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

Androgyne, mon amour

September 17, 2017

I

Androgyne, mon amour,
brochette de coeur was plat du jour,
(heart lifted on a metal skewer,
encore saignante et palpitante)
where I dined au solitaire,
table intime, one rose vase,
lighted dimly, wildly gay,
as, punctually, across the bay
mist advanced its pompe funèbre,
its coolly silvered drift of gray,
nightly requiem performed for
mourners who have slipped away…

Well, that’s it, the evening scene,
mon amour, Androgyne.

Noontime youths,
thighs and groins tight-jean-displayed,
loiter onto Union Square,
junkies flower-scattered there,
lost in dream, torso-bare,
young as you, old as I, voicing soundlessly
a cry,
oh, yes, among them
revolution bites its tongue beneath its fiery
waiting stare,
indifferent to siren’s wail,
ravishment endured in jail.
Bicentennial salute?
Youth made flesh of crouching brute.

(Dichotomy can I deny of pity in a lustful eye?)

II

Androgyne, mon amour,
shadows of you name a price
exorbitant for short lease.
What would you suggest I do,
wryly smile and turn away,
fox-teeth gnawing chest-bones through?

Even less would that be true
than, carnally, I was to you
many, many lives ago,
requiems of fallen snow.

And, frankly, well, they’d laugh at me,
thick of belly, thin of shank,
spectacle of long neglect,
tragedian of public mirth.

(Chekhov’s Mashas all wore black
for a reason I suspect:
Pertinence? None at all—
yet something made me think of that.)

“Life!” the gob exclaimed to Crane,
“Oh, life’s a geyser!”
Oui, d’accord—
from the rectum of the earth.

Bitter, that. Never mind.
Time’s only challenger is time.

III

Androgyne, mon amour,
cold withdrawal is no cure
for addiction grown so deep.
Now, finally, at cock’s crow,
released in custody of sleep,
dark annealment, time-worn stones
far descending,
no light there, no sound there,
entering depths of thinning breath,
farther down more ancient stones,
halting not, drawn on until

Ever treacherous, ever fair,
at a table small and square,
not first light but last light shows
(meaning of the single rose
where I dined au solitaire
sous l’ombre d’une jeunesse perdue?)

A ghostly little customs-clerk
(“Vos documents, Mesdames, Messieurs?”)
whose somehow tender mockery
contrives to make admittance here
at this mineral frontier
a definition of the pure…

Androgyne, mon amour.

Tennessee Williams

…I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. You, with all your undumb letters, would never write so elementary a phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn’t even feel it. And yet I believe you’ll be sensible of a little gap. But you’d clothe it in so exquisite a phrase that it should lose a little of its reality. Whereas with me it is quite stark: I miss you even more than I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is really just a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become. I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you, spoilt creature; I shan’t make you love me any more by giving myself away like this — But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have no idea how stand-offish I can be with people I don’t love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken down my defenses. And I don’t really resent it.

Vita Sackville-West
Letter to Virginia Woolf 21st January 1927

An Atheist on a Date

September 16, 2017

Confession

September 16, 2017

For Willyce

September 16, 2017

When i make love to you
i try
with each stroke of my tongue
to say
i love you
to tease
i love you
to hammer
i love you
to melt
i love you
and your sounds drift down
oh god!
oh jesus!
and i think
here it is, some dude’s
getting credit for what
a woman
has done
again.

Pat Parker

what I regard as evil

September 16, 2017

I have a distinct moralist attitude. I wouldn’t say message. I’m not polemical, but I have a distinct attitude toward good and evil in life and people. I think any of my plays examined closely will indicate what I regard as evil. I think I regard hypocrisy and mendacity as almost the cardinal sins. It seems they are the ones to which I am most hostile. I think that deliberate, conscienceless mendacity, the acceptance of falsehood and hypocrisy, is the most dangerous of all sins.

Tennessee Williams
Conversations with Tennessee Williams
Edited by Albert J Devlin

Address to the Beasts

September 15, 2017

For us who, from the moment
we first are worlded
lapse into disarray,

who seldom know exactly
what we are up to,
and, as a rule, don’t want to,

what a joy to know,
even when we can’t see or hear you,
that you are around,

though very few of you
find us worth looking at,
unless we come too close.

To you all scents are sacred
except our smell and those
we manufacture.

How promptly and ably
you execute Nature’s policies
and are never

lured into misconduct
except by some unlucky
chance imprinting.

Endowed from birth with good manners
you wag no snobbish elbows,
don’t leer,

don’t look down your nostrils
nor poke them into another
creature’s business.

Your own habitations
are cosy and private, not
pretentious temples.

Of course, you have to take lives
to keep your own, but never
kill for applause.

Compared with even your greediest
how Non-U
our hunting gentry seem.

Exempt from taxation,
you have never felt the need
to become literate,

but your oral cultures
have inspired our poets to pen
dulcet verses,

and, though unconscious of God,
your Sung Eucharists are
more hallowed than ours.

Instinct is commonly said
to rule you; I would call it
Common Sense.

If you cannot engender
a genius like Mozart,
neither can you

plague the earth
with brilliant sillies like Hegel
or clever nasties like Hobbes.

Shall we ever become adulted
as you all soon do?
It seems unlikely.

Indeed, one balmy day,
we might well become,
not fossils, but vapour.

Distinct now,
in the end we shall join you
(how soon all corpses look alike),

but you exhibit no signs
of knowing that you are sentenced.
Now that could be why

we upstarts are often
jealous of your innocence
but never envious?

W H Auden