Challenging Bluebeard: ‘Bluebeard’s Egg’ (1983), The Piano (1993) and Barbe Bleue (2009)

Elisa Giuliana

Abstract


In this essay, I analyse contemporary feminist retellings of the Bluebeard tale. I concentrate in particular on three revisions: Margaret Atwood’s short story, ‘Bluebeard’s Egg’ (1983); Jane Campion’s film, The Piano (1993); and Catherine Breillat’s film, Barbe Bleue (2009). I compare these works on the basis of their challenging nature in respect to traditional perceptions of women and femininity pursued by modern understandings of the folk story. I thus argue that Atwood’s, Campion’s, and Breillat’s variations on the Bluebeard theme complicate the view of women as passive objects of agency, and also the belief that curiosity is a vicious feminine feature that leads to disobedience that has to be punished by death. I focus on the outstanding features of the Bluebeard story: the characters of Bluebeard and his wife; the role of the secret chamber; and the meaning of the key. Showing how the three authors transform the old tale through the narrative approaches of mirroring and doubling, I explain how they reach a complex, often problematic, representation of their female protagonists.


Keywords


Bluebeard; literature; film studies; fairy tales; feminist retellings; Catherine Breillat; Margareth Atwood; Jane Campion

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