The Bloody Chamber is a collection of modern reinventions of folklore, more heavily imbued with adult themes and feminist perspectives. The collection's title story, "The Bloody Chamber," is about a girl who marries a French Marquis who turns out to be a sexually-perverse sadist. A blind piano tuner falls in love with her and, after the girl discovers the corpses of the Marquis' former wives, stays with her even though they will both be killed. However, the girl's mother kills the Marquis and they all live together, happily ever after.
Angela Carter's short stories challenge the way women are represented in fairy tales, yet retain an air of tradition and convention through her voluptuously descriptive prose. For example, in the opening tale "The Bloody Chamber" which is a retelling of Bluebeard, Carter plays with the conventions of canonical fairy tales; instead of the heroine being rescued by the stereotypical male hero, she is rescued by her mother.
Carter effectively draws out the theme of feminism by contrasting traditional elements of Gothic fiction– which usually depicted female characters as weak and helpless – with strong female protagonists. By contrasting the barren and horrific atmosphere found typically within the Gothic to the strong heroines of her story, Carter is able to create sexually liberated female characters that are setagainst the more traditional backdrop of the fairy tale. In doing so, Carter reinvents the outdated conventions of fairy tales and offers insight on the archetypes and stereotypes of women in these well-known and celebrated stories.
The stories deal with themes of women's roles in relationships and marriage, their sexuality, coming of age and corruption. Stories such as "The Bloody Chamber" and "The Company of Wolves" explicitly deal with the horrific or corrupting aspects of marriage and/or sex and the balance of power within such relationships. Themes of female identity are explored in the "Beauty and the Beast" stories such as "The Tiger's Bride". In one instance, Beauty: the story's heroine, is described as removing the petals from a white rose as her father gambles her away, a seeming representation of the stripping away of the false layers of her personality to find her true identity; an image that finds a mirror in the story's fantastical conclusion.
As a whole, The Bloody Chamber can be treated as a collection of short stories that speak to a bigger narrative that deals with issues of feminism and metamorphosis instead of a set of individual tales. Although each particular narrative deals with a different set of characters, the 'oppressed female seeking liberation' is a common theme and concept that is explored throughout the collection. The characters seem to blend into each other and become indistinguishable from one another when recognising this theme in the text.
The stories are updated to more modern settings. The exact time periods remains vague, but they are clearly anchored intentionally. For example, in "The Bloody Chamber" the existence of transatlantic telephone implies a date 1930 or later. On the other hand, the mention of painters such as Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon, and of fashion designer Paul Poiret (who designs one of the heroine's gowns) all suggest a date before 1945. "The Lady of the House of Love" is clearly set on the eve of the First World War, and the young man's bicycle on which he arrives at the tradition-bound vampire's house is a symbol of the encroaching modernity which fundamentally altered European society after 1914.