Girl meets boy – girl marries boy – boy turns out to be a serial killer.
Most fairy stories end with a wedding, and the hero and heroine living happily ever after. But one of my favourite stories is Bluebeard, which is like an anti-fairytale. Why do young girls have this ambition to marry above their station, find a nobleman and be taken off to a huge castle? Somewhere in that maze of rooms you may encounter something you didn’t want to find. This is a cautionary tale against ambition; for God’s sake, marry a handsome farm boy, at least you know what you’re getting. It is perhaps also a warning against the easy solutions that people seek. How many young girls believe that they would be made if they could just find a rich man to marry. In the legend of Bluebeard, the young woman is drawn to the comfort and security that this marriage offers, and ironically this is then the very thing which leaves her fighting for her life.
Elizabeth Gaskell’s telling of the story in ‘The Grey Woman’ is particularly powerful, as the heroine is on the run for years after the event, and is not truly safe until her husband dies. A variation on this tale is the story of Jane Eyre, where the bridegroom is hiding a deranged first wife, and both women are confined to a different part of the house. Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ is also a version of this tale, as is Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family’ (possibly the inspiration for Charlotte Brontë writing Jane Eyre). This slight variation on the tale, where the bride is haunted by the spectre of the first wife is pertinent because it plays on the fear that any girl has when falling in love; am I powerful enough to exorcise the ghosts of lovers past?
I suppose both versions of the tale are about the façade we present to the world, what lies beneath it, and the risks we take in getting close to someone.