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The rough and the holy

Angela Carter’s marionette theatre

Marie Mulvey-Roberts

Angela Carter’s writing has often been read through the prism of theatricality: performance, and performativity are pervasive motifs within the critical tradition that has grown up around her work. These discussions have often focused on the performativity of gender in Carter’s fiction, and on her writing itself as a form of performance, even of spectacle. In contradistinction to the tradition of reading performance and performativity metaphorically, this chapter focuses on literal performance in Carter’s work, on representations of a specific theatrical form: the marionette theatre. It investigates the depictions of marionettes in Carter’s short story, ‘The Loves of Lady Purple’ from Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces (1974) and her novel, The Magic Toyshop (1967), in the light of Carter’s repudiation of naturalism, both theatrical and fictional. Drawing on Peter Brook’s categories of the theatre as deadly, holy and rough, as advanced in his 1968 classic, The Empty Space, and taking the marionette theatre as exemplary of Carter’s interest in non-naturalistic demotic theatrical forms, this chapter situates her depictions of marionettes within specific cultural traditions of puppetry, as well as the literary history of the animate puppet and the ‘man or marionette’ debate central to the twentieth-century European theatrical avant-garde.

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Psychogeography in the curiosity cabinet

Angela Carter’s poetics of space

Marie Mulvey-Roberts

This chapter explores how Angela Carter’s fictional spaces metanarratively reflect upon creative authorship and textual productivity along the lines of a feminist psychogeographical poetics of spatiality. It scrutinizes the individual affective charge fictive locations hold for the woman writer who composes herself into being within sites of her own mak(e-believ)ing. It starts out from a brief overview of geographical interpretations of Carter’s fictional places, which associate her trademark challenging of generic conventions and gender roles with spatial explorations that surface both on a thematic and stylistic level of her work. It then argues that Carter’s decentralization project resonates with the poststructuralist notion of an ‘open text’, which allows readers to meander in a labyrinthine narrative while tackling the ultimate metafictional dilemma: ‘Where do stories come from?’ After a brief analysis of the affective investment of spatial imagery in Carter’s short fiction, my close reading of ‘The Scarlet House’ shows how the narrator protagonist’s mental mapping of her traumatic past becomes a survival strategy when the stake of maintaining her sense of space is the preservation of her sense of self.

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Myths, meat and American Indians

Angela Carter and Claude Lévi-Strauss

Marie Mulvey-Roberts

This chapter discusses Angela Carter’s engagement with Claude Lévi-Strauss, particularly concentrating on how this shapes her work from 1969–74, a period which coincides with Carter’s time in Japan (1970–72). Through a discussion of Heroes and Villains (1969), The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972) and ‘Master’ – a short story from Fireworks (1974) – the chapter focuses on how Carter’s reading of Lévi-Strauss is central to her depiction of primitive communities in these texts. It argues that this aspect of Carter’s anthropological research, but particularly her references to Tristes Tropiques, The Savage Mind, Structural Anthropology and The Raw and the Cooked, contribute to her satirical depiction of supposedly civilized groups in her fiction, and help to blur the portrayal of civilized and primitive societies in Carter’s work. Moreover, Carter’s engagement with American Indian mythology, particularly myths surrounding cooking and the origin of fire, underpin Doctor Hoffman and ‘Master’ and contribute to the demythologization of myths that portray American Indian tribes as ‘savage’.

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Introduction

Angela Carter’s curious rooms

Marie Mulvey-Roberts

Angela Carter was fascinated by the trope of the curious room and cabinets of curiosities. This introduction considers her work in relation to space, which includes an exhibition inspired by her life and work, co-curated by the editor, and set out in an art gallery as a series of curious rooms. This was one of many events marking the twenty-fifth anniversary since her death which specifically drew attention to her links with Bristol, since place, as well as space, was important to Carter. She lived in the city for nearly ten years, which provided a setting for her Bristol trilogy of novels. Carter also lived in the neighbouring city of Bath where she wrote her most important non-fictional work, The Sadeian Woman (1978). This chapter reveals that the time she lived in the West Country was the most productive of her writing career, despite her being regarded mainly as a London writer. It also draws attention to the diversity of Carter’s interests and how that is reflected in the chapters which follow. These fall into distinct subject areas, such as psychogeography, music, art, theatre, anthropology, translation and religion and have been written by leading and lesser-known scholars show-casing Carter’s multi-disciplinarily.

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Marie Mulvey-Roberts

When perusing Angela Carter’s journals in the archives at the British Library, the words ‘short story’ appear repeatedly, accompanied by fragments of poetry, fictional blurbs, reflections and quotations. Short narrative indeed appears to have been intertwined with her creative process, and seems to have functioned as a sort of laboratory in which she could play with ideas, and spin out critical fictions that challenge the reader’s perception of generic identity. The breadth and variety of her short fiction demonstrate the far-reaching intertextual and intermedial aspect of her writing. As a twentieth-century ‘Renaissance woman’, Carter’s borrowing ranges from high to low culture and moves beyond the limits of literature into areas as diverse as philosophy, the visual arts, psychoanalysis, cultural and religious iconography, radio, film and language theory. As a result, the edges of multiple disciplines are played with and highlighted in the shape-shifting production of short fiction throughout her career, ranging with her first collection Fireworks (1974) and culminating in American Ghosts and Old World Wonders (1993). This chapter studies how Carter’s short fiction develops throughout her career and draws upon the specificities of short narrative to propose powerful, multimedial spaces of fictional reflection to the reader.

