murky red sunsets

September 19, 2017

a sunset

November – with uncanny witchery in its changed trees. With murky red sunsets flaming in smoky crimson behind the westering hills. With dear days when the austere woods were beautiful and gracious in a dignified serenity of folded hands and closed eyes – days full of fine, pale sunshine that sifted through the late, leafless gold of the juniper-trees and glimmered among the grey beeches, lighting up evergreen banks of moss and washing the colonnades of the pines. Days with a high-sprung sky of flawless turquoise. Days when an exquisite melancholy seemed to hang over the landscape and dream about the lake. But days, too, of the wild blackness of great autumn storms, followed by dank, wet, streaming nights when there was witch-laughter in the pines and fitful moans among the mainland trees.

L.M. Montgomery
The Blue Castle

door

One of the most important influences on Angela Carter’s work was the American author Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). Carter’s afterword to her first collection of short stories Fireworks(1974) includes the observation: ‘I’d always been fond of Poe and [Ernst] Hoffmann – Gothic tales, cruel tales, tales of wonder, tales of terror, fabulous narratives that deal directly with the imagery of the unconscious – mirrors; the externalized self; forsaken castles; haunted forests; forbidden sexual objects’. Poe himself even features as a character in one of her short stories – ‘The Cabinet of Edgar Allan Poe’ – included in the collection Black Venus (1985). The tale visualises Poe’s imagination being shaped by his troubled childhood and in particular by the hours he spent watching his mother acting on the stage, playing roles in which she died, often violently, night after night only to return to life when the curtain came down and the lights went up. The story doesn’t attempt to explain Poe’s talent, but it does offer a suggestion as to why his imagination so frequently embraced the grotesque and bizarre:

“Now and then, as a great treat, if he kept quiet as a mouse, because he begged and pleaded so, he was allowed to stay in the wings and watch; the round-eyed baby saw that Ophelia could, if necessary, die twice nightly. All her burials were premature.”

It is easy to imagine how a story such as Poe’s ‘The Oval Portrait’ (1842), in which a male artist’s painting of his female model becomes increasingly lifelike as the model herself fades towards death, could have been an influence on The Bloody Chamber, a collection of tales in which any woman who remains passive under the male gaze invariably finds herself in peril. In a similar fashion Carter’s ‘The Loves of Lady Purple’, published in Fireworks, in which a male puppet-master grows frail while his female puppet becomes ever more animated plays out the artist/subject relationship of ‘The Oval Portrait’ in reverse. Another example of Poe’s influence on Carter’s work can be found in her novel Love (1971), which includes a psychologically unstable woman, Annabel, and her husband Lee, an echo of Poe’s poem ‘Annabel Lee’ which deals with that most morbidly Gothic of all themes – the beautiful but fragile woman, doomed to die young.

Greg Buzwell
Angela Carter, Gothic literature and The Bloody Chamber

face

We were shown into a room like a paper box. It contained nothing but a mattress spread on the floor. We lay down immediately and began to kiss one another. Then a maid soundlessly opened the sliding door and, stepping out of her slippers, crept in on stockinged feet, breathing apologies. She carried a tray which contained two cups of tea and a plate of candies. She put a tray down on the matted floor beside us and backed, bowing and apologizing, from the room whilst our uninterrupted kiss continued. He started to unfasten my shirt and then she came back again. This time, she carried an armful of towels. I was stripped stark naked when she returned for a third time to bring the receipt for his money.

Angela Carter
Souvenir of Japan
Fireworks

writing

About seven in the morning I go up to my workroom at the top of the house. And I’m really working as I get up and go downstairs to make a cup of tea. I’m working on the opening paragraph. One trick I have learned (I haven’t learned many in 35 years) is to have drafted the opening few lines in your head before you sit down to write them. The other one is to work out at the end of your session the next line for the next session, unless you’re at the end of a chapter.

I write from seven to half nine or ten o’clock – solid. Then till noon, depending on whether I have a film to see for the purposes of a review…You’ve got to write, even if you think it’s no good. You can always rewrite, but also, the stuff that I’ve felt seemed anything but fluent is usually more fluent when I get round to re-reading it. The extra effort does pay off.

While I’m writing a first draft it’s every day, even Christmas Day and my birthday. If I don’t do a couple of hours on Christmas morning before everyone else is around I get ratty for the rest of the day. I can do a bit of fiction in the morning and non-fiction in the afternoon because they are wholly different. Fiction I always write longhand for the first draft, on the right-hand side of a spiral notebook, with the left-hand side for corrections. The second draft has been on the word processor since The Influence (1988). With a manual typewriter I would get halfway down a page for the third time and still not like the opening sentence, but I wouldn’t bother to rip out the page and start yet again.

Ramsey Campbell
Interview with David Mathew for Infinity Plus