Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bluebeard-And other fairytales that scare the crap of me

I watched this French movie called Bluebeard last night. It is based off of a historical fairytale of the same name....which just freaks me out. I think that this is one of those times when in being an American I am at a disadvantage with fairy tales. The tales that I grew up with always have a clear moral, a happy ending, and the scary bits? all within the realm of the imaginary. They have always been safe allegories removed from really happening in everyday life. This has probably been one of the reasons why I have been so slow to really get into Grimm's fairytales. I feel dissatisfied with them. They always end horribly and the moral is too subjective for me to get. Oddly enough, I haven't felt this way about 1,001 Arabian Nights, but the stories have more clear and logical endings for me.

Back to the story of Bluebeard. It follows that there was a powerful and rich lord, however for all of his wealth he wasn't regarded as handsome but disgustingly ugly as he had a beard that was blue. He was married many times but no one knew what became of the wives as they would disappear after about a year. A local woman with two daughters is recently widowed leaving her and her children completely destitute. Hearing this the rich lord Bluebeard invites the family to stay with him at one of his country houses for a week with the hope of enticing one of the girls to be his next bride. The youngest one accepts him and they wed.

In the movie, the youngest girl is prepubescent and there was a part of me that was horrified that I might have stumbled upon a movie that is going to have child rape in it. But there wasn' that was good. The girl was definitely older in maturity than in her years and sees something of value in Bluebeard when she accepts him as her groom. You start to really feel that he is just a poor misunderstood man, one that just needs one woman to genuinely love him. She doesn't ask questions about his past or the other wives, she just tries to get to know him and loves him unconditionally. And for those that know me and my past, you'll understand how I deeply identify with that.....and this probably won't be the first time that I say that in this post.

Bluebeard then has to leave for a while on business. Depending on which version you read, he's left her once before giving her all the keys of the house and telling her that she is welcome to see and look through everything. In any case, it doesn't really matter how many times he has left her alone with all the keys to the is the last time that is important. As he sets out to leave, he gives her the keys as before and then gives her one extra little golden key. He tells his wife that this key is to a small door in the basement and under no circumstances is she to open the door and look inside. Of course, she goes and opens the door at the first opportunity. Inside the floor is covered with blood and on the walls are hung the tortured bodies of his former wives. She is so upset by this she drops the key and it becomes covered in the blood. Bluebeard unexpectedly returns home saying that he received news that his business had been concluded while he was on the road. He asks for the keys to the house back. She returns all but the small golden key which she hasn't been able to get all the blood off of yet. In the end she returns it to him and he sees the blood. Knowing that she had gone into the forbidden room, he tells her that she must reenter it as well and die like the other women that he could not trust. Again there is some variation on the ending of this story, but the girl manages to stall, get help and have her husband killed. She then inherits everything and life ends well.

In the movie version and in the written versions that I researched last night after watching the film, the story focuses much more on the keys and the discovery of the bloody chamber than in how she escapes. In one version of the story the author noted the moral is that women should learn to guard their curiosity and completely and totally obey their husbands. My response to this is "Paa--leeze, what f-ing planet are you on?" There was another moral to the tale that I am just going to quote here directly:
Moral: Curiosity, in spite of its appeal, often leads to deep regret. To the displeasure of many a maiden, its enjoyment is short lived. Once satisfied, it ceases to exist, and always costs dearly.
Another moral: Apply logic to this grim story, and you will ascertain that it took place many years ago. No husband of our age would be so terrible as to demand the impossible of his wife, nor would he be such a jealous malcontent. For, whatever the color of her husband's beard, the wife of today will let him know who the master is.

These morals also cause a bit of eye-rolling on my part. I think that there are plenty of modern references to similar stories. Let's look beyond the carnage of the past wives in the story. What do they represent? His string of victims, the women in his past that he has kept secret, his history of lies. Bluebeard has used his riches, his knowledge, his worldliness, his eccentricities to draw women to him. He then asks the impossible of them....he clearly sets them up to fail. To the outward observer the "rules" that he has set up in this game of his only make sense to him. Clearly, we are looking at the classic representation of a sociopath.

There is nothing wrong with curiosity. There is nothing wrong with wanting to know the truth about the person that you marry. For a local example of this story, look to the Lori Hacking case. Her husband lied to her about his past and what he was currently doing, when she learned the truth he killed her. This case happened shortly before the whole drama with my ex, and it is a story that I identify with deeply. I feel very very lucky that my version of the Bluebeard story did not turn out the same....and yet the fairytale still remains. Sinister and frightening. Used historically by men as a justification for violence against women; retold by women as a cautionary tale of what the worst could be. Makes sense to me why I was weirded out all last night and couldn't sleep very well.

In any case, it has started me re-looking at some of these more "non-kid-appropriate" fairytales. I have a co-worker who has an affinity for the Red Riding Hood tale as it is an example of a tale warning women of going off alone in the woods for what could happen to them. There is a South American tale warning women off of going off in the woods alone because they will be impregnated by an ogre. How is this any different then telling women that they will avoid being raped if they don't go out at night, or don't wear that short skirt? I recently reread a telling of the creation myth of Medusa. Did you know that she was raped by Poseidon in the temple of Athena....and Athena cursed her with the whole snake get-up as a punishment? Why are the women being punished in these stories? When I do awareness work on rape culture and victim blaming it is so easy to say that we don't really believe that the victim is at fault....and then again....look at all the stories that we have grown up with. It really feels like an impossible climb...and definitely something that cannot be conquered in one little blog post here. As I continue researching, I'll let you know what I learn.

In the meantime, beware of men with blue beards and cross-dressing wolves.

1 comment:

Jason said...

Fairy tales were not intended to be morality tales but rather cautionary tales. In an illiterate society with an oral tradition it was an effective way of getting important life lessons across. Don't trust strangers, the woods are dangerous, fuck the nobles, etc.

Read what the old testament has to say about rape. Judaic/Christian sensibilities are not any more enlightened than the Greek pagan mythos.