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«Ghent University Faculty of Arts and Philosophy “I AM NOT SURE IF THIS IS A HAPPY ENDING” THE QUEST FOR FEMALE EMPOWERMENT IN ANGELA CARTER’S ...»

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Ghent University

Faculty of Arts and Philosophy

“I AM NOT SURE IF THIS IS A HAPPY ENDING”

THE QUEST FOR FEMALE EMPOWERMENT IN ANGELA CARTER’S

WISE CHILDREN

Supervisor: Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of

the requirements for the degree of “Master in

Professor Marysa Demoor

de Taal- en Letterkunde: Engels” by Aline Lapeire 2009-2010 Lapeire ii Lapeire iii

“I AM NOT SURE IF THIS IS A HAPPY ENDING”

THE QUEST FOR FEMALE EMPOWERMENT IN ANGELA CARTER’S

WISE CHILDREN

The cover of Wise Children (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007) Lapeire iv

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This dissertation could not have been written without the help of the following people.

I would hereby like to thank… … Professor MARYSA DEMOOR for supporting my choice of topic and sharing her knowledge about gender studies. Her guidance and encouragement have been very important to me.

… DEBORA VAN DURME and Professor SINEAD MCDERMOTT for their interesting class discussions of Nights at the Circus and Wise Children. Without their keen eye for good fiction, I might have never even heard of Angela Carter and her beautiful oeuvre.

… Several very patient librarians at the University of Ghent.

… A great deal of friends who at times mocked the idea of a „gender dissertation‟, yet always showed their support when it was due. I especially want to thank my loyal thesis buddies MAX DEDULLE and MARTIJN DENTANT. The countless hours we spent together while hopelessly staring at a world behind the computer screen eventually did pay off. Moreover, eternal gratitude and a vodka-Red Bull go out to JEROEN MEULEMAN who entirely voluntarily offered to read and correct my thesis. Cheers!

… My family for turning down the television and staying out of my way when I had my occasional fits of „thes-hysteria‟. Most of all, I would like to thank my grandmother GEORGETTE SOENEN for continuously expressing her pride in me and showing me what makes a „strong woman‟. I hope I will be able to make her proud for many years to come.

Lapeire v

TABLE OF CONTENT

1. INTRODUCTION

1.1. Biography of Angela Carter

1.2. Carter‟s Mission as a Demythologiser

1.3. My Mission

2. PATRIARCHAL OPPRESSION

2.1. Psychological Oppression of the Daughter

2.1.1. Meet the Family

–  –  –

2.1.3. Freudian Patriarchy: Seduction of the Daughter

2.1.4. Standing Up to Patriarchal Oppression

2.2. Cultural Oppression of the Female Performer

2.2.1. The Wrong and Right Side of the Tracks

2.2.2. Emasculation of the Shakespearian Patriarch

–  –  –

3. CARNIVALESQUE SUBVERSION

3.1. The Carnivalesque

3.1.1. Bakhtin‟s Theory

–  –  –

3.1.3. Utopian Projections

3.2. Flaws of the Carnivalesque

3.2.1. Temporary Nature

–  –  –

4. CONCLUSION

Works Cited

Further Reading

–  –  –

Courtesy of Sotheby‟s. Copyright © 1976 Vogue. The Condé Nast Publications Ltd.

Retrieved from http://www.sothebys.com.

Fig. 2. Medusa, figurine from the Temple of Artemis, pediment: ca. 600-580 B.C. (p. 52) Courtesy of Hillyer Art Library, Smith College.

Retrieved from Mary Russo, The Female Grotesque (New York: Routledge, 1994) 3.

–  –  –

1. INTRODUCTION

1.1. BIOGRAPHY OF ANGELA CARTER The story of Angela Carter‟s life begins on the 8th of May 1940, when she was born in Eastbourne as Angela Olive Stalker.1 Because of the war, she grew up in Yorkshire where she lived with her grandmother, a fervent storyteller who was also a feminist. Hence, from a very young age, Carter got acquainted with the stories and philosophies which would influence her writing. In 1960, at age 20, she got married for the first time.2 She followed her husband to Bristol and, unwilling to become “just a wife”, she enrolled in Bristol University where she studied English literature. In 1966, Carter finally conveyed her fantasy into a first published novel: Shadow Dance. She ended up writing five novels in the first six years of her career as

an author. These novels already indicated the course that her entire oeuvre would take:

“beautiful, perverse stories, often about pretty young girls who fall into the clutches of evil but irresistible men” (Barker). Carter‟s gracious writing style and daring postmodernist subject matter quickly gained appreciation in academic circles. Several Perceptions, published in 1968 was awarded the prestigious Somerset Maugham Award. A successful literary career seemed to lurk around the corner.

