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.




3 thoughts on “Bluebeard

  1. An interesting post. Yet I think that it is important to – when talking about the broad implications of a tale – recognize the many, many variants of that tale, and not try to put everything that seems as though it relates to a specific variant into relationship with what one considers to be “the” tale. The “Bluebeard” that you are referring to, for example, comes from France, but there are many variations of the tale worldwide. “Fowler’s Fowl” is the Brothers Grimm equivalent; in it, three sisters are *kidnapped* by a magician and o not, as you suggest, have an ambition to marry a wealthy man. One by one they discover the magician’s secret blood-chamber and are then – except the last – killed by him. When the broader spectrum of fairy-tale variants is taken into account, it is difficult to relate such disparate “retellings” – like Jane Eyre and Rebecca – back to one motif. As you’ve pointed out in another one of your posts, interpretation can be a tricky business.

    • By the ‘tale’ or the ‘story’, I mean the very basic skeletal plot idea; the one which gets scribbled on a napkin in a tea shop, or the urban/rural myth which gets fleshed out into a piece of creative writing. (Sorry for not making this too clear, many of my readers are creative/fiction writers themselves, so I tend to assume that people are familiar with that story writing process).

      I am a huge fan of Grimm’s, their work is very important from an anthropological point of view, but it is a mistake to analyse them in the same way you would a composed piece of creative fiction, as they are essentially records of oral tales. They can be a little ambiguous, and the emotions and motives of the characters can be rather vague.

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