Myth, Surrealism and Folklore in the Writings of Angela Carter

Essay, 2020

10 Pages


Myth, Surrealism and Folklore in the Writings of Angela Carter

Dr. Shamenaz Bano

With the rise of feminism in the West, there came a drastic change in the society in regard to women in terms of their status and position in the society. Women came out in all the spheres i.e. literature, politics, bureaucracy, sports, films and media etc. So because of this many women writers emerged in Britain who have gain name and fame internationally and who have enriched the British literature like the male writers.

Angela Carter was one such English novelist who is known for her feminism and also postmodernism. She was a journalist who was famous for her magical realism, surrealism, fantasy, gothic, science fiction and picaresque works. Because of all this, she is considered as a unique and original writer of 20th century. She was ranked tenth in the list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945" by The Times in 2008.

She was born in Eastbourne, London in 1940 as Angela Olive Stalker. As a child, she had lived in Yorkshire with her maternal grandmother. In her teenage she fought and overcome anorexia caused by low self-esteem. Her father was a journalist in the Croydon Advertiser, which was later joined by her. She attended the University of Bristol where she studied English literature. She also studied psychology and anthropology and had developed a strong liking for Rimbaud and Racine, and for French literature in general.

She was very much inspired by her parents, who were socialists and all of her immediate female relatives were strong women of striking candor and pragmatism. Being inspired by them, she showed anguished over the closing of mines and the breaking of mining strikes in the 1960s, and over the failures of the socialist revolution in general.

She metamorphosed into one of the most original writers of the post-World War II period. She had enriched her creativity by travels to Japan and Russia that greatly influenced her fiction. When she did finally come to the United States, it was almost as an afterthought, although she captured the essence of the country in The Passion of New Eve (1977).

Lorna Sage has observed Carter’s life, which according to her was out of normal order. She gives excellent observation by saying that:

Angela Carter's life – the background of social mobility, the teenage anorexia, the education and self-education, the early marriage and divorce, the role-playing and shape-shifting, the travels, the choice of a man much younger, the baby in her forties – is the story of someone walking a tightrope. It's all happening "on the edge," in no man's land, among the debris of past convictions. By the end, her life fitted her more or less like a glove, but that's because she'd put it together by trial and error, bricolage, all in the(conventionally) wrong order. Her genius and estrangement came out of thin-skinned extremity of response to the circumstances of her life and to the signs of the times.(236)

Carter is considered as a prolific writer of fiction, who has contributed many articles to The Guardian, The Independent and New Statesman, collected In Shaking a Leg. She is the author of many novels, such as Shadow Dance (1966) aka Honeybuzzard, The Magic Toyshop (1967), Several Perceptions (1968), Heroes and Villains (1969), Love (1971), The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972) aka The War of Dreams, The Passion of New Eve (1977), Nights at the Circus (1984), Wise Children (1991).

She has written some short fictions, Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces (1974) aka Fireworks: Nine Stories in Various Disguises and Fireworks, The Bloody Chamber (1979, The Bridegroom (1983) (Uncollected short story), Black Venus (1985), American Ghosts and Old World Wonders (1993), Burning Your Boats (1995). Poetry collections, Five Quiet Shouters (1966), Unicorn (1966)

Her genius also include dramatic works, Come Unto These Yellow Sands: Four Radio Plays (1985), The Curious Room: Plays, Film Scripts and an Opera (1996) (includes Carter's screenplays for adaptations of The Company of Wolves and The Magic Toyshop; also includes the contents of Come Unto These Golden Sands: Four Radio Plays) and The Holy Family Album (1991)

Having great love for the children, she has written many children's books like: The Donkey Prince (1970) illustrated by Eros Keith, Miss Z, the Dark Young Lady (1970) illustrated by Eros Keith, Comic and Curious Cats (1979) illustrated by Martin Leman, Moon shadow (1982) illustrated by Justin Todd, Sea-Cat and Dragon King (2000) illustrated by Eva Tatcheva.