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‘I resented it, it fascinated me’

Carter’s ambivalent cinematic fiction and the problem of proximity

Marie Mulvey-Roberts

This chapter provides a reconsideration of Angela Carter’s relationship to cinema, arguing that she was much more ambivalent about the medium than has usually been acknowledged by scholars. This ambivalence can be observed in Carter’s starkly contrasting remarks about cinema, from her oft-stated love of both classic and experimental cinema to her more critical remarks about Hollywood’s colonization of the world’s imagination and its portrayal of femininity. Drawing on this conceptualization, the chapter locates and explores this ambivalence about images in two of Carter’s texts – The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman and The Passion of New Eve – arguing that the protagonists of both texts are simultaneously fascinated and horrified by cinematic-inspired images of femininity. Drawing also on Todd McGowan’s argument that classic Hollywood cinema holds spectators at a safe imaginary distance from the potentially threatening images on the screen, the chapter argues that rather than creating a critical distance from the illusory images of cinema, Carter actually increases the sense of proximity between her spectator-protagonists and the cinematic-inspired images of femininity. In this way, the chapter argues, her texts arrive at a more robust critique, not only of cinema but of the desires of the spectators.

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Desire, disgust and dead women

Angela Carter’s re-writing women’s fatal scripts from Poe and Lovecraft

Marie Mulvey-Roberts

Angela Carter’s writing is crucial to the rebirth of Gothic horror in the late twentieth century, and an impetus to read, or re-read, myth, fairy tale and the work of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. Her work deconstructs the consistently replayed, cautionary narratives in which (mainly young) women are represented as objects of prurient idolatry, then sacrificed to reinstate the purity and balance which their constructed presence apparently disturbs. Carter tells other stories. Revising and rewriting constraining narratives, Carter’s work draws us into the rich confusions of the language, psychology, physical entrapments, artifices and constraining myths which Poe and Lovecraft play out through their representations of women, and which her work explodes and re-writes. Carter critiques, parodies and exposes underlying sexual terrors, desire and disgust fuelling representations of women as variously dead or deadly. The chapter considers early works, ‘The Snow Child’ (1979), ‘The Man Who Loved a Double Bass’ (1962/95) and ‘The Loves of Lady Purple’ (1974) then later works including Nights at the Circus (1987). Imaginatively re-stirring the potion of myth, fairy tale and horror, Carter’s women reject roles of victims, puppets, pawns, deadly sexual predators or hags, defining and seizing their own sexuality and agency, having the last laugh.

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‘Clothes are our weapons’

Dandyism, fashion and subcultural style in Angela Carter’s fiction of the 1960s

Marie Mulvey-Roberts

Carter’s fiction is replete with references to clothes. Critical attention to this aspect of Carter’s writing has characteristically inhered around her fiction of the later 1970s onwards, and its explicit interest in the performativity of gender and feminine masquerade. This chapter refocuses that attention to the 1960s, the period in which Carter’s attitudes to dress were forged. It shows how Carter’s writing of the 1960s is informed by her interest in subcultural style, and the sartorial defiance enacted by the emergent counterculture. In the 1960s novels, Shadow Dance (1966), The Magic Toyshop, Several Perceptions (1968), Heroes and Villains (1969) and Love (1971), clothing operates as a mode of opposition to a dominant culture constructed as conservative, middle-class and patriarchal. In these texts Carter repeatedly depicts the male dandy as initiating a crisis in patriarchal culture, as he simultaneously rebels against the dominant order and experiences a decentring of subjectivity that is often catastrophic. The emphasis on dressing up in these novels instigates the dissolution of the ‘authentic’ subject prized in subcultural discourses and the inauguration of a more fluid, decentred model of subjectivity.

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Bloody chamber melodies

Painting and music in The Bloody Chamber

Marie Mulvey-Roberts

This chapter examines the way The Bloody Chamber intermingles literary, pictorial and musical elements to ground a new aesthetic of reading. Drawing on both aesthetic and psychoanalytic theory, it argues that Carter plays on the traditional gendering of space and time, as well as their related fine arts. She thus uses painting and music to blur the boundaries and implicit hierarchies between genres and genders, but also between the senses to which they appeal, giving prominence to the repressed sense of hearing, which is closely linked to touch. Looking first at ‘The Bloody Chamber’, it shows that it provides a key to a collection which should be read like a score and calls for performative readings, in the musical sense. Broadening the perspective, it then provides an overview of the whole collection as structured around visual, musical, and consequently tactile, refrains in the sense Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari understand them. It demonstrates that Carter thus renews a somewhat stultified genre, which trapped characters and readers into predetermined roles, by turning the very motives that constituted the death trap into a constant de-territorialization process, reviving their capacity to affect her readers and urge them to reconfigure their own relationship to otherness.

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The arts of Angela Carter

A cabinet of curiosities

Marie Mulvey-Roberts

This book aims to give new insights into the multifarious worlds of Angela Carter and to re-assess her impact and importance for the twenty-first century. It brings together leading Carter scholars with some emerging academics, in a new approach to her work, which focuses on the diversity of her interests and versatility across different fields. Even where chapters are devoted specifically to her fiction, they tend to concentrate on inter-disciplinary crossings-over as in, for example, psychogeography or translational poetics. This collection is a response to the momentum arising from commemorative events to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary since her death, including the first art exhibition inspired by her life and work. The arts of Angela Carter builds on existing scholarship and makes new interventions in regard to her inter-disciplinarity. The arrangement of the material, indicated by the chapter headings, draws attention to a variety of areas not normally associated with dominant perceptions of Angela Carter. These encompass fashion, art, poetry, music, performance and translation, which will be discussed in a number of historical, literary and cultural contexts. The book will also explore her interests in anthropology and psycho-analysis and engage in current debates relating to gender, feminism and postmodernism.