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Angela Carter

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English Literature

Feminist, author, poet, and journalist Angela Carter wore many hats. Lets learn more about her worldviews and the influences that shaped her literary work.

Angela Carter: Biography

Angela Carter was born on 7th May 1940 in Eastbourne, Sussex. However, she was raised partly in South London and partly in Yorkshire, where she was evacuated to her grandmother’s home. She was the youngest child of Sophia Olive and Hugh Alexander Stalker, having one brother who was eleven years older. She experienced a challenging relationship with her mother, who was controlling, overprotective, and possessive. She left home and asserted her independence after she won a scholarship at a prep school.

Angela Carter married her first husband, the folk singer Paul Carter when she was nineteen. Ultimately, she didn’t feel that her husband supported her writing, a factor which led to their divorce after nine years of marriage. She kept his surname following the divorce.

Her father was a night editor at the Press Association and used his connections to help her to get a job as a reporter. She also started writing fiction and studied English Literature at the University of Bristol.

She won the Somerset Maugham Award and used the prize money to move to Tokyo, Japan. She lived there for two years, writing a collection of short stories called Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces (1974) and articles for New Society. It was during this time that Angela Carter took a greater interest in feminist ideology.

She was a writer in residence at several universities. These included the University of Sheffield, Brown University, the University of Adelaide, and the University of East Anglia.

Angela Carter wrote novels, short stories, poems, and journalistic articles. Many of her works are known for their use of magic realism and their feminist narratives. Her most famous works include The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979) and The Magic Toyshop (1967).

When she was 43, she gave birth to her only child, and she died at the age of 51 after developing lung cancer. She married Mark Pearce in May 1991 to ensure he would have full legal custody of their young son after she died.

Angela Carter was placed tenth in The Times’ 2008 list of The 50 greatest British writers since 1945.

Angela Carter: The feminist

Feminism is a broad ideological movement with many subcategories, such as radical, Marxist, liberal, and difference.1 All of these ideologies share the common aim of challenging and overcoming the inequalities faced by women in patriarchal societies.

Angela Carter can be defined as a radical-libertarian feminist. This subcategory of feminism focused on the ways in which gendered sexual roles and responsibilities were oppressive and limited women’s life experiences and opportunities. It also placed emphasis on pregnancy and childbirth as the root cause of women’s oppression.

Feminism can also be broken down into time periods, known as waves. Carter was an active participant in second-wave feminism. This refers to the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which focused on equality and discrimination.

The influence of this ideology can be seen in her works, such as The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, where she empowers her female protagonists to act outside of gendered norms, embrace their own sexual agency, and break free from oppression.

Quotes by Angela Carter

A book is simply the container of an idea like a bottle; what is inside the book is what matters(Shaking a Leg: Journalism and Writings, 1997).

Can you think of an important shared theme or idea present in her stories?

For most of human history, literature, both fiction and poetry, has been narrated, not written heard, not read. So fairy tales, folk tales, stories from the oral tradition, are all of them the most vital connection we have with the imaginations of the ordinary men and women whose labor created our world (Angela Carters Book Of Fairy Tales, 2015).

Consider how The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979) was inspired by old fairy tales, which have their origin in stories passed down through the oral tradition by generations of women. Drawing inspiration from popular folklore and fairy tales is a longstanding literary tradition. It was even used by Shakespeare, who took inspiration from the popular folktale As Meat Loves Salt to create King Lear (1606).

My intention was not to do versions or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, adult fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories and to use it as the beginnings of new stories1 (Angela Carter, 2006).

Her stories are often wrongly described as feminist retellings of traditional tales.

Language is power, life and the instrument of domination and liberation (Shaking a Leg: Collected Writings, 1998).

By taking the latent content of existing fairy tales and subverting them, the author can be interpreted as challenging patriarchal norms, using language to liberate both her female protagonists and her readership.

Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber

The story ‘The Bloody Chamber is the first and longest in this anthology of ten short stories, which also include:

  1. The courtship of Mr. Lyon’.
  2. The tigers bride’.
  3. Puss in Boots’.
  4. The erlking’.
  5. The snow child’.
  6. The lady of the house of love’.
  7. The werewolf’.
  8. The company of wolves’.
  9. Wolf Alice’.

The title story draws upon the latent content of the tale of Bluebeard (1697), and a reader can draw many parallels to the plot and characters of the traditional story. This collection of short stories belongs to the genre of magic realism, which blends realistic fiction with surreal elements.

The Bloody Chamber follows the narrative of a young female protagonist, who is a talented but poor pianist with an eccentric widowed mother. She is courted by a rich older man who had been recently widowed for the third time. He is a nobleman, a Marquis, with a large beard. He gives her the keys to all the rooms in his castle, encouraging her to explore it, but instructs her to not use one particular key. What horrors does that key unlock? Whilst many of the characters and aspects of the plot are strikingly similar to that of Bluebeard, it is also starkly different. The story explores themes such as sexuality, feminism, and conventional gender roles.