She is also the author of some non-fiction works like: The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography (1979), Nothing Sacred: Selected Writings (1982), Expletives Deleted: Selected Writings (1992), Shaking a Leg: Collected Journalism and Writing (1997) and has worked as editor for some books: Wayward Girls and Wicked Women: An Anthology of Subversive Stories (1986), The Virago Book of Fairy Tales (1990) aka The Old Wives' Fairy Tale Book, The Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales (1992) aka Strange Things Still Sometimes Happen: Fairy Tales From Around the World (1993), Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales (2005) (collects the two Virago Books above)

She has worked as translator for some books: The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault (1977), Sleeping Beauty and Other Favourite Fairy Tales (1982) (Perrault stories and two Madame Leprince de Beaumont stories) and has also adapted some films like Company of Wolves (1984) with Neil Jordan from her short story of the same name, "Wolf-Alice" and "The Werewolf" and also The Magic Toyshop (1987) from her novel of the same name.

Some Radio plays like- Vampirella (1976) was written by Carter and directed by Glyn Dearman for BBC. From the basis for the short story "The Lady of the House of Love" and Come Unto These Yellow Sands (1979). She adapted The Company of Wolves (1980) from her short story of the same name, "Wolf-Alice" and "The Werewolf", which was directed by Glyn Dearman for BBC.

She also adapted Puss-in-Boots (1982) from her short story and this was also directed by Glyn Dearman for BBC and A Self-Made Man (1984)

But Salman Rushdie, one of the greatest writers of Indian English fiction had viewed that her works has been neither ever fit. He pointed out, the definition of "moral fiction" as championed by John Gardner:

Angela Carter was a thumber of noses, a defiler of sacred cows.

She loved nothing so much as cussed – but also blithe – nonconformity. Her books unshackle us, toppling the statues of the pompous, demolishing the temples and commissariats of righteousness. They draw their strength, their vitality, from all that is unrighteous, illegitimate, low.(3)

Carter had added humour, emotional ends and wonderfully profane wisdom to her writings. She has laid a sturdy, non-didactic Feminism as a base of her fiction, for which she is very much admired. She is among the few writers, who have successfully told stories within stories, created dense, baroque prose with an emotional touch. But her unfortunate death in 1992 at the age of 51 due to cancer has created a vacuum in the British literature and for the English fiction.The mid-70’s and the mid-80’s is the period, which is considered as a prime of her life. During these years she wrote her greatest works – The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, The Passion of New Eve, The Bloody Chamber, and Nights at the Circus. These are considered as masterpieces and ground-breaking works that defied easy summation or analysis.

In the mid-60s to mid-70s, Carter published novels like Shadow Dance (1965), Several Perceptions (1968), and Love (1971), which was based on bohemian, hippyish culture flourished at that time in London. She wrote Shadow Dance (1965), Several Perceptions (1968), and Love (1971) which were like a counter-culture. She also wrote The Magic Topshop (1967), which won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and Heroes and Villains (1969).

Carter's wrote her first novel, Shadow Dance (published as Honeybuzzard in the United States) while she was living in Bristol. It is a picaresque novel, leading to the murder by the protagonist, Honeybuzzard’s girlfriend in the end. He is a bizarre and a amoral character, who being malignant has disfigured his gorgeous girlfriend and who, before the novel ends, will commit a murder. Strange events and bizarre characters are commonplace in his novels. Most reviewers dismissed Carter as an author who had "read too much Carson McCullers."(80) Her another novel, The Magic Toyshop is highly praised and is very unique. It deserves special mention among Carter's early works because many of her "signatures" are already in place in the novel, which include the evil puppet maker, the grotesquery of the puppets themselves, and her ability to create quick, charming brushstrokes of characterization.

Carter is very successful in the experimentation with the short form. She was able to publish the first collection of short stories as Fireworks in (1970-1973). By reading these stories one can see her perfection and awful creativity. By doing so, she has raised her range. In this story collection, there are stories which are considered as classic of Carter like, "The Executioner's Beautiful Daughter" and "The Loves of Lady Purple." She has written stories based on different themes like "The Smile of Winter" which provides an aftermath to "Souvenirs of Japan." The story, "Flesh and the Mirror" is a story of women’s emancipation. The female narrator sheds her lover and, although still living in melancholy, has achieved an aura of strength. The story, "The Smile of Winter" is about being alone and recovering from loss.


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Myth, Surrealism and Folklore in the Writings of Angela Carter
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ISBN (eBook)
British Literature, Contemporary British writers, British women writers
Quote paper
Dr Shamenaz Bano (Author), 2020, Myth, Surrealism and Folklore in the Writings of Angela Carter, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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