A Little Red Riding Hood In the Labyrinth of Versailles

Once upon a time there lived in a certain village a little country girl, the prettiest creature who was ever seen. Her mother was excessively fond of her; and her grandmother doted on her still more. This good woman had a little red riding hood made for her. It suited the girl so extremely well that everybody called her Little Red Riding Hood. (Charles Perrault)  

Charles Perrot is not the inventor of the Little Red Riding Hood, but he is probably the first interpreter of it: We know for sure that he added the color red to the otherwise monochrome oral tradition. Angela Carter, one of the more recent interpreters of the Little Red Riding Hood, specifies the time of the year —  winter  to make the red shawl contrast on the snow, she also links the color with the protagonist’s sexual ripening, alluding to the menstrual blood; otherwise, in most of interpretations the setting  is peaceful and realistic enough for the reader to relate easily to the initial situation, but the house is on the edge of the forest – it is a dangerous world out there: the journey is about to begin and we are ready for a suspense of reality, wolves will talk, people are going to be swallowed alive and later delivered unharmed, and Angela Carter will venture outside Charles Perrot’s text, using the broader spectrum of the oral tradition for her background: there the protagonist is usually the youngest of the siblings. Angela Carter will also exploits the possibilities offered by the nascent sexuality and mark with the pentacle Little Red Riding Hood’s virginity. This interpretation plays on Vladimir Propp’s understanding of the magic object, an object marked by the antagonist’s interest and out of which the protagonist is to be tricked: In the oral tradition the magic object is earned or given as a talisman, when earned, it represents the protagonist’s virtue, when given as a gift, it is someone else’s virtue, usually the mother’s; whether it is earned or not,  property or a gift, its function is to protect the protagonist on the journey. Angela Carter’s magic object is postmodern, it has something of Derrida’s hymen it’s “a plug of a membrane” and may even refer to Deleuze’s egg, so hard, so fragile, a Body Without Organs; I assure my reader that we cannot stop our interpretation with a reference to the girl’s ovaries,  for today you cannot innocently inscribe a pentagram on a woman’s genitals  and get away with it without a postmodern interpretation, but I let my readers judge for themselves, here is Angela Carter’s text!

Children do not stay young for long in this savage country. There are no toys for them to play with, so they work hard and grow wise, but this one, so pretty and the youngest of her family, a little latecomer, had been indulged by her mother and the grandmother who’d knitted the red shawl that today has the ominous if brilliant look of blood on snow.

Her breasts have just begun to swell, her hair is like lint, so fair it hardly makes a shadow on her pale forehead; her cheeks are an emblematic scarlet and white and she has just started her woman’s bleeding, the clock inside her that will strike, henceforth, once a month.  She stands and moved within the invisible pentacle of her own virginity. She is an unbroken egg; she is a sealed vessel; she has inside her a magic space the entrance to which is shut tight with a plug of membrane; she is a closed system; she does not known how to shiver. She has her knife and she is afraid of nothing. (Angela Carter, The Company of Wolves, 1979.)

One day her mother, having made some cakes, said to her, “Go, my dear, and see how your grandmother is doing, for I hear she has been very ill. Take her a cake, and this little pot of butter.” (Charles Perrault)

Here comes the perilous assignment, the assignment often complete with interdiction, sometimes the interdiction is reinforced with a promise of the protagonist to obey the advice or instructions. Of the important changes introduced by Charles Perrot, the most important one is the moral — the sexual twist could not be there before: Vladimir Propp in his “Morphology of the Russian Fairytale” tells us that the interdiction precedes the dangerous journey into the forest. The interdiction is usually complete with the protagonist’s promise to obey the rule which forbids her to talk to strangers; the path identified as safe is also often ignored. The disobedience makes the intrigue possible; after all, if all little girls safely made it from their mother’s to their grandmother’s, there would not be any stories to tell. Charles Perrot version of the bedtime story puts the interdiction at the end of the fairytale and end-weighs it with a moral. What Angela Carter does is she returns the interdiction to its usual place at the beginning of the narrative, and she associates it with a father-figure, a strong father-figure because of the interdiction, but an absent strong-father figure, therefore a significantly weakened strong-father figure.  

