This wood is, of course, nowhere near Athens; the script is a positive maze of false leads. The wood is really located somewhere in the English midlands, possibly near Bletchley, where the great decoding machine was sited. Correction: this wood was located in the English midlands until oak, ash and thorn were chopped down to make room for a motorway a few years ago. However, since the wood existed only as a structure of the imagination, in the first place, it will remain, in the second place, as a green, decorative margin to the eternity the poet promised for himself. The English poet; his is, essentially, an English wood. It is the English wood.

The English wood is nothing like the dark, necromantic forest in which the Northern European imagination begins and ends, where its dead and the witches live, and Baba-yaga stalks about in her house with chicken’s feet looking for children in order to eat them. No. There is a qualitative, not a quantitative, difference between this wood and that forest.

The difference does not exist just because a wood contains fewer trees than a forest and covers less ground. That is just one of the causes of the difference and does not explain the effects of the difference.

For example, an English wood, however marvellous, however metamorphic, cannot, by definition, be trackless, although it might well be formidably labyrinthine. Yet there is always a way out of a maze, and, even if you cannot find it for a while, you know that it is there. A maze is a construct of the human mind, and not unlike it; lost in the wood, this analogy will always console. But to be lost in the forest is to be lost to this world, to be abandoned by the light, to lose yourself utterly with no guarantee you will either find yourself or else be found, to be committed against your will – or, worse, of your own desire – to a perpetual absence; from humanity, an existential catastrophe, for the forest is as infinitely boundless as the human heart.

But the wood is finite, a closure; you purposely mislay your way in the wood, for the sake of the pleasure of roving, the temporary confusion of direction is in the nature of a holiday from which you will come home refreshed, with your pockets full of nuts, your hands full of wildflowers and the cast feather of a bird in your cap. That forest is haunted; this wood is enchanted.[…]

The English wood offers us a glimpse of a green, unfallen world a little closer to Paradise than we are.

Such is the English wood in which we see the familiar fairies, the blundering fiancés, the rude mechanicals. This is the true Shakespearian wood – but it is not the wood of Shakespeare’s time, which did not know itself to be Shakespearian, and therefore felt no need to keep up appearances. No. The wood we have just described is that of nineteenth-century nostalgia, which disinfected the wood, cleansing it of the grave, hideous and elemental beings with which the superstition of an earlier age had filled it. Or, rather, denaturing, castrating these beings until they came to look just as they do in those photographs of fairy folk that so enraptured Conan Doyle. It is Mendelssohn’s wood.

“Enter these enchanted woods…” who could resist such a magical invitation?

However, as it turns out, the Victorians did not leave the woods in quite the state they might have wished to find them.

Angela Carter
Overture and Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream

a vast melancholy

December 30, 2018

That long-drawn, wavering howl has, for all its fearful resonance, some inherent sadness in it, as if the beasts would love to be less beastly if only they knew how and never cease to mourn their own condition. There is a vast melancholy in the canticles of the wolves, melancholy infinite as the forest, endless as these long nights of winter and yet that ghastly sadness, that mourning for their own, irremediable appetites, can never move the heart for not one phrase in it hints at the possibility of redemption; grace could not come to the wolf from its own despair, only through some external mediator, so that, sometimes, the beast will look as if he half welcomes the knife that dispatches him.

Angela Carter
The Company of Wolves

On the first day of my workshop with Angela Carter, in my sophomore year, Carter was charged with reducing the number of would-be participants in her class to fourteen. Maybe thirty people were in the room, and she simply stood before us and tried to take questions. Some young guy in the back, rather too full of himself, raised his hand and, with a sort of withering scepticism, asked, “Well, what’s your work like?”

You have to have heard Carter speak to know how funny the next moment was. She had a reedy and somewhat thin British voice, toward the upper end of the scale, and she paused a lot when she spoke. There were a lot of ums and ahs. Before she replied, she cocked her head and said “um” once or twice. Then she said, “My work cuts like a steel blade at the base of a man’s penis.”

Rick Moody
Writers and Mentors

like a piano

November 18, 2018

I will tell you what she was like. She was like a piano in a country where everyone has had their hands cut off.

Angela Carter
Black Venus
Saints and Strangers

sit down and write

October 11, 2018

woman in silk and mist

Now I only write fiction, and I work terribly hard at it. I research incessantly, partly to put off the terrible moment when I have to sit down and write. I go over my words again and again – take out commas and put them back in, search for the right phrase to capture an idea. Sometimes I think I overdo all my revising, but that’s the way it is. Writing is my profession. I still do book reviews occasionally, but 20 years ago, after my first novel came out, I decided that life was too short to write journalism.

Angela Carter
A Maker of Magic Souffles
Interview with New York Times 7th September 1986

My dirty, depraved weekend

January 6, 2018

It would be good to announce that activities this weekend will include a vicarage tea party, a game of tennis doubles played on a grass court in vintage lingerie, cocktails with kinky friends, an exploration of each one of my fetishes with four or five adventurous others of either gender, sex with a number of equally perverted partners, followed by an excellent meal that I haven’t had to cook myself.

Instead we have nothing special planned. So it will be the same old same old. At least I can finish reading Unicorn the poetry of Angela Carter while I sip the breakfast gin.

violently sexual

September 30, 2017

Sunday entertainment 3

Sex isn’t a subtext in “The Bloody Chamber,” but the text itself. (Angela Carter would explain that she was only making explicit a “latent content” that is “violently sexual.”) The title story is a version of “Bluebeard” in which a fin de siècle ingénue, the churchmouse-poor daughter of a widowed music teacher, weds an older, thrice-married marquis who is “the richest man in France.” He sweeps her off to his ancestral manse, where she gets a suite in a tower and where her curious wanderings unearth his collection of kinky books. Then he departs on a suspiciously timed business trip, leaving her with a ring of keys and permission to visit every room, except one.