His wedding gift, clasped round my throat. A choker of rubies, two inches wide, like an extraordinarily precious slit throat (The Bloody Chamber).

Consider how this ominous gift foreshadows the Marquis’ plans to behead her.

Angela Carter’s fairy tales: The Magic Toyshop

Like many fairy tales, this novel follows the narrative of a plucky young orphan girl sent to live with unfamiliar relatives. However, it also contains dark themes, such as domestic abuse (namely coercive control and financial abuse) and incest between siblings. The characters are rounded, with flaws and redeeming qualities, compared to the flat characters typical of fairy tales.

The Magic Toyshop follows the narrative of Melanie. We are first introduced to the protagonist and her siblings as happy, privileged children being cared for by a nanny whilst their parents are away. Following their parents’ tragic deaths in a plane crash, Melanie and her siblings are sent to live with their estranged maternal uncle. The uncle is a toymaker, and he creates uncanny puppets.

Her carved eyeballs stared back at them with the uncanny blindness of statues, who seem always to be perceiving another dimension, where everything is statues (The Magic Toyshop).

Subverting gendered roles, the uncle takes on the traditional fairy tale role of the evil stepmother. Similarly, the poor and dirty Finn can be seen as a subversion of the fairy tale Prince. He is kind, brave, and self-educated from reading widely in public libraries.

The Magic Toyshop has been adapted for the stage.

Angela Carter's novels and stories

Now we will take a look at other Angela Carter’s novels and short stories.

Angela Carters novels

  • Shadow Dance (1966).
  • Several Perceptions (1968).
  • Love (1971).
  • The Magic Toyshop (1967).
  • Heroes and Villains (1969).
  • The Donkey Prince (1970).
  • Miss Z, The Dark Young Lady (1970).
  • The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972).
  • The Passion of New Eve (1977).
  • The Music People (1980, co-authored by Leslie Carter).
  • Moon Shadow (1982, co-authored by Justin Todd).
  • Nights at The Circus (1984).
  • Wise Children (1991).
  • Sea-Cat and Dragon King (2000).

Angela Carters short stories

  • Fireworks (1970).
  • Expletives Deleted (1974).
  • Comic and Curious Cats (1979).
  • The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979).
  • Black Venuss Tale (1981).
  • Come Unto These Yellow Sands (1985).
  • Black Venus/Saints and Strangers (1985).
  • Artificial Fire (1988).
  • Shaking a Leg (1990).
  • American Ghosts & Old World Wonders (1993). Books from this point onward were published posthumously.
  • Burning Your Boats (1995).
  • The Curious Room (1996).
  • Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella & Other Classic Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault (2008).
  • Bluebeard (2011).

The main themes of Angela Carter’s novels and short stories

The main themes of many of Angela Carter’s novels and short stories include sexuality and violence, power, and transformation.

Sexuality and violence

Sexuality and violence are often interlinked in Carter’s stories and novels. In Puss in Boots (1979), the cat’s owner has sex with his lover next to her husband’s freshly dead body.

The theme of sexuality and violence is particularly evident in the title story of The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, which features sadomasochism, pornography, torture, and murder. The evil husband’s title itself is a nod to the Marquis de Sade.

Power

Power is a prominent theme throughout her works. The balance of power in relationships and families is a frequent focus. Consider the dynamics of power within the family of The Magic Toyshop and how this reflects upon patriarchal society. The protagonist in The Tiger’s Bride is meant to be a passive participant in a bargain made between men but sets her own terms, regaining power and autonomy.

Transformation

The theme of transformation can be both in terms of character development and literal. Consider the psychological transformation undergone by the protagonist of The Bloody Chamber (1979). On the other hand, there is also the physical metamorphosis of the young woman in The Tiger’s Bride (1979), who literally transforms into a tiger.

Why is Angela Carter important to English literature?

Angela Carter was an incredibly talented writer who blended a variety of themes and drew inspiration from many different sources. Her works contain elements of Gothic, fairy tales, surrealism, and magic realism. She drew inspiration from sources as diverse as Shakespeare and the cinema of Godard and Fellini. Her stories also subverted and attacked stereotypes and gender roles, creating a sense of the uncanny by both keeping and twisting familiar conventions.

Angela Carter - Key takeaways

  • The authors works were influenced by her radical-libertarian feminist ideology.

  • Magic realism is present in many of Angela Carter’s works.

  • The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979) was inspired by the latent ideas present in old fairy tales.

  • The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979) and The Magic Toyshop (1967) do not adhere to all the conventions of fairy tales but rather borrow elements from them to create new works of literature.

  • Angela Carter was born in 1940 in Eastbourne, Sussex.

  • She died in 1992, at the age of 51, of lung cancer.

