When it comes to picking an author that I can call truly inspirational, and by extension, a true favourite, only one name ever seems to come to my mind. And her name is Angela Carter.
Born in 1940 (supposedly while the Dunkirk evacuations were taking place), Angela Olive Stalker would one day grow up to become one of Britain’s most significant and prolific writers. In her unfortunately short life time, Angela would go on to write nine superb novels, four collections of short stories, a smattering of literary essays, television screenplays, a handful of poems, radio plays, pages upon pages of journalistic articles and even the script for a never realised opera. In only fifty-one years on this planet, Angela Carter was able to leave her mark upon the heavily patriarchal face of the literary world, pulling it, kicking and screaming into the modern age.
Carter was revolutionary in many ways, along with fellows authors such as Salman Rushdie and A.S. Byatt, she pioneered the magic realism genre, a movement that has since been cited as the inspiration for authors such as Neil Gaiman, Sarah Waters and Ian McEwan – who even met Carter several time during her lifetime. Carter was not afraid to question and taunt the world around her, openly rebelling against the societal expectations forced upon her gender. But even then, she also did not find solace or comfort among the women of the newly formed feminist movement of the 1960’s, who saw Carter’s work and ideas as a contrast to their beliefs.
In many ways, Carter was ahead of her time. She did not believe that men were superior to women, she did not believe that women were superior to men, in fact she saw both genders as undeniably equal. One of my favourite Carter quotes stems from her opinions on the battle of the sexes, and I believe the quote speaks very much for itself: ‘Men are different to women, as far as I can see, only in their biological organisation.’ Carter did also not believe in degrading art or literature for its treatment of women, in one of her more iconic moves, Carter wrote a whole book arguing in favour of the Marquis de Sade and his pornographic works. If you have ever read the works of Sade, you will know that they contain some of the most graphic and violent scenes of rape and murder to ever be put on the page. And yet, Carter defended it, arguing that Sade created some of the first liberated literary women – imagine how that went down with a feminist movement that detested pornography. But Carter didn’t care, she stared conflict in the face and she loved to shut people down.
In my lifetime, I have now read eight of Carter’s nine novels, and I have also managed to devour my way through two of her short story collections. If I was ever to recommend a Carter novel, it would always be The Magic Toyshop, her second novel, which I still consider a favourite to this day. A beautifully crafted piece of gothic literature, the novel follows Melanie, as she is moved to live with her domineering uncle in his eerie toyshop. Complete with a mute wife, possessed puppets, forbidden romance and a house fire, this novel is one that stays with you, either as a passionate love affair or a dose of a deadly disease.
I would also be shot by my Carter lecturer if I didn’t mention Carter’s penultimate novel, Nights at the Circus, the longest novel she ever wrote. Chronicling the misadventures of an American journalist and a winged aerialist, the novel cleverly blends the boundaries of reality and dreamscape, making you question all that you know and believe.
Beyond these two novels, one of Carter’s most recognised works takes the form of a collection of fairy-tale retellings called The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. In this beautifully written book, Carter deconstructs the fairy-tale genre to reveal the dark and gritty nature of the folkloric tradition, weaving together narratives concerning transformation, sexuality and magic. It’s a gorgeous and poetic book, and should definitely be added to anyone’s’ TBR. If there are any other Carter novels you should read, I would also recommend Heroes and Villains and The Passion of New Eve, two novels that fall more into the genre of Science Fiction than the gothic, creating zany worlds of broken societies and ritualistic sex changes. Carter delving into the world of Science Fiction is definitely something that needs to be sampled, as it opens a whole new door to possibilities. One thing Carter’s work always proves, is that she was an author with one hell of an imagination.
I could write about my admiration of Carter for pages and pages, and I probably will keep writing and discussing my love of her until the day I give up on this blog or I have been abducted by aliens.
I often view Carter as my inspiration for many different reasons, she inspires me to write, she reminds me to hold true to what I believe in, and she reminds me that sometimes the world is not always ready for what you’ve got to say. I plan to one day read and finish every piece of writing Carter has ever produced, and it’s a goal I gladly take on.
Part of me sometimes wishes that we lived in a world where Carter did not die of lung cancer at the age of 51, a world where we are still seeing the widespread release of her new and ground-breaking novels. Sadly, this is not the reality in which we live, and that’s something I must accept. Although I am always happy to think that Carter’s work has not gone unnoticed, and has instead continued to shape a world of feminist literature, a world where the writing of women is treasured and valued.