Here is a complete analysis of the short story ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’ which is one of ten short stories (with ‘The Bloody Chamber‘ being a novella) in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. Feel free to skip to the parts most relevant to you.
There is a young girl called Beauty. He father is on the way home from a trip to see lawyers because his fortune has gone. However, his car brakes down and he is now upset that he cannot get Beauty the one gift she requested: a white rose.
The father finds an enchanting house and sees a white rose in it’s garden. He takes it and hears and tremendous roar come from within the house. A Beast comes out of the house and is angry at Beauty’s father for taking the rose in his garden. Beauty’s father tells the Beast that it was for his daughter and shows the Beast a picture of Beauty. Beast likes Beauty and creates a deal where he will let Beauty’s father have the rose if he and Beauty comes to dinner at the Beast’s house.
At dinner, the Beast tells Beauty’s father to go to London to sort out his ‘fortune’ he lost leaving Beauty by herself with the Beast. At midnight, the Beast throws himself onto Beauty and kisses her hand and then runs out of the room like a Lion on four legs.
Beauty enjoys her time roaming the house waiting for her father’s return. Her father calls one day saying that his fortune has been restored so Beauty makes way to London to see her father. Beast is upset at this so Beauty promises to see him in the future again.
The Beast’s spaniel found Beauty and looked starve. Beaut knew the Beast was dying so Beauty travels up to the Beast’s house where she sees he has become weak because he hasn’t been able to kill and eat anything because he hasn’t the heart to kill. Beauty kisses the Beast’s hand and cries on him. From this, the Beast turns into a man where the story leaves us with Mr and Mrs Lyon go to eat some breakfast.
- This short story is a pastiche. It is based on the classic fairy tale, ‘Beauty and the Beast’.
- The denouement (climax of the story) is when Beauty is at Beast’s bedside when he is dying or when the father is met by the angry Beast for the first time.
- The Bloody Chamber – The Bloody Chamber is the Beast’s room. The Beast does not want to hurt anyone. Therefore, the room represents the violent and bloody reputation of a Lion. It is also a place of transformation for both the hero and heroism (where Beauty realises her love for the Beast where he is transforming back to a human).
- Objectification of Women – Beauty’s father uses Beauty as a payment for his debt to the Beast for taking the white rose. Although she is treated very well with luxury like the heroine in ‘The Bloody Chamber‘, she is seen as property.
- Mirrors – The reader will see the transformation of Beauty from an unspoiled child to a pampered women from the amount of times she looks at herself in the mirror. She is becoming obsessed with her physical image although she prefers the Beast’s image of her as someone to have conversation with.
- Roses – The white (white represents purity) rose represents Beauty in that it continually grows un-naturally in winter and is still perfect: like Beauty who is unspoiled, gentle and a virgin. Beauty and her father both want the rose, concurring to an idealized idea who she is. When the father steals the rose, it represents his desire to keep beauty perfect and maintain her virginity. Beauty sends the Beast roses of which he cherishes as the rose is Beauty’s representative identity of a perfect women.
- Love – Between Beauty and her father /Beauty and the Beast.
- Beauty – Of the rose, spaniel, Beauty and the animalistic beauty of the Beast.
- Vanity – Of Beauty.
- Alienation – Of the Beast. He cannot interact with the outside world as he feels he will be mocked by other humans (which is why he doesn’t have any servants).
Form and Structure
- This is a pastiche of the fairy tale ‘Beauty and the Beast’.
- The narrative form is third person, ‘He drew his head back and gazed at her’. However, there are snippets of 1st person ‘all he is doing is kissing my hands’.
- This gives the impression that this story cannot be subjective. However, due to the snippets of first person narration, it could be seen that it is partly subjective in areas making the reader feel pity for the Beast.
- This is a short story.
Language and Effect
- P47 Mid – ‘Take her the rose, then, but bring her to dinner’, he growled’. The Beast is bargaining with Miss Lamb’s father. Fairy tales often feature a bargain of some sort strengthening the point that this story is a pastiche.
- ‘When the sky darkened towards evening’. Carter foreshadows the transitions of the girl and the as-yet-to-know Mr Lyon.