References

1 Helen Simpson, 'Femme Fatale: Angela Carter's 'The Bloody Chamber',' The Guardian (2006)

Angela Carter

Angela Carter died of lung cancer.

Angela Carter was a novelist, a writer of short fiction, a journalist, a poet, and a mother.

Angela Carter is often categorised as a radical-libertarian feminist.

Angela Carter created highly original works of literature. Her short stories and novels are known for their feminist elements and magical realism.

Angela Carter wrote the title story ‘The Bloody Chamber’ because she had been inspired by the latent content of Bluebeard (1697) and her research into the Marquis de Sade.

Final Angela Carter Quiz

Question

 What year was Angela Carter born in?

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Answer

1940

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Where did Angela Carter die?

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Answer

London.

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Question

Which wave of Feminism occurred in the 1960’s and 1970’s?


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Answer

Second

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Question

Which folk tale was the title novel of The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979) inspired by?


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Answer

Bluebeard.

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Which of the following themes are often linked in Angela Carter’s works?


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Answer

Sexuality and violence.

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In which story does the beauty become the beast?

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Answer

The Tiger’s Bride.

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Which of these does not feature in The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979)?


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Answer

 Harlem renaissance elements.

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Which of the following inspired Angela Carter?


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Answer

The cinema of Godard and Fellini.

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How many dead wives did the Marquis have in The Bloody Chamber (1979)?


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3

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Where was Angela Carter evacuated to during the war?


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Yorkshire.

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How old was Angela Carter when she died?


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51.

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How many children did Angela Carter have?


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1.

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Angela Carter lived in South Korea for two years. True or False?


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False.

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At which of the following Universities did Angela Carter NOT  hold the position of writer in residence?


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The University of Cardiff.

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Who is the character of the Marquis from The Bloody Chamber (1979) inspired by?


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The Marquis de Sade.

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Who rescues the protagonist?

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The protagonist’s mother.

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Why does the protagonist marry the Marquis?

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Answer

For wealth and status.

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The protagonist remarries and lives happily ever after.


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True.

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The character of the Marquis is partially based upon a real historical figure.


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True.

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What do the mirrors represent?


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The male gaze.

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Who narrates The Bloody Chamber?


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The protagonist.

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What does the protagonist do with the castle after the Marquis’ death?

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 Turns it into a school for the blind.

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What visible mark does the protagonist carry for life after her ordeal with the Marquis?


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A red mark on her forehead from the blood stained key.

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How does the protagonist make a living after the Marquis’ death?


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She opens a music school.

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Which of the following best describes the term ‘the male gaze’ in literature?


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When a male character views and describes a female character in a way that sexually objectifies them.

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Which of the following flowers features prominently in The Bloody Chamber?


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Lillies

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The Bloody Chamber has drawn inspiration from which fairy story or folktale?


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Bluebeard. 

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Which of the following best defines sadism?


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Taking pleasure in or sexual gratification from inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on others.

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How did the Marquis intend on killing the protagonist?


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Beheading.

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How did the Marquis die?


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 He was shot.

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What kind of Feminist was Angela Carter?

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Radical.

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Which real historical figure was The Bloody Chamber's villain based on?  

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The Marquis de Sade. 

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Which of the following did Radical Libertarian Feminist ideology NOT hold responsible for the oppression of women? 


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Capitalism.

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Why do readers often find The Bloody Chamber (1979) to be shocking? 


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The explicit descriptions of sex and sexuality present in stories inspired by fairy stories and traditional folk tales.

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 During which wave of Feminism was The Bloody Chamber (1979) written in? 


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Second Wave Feminism.

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What is the key theme of The Bloody Chamber (1979)? 

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Sexuality.  

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Which of the following best describes how the protagonist's mother subvert the usual performance of femininity? 


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She rescues her daughter from the villain.

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Which best describes the Marquis' sexuality? 


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A Sadist.  

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What is Magic Realism? 


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A genre of fiction where magical elements are placed within a realistic world. 

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What literary movement came before Post modernism? 


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Modernism.

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What is a modern critique of The Bloody Chamber (1979)? 


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That it didn't transcend enough boundaries and only focused on the heterosexual experience.

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What clue does the Marquis give the protagonist of The Bloody Chamber (1979) about his sadism? 


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He shows her a  pornographic Rop's etching.

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What first helps the protagonist to understand the Marquis' sexual attraction to her? 


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Mirrors.

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Which fictional character inspired the creation of the character of the Marquis? 


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Bluebeard.

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What is Sophia Fevver’s job at the circus?

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Answer

Aerialiste.

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What is Jack Walser’s job at the circus?

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Clown.

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What countries is the novel set in?


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England and Russia. 

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What genre does Nights at the Circus (1984) belong to?


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Magic Realism.

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What animal helps Colonel Kearney run his circus?


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Answer

Sybil the pig.

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To which literary movement does the novel belong?


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Answer

Postmodernism. 

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