Bluebeard and The Happily Never After

So sorry for the hiatus. I’ve actually sorta kinda been working on something, but as I am wont to do, have been procrastinating. I sincerely do mean to do something about it, but don’t really have anything completed with me yet. So I’m gonna post up another paper of mine instead. I promise, it is not as dry as it sounds. =)

This was originally written for a German fairytale class just last semester. But my professor announced that the German department was holding its annual essay competition on German culture, in English! Who was I to turn this down? I went up to her and asked about it, and she told me I could just submit this particular work. No work and the prospect of winning a few hundred dollars? I would have been an idiot to resist. And as it were, I actually won second prize and 200 dollars!

I was surprised it did this well, namely because it’s not exactly about German culture per se and in fact, doesn’t specifically reference Germany at all. But as you might expect, it concerns itself with a particular aspect of it, namely fairytales. It is strange that such a supposedly clinical culture has such a profound heritage in the fantastic, no? I suppose everyone has his ironies. Musings aside, I chose to write about Bluebeard. I won’t elaborate too much because I pretty much explained everything in the essay itself, but suffice to say that I actually find Bluebeard the anti-thesis of everything fairytale. Oh, and as with a lot of my works, it’s pretty feminist in tone. 😉

So here it is:

Bluebeard and the Happily Never After

On a number of levels, Bluebeard is a reverse fairytale. To begin with, it deals not with complications within the immediate family, such as a perverse father or cruel stepmother, but a poisoning of marital relations. The fairytale concept of marriage to a handsome prince being the ultimate solution to the heroine’s woes is abolished; it is instead replaced by the somewhat novel idea of matrimony being the cause of her distress. The heroine no longer has to face the child’s fear of abandonment or betrayal by parent figures, but she has grown up and is now confronted with the troubling new possibility that her Prince Charming could in fact, be a monster. The Bluebeard stories force her to deal with her problems in a surprisingly realistic, mature manner. She obviously can no longer put her trust in a strong suitor to save or protect her, as her relationship with her husband can attest to. She has to rely solely on her own ingenuity and cunning to extract herself from her unenviable predicament, very much like a woman in the real world would have to. Also, her family, generally the bad guys in the context of the traditional fairytale, is a significant help to her, as they probably would be should a girl actually encounter marital woes. However, not only are the means in which Bluebeard’s heroine attains freedom down to earth and sensible; her problems are the authentic fears of wives personified. Bluebeard is the contemporary sequel to the traditional folktale; it focuses on a now fully-grown heroine who has to deal with her very adult challenges armed with her wits. Moreover, it displays a highly modernist tendency to acknowledge the actual fears of a married woman, rather than avoid them or fob them off with happy endings that don’t necessarily happen in real life.

Jack Zipes makes an insightful comment on the prince’s role in Disney’s version of Snow White: “If we recall, it is the prince who frames the narrative. He announces his great love at the beginning of the film, and Snow White cannot be fulfilled until he arrives to kiss her” (Zipes, 349). Whether or not the prince was directly involved in the actual plot, his redemptive role for the heroine is implicit in the storyline. This is far from the case in Bluebeard; rather, the troubles begin as soon as the groom comes to collect his bride. In Fitcher’s Bird, this is enacted quite literally: “He asked for something to eat, and when the eldest girl went to the door and was about to hand him the piece of bread, he just touched her and she jumped into the basket” (148). The marriage here starts off nothing short of abduction; the girl is forcibly taken even before she can glimpse her future husband. In other versions of the tale, even when she does get to meet him before their wedding; his very countenance is foreboding. In the Grimms’ The Robber Bridegroom, “But the girl didn’t care for him as a girl should care for her betrothed, and she didn’t trust him. Whenever she looked at him or thought of him, her heart filled with dread” (151). Indeed, Bluebeard is a far cry from the idealized suitor of folklore. In all the stories, it is not merely his appearance or lack thereof that is cause for concern; he is also a savage murderer who kills and mutilates any of his young brides too curious for his liking, as is shown in Fitcher’s Bird: “You entered the chamber against my wishes,” he said. “Now you will go back in against yours. Your life is over” He threw her down, dragged her in by her hair, chopped her head off on the block, and hacked her into pieces so that her blood flowed all over the floor” (149). All in all, unlike Beauty’s Beast, he is a monstrosity both inside and out. He personifies all the fears a young woman may harbor about her bridegroom and suggests a highly disturbing new possibility to the plot never even considered in most fairytales: what if there is no happy ever after? What if the handsome prince was really a devil in disguise, promising sweet nothings to an unsuspecting damsel in distress in order to destroy her? If this were a traditional fairytale, the young heroine would be absolutely finished.