- ‘Indescribable shock…on all fours’. This shows the naivety of Beauty as, to the reader, it is obvious that as a Lion, the Beast will behave in an animalistic manner.
- ‘that pearly skin of hers was plumping out’, ‘a certain inwardness was beginning to transform the lines around her mouth‘. The apparent physical change mirrors that of the Beast, showing that they are at one, foreshadowing the ending.
- Gothic – In ‘The Courtship Of Mr Lyon’, Carter creates the idea of claustrophobia around the Beast’s castle, ‘it might have been the reflection of a star, if any stars could have penetrated the snow that whirled more thickly’ – The idea of shielding the castle from the Beast from outside world.
For more language and effect analysis, have a look at ‘The Courtship Of Mr Lyon Key Quotes To Remember‘.
Connection to Others
- Tiger’s Bride – ‘Has an air of self-imposed restraint, as if fighting a battle with himself to remain upright when he would far rather drop down on all fours’. The Tiger’s fight to remain human-like contrasts to the Mr Lyon’s resignation to the Beast as he is ‘on all fours’.
- It could be seen that it is a pastiche of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ at the end.
- The setting of being snowy could suggest a pastiche of ‘Snow White’ too.
- It could be seen that Beauty sees the human in the Beast before he transforms when she feels ‘indescribable shock’ when he goes down on all fours. The indistinguishable line between man and beast provides the idea that there is a beast in all of us.
- The first published version of Beauty and the Beast was a rendition Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villneuve, published in La jeune americaine, et les contes marins in 1740.
A young woman named Beauty stares out the window at snow gleaming in the dusk. We are told that her skin resembles the snow because it possesses the same "inner light" that seems to emanate from within. The snow is unspoiled by footprints, "white and unmarked as a spilled bolt of bridal satin." The young woman worries for her father's safety because he said he would be home before dark, and he cannot call her because he phones are down.
The young woman's father has gotten his car stuck in the snow far away from home. He is returning from a meeting with his lawyers, where he has discovered that his fortune is gone. He does not have enough money even to buy Beauty the single white rose she requested. His spirits dampened, he comes upon an enchanting house that seems deserted except for one illuminated window. As he approaches the gate, he spies a single white rose blooming on a snowy bush amid the storm. As he enters the gate, he hears "a great roaring, as of a beast of prey." Beauty's father gathers his wits and knocks on the door. He notices that the knocker is a lion's head made of solid gold. To his astonishment, the door opens and then closes behind him without anyone touching it. Inside the house, candlelight illuminates countless crystal jars filled with flowers. He is not afraid, because he senses that the house's master is so rich that he is not subject to the laws of reality. A King Charles spaniel wearing a diamond necklace greets Beauty's father and urges him into a fire-lit study. There, he partakes of food and drink that is laid out for him. He calls a tow-truck service from the number on a thoughtfully provided card. However, when he tries to call Beauty, the lines are down again. The spaniel leads him out the door.
As Beauty's father makes his way out of the estate, he bumps into a rosebush and knocks the snow off another single, peculiarly perfect white rose. He hears another bout of roaring. However, thinking that the estate's master will not mind, he plucks the rose. Suddenly, the Beast, a great creature with a lion's hea, appears next to Beauty's father and "[shakes] him like an angry child shakes a doll." Beauty's father appeals to the Beast, explaining that he stole the rose for his daughter. When Beauty's father shows the Beast a photograph of Beauty, the Beast is pacified. He tells Beauty's father to take the rose but bring Beauty to his house for dinner.
When Beauty meets the Beast, the sadness in his eyes touches her. The Beast asks Beauty's father to serve himself and his daughter, himself eating nothing. He explains that he does not keep servants because being around humans constantly would make him feel mocked. The Beast and his house frighten Beauty; she feels as though she is his "Miss Lamb, spotless, [and] sacrificial." The Beast calms her momentarily when he promises to help her father regain his fortune. Yet the price of his help distresses Beauty; she must stay with the Beast while her father is in London.
