July 12, 2017

"She is so beautiful, she is unnatural": Angela Carter's Beautiful Monster

Angela Carter's vampire story, "The Lady of the House of Love," is about how beauty held in stasis becomes a horror. What a compelling idea. It reminds me of John Keats' poem, "Bright Star," which is a thematically comparable meditation on how beautiful things cannot, and probably should not, endure. Beautiful things are, and perhaps should be, ephemeral.

The protagonist of a the story is a vampire, referred to only as "the Countess," and her horror derives from the fact that she is a beauty held in firm stasis. She is living yet she is dead, a paradox. Here is how she is described:

"She is so beautiful, she is unnatural; her beauty is an abnormality, a deformity, for none of her features exhibit any of those touching human imperfections that reconcile us to the imperfection of the human condition. Her beauty is a symptom of her disorder, her soullessness."

The Countess is characterized by her joy in tarot cards and augury. This fits thematically, a perfect brushstroke. What is an augur but someone who views the world not as an unfolding narrative driven and shaped by character but instead a finished tableau, a cartouche, a fully environed and unchanging form, beginning, middle, and end?

Carter's Countess allows us to imagine the unreal psychology of a vampire. This bizarre character allows us to think a strange thing, the possibility that a certain timeless perspective transforms one into a darkly beautiful monster. To come to view the unfolding cosmos not as an unfinished activity but as a completed gesture is a dark epiphany that dehumanizes.