The Tiger’s Bride” takes place in Italy. As in “The Bloody Chamber,” the narrator is also the heroine. She tells us, “My father lost me to The Beast at cards.” She then sets the scene of her and her father’s journey to Italy. She says that to Russians like her, the South is supposed to feel like a warm Eden; but the winter there is as cold and snowy as in the North. In addition to enduring the cold, the heroine is forced to watch her father feed his gambling addition with countless games of cards with The Beast. Even though she chose to visit this remote part of Italy because it had no casino, she was unaware that every man who stays in the Beasts’s territory must play a hand of cards with him. The Beast is ashamed of his animal appearance and attempts to look as human as possible. He wears a mask with a perfect man’s face painted on it so only his yellow eyes are visible. He wears old-fashioned clothing, including a wig, gloves over his uncannily large hands and a scarf to cover his neck. He smells so strongly of cologne that the heroine wonders what sinister smell he is trying to conceal. His actions are awkward because he forces himself to act human; the heroine says he “has an air of self-imposed restraint, as if fighting a battle with himself to remain upright when he would far rather drop down on all fours.”
Furthermore, he speaks in such an incomprehensible growl that his valet must translate for him. The heroine is a radiant beauty who was born on Christmas Day. She faults her father’s gambling and adultery for her mother’s early death. As her father loses at cards, she tears apart a white rose that The Beast gave her when she arrived at his house. When the heroine’s father has lost all his money to The Beast, he bets his daughter. As dawn breaks, the narrator’s father loses her to The Beast and she must her report to his estate the next day. Suddenly comprehending what he has done, her father sobs, “I have lost my pearl, my pearl beyond price.” The beast responds in a roar that his valet translates to mean, “If you are so careless of your treasures, you should expect them to be taken from you.” The valet arrives to take the heroine away, bearing a bouquet of white roses. When her father asks for one as a sign of her forgiveness, she pricks her finger on it by accident and hands it to him “all smeared with blood.”
She is furious to have to endure such “humiliation.” The heroine wonders what kind of creature The Beast is. She recalls her nursemaid’s stories of a tiger-man who would “gobble [her] up” if she was naughty and other tales of half-men-half-beasts. She is afraid to be being married to and have sex with such a creature. When the heroine arrives at The Beast’s home, she finds that it is threadbare and dirty; he has “bought solitude, not luxury, with his money.” He keeps his horses in the living room and all his furniture, including his chandeliers, under fabric. The portraits he owns are propped against the walls so that their faces do not show. Many windows and doors are broken so that wind blows through the house. The narrator describes the house as “dismantled, as if its owner were about to move house or had never properly moved in.” The Beast summons the heroine to him, and the valet explains that his master’s sole wish is to see her virgin body naked. After that, he will return her to her father with all of his property and gifts. The narrator laughs defiantly and tells The Beast that she will concede only to pull up her skirt for him while hiding her head with a sheet. She says it is his choice whether he will pay her or not. To her joy, she sees that she has hurt him; he cries a single tear. The valet takes the narrator to a room that resembles a prison cell. When she threatens to hang herself he replies, “Oh, no, you will not. You are a woman of honour.”
When he tries to give her a diamond earring, she throws it into a corner. Then he introduces her to her companion, a wind-up soubrette. It resembles the narrator so much that she calls it her “clockwork twin.” In the little mirror the soubrette holds, the narrator sees her own, tear-covered face as it was when she arrived. He explains before locking her in the room that “nothing human lives here.” Later, the valet takes the narrator to see The Beast again. Seeing her dread at disrobing before him, The Beast sheds another tear. For hours after that, she can hear him pacing outside her door. Then the valet arrives with a second diamond earring. The narrator throws it into the corner with the other. Then the valet tells her that The Beast has summoned her to come riding.. As the heroine rides with The Beast and his valet, she suddenly feels as though she is more similar to them and the horses they ride than to anyone else she knows. After all, don’t men treat her as less than human because she is a girl?
As she puts it, “I could see not one single soul in that wilderness of desolation all around me, then the six of us-mounts and riders, both-could boast amongst us not one soul, either, since all the best religious in the world state categorically that not beasts nor women were equipped with the flimsy, insubstantial things…” Men objectify her and treat her as “carelessly” as they do animals and inanimate objects. When they reach a river, the valet explains that if she will not let The Beast see her naked, she must see him naked instead. She consents out of fear. When she sees The Beast as he is, a tiger, she is overcome with emotion. Then, as a gesture of equality, the heroine removes her shirt. The beast is embarrassed, so she goes no further. He and the valet leave her to wander while they hunt. Then all three return to the house. When the heroine peers into the soubrette’s mirror, she sees her father sitting amongst his belongings and money. The Beast has kept his word and is sending her home.
The narrator realizes that she does not want to leave. She strips naked, which she finds to be an excruciating task, as if she were “stripping off [her] own underpelt.” She dons her diamond earrings, wraps herself in a fur that The Beast gave her, and runs to his chamber. On the way, she meets the valet, who is also naked. He shows himself to be an ape, “a delicate creature, covered with silken moth-grey fur, brown fingers supple as leather, chocolate muzzle, the gentlest creature in the world.” The narrator’s fur turns into black rats, which flee. She finds The Beast pacing in his urine-tainted, bone-filled room. As she approaches him, she realizes that he is terrified of her. Then, seeing that she accepts him, he lumbers toward her, purring so loudly that the walls shake and windows break from the vibration. He licks her with his rough tongue, stripping off layers of skin to reveal her beautiful pelt.