Her father might forbid her, if he were home, but he is away in the forest, gathering wood, and her mother cannot deny her ( Angela Carter, The Company of Wolves, 1979.)

Little Red Riding Hood set out immediately to go to her grandmother, who lived in another village. (Charles Perrault)

The departure/moving away from the safety of her home, the beginning of the journey is dramatized by Angela Carter through the personification of the forest that already gobbles up the girl, to be understood that no matter if obedient or not, the girl is lost once outside of her house. But then again there follows a stylistic switch and the forest is described realistically to bring back a genuine fascination with nature, and to lull the reader with the naturalism. We may see this either as a refutation of the previous argument, showing that by itself, the journey should not be dangerous, since the meeting of the danger is associated with the meeting of a dangerous trickster, or, and here I am more inclined to see the intended ruse, we are given to understand that the state of nature is dangerous by definition, precisely because it is deviously deceptive.

The forest is closed upon her like a pair of jaws.

There is always something to look at in the forest, even in the middle of winter – the huddled mounds of birds, succumbed to the lethargy o f the season, heaped on the creaking boughs and too forlorn to sing; the bright frills of the winter fungi on the blotched trunks of trees; the cuneiform slots of rabbits and deer, the herringbone tracks of the birds, a hare as lean as a rasher of bacon streaking across the path where the thin sunlight dapples the russet brakes of last year’s bracken . (Angela Carter, The Company of Wolves, 1979.)

As she was going through the wood she met with a wolf (The trickster is going to be identified by his intention), who had a very great mind to eat her up, but he dared not (but the presence of a barrier to the trickster’s intention, the wood-cutters, the barrier which does not allow the trickster to realize his goal immediately), because of some woodcutters working nearby in the forest. He asked her where she was going (the barrier will force the trickster’s trickery, and here comes  the drama: he is asking for information which will allow him to realize his goal later). The poor child, who did not know that it was dangerous to stay and talk to a wolf, said to him (transgression: the interdiction is always ignored, the promise is broken – a double transgression), “I am going to see my grandmother and carry her a cake and a little pot of butter from my mother.” (Charles Perrault)

The protagonist is tricked, the essential information is revealed.  In Angela Carter’s version the protagonist is ready to defend herself against a wolf or a naked aggression, but is not prepared to face a trickster; pretty soon the knife is gone and the house is identified and the compass needle will lead into a new situation.

When she heard the freezing howl of a distant wolf, her practiced hand sprang to the handle of the knife, but she saw no sign of a wolf at all, nor of a naked man, neither, but then she heard a clattering among the brushwood and there sprang onto the path a fully clothed one, a very handsome one, in the green coat and wide-awake hat of a hunter, laden with the caresses of game birds. She had her hand on the knife at the first rustle of twigs, but he laughed with a flash of white teeth when he saw her and made her a comic yet flattering little bow; she’d never seen such a fine fellow before, not among the rustic clowns of her native village. So on they went together, through the thickening light of the afternoon.

Soon they were laughing and joking like old friends. When he offered to carry her basket, she gave it to him although her knife was in it because he told her his rifle would protect them. As the day darkened, it began to snow again; she felt the first flakes settle on her dark eyelashes, but now there was only half a mile to go and there would be fire, and hot tea, and a welcome, a warm one, surely, for this dashing huntsman as well as herself.  (Angela Carter, The Company of Wolves, 1979.)

“Does she live far off?” said the wolf

“Oh I say,” answered Little Red Riding Hood; “it is beyond that mill you see there, at the first house in the village.” (The trickster knows now where to find the future victim.)