Perhaps, the assertion that Bluebeard is in any sense germane to actual marital issues inspires incredulity. After all, it may see, an exceedingly rare, exceptional misfortune to find oneself married to a depraved serial murderer. However, in Bluebeard, the reality of the physically abusive, controlling, or simply unfaithful spouse creeps into the fairytale atmosphere and poisons the happy ending. Margaret Atwood, a renowned contemporary author, is one woman of today who has recognized this undercurrent of sympathy and understanding for wives. Her short story, Bluebeard’s Egg, may not be about a young virginal heroine of a fairytale, but her protagonist shares the same fear of discovering a monster in her husband, not so coincidentally while taking a class on Bluebeard. Sally seeks out the same solace in her marriage that many of her female peers today could relate to. She uses overwhelmingly wholesome terms, however cynically, to describe her husband, Ed: “Ed isn’t the Bluebeard. Ed is the egg. Ed Egg, blank, pristine, and lovely” (Atwood, 174). Yet, her assessment of him at the end of the story is completely at odds with this harmless, cuddly identity she has concocted for him, “But now she’s seeing the egg, which is not small and cold and white and inert but larger than a real egg and golden pink…glowing softly as though there was something red and hot inside it….the egg is alive and one day it will hatch. But what will come of it?” (178). As this segment suggests, she lives in mortal terror of unearthing something about Ed that will bring her happy delusions to an end. He is no murderer, but “As it is, everywhere he goes, he is beset by sirens” (160). Indeed, a man does not have to maim and mutilate to bring any hopes of a fairytale ending to a crashing halt. He needs only to pay attention to one of these sirens, and he will destroy his wife utterly. Just like the girls in Bluebeard and many of her contemporary female peers, Sally will never find the completion in her husband she craves if she were ever to probe into his inner world too deeply.

However, the heroine does not have to stay trapped within the confines of a devastating union. When her beauty and maidenly virtue fail to save her from her extremely perilous circumstances, she is forced to utilize every ounce of resourcefulness she possesses to make it out alive. The heroine in Fitcher’s Bird is especially adept at wielding her wits. According to the Grimms, “..she was clever and cunning” (149). Indeed, she is so shrewd that she is not only able to keep herself alive, but miraculously resurrect her dismembered sisters, previously also wives of Bluebeard: “But she set to work gathering all their body parts and put them in their proper places: heads, torsos, arms, legs. When everything was in place, the pieces began to move and joined themselves together. The two girls opened their eyes and came back to life” (149-150). Some interesting details can be noted from this memorable instance. The young lady makes her own magic in this story. She does not wait for a fairy godmother or friendly woodland creature to grant her wishes, but instead becomes the source of most of the supernatural happenings that help her and her sisters escape. Also, she is quite noticeably not squeamish about blood or body parts, gritting her teeth and accomplishing her task no matter how unladylike it may be. She is an ideal woman, not in the traditional fairy tale sense, but in a contemporary way because she is very much a self-made individual who is not afraid to get her hands dirty to control her fate. Her devotion to her sisters in this instance also speaks of another notable change of dynamic; the family becomes integral in ensuring the safe return of the heroine. The last sentence of one of the tale’s versions, Mr. Fox, sums up the highly conclusive role her relatives play: “At once her brothers and her friends drew their swords and cut Mr. Fox into a thousand pieces” (Jacobs, 156). The family completely usurps the position of the prince, transforming his Kiss of Life into the bite of vengeful blades.

Bluebeard is a welcome respite from cookie cutter folk tales that all culminate in marital bliss, simply because it chooses to acknowledge that life and its surprises do not end at the altar. Its use of extreme circumstances serves to highlight that finding out about one’s spouse’s debilitating flaws at the cost of your own happiness may well be a dreadful reality. One’s husband need not be a serial murderer in order to prove thoroughly inept at securing one any peace of mind or sense of completion. However, the Bluebeard stories do not serve merely to frighten women; they also offer solutions that one could certainly benefit from even in a real world context. They urge women to turn to resources that other fairytales either ignore or vilify: their mental prowess and their relatives. Certainly, these two, while not foolproof, are sometimes all one has in an environment where there are few constants and virtually no guarantees.


I realize that just about every original work I post up here is from school, which really doesn’t reflect me at all. Trust me, I am not at all the most enthusiastic person about projects or anything involving work/deadlines But rest assured, this is not the extent of everything I write! Next time, it’ll be a completed chapter of original work and a very good video of my source of inspiration for the story. OR a mini travel journal of my upcoming trip to Hong Kong, complete with photos taken from my new expensive digital camera. 😉


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Andy
    Jul 21, 2010 @ 02:32:28

    Hahah, reading this makes me feel like eating sushi.


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