Luxury surrounds Beauty at the Beast's estate. But she cannot enjoy it because she senses that the Beast cannot either. She also notices that he avoids her as though he, the mighty predator, is scared of her; the Beast has the "shyness ... of a wild creature." Beauty amuses herself by reading fairy tales until the Spaniel shepherds her into the Beast's den. Beauty feels comfortable with the beast, as though she has always known him. When the clock strikes midnight, the Beast throws himself on Beauty's lap and lavishes her hands with passionate licks. Then he suddenly bounds out of the room, to Beauty's "indescribable shock ... on all fours."
Beauty is happy at the Beast's estate. She spends her days exploring the house and garden and her nights conversing with the Beast. Then one night, her father calls with the good news that his fortune is being restored. The Beast is devastated. Before leaving, Beauty promises him to return to him "before the winter is over." She departs for her new, luxurious life in London. Beauty has never experienced luxury before; her father lost his fortune before her mother died giving birth to her. Consequently, wealth changes the unaccustomed Beauty from a pure, unspoiled young woman into a spoiled girl. Though Beauty sends the Beast white roses, she largely forgets about him and is relieved to be away from him. Because the weather does not change much in London, Beauty does not realize that winter is about to end.
As Beauty gazes at herself in the mirror one day, she hears a scratching at the door. The Beast's Spaniel has come to retrieve her. It does not resemble the well-kept creature that was her companion at the Beast's estate; it is filthy, starved, and distraught. Beauty realizes that the Beast is dying and hurries to his house. Even though spring has broken, the Beast's estate is as desolate as if it were midwinter. It looks deserted except for a very faint light in the attic. The gold door-knocker is covered in black fabric. Inside, the house is dusty, dark, and filled with an air of desperation. The flowers in the jars are dead.
Beauty ascends to the Beast's threadbare room in the attic, where she finds him bedraggled and close to death. The roses she sent him lie dead at his bedside. The Beast tells Beauty that he is dying of hunger because he has not had the will to hunt since she left. He tells her, "I shall die happy because you have come to day good-bye to me." Beauty throws herself upon the Beast, and kisses his paws as he did so often to her. She begs him not to die and promises she will never leave him again. As she cries, her tears fall on his face and, restore him so that he is human once again. Even in human form, Mr. Lyon still resembles a lion because of his "unkempt mane of hair" and broken, lion-like nose. He invites Beauty to join him for breakfast. The story ends with "Mr. and Mrs. Lyon" strolling through the grounds of their estate together while "the old spaniel drowses on the grass, in a drift of fallen petals."
"The Courtship of Mr. Lyon" is based on a classic story, "Beauty and the Best," and told in the "once upon a time" third person common to traditional fairy tales. Carter's classic backdrop of basic story and narration emphasizes her tale's unconventionality, with its feminist themes and plot reversal. Like many of Carter's stories, far from "classic," "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon" is a tale of self-discovery and rejection of female objectification. According to Meyre Ivone Santana da Silva, the story's primary thematic difference from "Beauty and the Beast" is its manipulation of that story's "act of mirroring." In "Beauty and the Beast," we are forced to see Beauty and Beast as diametrically opposed forces; Beauty is feminine, beautiful, innocent, and gentle, while Beast is masculine, ugly, experienced, and wild. The original story suggests that the sides of this dichotomy are irreconcilable, or in da Silva's words, "completely dissociated."
Yet Carter's characters are more "ambiguous." In the story of "Beauty and the Beast," according to da Silva, "One side is always empowered in relation to the other." Although "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon" begins this way, Carter quickly reverses the convention. Beauty begins as a penniless, helpless girl, whom the rich, powerful and world-weary Beast forces to live in his house. However, she rapidly becomes the more active, experienced, and adventurous character. While the Beast hides from the world, she is confident enough to live a high-profile life in the city. While at first she is afraid of him, she comes to realize that he is actually afraid of her. In the end, Carter totally reverses the Beauty/Beast dichotomy; the Beast takes on the role of fairy-tale princess, wasting away in his attic "tower," guarded by a beast (in this case himself), and needing Beauty to rescue him from that beast or beastliness.
