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About this book

This revised new edition reviews Carter's novels in the light of recent critical developments and offers entirely new perspectives on her work. There is now extended discussion of Carter's most widely-studied novels, including The Passion of New Eve and Nights at the Circus, and discussion of the long essay The Sadeian Woman.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Abstract
Angela Carter (1940–1992) was born Angela Olive Stalker in Eastbourne, where her mother, her maternal grandmother and her eleven-year-old brother had moved to escape the bombings in London. The prospect of a German invasion through the south coast meant that the Stalker family moved again and the first five years or so of Carter’s life were spent with her maternal grandmother in Wath-upon-Dearne, a village in the South Yorkshire coalfield. Her father, a journalist, remained in London during the war. After the war, Carter and her mother returned to their London suburban home in Balham. But they did not find what Carter described in her essay ‘The Mother Lode’ (1976) as ‘a solid, middle-class suburb, lace curtains, privet hedges and so on’. The area had been much changed by the war and ‘had had the residue of respectability bombed out of it’ (Shaking A Leg, p. 11).
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2. Post-feminist and Euro-American Gothic: Shadow Dance (1966)

Abstract
Carter’s early work, particularly, betrays the influence of a wide variety of Gothic sources. These include nineteenth-century American writers such as Herman Melville and Edgar Allan Poe and, through their work, German Romance; European authors such as Dostoevsky; nineteenth-century Gothic texts such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; the explorations of sadomasochism in the work of the Marquis de Sade; and the cinema, especially, but not exclusively, European cinema, particularly New Wave French cinema of the 1950s and 1960s, the vampire films of the 1960s, and the work of Alfred Hitchcock, particularly Psycho.
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3. ‘Realities’, Illusions and Delusions: Several Perceptions (1968) and Love (1970)

Abstract
Like Shadow Dance, Several Perceptions (1968), written between March and December 1967, is a third-person retrospective narrative. Again the focalisation is through the consciousness of a single, male character, Joseph Harker, who, like Morris, is prey to dreams and fantasies. Like Morris, he is haunted, but by death rather than by a woman. While Morris contemplates suicide in the first chapter of Shadow Dance, Joseph attempts it. The narrative charts his recovery, culminating in a miraculous party at the end of the novel.
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4. Pain and Exclusion: The Magic Toyshop (1967)

Abstract
The Magic Toyshop, like Heroes and Villains, discussed in Chapter 5, is a third-person narrative, whose focalisation is through the consciousness of an adolescent girl who has lost one or both of her parents after an act of transgression on her part. Melanie, like Marianne, responds to the trauma of her parents’ deaths initially through an act of self-mutilation; she breaks up her bedroom, while in Heroes and Villains Marianne cuts off her hair. This act of transgression and the parents’ deaths initiate for Melanie, as for Marianne, a period of ‘exclusion’ in which she is forced to go and live in London, where she is an outsider in the Flowers family. It is her experiences with the Flowers family that are employed to advance Carter’s concern, pursued in different ways in Heroes and Villains and The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, with the rite of passage as a series of personal, corporeal and sociocultural experiences in which the social and ideological apparatus of oppression is deconstructed.
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5. Symbolic Order, Myths and Transgression: Heroes and Villains (1969) and The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972)

Abstract
Heroes and Villains (1969) and The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972) share a concern with the way in which different societies are shaped around particular values, beliefs and ideologies. However, in developing the competing ideologies around which different societies in these texts are formed, Carter examines the way in which European and American ‘civilizations’ have been forged by particular worldviews. Through her critique of the different societies in these texts, Carter presents a critique of aspects of modern European and American history.
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6. Sexual Fictions: The Passion of New Eve (1977) and The Sadeian Woman (1979)

Abstract
The narrator of The Passion of New Eve, Evelyn, describes his/ her movement from London to New York and from there to the desert. That the journey ends up in the desert, traditionally associated in Euro-American literature with sterility and death, seems particularly ironic, a parodic reversal of the myth of America as the land of opportunity and possibility. In the desert, Evelyn is captured by a band of feminist guerrillas controlled by Mother, who transforms him biologically into a woman but who does not have time to complete the psychosurgery before he escapes. Fleeing from her, s/he is captured once more, this time by a male tyrant called Zero, who, like Evelyn, is obsessed with a film star called Tristessa de St Ange. But, unlike Evelyn, Zero believes that Tristessa telepathically emasculated him during a showing of one of her films.
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7. Spectacle, Circus and the Films of Federico Fellini: Nights at the Circus (1984)

Abstract
Nights at the Circus is centred on a Cockney artiste, Fevvers, who, having claimed to have grown wings, has become a famous trapeze artist, a friend of Toulouse-Lautrec and the toast of Europe. At one level, the novel is a ribald, picaresque narrative of her life as a performer in England and Russia at the end of the nineteenth century. Fevvers tells her story to an initially sceptical American reporter, Jack Walser, a wanderer whom Carter, recalling her interest in the work of Herman Melville, describes as a latter-day Ishmael, the narrator of Melville’s Moby Dick. In the first chapter of Melville’s novel, the reader discovers that Ishmael ‘is tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote’ and that whenever he finds himself ‘growing grim about the mouth’ he accounts it ‘high time to get to sea as soon as possible’. In Nights at the Circus, we learn that Walser, too, ‘subjected his life to a series of cataclysmic shocks because he loved to hear his bones rattle. That was how he knew he was alive’ (p. 10).
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8. Illegitimate Power and Theatre: Wise Children (1991)

Abstract
In Wise Children, Dora Chance, an ex-musical hall and variety theatre star, is writing her autobiography on her seventy-fifth birthday. The narrative has the impact of her speaking voice and, as Kate Webb (1994) says, appears to transcend the word processor on which she is writing (pp. 294–295). It positions us as if we were in the audience of a theatre listening to a stand-up comedian: it draws attention to itself, frequently postpones the subject and prods us into attention.
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9. The Body, Illness, Ageing and Disruption: An Overview

Abstract
Carter’s novels, in which conventional narratives are deconstructed and their oppressive ideologies exposed, would seem to confirm Jameson’s (1986) thesis that, when everything else appears to have been stripped away, only ‘body manifestations are retained’ (p. 321). Jameson argues that the body is potentially one of the most disruptive elements of narrative. This is especially evident in the popular genres upon which Carter drew in her work, such as fairy tales, science fiction, apocalyptic or ‘Last days’ narratives, gothic narrative and horror fiction. Very often these are texts which, like Carter’s works, question the validity of key concepts such as ‘civilisation’, ‘history’ and ‘progress’. In such contexts, the appearance of the body, according to Jameson, usually produces ‘an awakening of fresh sight’ which ‘diverts a conventional narrative logic of the unfolding story in some new vertical direction’ (p. 307).
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Afterword

Abstract
In the course of this book, we have discussed Carter’s work in the light of new criticism and new critical ideas that have emerged since her death, some of which her fiction might be seen as anticipating. Another way of approaching Carter’s work in the twenty-first century is to consider its influence on other writers. In this regard, this Afterword is really a note toward a project to which a number of critical works published in the second decade after Carter’s death have already contributed but which has yet to be fully undertaken: what was Carter’s legacy to the novel, especially to the British novel, at the end of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries?
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