'Wolf-Alice' is a captivating short story featured in Angela Carter's 1979 collection of modern fairy tales, 'The Bloody Chamber.' The narrative follows the journey of a young girl named Wolf-Alice, who has been raised by wolves and possesses wolf-like characteristics. Her life takes an unexpected turn when she is brought to live with a Duke who is afflicted with lycanthropy, the condition of being a werewolf.
Plot Summary: A Feral Existence and New Beginnings
Wolf-Alice, the story's protagonist, behaves much like a wolf, running on all fours and communicating through wolf-like howls. After her wolf-mother is tragically killed by peasants, she is taken in by nuns at a convent. However, the nuns struggle to tame her wild nature, leading them to make the decision to send her to live with the Duke in his castle. The Duke, being a werewolf, shares a connection with Wolf-Alice, as she embodies more wolf-like qualities than human characteristics. In his castle, she assumes the role of his maid.
An Awakening and a Mysterious Dress
As Wolf-Alice reaches adulthood, she experiences the physical changes associated with maturity, such as menstruation and the growth of breasts and pubic hair. Unlike the Duke, she can see her reflection in the mirror and becomes fascinated with her appearance. Behind the mirror, she discovers a white wedding dress hidden by the Duke. Intrigued, she decides to wear the dress and ventures out of the castle.
A Vengeful Bridegroom and a Supernatural Confrontation
Meanwhile, a bridegroom, whose betrothed was killed and devoured by the Duke, awaits in the church, armed with an array of charms and weapons aimed at avenging his beloved's death. His arsenal includes bells, books, candles, holy water, and silver bullets. When the Duke appears, the townsfolk attack him, and he retreats to his castle. Shot in the shoulder, the Duke becomes the target of the bridegroom's vengeance. As the townsfolk believe Wolf-Alice to be the ghost of the murdered bride, she chases after the wounded Duke, startling the crowd, who flee in terror.
A Healing Touch and a New Beginning
Returning to the castle, Wolf-Alice licks the Duke's wounds, and a remarkable transformation occurs. Gradually, the Duke's reflection appears in the mirror, indicating that Wolf-Alice has potentially cured him of his lycanthropy.
'Wolf-Alice' is a tale that explores themes of transformation, the coexistence of the human and animal worlds, and the power of self-discovery. Angela Carter weaves a haunting narrative that challenges conventional notions of identity and celebrates the resilience and untamed spirit of her enigmatic protagonist.
'Wolf-Alice': An Analysis of Themes and Interpretations
'Wolf-Alice' serves as the concluding story in Angela Carter's collection, The Bloody Chamber. It also marks the end of a trilogy of werewolf-themed tales within the collection. In contrast to the previous story, 'The Company of Wolves,' where the female protagonist saves herself and tames the male werewolf through sexual encounters, 'Wolf-Alice' presents a different dynamic. The titular character, while not fully a werewolf herself, exhibits numerous wolf-like qualities. She forms an unexpected alliance with a male werewolf, ultimately leading to his restoration to humanity.
Unlike the previous wolf-stories in the collection, 'Wolf-Alice' stands out because it features a female protagonist who embodies beast-like characteristics. This unique perspective adds a distinct dimension to the central male-female relationship in the story. Both Wolf-Alice and the Duke face rejection from society due to their wolf-like behavior. The story's conclusion suggests that what the Duke truly needed to be 'cured' of his condition was care and understanding from someone who could empathize with him. Wolf-Alice, being intimately familiar with the wolf-like existence, is well-suited to provide that compassion. Angela Carter implies that the townsfolk's haste to distance themselves from the Duke reflects a tendency to prematurely give up on individuals deemed different or challenging.
Outsiders and Society's Treatment
Both Wolf-Alice and the Duke find themselves isolated, devoid of human or animal companionship. Wolf-Alice's wolf-mother has perished, and the story suggests that the Duke would be rejected from any wolf-pack he attempted to join. On one level, 'Wolf-Alice' explores society's treatment of outsiders, particularly those perceived as potential threats to the community. The label 'werewolf' can be metaphorically substituted with terms such as 'mentally unwell' or 'schizophrenic.' The story examines the way society interacts with and responds to individuals who challenge or disrupt its norms.
Female Sexuality and Coming-of-Age
Similar to many tales in The Bloody Chamber, 'Wolf-Alice' delves into themes of female sexuality and the transition into adulthood, marked by a young girl's awareness of her body and burgeoning sexuality. In the film adaptation of these werewolf tales, The Company of Wolves, Angela Carter describes the wolves as symbolic representations of 'libido.' A psychoanalytic interpretation of the story unveils the depiction of Wolf-Alice as primarily driven by desire, gratification, and base instincts, lacking overarching regulation or control. The scene where she first sees her reflection in the mirror alludes to Jacques Lacan's concept of the 'mirror stage,' in which the subject, typically an infant, becomes enamored with their own image as a precursor to learning to love others. Wolf-Alice's subsequent care for the Duke symbolizes the transfer of this self-love onto another, ultimately restoring his sense of self.
Power Dynamics and Imprisonment
As Wolf-Alice frees the Duke from his affliction, she also exercises control over him, symbolized by the metaphor of prey caught in its own fishing net. The imagery of imprisonment is recurrent throughout The Bloody Chamber, and the ending of 'Wolf-Alice' inverts the message conveyed in 'The Erl-King,' another story in the collection. While 'The Erl-King' suggests that marriage or surrendering oneself to a man leads to female imprisonment, the parody of a wedding ceremony in 'Wolf-Alice' empowers the protagonist. Wolf-Alice, as the remaining feral individual in their partnership, gains newfound authority and is positioned to rule as the Duke's duchess, using her powers to govern his castle.
'Wolf-Alice' presents a thought-provoking exploration of themes such as outsider treatment, female sexuality, power dynamics, and societal norms. Angela Carter's storytelling intertwines these elements, encouraging readers to reflect on the complexities of identity, compassion, and the dynamics of power in human relationships.