Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Carter, Angela

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(1940-1992) UK writer of fantasy and sf, as well as much other work. She very early gained from the UK literary establishment a fully deserved esteem for her imaginative daring and explorative, Postmodernist cunning. Throughout her career she utilized the language and characteristic motifs of the Fantastic to dramatize her sense that the old orders of the Western world were breaking down.

AC's early novels were neither sf nor fantasy, though a tale like The Magic Toyshop (1967) carries its female protagonist through a Rite of Passage into adulthood via imagery – especially the use of Puppets – that constantly jostles the limits of the mundane. This was filmed in 1987. Heroes and Villains (1969), set in a post-Holocaust world, is perhaps best thought of as sf. Her first fantasy proper, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972; vt The War of Dreams 1974 US), is a work of powerful and genuine Surrealism, set initially in an unnamed City in an unnamed Latin American country where Time and Reality have been distorted by the mysterious Hoffman. Narrated by Desiderio, a bureaucrat in love with Hoffman's cross-dressing daughter Albertina, the tale unfolds as a Quest for the Doctor through realms of surreality; Desiderio ultimately destroys him (and what he represents) but not before he (and the reader) have passed through various nightmarishly Picaresque, Chaos-threatening Landscapes of the creative imagination. At one point, for example, Desiderio peers through the giant mockup of a woman's vagina (see Portal) into a kind of interior Little Big country, at the heart of which lies the ornate Edifice of the Doctor; later, he finds the castle and kills the Doctor – who has been using Desiderio's sexual longings (see Sex) to fuel his Desire Machines – and the novel ends in a heavily ironized triumph of dreamless Reality.

The Passion of New Eve (1977), though less famous, is perhaps even more dangerous in its acid, cartoonish demands on the reader. It once again presents a dance of realities, conveyed on this occasion through a series of Technofantasy sex-changes. Evelyn, who is English, comes to a ravaged New York to find his promised job extinguished, undergoes deranging adventures and is captured in the desert by a cold-blooded female scientist who calls herself Mother and has assembled in her person various attributes of the Goddess. A sense that she is cognate with the Miss Brunner of Michael Moorcock's The Final Programme (1968) is strengthened when it proves she intends to rape Evelyn, change his sex (and his name to Eve), and impregnate him with his own seed, so that he may give birth to an ambivalent new Messiah. The plot continues to thrust Gender dilemmas at the reader from an extremely tough-minded feminist standpoint; in the end, Eve, having transcended the various impersonations s/he has passed through (see Metamorphosis), takes ship westward, en route (maybe) to Eden.

In AC's final novel of fantasy interest, Nights at the Circus (1984), another role violator sails through a world which attempts to bind her; this time, she escapes with the greatest of ease. Fevvers is a tall Cockney woman with Wings and without navel. Though there is no travel through Time or Multiverse in the book, she resembles a Temporal Adventuress. and has the same capacity to slide through the constraints of the mundane world. The story begins in a Gaslight-Romance version of London, moves for a period to Siberia, and returns home. The book is an exuberant and fluent tirade of images, arguments, and lessons taught and learned.

AC's short fiction was assembled in Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces (coll 1974; rev 1987), The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (coll 1979); Black Venus (coll 1985; rev vt Saints and Strangers 1986 US) – which incorporates Black Venus's Tale (1980 chap) – and American Ghosts and Old World Wonders (coll 1993). The Collected Angela Carter: Burning Your Boats (coll 1995) assembles all her previous short work. The Bloody Chamber is a central collection of Revisionist-Fantasy versions of Fairytales and other material, couched in an archaizing Diction reminiscent of the work of Isak Dinesen – an influence acknowledged by AC – and directed in the main to a rewriting of the traditionally cloistral view of women expressed in the literature. Models revised include Beauty and the Beast in "The Courtship of Mr Lyon", and Little Red Riding-Hood, the latter in AC's most famous single story, "The Company of Wolves" (1979), on which was based The Company of Wolves (1985); her screenplay (with Neil Jordan) for this appeared, with other transformations of fairytales, in Come Unto These Yellow Sands (coll 1985). Her shaping interest in fairytales also resulted in several volumes: The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault (coll trans AC 1977); Sleeping Beauty and Other Favourite Fairy Tales (anth trans and ed AC 1982); The Virago Book of Fairy Tales (anth 1980; vt The Old Wives' Fairy Tale Book 1990 US) and The Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales (anth 1992). [JC]

other works: Miss Z, the Dark Young Lady (1970 chap), The Donkey Prince (1970 US) and Moonshadow (1982 chap), all for younger children; Martin Leman's Comic and Curious Cats (1979 chap); The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography (1979 US; vt The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History 1979 UK); Nothing Sacred: Selected Writings (coll 1982); Expletives Deleted: Selected Writings (coll 1992).

Nonfantasy novels: Shadow Dance (1966; vt Honeybuzzard 1967 US); Several Perceptions (1968); Love (1971; rev 1987); Wise Children (1991).

Angela Olive Carter


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.