“Well,” said the wolf, “and I’ll go and see her too. I’ll go this way and go you that, and we shall see who will be there first.” (Charles Perrault)  The parting of the ways is a part of the trick. To Angela Carter the trick is performed with another magic object, compass. Compass in her text corresponds to the pentacle of virginity, the magic object coveted by the trickster. The correspondence between the pentacle and the rose of the wind is the relationship of an index to its symbol, the magnetic needle points to the grandmother’s house where the virginity is to be lost. The needle is the pointer and the guide for the trickster and the narrative, since the protagonist must be tricked out of her magic object, the tricking of the protagonist being a morphological invariable of this fairytale.

This huntsman had a remarkable object in his pocket. It was a compass. She looked at the little round glass face in the palm of his hand and watched the wavering needle with a vague wonder. He assured her this compass had taken him safely through the wood on his hunting trip because the needle always told him with perfect accuracy where north was. She did not believe it; she knew she should never leave the path on the way through the wood or else she would be lost instantly. He laughed at her again; gleaming trails of spittle clung to his teeth. He said if he plunged off the path into the forest that surrounded them, he could guarantee to arrive at her grandmother’s house a good quarter of an hour before she did, plotting his way through the undergrowth with his compass while she trudged the long way, along the winding path.  ( Angela Carter, The Company of Wolves, 1979.)

The wolf ran as fast as he could, taking the shortest path, and the little girl took a roundabout way, entertaining herself by gathering nuts, running after butterflies, and gathering bouquets of little flowers (The gullible future victim continues the journey, showing no awareness in the face of the dander and making as little progress as possible.) It was not long before the wolf arrived at the old woman’s house. He knocked at the door: tap, tap. (The trickster disguises himself.)

“Who’s there?”

“Your grandchild, Little Red Riding Hood,” replied the wolf, counterfeiting her voice; “who has brought you a cake and a little pot of butter sent you by mother.”

The good grandmother, who was in bed, because she was somewhat ill, cried out, “Pull the bobbin, and the latch will go up.” (The second victim is tricked because of the information revealed by the protagonist.)

The wolf pulled the bobbin, and the door opened, and then he immediately fell upon the good woman and ate her up in a moment, for it been more than three days since he had eaten. He then shut the door and got into the grandmother’s bed, expecting Little Red Riding Hood, who came some time afterwards and knocked at the door: tap, tap. (Charles Perrault)

So the second disguising takes place, then the tricking of the protagonist the second time, all because of the transgression, disobedience and/or breaking of the promise, all leading to the eventual tricking of the trickster. Angela Carter makes the werewolf kill the old lady and eat the girl in such a way that is consistent with Charles Perrot’s moralizing ending.  

“Who’s there?”

Little Red Riding Hood, hearing the big voice of the wolf, was at first afraid; but believing her grandmother had a cold and was hoarse, answered, “It is your grandchild Little Red Riding Hood, who has brought you a cake and a little pot of butter mother sends you.”

The wolf cried out to her, softening his voice as much as he could, “Pull the bobbin, and the latch will go up.”

Little Red Riding Hood pulled the bobbin, and the door opened.

The wolf, seeing her come in, said to her, hiding himself under the bedclothes, “Put the cake and the little pot of butter upon the stool, and come get into bed with me.”

Little Red Riding Hood took off her clothes and got into bed. She was greatly amazed to see how her grandmother looked in her nightclothes, and said to her, “Grandmother, what big arms you have!”

“All the better to hug you with, my dear.”

“Grandmother, what big legs you have!”

“All the better to run with, my child.”

“Grandmother, what big ears you have!”

“All the better to hear with, my child.”

“Grandmother, what big eyes you have!”

“All the better to see with, my child.”

“Grandmother, what big teeth you have got!”

“All the better to eat you up with.”

And, saying these words, this wicked wolf fell upon Little Red Riding Hood, and ate her all up. (Charles Perrault)

The moral decodes and sexualizes the narrative and is complete with the previously missing interdiction.

