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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

Spirits of the Dead

April 6, 2017

Thy soul shall find itself alone
‘Mid dark thoughts of the grey tomb-stone;
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.

Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness – for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.

The night, though clear, shall frown,
And the stars shall not look down
From their high thrones in the Heaven
With light like hope to mortals given,
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever.

Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,
Now are visions ne’er to vanish;
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more, like dew-drop from the grass.

The breeze, the breath of God, is still,
And the mist upon the hill
Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token.
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries!

Edgar Allan Poe

much of the bizarre…

October 10, 2016

masks-stefano-bonazzi

There was much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust.

Edgar Allan Poe
The Masque of the Red Death

by-giorgia-napoletano

In beauty of face no maiden ever equalled her. It was the radiance of an opium-dream – an airy and spirit-lifting vision more wildly divine than the fantasies which hovered about the slumbering souls of the daughters of Delos.

Edgar Allan Poe
Ligeia

divide Life from Death…

September 29, 2016

cold-water-night

The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?

Edgar Allan Poe
The Premature Burial

a-view-from-the-window

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was – but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me – upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain – upon the bleak walls – upon the vacant eye-like windows – upon a few rank sedges – and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees – with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium – the bitter lapse into everyday life – the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart – an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime.

Edgar Allan Poe
The Fall of the House of Usher

speaknoevil

I was cautious in what I said before the young lady; for I could not be sure that she was sane; and, in fact, there was a certain restless brilliancy about her eyes that half led me to imagine she was not.

Edgar Allan Poe
The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether

Reality…

September 23, 2016

invisible-things-emerson-schreiner

Invisible things are the only realities.

Edgar Allan Poe
Loss of Breath:
A Tale Neither In nor Out of “Blackwood”

The-Masque-of-the-Red-Death

And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revelers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

Edgar Allan Poe
The Masque of the Red Death

Andy Warhol - Querelle

Diary 25th April

Last night talk about beginnings. The opening passages of novels. Mention of Joyce’s “Ulysses”.

‘Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

Introibo ad altare Dei

Joyce’s mockery of the Roman Catholic mass: the bowl a stand-in for the chalice of wine which, in the mass, becomes the blood of Christ; the stairhead becomes the alter steps. Buck, of course, serves as priest…According to Joyce the novel opens on Thursday, 16th June 1904 at 8.30 AM. The 16th of June is the feast day of St. John Francis Regis, a saint much venerated in southern France. Since it’s a feast day for a confessor the appropriate vestments for the mass are white and gold. However Joyce mentions a yellow gown, and priestly vestment would be cloth of gold, not dull yellow. In the middle ages heretics were made to wear yellow.

Mention of the razor – sign of the slaughterer, the priest as butcher. While ungirdled suggests violation of the priestly vow of chastity. “Introibo ad altare Dei” – from psalm 43:4 – ‘I will go up to God’s alter’ used as the opening prayer of the mass…This mocking invocation of God is a reminder of the opening of Homer’s “Odyssey” with its invocation of the muse…

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From Joyce to Nabokov. ‘Lolita, light of my life…’

‘Lo-lee-ta’ the middle syllable alludes to the poem ‘Annabel Lee’ by Edgar Allan Poe. Poe the lover of young girls, a tragic, frustrated figure. Annabel Lee is variously invoked over the course of the novel; both she and Lolita die, the later figuratively as well as literally with regard to her fading nymphic qualities…Ah, those childbrides can never survive.

Lola, a diminutive of Dolores, is also the name of the young cabaret entertainer who enchants a middle-aged professor in the German film ‘The blue angel’…Dolores derived from the Latin, “dolor”: sorrow, pain, traditionally an allusion to the Virgin Mary, our mother of sorrows, and hence an invocation of the less than spiritual poem of Algernon Swinburne, “Dolores”.

And so it goes on, allusion and invocation, layer upon layer. The seemingly simple made complex…just like life.

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I’ve said things to upset a lot of people over time. I’m okay with that. I used to worry about how I was perceived by others, but then one day I decided I didn’t really care that much. So now I just say things I feel like saying and to hell with the rest of the crap.

If nothing else it’s more honest.

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My sense of wonder at the hyperreality of love is echoed by day-to-day commonplaces, the banal backdrop to our lives…We are like characters from Pushkin or Boris Pasternak. Yes, yes, I see you as my Lara. Obsessed, as I am, with images of you in your bath…

We are as alike as two drops of water.

Your nakedness echoing Eve’s innocence in Paradise Lost, when she recounts first catching sight of her own reflection in water:

Not distant far from thence a murmuring sound
Of waters issued from a cave and spread
Into a liquid plain, then stood unmoved
Pure as the expanse of heaven; I thither went
With unexperienced thought . . .
…..
As I bent down to look, just opposite,
A shape within the watery gleam appeared
Bending to look on me, I started back,
It started back, but pleased I soon returned.

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And our deranged minds become “bien ranges” once more…