Masaryk University



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Masaryk University

Faculty of Arts
Department of English
and American Studies

English Language and Literature

Soňa Shone



Experimental Devices in the Work of Angela Carter

Bachelor’s Diploma Thesis

Supervisor: Prof. Mgr. Milada Franková, CsC., M.A.

Brno 2010



I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.

……………………………………………..



Author’s signature

Acknowledgement

I would like to thank my supervisor prof. Mgr. Milada Franková, CSc., M.A.

for her patient guidance, valuable advice and her support.



Table of Contents:

1. Introduction.………………………………………………………………….………5

2. British Novel after WWII ……………………………………………………….........8

3. Common experimental devices…………...…………………………………………..12

4. Nights at the Circus………………………………………………………………….15

5. Wise Children………………………………………………………..………………26

6. Conclusion…………………………………………………………………………...39

7. English Resume…….………………………………………………………………..42

8. Czech Resume……………………………………………………………………….44

9. Works Cited and Consulted….………………………………………………………46



1. Introduction

The aim of this thesis is to examine the experimental devices in the work of Angela Carter, one of the most inventive British authors. The importance of this author can be seen in Stephen´s Benson review essay “Angela Carter and the Literary Märchen”, where he describes the “legend of the Carter effect ..´St. Angela of the campus´”. From 1992 - 1993, there were more than forty applicants wanting to do doctorates on Carter, making her by far the most fashionable twentieth century topic and the most read contemporary author on English University campuses. Another essay, “Teaching Improprieties: The Bloody Chamber and the Irreverent Classroom,” by Bruhl and Garner, bring a different point of view – according to them Carter´s writing polarises opinion like no other writer apart from Tolkien: you either love her or hate her. It is needless to say that at the time of her death Carter was highly regarded by literary critics and scholars and by fellow novelists like Margaret Atwood or Salman Rushdie. As he put it , “English literature has lost its high sorceress, its benevolent, witch queen”. She was (and is) much read by the young, particularly in Great Britain.

It is not so easy to define Carter as an author of just one style as her oeuvre is very diverse. Although since the 1980s she became one of the essential names in the feminist and postmodern literature courses, her name was known long before that. In her early prose she was both praised for her innovative writing and criticised as being vulgar (Franková, 47). The elements of the fantastic upon which she focused her narratives were unbelievable to many critics. This polarising between ´love it or hate it´ attitude seems to be typical for her. Thus, this thesis will try to deal with a cultural icon attracting strong opinions from all sides. Her works could be labelled as utopian, Gothic, bizarre, burlesque, mythical, magical and metaphorical, Science Fiction, Feminism, Fairy Tale, Magic Realism, Phantasy, Surrealism, Fantasy, Postmodernism – all of these categories apply and take us from historical actuality into a symbolic literary space. She explores topics such as the distribution of power in a contemporary society and the myths people are trapped in.

The recalcitrant 1960s, in which Carter´s early work is set, clearly provided an important initial context for her fiction. The development of the post-war Britain was taking a new course of action. A shift from the post-war insularity and English conservativeness to the openness towards external influences was obvious. Britain opened its borders for the immigrants and in the same way the borders in society moved, especially for women. Wendy Steiner comments in an article Mysteries of the Normal and Ordinary (1992):

Ah, the privilege of being a woman writer in heady post-1960's London! She thought of these days as ''a brief period of public philosophical awareness that occurs only very occasionally in human history; when, truly, it felt like Year 1, that all that was holy was in the process of being profaned and we were attempting to grapple with the real relations between human beings.'' Women for the first time in history were free to shake off the Blakean “mind-forg'd manacles” 1 of their femininity and shape their own identity, exploring the luscious codes of female semiotics -- beauty, sex, art, fairy tales, fashion, domesticity -- that had been trivialized so very long by men.

It seems that Carter must have inherited her talent for magic realism from her family. According to Steiner her mother’s family had no indoor bath but had a piano and went to see Shakespeare at the Old Vic. But it‘s Steiner who puts the „but“ in the sentence, to Carter the absence of a bath and the presence of a piano are as unremarkable as the reverse. As Jeff Vandermeer points out, she was strongly influenced by her immediate female relatives, who were strong women of striking candor and pragmatism. And yet, paradoxically, Carter fought to overcome teenage anorexia caused by low self-esteem. And many other turning points occured in Carter’s life; at the university. While she was studying English, she was drawn to stories of monsters and continued to find them everywhere: reviewing a 1983 exhibition of Tudor artists, she fixed on a portrait of Elizabeth I that „shows her stiff as an ironing board and stuck with pearls like lice, water-monsters embroidered on her skirt“ (Steiner).

Sarah Gamble, a specialist on Angela Carter, points out that it is often forgotten Carter was one of those writers who knew literary canon inside out and rifled through the literary past, borrowing and customizing what suited her and discarding what didn´t. The most striking features of Carter´s writing are Carter´s style, linguistic brillance, versatility, pellucid allusiveness and the teasing intertextuality of fiction (Joannou, p. 110). The main focus is on close examination of important texts and literary devices, which Carter mines and exploits.

In my thesis I would like to give an overview of the theoretical background of postmodernism, give a list of some of the experimental features and use some of them to prove that the main heroines of the above mentioned novels manage toescape from stereotypical patriarchal stereotypes. As Carter herself states in one of the interviews, the term ‘demythologizing‘ means for her an attempt to find out what certain configurations of imagery in our society and in our culture really stand for, what they mean, underneath the kind of semireligious coating that makes people not particularly want to interfere with them (Katsavos, 25). In the very conventional sense, Rolland Barthes uses myths in Mythologies to describe trivial things of everyday use, Carter tried to define ideas, images and stories we tend to accept without thinking about them.

As it is not quite possible to deal with the whole of Angela Carter´s work, I would deliberately like to avoid making long lists of Carter´s short stories, fairytales and novels. For my thesis I have chosen two titles: Nights at the Circus (1984) and Wise Children (1991) which I feel carry traits of a matured author. The former novel can be called a very good example of ´English´ magic realism influenced by feminism and the latter work belongs into a branch of literature called Postmodern representation of the past. In both of them the author used many experimental features.

Knowing that it is impossible to put Carter into any category and take any of her answers for certain, I will still try to find the answer to the question whether Fevvers is there to make a living or whether she is a new age winged victory. Unless Carter played a game with the reader and tried to tell us, that it is not so much of a victory, as a nuissance - how very inconvenient it would be for a woman to have a pair of wings... I´m only afraid we won´t be able to find out about Dora´s and Nora´s real father but as the classic saying goes, "It's a wise child that knows its own father... But wiser yet the father who knows his own child."


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