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Updated Up To 18/01/2017
Volume 4, Number 2 (June 2006) : 191--204
A Case of Negative Mise en Abyme
Margaret Atwood and the Grimm Brothers
Shuli Barzilai
Rubric A: Narrative as a Way of Thinking


In the short story “Bluebeard’s Egg” (1983), Margaret Atwood simultaneously replicates the form of one Bluebeard tale, “The Robber Bridegroom,” and recapitulates the content of another, “Fitcher’s Bird,” by having her protagonist recall to herself a tale about three sisters and a sorcerer she recently heard in a course on “Forms of Narrative Fiction.” The recollection of the Grimms’ story of “Fitcher’s Bird” within “Bluebeard’s Egg” is structurally analogous to the climactic scene in their “Robber Bridegroom” in which the robber’s bride is called upon to regale her wedding guests with “a good story.” She gives a first-person account of prior events that is nearly identical to the sequence already described by the third-person omniscient narrator. In other words, the bride whose experiences were the object of narration (at the diegetic level) now engages in narrating the events in which she took part (at the hypodiegetic level). For Atwood, as I propose, the mise en abyme in “The Robber Bridegroom” serves as a point of departure in both senses of the phrase: her text deviates from the structural model it imitates. The hypodiegetic narration in “Bluebeard’s Egg” – namely, the embedded tale of “Fitcher’s Bird” – does not verge on identity with events previously narrated; rather, Atwood literally realizes the rhetorical device of mise en abyme in her story. Things are put into an abyss. Nothing mirrors nothing. Through this inventive deployment of intertextuality, Atwood’s variant of the Bluebeard motif presents a case of negative mise en abyme.

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