Carter uses symbolism in "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon" to emphasize her main feminist agenda. She employs a paradigm commonly found in literature, distinguishing the city as a masculine place of experience and corruption and the country as a feminine one of inexperience and purity. However she uses this literary convention to undermine a gender convention; the Beast is trapped in isolation in the country while Beauty has free range of the city. Because the characters need to access both their "masculine" and "feminine" attributes in order to be happy, they are both are unhappy when they are limited to being in one place. The country is so "innocent" or devoid of activity that it weakens the Beast almost to the point of death. The city is so "worldly" and full of superficial interactions that it hardens Beauty and begins to replace her inner beauty with a spoiled, false air. Carter uses the city and country as symbols to strengthen her contention that a person needs to be both "masculine" and "feminine" to have an authentic and fulfilled existence.
Carter uses food or sustenance as an equalizer because it is symbol of both animal and human nature; both animals and humans must eat in order to survive. At first, food signifies civilization and humanity. When the Beast leaves out food for Beauty's father, he shows his humanity by being courteous to his guest. It is the same when he feeds Beauty; he may be a lion who eats raw flesh, but he provides her with the finest human food. At the story's end, food signifies animal nature. The Beast is dying because he is not eating, just as humans can die from starvation because we too are animals.
Beauty proves herself to be more than a traditional fairy tale heroine, but in the beginning, she conforms to the paradigm. Like many of Carter's heroines, she must start within and then break free from the restrictions and assumptions of patriarchal society. As da Silva phrases it, "The daughter is conscious of her annihilation in the patriarchal society but she doesn't have autonomy to overcome it." While Beauty is living with the Beast, she finds amusement in reading fairy tales. It is as though despite living in a modern world with telephones and automobiles, Beauty wants to believe in the conventional "happily ever after." Her request for a single white rose also conveys this wish for conventionality; the rose symbolizes her chasteness and delicateness. Carter emphasizes Beauty's femininity, innocence, and virginity by comparing her to the immaculate snow upon which she gazes. By saying the snowy road, and by association, Beauty is "white an unmarked as a spilled bolt of bridal satin," Carter seems to insinuate that Beauty's uniqueness lies in her gentle femininity and that her destiny is marriage. However, knowing Carter's motives, we can assume that Beauty's virginity represents possibility more than it does naivete. Beauty may be trapped within a society that objectifies her, but her innocence empowers her; she is pure of mind enough to see through its conventional dichotomies and claim her own destiny, as she does at the story's end. In fact, Carter reminds us explicitly early on that Beauty has "will of her own"; she actually empowers herself by consenting to live with the Beast because in doing so she is choosing to step out of her role of child and act as protector to her father.
Like Beauty, the Beast does not conform to his side of the "irreconcilable binary" of Beauty/Beast. Also like Beauty, in the beginning of the story, he seems to conform. As a lion, 'king of beasts,' he is the embodiment of masculine power, strong, confident, and rough. When we first encounter the Beast, this seems to be true of him. His very anger ignites the house with "furious light" and he roars with the strength of not only one but "a pride of lions." He is strong enough to "[shake] Beauty's father like an angry child shakes a doll ... Until his teeth rattled." But it quickly becomes clear that the Beast's strength is an impediment to human interaction. When he speaks, Beauty wonders "how [she can] converse with the possessor of a voice that seemed an instrument created to inspire ...Terror." The first time he kisses her hands, Beauty is terrified by how rough his tongue is until she realizes he is not trying to harm her.
The Beast is so ashamed of his appearance that his only companion before Beauty is his spaniel. By the end of the story, we see that the Beast's loneliness makes him weak and inactive. Beauty's absence weakens him so much that he is unable to do so much as feed himself, and he almost dies of despair. At the end of the story, Beauty is still a beautiful woman, but she is active and brave; she is a mixture of Beauty and Beast. So too is the Beast, who retains remnants of his leonine appearance when he transforms into a gentle human. He also retains the name Lyon, signifying his former identity. Beauty takes his name when she marries him. While taking one's husband's name can be seen as an act of submission, in this case it is an acknowledgment of Beauty's own masculinity. She is claiming her rightful title, for she too is a strong Lyon/lion.