Angela Carter - Biography
Angela Carter was an English fiction writer and journalist. She was born on May 17, 1940 and died in 1992. She was ranked number ten in The Times list of “The 50 Greatest British Writers Since 1945.” Carter was a fiction writer and journalist whose writings embody a commitment to feminism and magical realism.
Angela Carter was born Angela Olive Stalker on May 7, 1940 in Eastbourne. Her father was a journalist, which would later inspire Angela Carter. Because of the impending German aerial attacks of World War II, Carter was moved to stay with her grandmother in Yorkshire. Throughout her teens, Angela Carter struggled with the eating disorder anorexia. The Croydon Advertiser hired Carter as a journalist. This employment offered Carter some of her first experiences with writing on a professional level.
Angela Carter studied English literature at the University of Bristol. Angela Carter became fluent in German and French. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Angela Carter would hold residencies at many institutions of higher education including the University of Adelaide, Brown University, the University of East Anglia and the University of Sheffield.
In 1960, she married her first husband Paul Carter. Nine years later, Angela Carter won the Somerset Maugham Award. She used the awards purse to travel to Japan and distance herself from her husband. She stayed in Japan for two years. This experience would fuel her novel The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, published in 1972, and her short story collection Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces, published in 1974. In the 1982 text Nothing Sacred, Carter would claim the experience of gender relations in Japan forced her to become radicalized. Angela Carter would also travel through Asia, Europe and North America.
Angela Carter divorced Paul Carter in 1972. Five years later, Carter married her second husband Mark Pearce. Angela Carter and Mark Pearce would have one son.
In 1978, Angela Carter took a controversial step for a feminist by embracing the works of the Marquis de Sade. Carter offered a generally positive interpretation of this work in her study The Sadeian Woman the Ideology of Pornography. Although some feminists might find such a position counter-intuitive, Carter argued that the Marquis de Sade was one of the first writers who viewed the function of women as something that transcended the function of producing babies. Carter views those female Sadeian characters that embrace their libertarianism as successful; however, those female characters who embrace traditional roles are thwarted and tortured for their short sightedness.
In 1979, Angela Carter published one of her most renowned collections of short fiction, The Bloody Chamber. The collection received much critical praise when it was released. Many critics felt that this collection was the first work in which Carter had fully established her literary voice. The Bloody Chamber was also awarded the Cheltenham Festival Literary Prize in the year of its publication. In this work, Carter retold many well known and the occasionally obscure folk and fairy tale. She reinterpreted these stories with her own particular and sometimes dark vision of feminist empowerment. Carter explores the idea of female identifications in the context of the sometimes horrible mechanisms of male fantasies. Carter’s goal in approaching these stories was not to create adult stories from children’s stories. Instead, she tried to “extract” the implied content from the original folk material.
The eponymous story in The Bloody Chamber focuses on extracting the implied content from the tale of Bluebeard. In Carter’s version of this story, a teenage girl is wed to a rich but much older Marquis. This union is without love. The Marquis moves the girl to his estate where he delights in forcing his young wife to view pornographic and sadistic materials. During this time the young bride’s talent at the piano captures the heart of blind piano tuner. The young woman discovers her husband has murdered all of his other wives. Her husband returns and plans to kill her. The piano tuner remains, faithfully but futilely at her side. At the end of the work, the girl’s mother rescues her and shoots the Marquis in the moment before he murders his wife. This ending places the heroic authority not only with a woman but with an older woman, inverting the typical heroic authority of young men.
In “The Snow Child”, Angela Carter draws the inspiration from the story “Snow White”. In this reinterpretation a countess and count ride through a winter landscape. The count imagines and hopes for a child whose features are inspired by the aspects of the landscape: the white of snow, the red of a pool of blood, the black of a raven. The count’s wish becomes embodied by a young woman. The countess becomes tired of her husband’s doting on the girl. She instructs the young woman to pick a rose. A thorn scratches the young woman and she melts leaving only a raven’s feather and some blood. The countess reveals her desires to be the equivalent of her husbands.
In this collection, Angela Carter has also included “The Erl-King”. Angela Carter recounts the tale of a treacherous woodland spirit. In Carter’s story, a young woman travels through the forest. As she journeys, the Erl-King seduces her. He appears as the spirit who embodies the woods. The girl realizes that the Erl-King will transform her into a bird and capture her if she does not murder him. In killing the Erl King, the young girl rescues herself instead of waiting passively for a male figure to act for her.
Angela Carter interprets many tales in the The Bloody Chamber. Carter returns repeatedly to the story of “Little Red Riding Hood”. She reinterprets this tale in “The Werewolf”, “Wolf-Alice”, and “The Company of Wolves”. In “The Werewolf”, a young girl is assaulted by a wolf on her way to visit her grandmother. The girl chops of the beast’s paw and it later transforms into her grandmother’s hand. The girl leads the community into stoning her grandmother. The girl inherits the grandmother’s property. In “Wolf Alice”, Angela Carter conflates elements of “Little Red Riding Hood” with those of “Through the Looking Glass”, and What Alice Found There to produce a story about a wild child who nuns have tried to domesticate. The wild child comes under the charge of a Duke, both monster and vampire. The Duke does not nurture her social graces, yet she becomes aware of identity and offers the Duke compassion.
The Company of Wolves is the best-known story in Angela Carter’s collection. It has been adapted for radio and film. In this reinterpreted tale, Angela Carter presents a young woman travels through the woods to her grandmother and meets a young man. The young man arrives at the grandmother’s house first and kills the old woman. The story closely follows the traditional story, but it ends with the young woman and man in the grandmother’s bed together.
Besides the film version of The Company of Wolves that was released in 1984, Angela Carter had one other story made into a film The Magic Toyshop. This second film version was released in 1987. Angela Carter continued working with radio plays, and she also wrote a libretto based on the Virginia Woolf’s novel, Orlando. Angela Carter’s work continued to be both prolific and varied throughout the 1980s.
In 1992, Angela Carter died of lung cancer. Angela Carter passed away in her London home.