This essay originally appeared in Overland magazine issue 225, summer 2016.
When I was seven, a classmate was given a walking, talking doll by her father. With its arms outstretched like a zombie, it walked stiff-legged towards you, droning ‘Mama’ repeatedly.
I was equally curious and repelled. My friend wouldn’t let me open it up to see how it worked. I knew the doll was not alive, but to me it transgressed the boundaries of how dolls should behave. I imagined her following me through an empty house calling ‘Mama … Mama’ – this thing that seemed to long to be held, but was too unyielding for anyone to reciprocate.
When I was a young woman, in the early 1990s, while I was negotiating the conflicts I discuss in my thesis between science and feminism, I was reading authors such as Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood, and later, Carol Ann Duffy. They were rewriting history as ‘herstory’, they were writing feminist revisionist mythology, literature informed by feminism that engages with mythology, fairy tales, or religion. Carter’s untimely death in 1992 saw her work receive extensive critical attention, and increasingly be taught at universities, which brought her to my attention.
I was obsessed with Carter’s book of short stories The Bloody Chamber (1979), it was thrilling - the title story in particular. It was at once familiar, yet new; it was subversive and empowering; it made me feel like change was possible, that I could write my own version of the world. The stories are explicitly based on fairy tales, no doubt inspired by the works of author and fairytale collector Charles Perrault, whose fairy tales Carter had translated 2 years before publishing her collection. It is his story ‘Bluebeard’ (1697) that Carter’s story ‘The Bloody Chamber’ is based on.