf and young woman shows a coming together and melding of the domestic and the wild or monstrous.  The domestic is represented by the young woman.  She is part of society; she represents social mores and the societal constraints of gender roles.  The wild or monstrous is represented by the werewolf.  He is outside of society, beyond it, wild and unconstrained.  In the end their meeting brings out the young woman’s wild nature and tames the werewolf’s.  The two lovers complement one another.  Each is the equal of the other.  This tale is a clear metaphor for the late twentieth century feminist belief that heterosexual relationships could be, ought to be, equal partnerships.”

I also suggest reading the other two stories in Angela Carter’s Werewolf/Red Riding Hood ‘trilogy’ in The Bloody Chamber.