In This Article Angela Carter

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Reviews
  • The Gothic
  • Magic Realism
  • Feminism
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Postmodernism and History
  • The Grotesque and the Carnivalesque
  • Carter and Other Women Writers
  • Carter in the Panorama of Contemporary Fiction

British and Irish Literature Angela Carter
by
Nicoletta Caputo
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0097

Introduction

Angela Carter (née Stalker) was born on 7 May 1940 in Eastbourne, Sussex. She spent much of her childhood in South Yorkshire with her maternal grandmother, a strong woman who had a lasting influence on her. At the end of the war her family went back to London and, after leaving school, Carter worked briefly as a junior reporter for a local newspaper. In 1960 she married and went to Bristol, where she graduated in 1965, specializing in medieval literature. Her first novel, Shadow Dance, was published in 1966 (London: Heinemann). The Magic Toyshop, which won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, followed in 1967 (London: Heinemann). In 1969, after separating from her husband, she went to live in Japan for two years on the Somerset Maugham Travel Award she had won for her third novel, Several Perceptions (London: Heinemann, 1968). There, as she claimed in Nothing Sacred (London: Virago, 1982), she “learnt what it is to be a woman and became radicalised” (p. 28). In 1969 Heroes and Villains was also published (London: Heinemann). The essays she wrote for the magazine New Society show her fascination with Japan. In 1972 she returned to England and in 1976 she settled in South London with Mark Pearce, who became her second husband. Their son, Alexander, was born in 1983. Carter supported herself teaching creative writing at universities in England and around the world (in the United States and Australia) and writing journalism. In this period, she also produced some of her most important achievements: the novels The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (London: Hart-Davis, 1972) and The Passion of New Eve (London: Gollancz, 1977), the collections of short stories Fireworks (London: Quartet Books, 1974), and The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (London: Gollancz, 1979), and the controversial The Sadeian Woman (London: Virago, 1979). Then, in 1984, what is generally considered Carter’s masterpiece, Nights at the Circus (London: Chatto and Windus), appeared, followed, in 1985, by another collection of short stories, Black Venus (London: Chatto and Windus). Her last, flamboyant, novel, Wise Children (London: Chatto and Windus) was published in 1991, just a few months before Carter’s death of lung cancer, on 16 February 1992. In her writings, Carter undertook a materialist and feminist critique of western cultural past, as she relentlessly probed fixed gender roles and demystified culturally constructed myths of femininity. However, her ideological commitment went hand in hand with a playful engagement with cultural tradition, literary and otherwise. She combined narrative genres and modes (the Gothic, the picaresque, science fiction, fairy tales) to create highly imaginative, original, provocative, and revisionary works, which were characterized by an exuberant, sensuous—often baroque—prose and imagery.

General Overviews

Criticism before 1992 was scanty, and it consisted essentially of reviews and interviews. Carter’s popularity increased enormously after her (premature) death, and, in less than no time, she became the most read and widely studied contemporary British writer. Her books sold out only three days after she died and the early 1990s witnessed what has been called a “Carter-craze.” A consistent number of monographic studies and essay collections were published from 1994 onward.

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