Authors: Angela Carter

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English novelist and short-story writer


Angela Carter was born Angela Olive Stalker. She spent the war years in Yorkshire with her grandmother before attending school in Balham. She was a junior reporter on the Croydon Advertiser when she married Paul Carter in 1960. Angela Carter read English at the University of Bristol from 1962 through 1965 and published her first novel, Shadow Dance, a year after graduating. She won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for Several Perceptions and the Somerset Maugham Award for The Magic Toyshop, a deftly caustic allegory of female maturation and eventual empowerment.{$I[AN]9810002024}{$I[A]Carter, Angela}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Carter, Angela}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Carter, Angela}{$I[tim]1940;Carter, Angela}

Carter lived in Japan for more than two years before her divorce in 1972. Her writings of this period became increasingly phantasmagorical. Love is an intense study of the dark waywardness of passion. The futuristic fantasy Heroes and Villains depicts a post-Holocaust world whose ruined cities are inhabited by professors and soldiers, while forests metamorphosed by mutation are gradually reclaiming the earth. The protagonist of The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman undertakes a bizarre quest to rescue the world from a threatened annihilation of reason and reality. He moves across a phantasmagoric landscape whose symbolism reflects the most secret, shameful, and yet cherished impulses of the human heart. Such journeys from decadent order to a chaos that is pregnant with new possibilities in spite of its brutality became the basic pattern of almost all of Carter’s subsequent work.

After a brief hiatus, Carter’s career got under way again when she obtained an Arts Council Fellowship in Sheffield in 1976. She subsequently settled in London with Mark Pearce, the father of her son Alexander, who was born in 1983. During the 1980’s, she taught creative writing at a number of American universities and at the University of East Anglia. A symbolically transfigured America provides the imaginary landscapes of The Passion of New Eve. The novel’s protagonist undergoes an enforced sex change at the hands of a self-appointed Earth Mother and is then imprisoned by a crippled and inarticulate “poet” obsessed with a mysterious screen goddess.

Carter’s fascination with traditional legendary lore obtained increasingly ambitious development in a remarkable series of short stories, including a collection of ideologically transfigured fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber, and Other Stories. These tales rework the covert sexual counseling implicit in the traditional tales in such a way as to exhort girls to grasp the nettle of their sexuality instead of subduing it to the service of male fantasies. The series also includes “Penetrating to the Heart of the Forest” and “Master” in Fireworks, “The Kiss” and “Peter and the Wolf” in Black Venus, and “Ashputtle or the Mother’s Ghost” in American Ghosts and Old World Wonders. The radio plays Vampirella and Puss in Boots also play with traditional motifs in a similarly subversive but even more reckless fashion.

Another preoccupation of Carter–which came increasingly to the fore in her later work–was her abiding interest in the process by which the substance of childhood dreams and unfathomable experiences can be transmuted, by means of various kinds of performances, into art. This is the primary subject matter of the radio play Come unto These Yellow Sands, the short stories “Black Venus” and “The Cabinet of Edgar Allan Poe,” and her last two novels. The picaresque and mock-Dickensian Nights at the Circus tells the story of the amorous “cockney angel” Fevvers, who progresses from prostitution to circus stardom. Wise Children is more restrained in its fantastic embellishments but contrives nevertheless to be even more intense in its celebration of the magic of the theater and the capacity of spirited performance to redeem and illuminate wounded personalities.

In Carter’s work, the contents of the unconscious mind–which can be known and analyzed by virtue of the imagistic shadows they cast in fairy tales and artworks–are given leave to advance into self-awareness, where they are welcomed as guests rather than condemned as enemies. Her aim was not to achieve some quasi-psychoanalytic exorcism, but rather to bring about a reconciliation. She never underestimated the difficulty of achieving that reconciliation, and admitted that it will inevitably be painful, but she remained committed to the notion that it is a necessary and inevitable step in one’s spiritual evolution. Her use of fantastic motifs is extraordinarily luxurious as well as thoughtful. Her characters–especially the female ones–frequently fall victim to all manner of strange and cruel fates, but they are survivors who never lose their capacity to learn and grow. Her vivid prose style and her sharp clarity of mind combined to make her one of the most important English fantasists of her generation. Her death from lung cancer in 1992 was sadly premature.

