In fiction, non-fiction and journalism, Angela Carter was one of the most high-profile writers of her generation before her death in 1992. I was particularly fond of her subversive feminist fantasies The Bloody Chamber and Nights at the Circus.
For some years after her death her work appeared to fall from public favour, but then I began to notice occasional theatre adaptations. Last year at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, I saw an effervescent production of Nights at the Circus by the Fourth Monkey theatre company.
This led me to re-read Carter’s short story collection The Bloody Chamber which I had loved the first time, both before and after Neil Jordan’s film The Company of Wolves . Some of the stories seem as strong as ever, like the title story where the heroine, imprisoned in an island castle by a sinister husband, is rescued by the dramatic arrival of her pistol-wielding mother, and the Rabelaisian reworking of “Puss-in-Boots”. Much of her language retains its previous power, like the description in “The Company of Wolves” of “the night of the solstice, the hinge of the year when things do not fit together as well as they should” and the idea from the same story that female virginity is a sign of strength and empowerment : “the invisible pentacle of her virginity…a sealed vessel…a magic space…she does not know how to shiver…she is afraid of nothing”.
Perhaps it was Carter’s premature death which makes her dark, sensual style seem to belong to the distant past in which these stories are set. Or perhaps simply that my perspectives of human behaviour have changed and these are stories more suited to a younger reading age? Certainly I heard Marina Warner describe it as “a rite of passage book”. Even though perhaps I have lost contact with Carter’s full impact, the readings by Katarina Rankovic certainly seem to have the appropriate tone and flavour.
I had already recognised Carter’s influence in the work of contemporary poets Liz Lochhead and Carol Ann Duffy, but it was exciting to discover a poem from an earlier period which has a Carteresque richness and mystery, Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”, and which by coincidence is being dramatised in Edinburgh this year.
Reference : Carter, Angela (1984) The Bloody Chamber and other stories Harmondsworth : Penguin