English Literature
Angela Carter

Angela Carter

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The Diverse Talents of Angela Carter: A Feminist Icon of Many Hats

Angela Carter was an extraordinary feminist figure who excelled in various roles as an author, poet, journalist, and more. Her beliefs and the influences that shaped her literary works have made her a beloved and influential figure in the world of literature.

The Early Years and Influences of Angela Carter

On May 7th, 1940, Angela Carter was born in Eastbourne, Sussex. She spent her formative years in South London and Yorkshire, but due to the war, she was relocated to her grandmother's house. There, she was raised by her controlling mother, Sophia Olive, and her father, Hugh Alexander Stalker, who worked as a night editor. Despite a challenging relationship, Carter asserted her independence and followed her dreams by securing a scholarship at a prep school and leaving home at a young age to pursue her passions.

At nineteen, Carter married folk singer Paul Carter. However, their marriage ended after nine years due to his lack of support for her writing. She retained his surname even after their divorce, which allowed her to establish her name as a writer.

The Career and Achievements of Angela Carter

With her father's help, Carter landed a job as a reporter while also pursuing her love for writing fiction. She later attended the University of Bristol to study English Literature and won the Somerset Maugham Award, which allowed her to move to Tokyo, Japan. During her two years there, she wrote a collection of short stories, titled Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces (1974), and contributed to New Society. It was during this time that she developed a strong interest in feminist ideology.

Carter held the position of writer-in-residence at several universities, including the University of Sheffield, Brown University, the University of Adelaide, and the University of East Anglia. Throughout her career, she wrote novels, short stories, poems, and articles, incorporating elements of magic realism and feminist narratives into her works. Some of her most notable publications include The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979) and The Magic Toyshop (1967).

At the age of 43, Carter gave birth to her only child and, unfortunately, passed away at 51 from lung cancer. Before her death, she married Mark Pearce in May 1991 to ensure that he would have full legal custody of their young son.

In 2008, The Times recognized Angela Carter as the tenth greatest British writer since 1945, acknowledging her immense contribution to British literature.

Angela Carter: The Inspirational Feminist Icon

Feminism is a broad movement with various subcategories, including radical, Marxist, liberal, and difference. Angela Carter can be considered a radical-libertarian feminist, focusing on challenging traditional gender roles and the limitations they impose on women. She also emphasized the oppressive nature of pregnancy and childbirth for women.

Carter was an active participant in the second-wave feminist movement, which emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, advocating for equality and fighting against discrimination. Her feminist beliefs are evident in her works, particularly in The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, where she empowers her female protagonists to reject societal norms, embrace their sexuality, and resist oppression.

Words of Wisdom from Angela Carter

Angela Carter once said, "A book is simply the vessel of an idea – like a bottle; it is what is inside that truly matters" (Shaking a Leg: Journalism and Writings, 1997). Her stories are filled with powerful ideas and themes that continue to inspire readers.

In her book, Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales (2015), she states, "For most of human history, 'literature,' both fiction and poetry, has been narrated, not written – heard, not read. So fairy tales, folk tales, stories from the oral tradition, are all of them the most vital connection we have with the imaginations of the ordinary men and women whose labor created our world." This highlights her belief in the significance of stories passed down through generations, which served as the inspiration for her most famous work, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979).

The Influence of Folklore and Fairy Tales on Angela Carter's Timeless Literary Works

For centuries, writers have drawn inspiration from the rich world of popular folklore and fairy tales. One such writer was William Shakespeare, who was influenced by the folktale "As Meat Loves Salt" to create his masterpiece, King Lear (1606). Another renowned author who took inspiration from traditional tales was Angela Carter, a British writer whose works continue to captivate readers with their unique blend of fantasy and reality.

Carter's intention was not to simply retell or create "adult" versions of fairy tales, as some may mistakenly believe. Instead, she extracted the underlying themes from these tales and used them to craft new and thought-provoking stories (Carter, 2006). Her works are often labeled as feminist retellings, but in truth, she used language to challenge patriarchal norms and empower both her female protagonists and readers (Shaking a Leg: Collected Writings, 1998).

One of Carter's most renowned collections of short stories is The Bloody Chamber, which includes ten tales such as "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon," "The Tiger's Bride," "Puss in Boots," and "Wolf Alice." The first and longest story, "The Bloody Chamber," draws upon the traditional tale of Bluebeard (1697) but also explores themes of sexuality, feminism, and traditional gender roles. It falls under the genre of magic realism, where realistic fiction is fused with surreal elements.

The story follows a young female protagonist, a talented but impoverished pianist with an eccentric widowed mother. She is courted by a wealthy, older man who has been widowed three times. He gives her keys to his castle and encourages her to explore, but forbids her from using one particular key. As the story unfolds, the reader learns of the horrifying secrets that this key unlocks. While some aspects of the plot and characters resemble Bluebeard, the Marquis is portrayed as both noble and sadistic, challenging traditional gender roles. The story also foreshadows his plans to behead the protagonist through a ruby choker he gifts her (The Bloody Chamber).

