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The complexity of individuality, nature and society in Angela Carter's "The Lady of the House of Love"


1. Introduction to the story

We do well to approach Angela Carter's "The Lady of the House of Love", from her The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, with a feminist spirit. The heroine, a vampire lady, is the last of Nosferatu's descendants, and is trapped between the typical masculine stereotype of 'true feminity': she is both natural demon and social angel of the house.

  1. As a vampire, she is a demon, for it is in her nature to terrorise human beings and kill them by drinking their blood.
  2. In the eyes of the hero who enters her castle, however, and who knows nothing about her vampiric nature, she is an angel who is just ill (she is extremely thin, and has very long and pointed nails and teeth).

The vampire lady "would like to be human" (117), as every woman trapped in such a masculine system probably would, but this is impossible for two reasons, as the text shows:

The consequence of her inability to become human is that the vampire lady has to die. It is only in death that she becomes "for the first time, fully human" (132).

"The Lady of the House of Love" is an especially interesting text, because the conundrums it poses are fully explainable with the help of the four-dimensional tool of this website.

2. The starting point of analysis: our most common stereotype

We may best understand the problems the story poses if we start from the most common way contemporary western society distributes the dimensions. As we have seen in module 2, western society likes to think that

  1. I am what I am (individuality) and what I am boils down to what I feel (my nature)
  2. individuality and nature oppose society, which exercises control of my freedom to respond to my spontaneous feelings via laws and rules.

To justify itself, the I thus joins nature understood as present and feeling, and both oppose society.

3. Preliminary analysis of the story: "true humanity" as individuality

The humanity that the vampire lady wants to attain can be equated with individuality:

All these indicators suggest that true humanity means individuality.

4. The problems: the distribution of individuality, nature and society

"The Lady of the House of Love" is a most uncommon and therefore interesting exception to the basic rule of thumb described above in section 2.

Nature and individuality: In Carter's story, individuality is fundamentally at odds with nature. The vampire lady keeps a nightingale imprisoned in a cage, and nightingales notoriously symbolise nature and freedom, and express it via their song. The text, however, does neither focus on the liberation of the nightingale nor its song. Instead, it asks itself: "Can a bird sing only the song it knows or can it learn a new song?" (115). The text is thus using a traditional image, but it subverts the traditional message (nature is freedom), and instead proclaims that nature is against freedom, that freedom is breaking away from the tiranny of nature, which allows the bird to sing only the song it knows. Given that the lady vampire also represents nature (see section 1), the question is meant to refer to her rather than the bird.

Nature and society: If we start from the fact that the vampire lady is nature, driven as she is by her (sexualised) hunger, her instinct to kill, we will find it no less startling that the lady's nature is experienced as imposed, the result of social oppression. Our understanding of the lady's nature as arising from social oppression stems from the following key sentences:

the beautiful queen of the vampires sits all alone [...] under the eyes of the portraits of her demented and atrocious ancestors, each of whom, through her, projects a baleful posthumous existence (115)

The beastly forebears on the walls condemn her to a perpetual repetition of their passions. (128)

In these sentences we see social oppression operating in the vampire lady, but taking the form of "passions", natural drive. Nature thus joins society against individuality (true humanity). The social oppression that natural instinct represents in the vampire lady is clearly noticeable in the male hero's impression of the lady: to him, she looks unreal, "a ventiloquist's doll", a "clockwork", a "mechanism", and "an automaton [...] that could not move of its own accord" (126). Here, the vampire lady satisfies the fundamental criterion of society, which is that things are made rather than simply are, and can therefore easily appear to be artificial.

Work cited

Carter, Angela. 1989. “The Lady of the House of Love”. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. London: Victor Gollancz, 115-33.

daniel.candel@uah.es ©2008 Daniel Candel Bormann