Moral: Children, especially attractive, well bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf. I say “wolf,” but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all. (Charles Perrault)

The Angela Carter’s ending is postmodern, therefore amoral, it offers us a sex scene, and not a rape scene, for this would be equally moralizing, and who wants that! So a murder scene and a sex scene, that’s good, that’s what we need to fall asleep, but what about the clock, the egg, the pentacle, the compass, the rose of the wind? Where do Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida come in? In the pre-Charles Perrot version of the fairy tale the girl comes to a bifurcation  and needs to choose between the way of the spindle and the way of the pin. To a Freudian interpreter, who sees a phallus in all such objects, the issue is a young woman’s decision about premarital sex: the desire is negative, the girl acts out of lack. To Deleuze the desire is positive and Angela Carter underscores that: Miss. Hood has everything she needs, she lacks nothing, she is rather an attractor with that desired schizoid Body without Organs which participates  in production of desire; it is not an individual body — no real woman has such a body, but a collective body of desire generated by the industry of desire. The interpretation of the hymen is topological, it is not a permanent rupture between adolescence and adulthood, but rather a fold where in and out are interpreted topologically like in a Malibus strip. If we interpret pentagram as a labyrinth, we should remember that the baroque labyrinth is not about the search of the self or hiding from the world of sin. It is a playful place of fountains and statues where the courtiers show off the latest fashions and sometimes frolic in the bushes. The theme for the labyrinth of Versailles was the Fables of Esope.

So far I have not said anything about Delauze’s De-territorialization and this may appear odd given its obvious relevance. Deterritorialization is a concept complementary to that of Body without Organs, that is to say BWO is a product of Deterritorialization. Once the protagonist has left her house, the forest actualized a relative Deterritorialization, the Re-territorialiszation is expected at the grandmother’s house where would be fire and hot tea and warm welcome. The werewolf is an agent of absolute deterritorialization, yet to be true to Deleuze, we have to make him an agency: there is never one member of the species but a pack; furthermore, such creatures do not propagate through filiation, but serve rather as vectors of contagion. Deterritorialization can also mean Angela Carter’s appropriation of Charles Perrot’s Little Red Riding Hood, just the way Charles Perrot has done it in the late XVII century, articulating the old fairy tale vis-a-vis the Court of Versailles where he himself served as an important official in Colbert’s administration.

Furthermore both Deterritorialization and Body without Organs participate in yet another important term, Becoming-Animal. When writing about Francis Bacon, Gilles Deleuze reminds us that a dog can become a shadow of his master, he also suggests that a shadow of a man may become an animal. But it is not a mascot, neither it is a symbol, nor any kind of structure. These combinations are inter-kingdoms, not recognized by any community of scientists or politicians. There a difference between individuals of the same genus is greater than between one genus and another. A workhorse and an ox both belong to beasts of burden, but a racehorse is a horse of a different color. The Freudian interpretation is more than obvious, it is obscenely obvious, “What big tail you’ve got!” said the girl. “Oh, it’s not a tail,” said the wolf turning crimson-red. But before we had all that, there was yet another version of our bed-time story, where the wolf fed the grandmother to the girl; the naïveté of the dialogue was preserved; and as the Little Red Riding Hood spat out grandma’s teeth, the wolf candidly explained that those were beans…. So let me remind you why Gilles Deleuze does not like pets, he does not like the animal kingdom incorporated by society; he refuses to talk about an animal standing for a human being. Literature to Deleuze is becoming animal in the sense that like an animal it marks its territory and it always flees representation.


About versaillesgossip, before and after Francis Ponge

The author of the blogs Versailles Gossip and Before and After Francis Ponge, Vadim Bystritski lives and teaches in Brest France. The the three main themes of his literary endeavours are humor, the French Prose Poetry, the French XVII and XVIII Century Art and History. His writings and occasionally art has been published in a number of ezines (Eratio, Out of Nothing, Scars TV, etc). He also contributes to Pinterest where he comments on the artifiacts from the Louvre and other collections. Some of his shorter texts are in Spanish, Russian and French.
This entry was posted in Charles Perrault, Chateau Versailles, Contemporary Art at Chateau Versailles, Court, Courtiers, Louis XIV, Marie-Antoinette. Bookmark the permalink.

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