Another one of Carter's novels, The Magic Toyshop, also subverts traditional fairy tale tropes. It follows the story of a young orphan girl sent to live with her relatives, but delves into darker themes like domestic abuse and incest between siblings. The characters are complex and flawed, in contrast to the typical flat characters found in fairy tales. The narrative centers around Melanie, who is sent to live with her estranged uncle after her parents' tragic death. The uncle, a toymaker, creates eerie puppets, including one with carved eyeballs that seem to perceive another dimension (The Magic Toyshop). The uncle assumes the role of the traditional evil stepmother, while Finn, a kind and self-educated character from a lower class, can be seen as a subversion of the fairy tale prince.

Carter's literary repertoire also includes novels like Shadow Dance (1966), Several Perceptions (1968), Love (1971), Heroes and Villains (1969), The Donkey Prince (1970), Miss Z, The Dark Young Lady (1970), The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972), The Passion of New Eve (1977), The Music People (1980), Moon Shadow (1982), Nights at The Circus (1984), Wise Children (1991), and Sea-Cat and Dragon King (2000). She also wrote several short stories, including "Fireworks" (1970), "Expletives Deleted" (1974), "Comic and Curious Cats" (1979), "Black Venus's Tale" (1981), "Come Unto These Yellow Sands" (1985), "Black Venus/Saints and Strangers" (1985), "Artificial Fire" (1988), "Shaking a Leg" (1990), and "American Ghosts & Old World Wonders" (1993). After her passing in 1992, her remaining works were published posthumously.

The Timeless Themes Explored in Angela Carter's Literary Works

Throughout her career, Angela Carter explored a variety of themes in her writings. Her unique perspective on traditional tales and her use of language to challenge societal norms and empower her characters and readers continue to captivate audiences and inspire future generations of writers.

The Key Themes in Angela Carter's Works

Angela Carter's stories often explore themes of sexuality and violence, power dynamics, and transformation. These themes are deeply intertwined and play a significant role in her writing.

The connection between sexuality and violence is a recurring theme in Carter's works. In stories like "Puss in Boots" (1979), the protagonist engages in sexual acts next to her deceased husband's body. In the title story of The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979), Carter delves into dark subjects such as sadomasochism, pornography, torture, and murder, all while subverting traditional gender roles. The title itself is a nod to the infamous Marquis de Sade, known for his controversial and explicit writings.

Transformation is another central theme in Carter's stories. This can be seen in both character development and literal metamorphosis. In "The Bloody Chamber" (1979), the protagonist goes through a psychological transformation as she discovers her true identity. Meanwhile, in "The Tiger's Bride" (1979), a young woman physically turns into a tiger, symbolizing her empowerment and liberation.

Angela Carter's Impact on English Literature

Carter's unique style and use of diverse influences have solidified her place in English literature. Her works combine elements of Gothic, fairy tales, surrealism, and magic realism, drawing inspiration from sources such as Shakespeare, Godard, and Fellini. By challenging conventions and gender stereotypes, she creates a sense of the uncanny in her stories.

Key Takeaways:

  • Carter's writing was heavily influenced by her radical-libertarian feminist ideology.
  • Magic realism is a prominent element in many of her stories.
  • The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979) was inspired by the hidden themes in classic fairy tales.
  • Carter's works, like The Bloody Chamber (1979) and The Magic Toyshop (1967), use elements from traditional fairy tales to create new, original stories.

The Life and Legacy of Angela Carter

Angela Carter was born in 1940 in Eastbourne, Sussex and passed away at the age of 51 in 1992 due to lung cancer.

Carter's writing continues to be celebrated and studied for its unique perspective and feminist elements. Through her work, she challenged societal norms and pushed boundaries, making her a significant figure in English literature.


  1. Helen Simpson, 'Femme Fatale: Angela Carter's 'The Bloody Chamber',' The Guardian (2006).

Frequently Asked Questions About Angela Carter

  • How did Angela Carter pass away?

Angela Carter passed away from lung cancer.

  • Who was Angela Carter?

Angela Carter was a novelist, short story writer, journalist, poet, and feminist.

  • What type of feminist was Angela Carter?

Angela Carter is often referred to as a radical-libertarian feminist.

  • Why is Angela Carter remembered?

Angela Carter is remembered as a highly original writer who incorporated feminist elements and magic realism into her stories.

  • Why did Angela Carter write "The Bloody Chamber"?

Angela Carter was inspired by the hidden themes in the classic fairy tale "Bluebeard" (1697) and her research into the Marquis de Sade, leading her to write "The Bloody Chamber."

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