Eroticism hangs heavy in the air here, as it does in much of “The Bloody Chamber,” like an expensive, drugging perfume. There is something vampiric about the marquis’ perversity, and about his “white, heavy flesh,” which the narrator repeated compares to lilies. Yet she is aroused to see him watching her in a mirror “with the assessing eye of a connoisseur inspecting horseflesh.” She believes he can see into her soul, perceiving “a potentiality for corruption that took my breath away.” It’s not so much his power that entraps her, as her own longing for surrender.

Laura Miller
Fairy tales, fantasy and dangerous female desire

A werewolf

Carter was writing in the latter half of the twentieth century and well into the feminist era for the Western world. Sexuality and heterosexual relationships had become far more complex and nuanced than marriage was in the seventeenth century. By pulling out many of the metaphors from ‘The Company of Wolves’ it is possible to argue that Carter saw heterosexual relationships as equal. Not only that, but she saw both men and women as having strong sexual desires that might be seen as monstrous, but are perhaps more rightly called natural. Carter’s werewolf, as a metaphor for male sexuality, is rich and deep. The werewolf encountered by the young woman is a woodcutter, therefore spends time even in his human form in the wild woods. The reader is introduced to a handsome and friendly young man, though his eyes are the eyes of a wolf. Here is a wolf-man who has to hide his true nature behind a veneer of civility. His true nature is hungry and wild and violent. And, yet we know that “the beasts would love to be less beastly.” He meets his match in the young woman he attempts to seduce. She not only turns the tables by willingly kissing him and removing his clothes, she accepts his wolfish aspect by grooming him, comforting him and sleeping with him. In the young woman the reader is introduced to a very different Red Riding Hood than the one from Perrault’s tale. This woman goes into the woods with a knife, prepared for werewolves. She is confident and unafraid. She maybe virginal, perhaps a little naïve, but she is not stupid and she understands something of the relationship between men and women. She looks forward to losing her bet with the woodcutter and freely kisses him when the time comes to pay up. She realizes that fear of this wolf will not help her so she chooses not to be afraid of him. In fact she seems to pity him; at least she pities his cold hungry brothers singing outside. And, when informed that the wolf intends to eat her, this Red Riding Hood laughs in his face. She is so confident in herself that “she [is] nobody’s meat.” At this point the reader sees a young woman who is comfortable with her own sexuality. She removes the wolf’s clothing. “She will lay his fearful head on her lap and she will pick out the lice from his pelt and perhaps she will put the lice in her mouth and eat them, as he will bid her, as she would do in a savage marriage ceremony.” This young woman has clearly accepted the animal nature of her sexuality, that part of her that so many women are taught to believe is monstrous.

Laura McWriter
Angela Carter, Red Riding Hood, Werewolves and Sex

a wind up simulated girl

September 24, 2017

a wind up simulated girl

‘The Tiger’s Bride’, the second story in the collection that is based on Madame de Beaumont’s tale ‘Beauty and the Beast’, is narrated by Beauty, who is intelligent, considered and proud. She begins her narration with a pragmatic phrase that immediately indicates her awareness of her status as a commodity in a world dominated by men: ‘My father lost me to The Beast at cards’. When she begins to trust The Beast and does remove her clothes (notably, this is finally done by her own choice), she comments ‘I felt I was at liberty for the first time in my life’. Her femininity, which had previously cast her in a prescribed role as her father’s daughter, has been a repressive mask of its own. Beauty recognizes that in accepting this identity she has been merely performing the typical role of a woman in a society that does not value women. There is a particular emphasis on the burden of living as an object of the male gaze, a concept that has been extensively discussed by Laura Mulvey, as Beauty describes the world as ‘the market place, where the eyes that watch you take no account of your existence’. In an incredibly symbolic act of defiance that indicates both the miserably limited existence of women in such an oppressive society as well as the materialistic foolishness of the dominant patriarch, she uses a wind up simulated girl to take the place of her former self: ‘I will dress her in my own clothes, wind her up, send her back to perform the part of my father’s daughter’.

Samantha Halpin
How does Angela Carter deconstruct conventional and repressive gender identities in the Bloody Chamber

Jean-luc Godard - Alpherville

When most people are writing over a period of years, what they think they are writing about and what they believe in is a continuum; it’s not “specktic.” I’ve been publishing fiction since 1966, and I’ve changed a lot in the way I approach the world and in the way that I organize the world.

Heroes and Villains was quite an important book for me. One of the quotations in the front is from the script of a film called Alphaville, made by Jean-Luc Godard. It was a favorite film of mine of the late sixties; there’s a computer in Alphaville that says the thing that’s quoted in the front. [“There are times when reality becomes too complex for Oral Communication. But Legend gives it a form by which it pervades the whole world.”] In these times myth gives history shape. When I wrote that novel in 1968, this was a very resonant theme that I am not so sure of now.

I think that Godard was using the word myth in the same way that Barthes is as well. The film Alphaville uses one of the greatest gangster heroes of French cinema, but it projects a sort of trench-coat, Philip Marlowe character into some sort of antiseptic city of the future, and I really think that he was meaning myth in the terms of somebody like Bogart or Philip Marlowe. You know, you try things out and you try things out, and you figure out after a while when they’re not working or they stop working or maybe you no longer think it’s true. I just became uninterested in these sort of semi-sacrilized ways of looking at the world. They didn’t seem to me to be any help.

Angela Carter
Interview with Anna Katsavos published in The Review of Contemporary Fiction (Fall 1994)