BibliographyDay, Aidan. Angela Carter: The Rational Glass. New York: Manchester University Press, 1998. Presents an examination of Carter’s fiction that is generally accessible to the nonspecialist. Notes the similarity of themes in Carter’s work and describes how she was influenced by the books she read at various times in her life.Gamble, Sarah. Angela Carter: A Literary Life. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Critical biography analyzes the relationship between the events of Carter’s life and her works. Examines how Carter was engaged in topical issues, such as politics, feminism, class, and national identity (particularly English identity).Gamble, Sarah. Angela Carter: Writing from the Front Line. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997. Comprehensive study of Carter’s works, including her novels. Argues that Carter intentionally undermined traditional ideas about history, social codes regarding propriety and “woman’s place,” and the distinction between “high” and “low” literature.Jordan, Elaine. “Enthralment: Angela Carter’s Speculative Fictions.” In Plotting Change: Contemporary Women’s Fiction, edited by Linda Anderson. London: Edward Arnold, 1990. An analysis of Carter’s use of mythological and fairy-tale motifs in parables of sexual liberation.Landon, Brooks. “Eve at the End of the World: Sexuality and the Reversal of Expectations in Novels by Joanna Russ, Angela Carter, and Thomas Berger.” In Erotic Universe: Sexuality and Fantastic Literature, edited by Donald Palumbo. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1986. Examines the feminist mythology of Carter’s work, in particular in the novel Heroes and Villains, and discusses Carter’s confrontation of sexual stereotypes.Lee, Alison. Angela Carter. New York: G. K. Hall, 1997. Presents critical discussion of all of Carter’s novels in a clear and accessible style. Includes details of Carter’s life and explains her ideas about nonfiction in order to provide insight into her fiction.Munford, Rebecca, ed. Re-visiting Angela Carter: Texts, Contexts, Intertexts. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Collection of essays focuses on Carter’s extensive use of allusions and references drawn from a wide variety of sources. Among the topics discussed are the influences on Carter’s writings of the works of Charles Dickens, Jonathan Swift, Edgar Allan Poe, and film director Jean-Luc Godard.Palumbo, Donald, ed. Erotic Universe: Sexuality and Fantastic in Literature. London: Greenwood Press, 1986. A compilation of essays on feminist literature. The chapter by Brooks Landon looks at sexuality and the reversal of expectations in Carter’s novels, in particular Heroes and Villains. Discusses the feminist mythology of this novel and Carter’s confrontation of sexual stereotypes.Peach, Linden. Angela Carter. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. Study of Carter’s novels offers an overview of her work and close readings of the individual books. Argues that although Carter employed elements of fantasy literature, her novels still addressed “real-life” issues.Rubinson, Gregory J. The Fiction of Rushdie, Barnes, Winterson, and Carter: Breaking Cultural and Literary Boundaries in the Work of Four Postmodernists. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2005. Compares and contrasts the work of the four authors, including an analysis of gender and sexuality in the writings of Carter and Jeanette Winterson and examination of The Passion of the New Eve and Heroes and Villains.Sage, Lorna. Angela Carter. Plymouth, England: Northcote House, 1994. An essay in the British Council-sponsored Writers and Their Work series, less detailed than the full-length studies by Day or Gamble but at least their equal in the sensitivity of its analysis.Sage, Lorna, ed. Flesh and the Mirror: Essays on the Art of Angela Carter. London: Chatto & Windus, 1994. Collection of thirteen essays on various aspects of Carter’s work includes discussions of Carter’s “political correctness,” Carter and science fiction, and the novels Love and Wise Children.Smith, Joan. Introduction to Shaking a Leg: Journalism and Writings, by Angela Carter. London: Chatto & Windus, 1997. Well-written essay on Carter’s critical work links her social commentary to major themes in her long fiction.
Categories: Authors