Carter‘s fiction sits uneasily in relation to both Gothic and feminist discourses, especially as they converge through the category of the ‘female Gothic’. Owing to her interest in pornography and her engagement with the sexual/textual violence of specifically ‘male Gothic’ scripts – for example, the Gothic scenarios of Sade, Poe, Hoffmann, Baudelaire and Stoker – Carter‘s Gothic heroines have frequently been censured as little more than objects of sadistic male desires by feminist critics. This article re-reads Carter‘s sexual/textual violations – her defiance of dominant feminist and Gothic categories and categorisations – through the problematic of (post-)feminist discourse and, especially, the tension between ‘victim’ and ‘power’ feminisms as prefigured in her own (Gothic) treatise on female sexual identity, The Sadeian Woman (1979). Mapping the trajectory of her Gothic heroine from Ghislaine in Shadow Dance (1966) to Fevvers in Nights at the Circus (1984), it re-contextualises Carters engagements with the Gothic as a dialogue with both the female Gothic and feminist discourse.
This book develops insights into the vexed question of Carter's textual practices through the dusty lens of the Gothic. It argues that European Gothic is vital to illuminating and understanding the tension between politics and aesthetics in Carter's work. The book shows how a more concerted focus on Carter's European literary inheritance sheds light on her particular and perverse engagements with androcentric literary and cultural frameworks. It emblematises the tension between her textual extravagancies and her self-declared 'absolute and committed materialism'. Her firm belief 'that this world is all that there is, and in order to question the nature of reality one must move from a strongly grounded base in what constitutes material reality'. The book examines the fraught relationship between Carter's sexual and textual politics. Exploring the ways in which Carter's work speaks to broader discussions about the Gothic and its representations, the book is especially concerned with analysing her textual engagements with a male-authored strand of European Gothic. This is a dirty lineage that can be mapped from the Marquis de Sade's obsession with desecration and defilement to surrealism's violent dreams of abjection. The book not only situates Carter as part of a European Gothic tradition but theoretically aligns her with what Jane Gallop, in her book on Sade, describes as France's "deconstructive" feminism, daughter of antihumanism.
Angela Carter's writing is fascinated by the macabre and the erotic, the dissolute and the grotesque. The author's analysis of European Gothic's topographical and representational territories engages with aspects of French feminist theory, in particular the work of Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva, that operate in this field of Gothic signification. Vampiric, menacing and sly, they are conspicuously Gothic creations, built, like Frankenstein's creature, from the dusty vestiges of previous literary and cultural forms. The male bloodline of European Gothic evinces a macabre fascination with the monstrous mother. Feminist criticism has re-inscribed the mother-daughter relationship in the female Gothic, often codifying the Gothic heroine's journey of self-discovery within the labyrinthine spaces of the Gothic castle as an encounter with a spectral maternal presence.
This chapter is concerned with bodying forth, or awakening, the spectral presence of the Gothic in The Sadeian Woman to realign its political and aesthetic matters. A dormant subject on the brink of womanhood, Sleeping Beauty is an exemplary Gothic daughter, whose body is subject to the disciplinary practices fictionalised by the Gothic castle as a locus of paternal power. Angela Carter confronts the deadly boundaries of the Sadeian body/corpus in The Sadeian Woman. However, Sadeian inflections of 'Sleeping Beauty' reappear through her fiction, most strikingly in The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman and The Bloody Chamber. Confronting the thorny hedges of the father's house, Carter unmasks the operations of the 'prick' that repeatedly put women to sleep in the Sadeian Gothic. Finally, the chapter explores the Gothic as a site for the intersection of Sadeian and feminist discourses of female victimisation.
This chapter explores Angela Carter's engagement with and reworking of the figure of the deathly muse in the work of Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Baudelaire, two of her most influential and persistent literary models. In 'The Philosophy of Composition', Poe outlines, with specific reference to 'The Raven', the procedure by which some of his poetic works were put together. Carter's ironic restaging of the monstrous muse in the 'The Cabinet of Edgar Allan Poe' and 'Black Venus' engenders a process of re-composition, an exhumation of the muse that Poe wants to bury and Baudelaire wants to debase. Carter acts here as a decadent daughter, exchanging the maternal muse for a paternal muse that is at once apostrophised and subordinated in the aesthetic process. Poe and Baudelaire respectively dematerialise into dust and ashes. De-composed, the male artist/muse disappears back into the Gothic mirror.
Following on from the discussions of the virtuous Sleeping Beauty and the monstrous muse, this chapter explores how the female body is dreamed (up) in the Gothic imaginings of psychoanalysis and surrealism. With its waxworks, clockwork dolls, dark doubles and automata, uncanny repetitions and phantasmal projections, the Gothic gives form to what Terry Castle describes as the 'spectralization' of human thought since the eighteenth century. Brimming with automata, dolls and mannequins, Angela Carter's writing is inhabited too by a macabre cast of toy-makers, puppet-masters and mad scientists. Foregrounding the chess queen as a figure of enthralling and deathly sexuality, the chapter suggests that the logic of the chessboard offers a vocabulary for rethinking the dark eroticism and intertextual geometries of Carter's texts. Carter's fiction explores in particular the uncanniness of the marionette as another site for the conjunction of female sexuality and death in the European Gothic imagination.
This chapter explores the matricidal impulse that underlies the education of the Sadeian Gothic heroine. The Sadeian Woman exposes the illusory freedom granted to the daddy's girl who operates within the patriarchal structures of the pornograph. It is equally engaged with challenging mythologised notions of motherhood and the maternal emerging from Anglo-American second wave feminist celebrations of the 'mother goddess'. The mother's return to save the daughter from the Sadeian libertine is dramatically restaged in 'The Bloody Chamber', an extravagantly literary re-writing of Charles Perrault's seventeenth-century fairy tale 'La Barbe Bleue'. Nights at the Circus is often described as an exemplary 'postmodern' or, owing to its emphasis on performance and the circus, 'carnivalesque' text. However, the prevalence of Sadeian and decadent Gothic topographies situates the novel within a European Gothic tradition.
Angela Carter's intertextual engagements with the sexual and textual violence of a male-authored European Gothic lineage raise unsettling questions about her complicity with an aesthetic structured around the objectification of the female body. Like the Lady of the House of Love, Carter is a Gothic daughter who has inherited a haunted house full of dust, shadows and echoes. But there is another 'Museum of dust' that resides in Carter's fiction. Carter's last novel, Wise Children, marks something of a departure from the European Gothic bloodline that can be traced through many of her earlier texts. Carter's dialogues with the dusty, dirty scripts of her literary forefathers involve simultaneous acts of composition and decomposition. As she argues in 'Notes on the Gothic Mode', the Gothic is primarily an analytic method. Concerned with dismantling its illusory structures, Carter's textual practice does not just vampirically feed off this European Gothic bloodline.