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Carter, Angela (1940–1992)

Carter, Angela (1940–1992)

British novelist, one of the most creative of her generation, whose writings are sensuous in language and rich in imagination, creating a strange and dangerously beautiful world. Born Angela Olive Stalker in Eastbourne, England, May 7, 1940; died in London on February 16, 1992; daughter of Hugh Alexander Stalker and Olive (Farthing) Stalker; married Paul Carter; married Mark Pierce; children: one son.

Writing in The New York Times soon after her death in February 1992, Angela Carter's good friend Salman Rushdie insisted with passionate conviction that she was a great writer whose books rightly belonged "at the center of the literature of her time, at the heart." Only the passage of time can confirm whether Rushdie's judgment is accurate, but her literary stature is strong and shows no sign of weakening. For a writer whose reputation is based on her highly imaginative prose, Carter's early years were conventional to the point of dullness. Her middle-class family (her father was a journalist) moved to Yorkshire soon after her birth, because East-bourne was on the Channel coast and dangerously close to Nazi-occupied France. Angela spent her first years in Yorkshire, but the family moved back to London after the war.

A sensitive child, Carter found it difficult to accept the social and educational conventions of society and developed anorexia nervosa. By her late teens, she had found work as a journalist with a local newspaper. In 1960, she married Paul Carter, an industrial chemist. The Carters moved to Bristol, where, soon bored with domesticity, Angela enrolled at the university to earn a degree in English literature. Enthralled by the world of ideas and words, Carter emerged so confident in her powers as a writer that during a summer vacation she ventured to write a novel. Published in 1966 under the title Shadow Dance, her first novel was a powerful study of a group of vicious misfits who live in a decaying urban Britain, including a protagonist named Honeybuzzard. Encouraged by critical responses to her work, she published The Magic Toyshop and Several Perceptions in 1967 and 1969, the former a fantastic modern tale incorporating parts of the Leda-andthe-swan motif, the latter a brilliant recreation of the world inhabited by schizophrenics.

By 1969, Carter had decided to separate from her husband. Financially this was made easier by the fact that she had won the Somerset Maugham Award that year. She moved to Japan, taking a job with the English language division of the NHK broadcasting company. Despite her work, she was able to find the time and energy to continue writing, publishing Love in 1971 and The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman the next year. Neither was a great success, but Carter refused to be discouraged. Indeed, she became known as a much more powerful, and even sharply polemical, writer when she published The Passion of New Eve in 1977. In this work, an insensitive male is captured by a tribe of wandering Amazons and surgically changed into a woman in order that he learn firsthand about male domination and exploitation of women. With the appearance of this work, Angela Carter became famous in the United Kingdom and began to develop a reputation in other English-speaking countries as well.

Although she considered herself to be a feminist, Carter sometimes disagreed with specific political aspects of feminism. An independent thinker, she clearly was concerned about issues that activist women consider central to their agendas. One of these was the issue of pornography, which she examined with intellectual energy and skill in her 1979 study The Sadeian Woman. Among the ideas presented in this volume is the notion that Sade's character Juliette can be viewed as a sexual dominatrix, while Sade's character Justine is a forerunner of the Marilyn Monroe good-bad girl. Throughout these years, while producing her finely crafted novels, Carter also wrote a series of brilliant short stories as well as plays, screenplays, children's books, and edited works and translations (of the fairy tales of Charles Perrault). Three collections of short stories, Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces (1974), The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979) and Saints and Strangers (1986), all contained her familiar themes of betrayal, claustrophobia and murder. They range from hideous fairy tales to dissections of the lives of famous criminals, including Lizzie Borden , and many display touches of sardonic humor.

In her 1985 novel Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter reached new heights of imaginative power. Set in the London of 1899, the main character is trapeze artist Sophie Fevvers, who is 6′2″ tall and boasts a pair of wings that, when spread out, span 6 feet. The novel, Carter's eighth, received rave reviews in the United States as well as in Britain. Time called the book "a three-ring extravaganza."

By the time Wise Children was published in 1991, Angela Carter was battling cancer. Her personal life in her last decade was happy, and she had chosen to became a mother in the early 1980s. By 1991, she was a world-famous writer with a constantly growing tribe of enthusiastic readers. Some, like the reviewer Carole Angier in her review of Wise Children, noted that they had never read a Carter book before, having had "the impression of a dark and difficult writer, intellectual and feminist, interested in the sinister and supernatural. But I was mostly wrong, or she has mostly changed." Several reviewers spoke of Wise Children, which would be her last novel, as being her finest as well. Wise Children is a breathtaking "paean to bastardy" that chronicles the adventures of identical twins, illegitimate offspring and a slew of actors, the entire volume being a virtuoso literary performance that ends with "a completely preposterous happy ending."

Angela Carter died in London on February 16, 1992. Her readers and friends mourned her passing with great intensity but were consoled by the fact that in her relatively short but highly productive life she left behind a large body of extraordinary writings. Her friend Salman Rushdie eulogized her and her achievements: "Angela Carter was a thumber of noses, a defiler of sacred cows. She loved nothing so much as cussed—but also blithe—nonconformity. Her books unshackle us, toppling the statues of the pompous, demolishing the temples and commissariats of righteousness. They draw their strength, their vitality, from all that is unrighteous, illegitimate, low. They are without equal, and without rival."

sources:

Angier, Carole. "Song and Dance," in New Statesman & Society. Vol. 4, no. 155. June 14, 1991, pp. 38–39.

Carter, Angela. Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories. With an Introduction by Salman Rushdie. NY: Henry Holt, 1996.

——. The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography. NY: Pantheon Books, 1988.

——. Shaking a Leg: Collected Writings. Edited by Jenny Uglow. Penguin, 1998.

Gray, Paul. "On the Wings of a New Age," in Time. Vol. 125, no. 8. February 25, 1985, p. 87.

Kinmonth, Patrick. "Step Into My Cauldron: A Chat with Angela Carter," in Vogue. Vol 175. February 1985, p. 224.

Mooney, Louise, ed. The Annual Obituary 1992. Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 1993.

Mortimer, John Clifford. In Character. NY: Penguin Books, 1984.

Richardson, Lynda. "Angela Carter, 51, British Writer Of Fantasy With Modern Morals," in The New York Times Biographical Service. February 1992, p. 211.

Rushdie, Salman. "Angela Carter, 1940–92: A Very Good Wizard and a Very Good Friend," in The New York Times Book Review. March 8, 1992, p. 5.

Smith, Amanda. "PW Interviews Angela Carter," in Publishers Weekly. Vol. 227, no. 1. January 4, 1985, pp. 74–75.

John Haag , University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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