Carter could have capitalised on her growing reputation, but in 1969 she took on what seems to be a personal mission of empowerment. With the revenues of her early success, she

–  –  –





had compounded the financial strength to leave her husband and set sail for Japan. In this new cultural context, Carter personally experienced the outsider position she has imposed on a myriad of her characters. She describes her emotions of alienation at this time in the short story “A Souvenir of Japan”: “I had never been so absolutely the mysterious other. I had become a kind of phoenix, a fabulous beast; I was an outlandish jewel” (Gamble 16, my emphasis). This quote already illustrates how Carter did not necessarily consider otherness as a negative quality. Her three year stay in the Far East obviously influenced her life immensely: in her thirties, the author filed for divorce and resituated herself on the literary scene. Whereas her early works would hint at a liberating future for the surviving women, the novels she wrote during and after her stay in Japan were more shocking and apocalyptic in nature. Works such as The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972) and The Passion of New Eve (1977) portray alternative fantastic societies which lack a positive outcome on the horizon. Moreover, these novels displayed a great deal of theoretical sophistication and less romantic plotting. Carter‟s new style – which was considered highly experimental at the time – received a rather lukewarm reception. Nevertheless these interesting works have been revaluated in later years. Lorna Sage emphasises the importance of Carter‟s residence in Asia: “[It is] where she lost and found herself” (Gamble 16). Upon her arrival back in the UK, Angela Carter was indeed revitalised and filled with inspiration.

The urge to translate her newfound mindset manifested itself in many projects. She wrote only a single novel in the decade after her journey and invested in other media. Because of this, Angela Carter is not only known as a novelist, but also as a screenplay writer, an editor, a translator and a writer of short stories. Moreover, she penned down a great number of

–  –  –

was definitely The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography (1978) in which she reads the novels of Marquis de Sade from a feminist angle.3 In 1977, Carter remarried and over the next decade she worked as a part-time lecturer and resident writer at several universities. It was in this period that she finally received the public attention which was foreboded in her early career. In her final novels, Carter found a balance between optimism and negativism, narration and theoretical sophistication. The novel I will be discussing is her last one: Wise Children, published in 1991. In an interview after its publication, Carter dubbed it her favourite novel because she finally decided to use Britain‟s capital as her setting: “When I turned fifty last year, I decided I wanted to preserve the London I remember” (Bradfield 93). Wise Children turned out to be Angela Carter‟s „swan song‟. Shortly after its publication, she met her untimely death. In February 1992, at age 51, the imaginative author succumbed to lung cancer. Sadly, she did not live to see the peak of her success. After the reports about her death, Carter‟s books sold out within a day. And during the academic year 1992-3, the British Academy received no less than forty proposals to study the magic-storyteller. The anecdote goes that this was more than the number of concepts the Academy received about the entire eighteenth century (Gamble 1).

Posthumously, Carter became a genuine „celebrity writer‟. Paul Barker commented on this with bitterness: “She has arrived. But she is dead. No magic, and no fame, can alter that”.

I have personally witnessed how Carter‟s fame has spread among intelligentsia.

During my first year at Ghent University, I studied Nights at the Circus under Debora Van Durme. I very much enjoyed the class discussions about this novel, and also the theoretical However, many feminists misread Carter‟s work as “an unequivocal defence of De Sade”

–  –  –

background which introduced me to feminist theorists such as Julia Kristeva and Hélène Cixous. I was pleasantly surprised when during my Erasmus semester at the University of Limerick, Carter was featured on the reading list once again. I absolutely loved Wise Children with its witty narrator, brilliant characters and magical atmosphere. The blurb assures me and I am in good company as Salman Rushdie honoured the novel with the words: “A funny, funny book… even better than Nights at the Circus. It deserves all the bouquets, diamonds and stage-door Johnnies it can get”. When I went through the works on Carter at the library of English Literature in Ghent, I noticed that she had been the subject of dissertations in the years 1989, 1999 and 2009. An analysis of Wise Children was absent however and therefore I feel nearly obliged to break the decennial cycle. Carter‟s postmodern fiction is definitely vivid and rich enough to inspire further academic research in the decades to come.

1.2. CARTER‟S MISSION AS A DEMYTHOLOGISER In her self-reflexive prose, Carter repeatedly puts forward that her narratives are “arguments, stated in fictional terms” (Hegerfeldt 371). Certainly, her magical stories can be appreciated for their own sake, but Carter consciously introduces an element of allegory in her novels and urges the reader to “read on as many levels [one] can comfortably cope with at the time” (Haffenden 86). A central concept in Carter‟s literary mission is her „demythologising business‟.4 Coming from a feminist nest, she actively sought to attack the ideas surrounding gender and sexuality because she felt these “myths deal in false universals” (Childs 104). In her well-known feminist apologia “Notes of the Front Line”, Carter refers to her connection The concept „myth‟ here is not directly indicative of classical myths. In this context, Carter

–  –  –

to the Woman‟s Movement in her life: “[It] has been of great importance to me personally, and I would regard myself as a feminist writer, because I‟m a feminist in everything else and one can‟t compartmentalise these things in one‟s life” (SL 69). However, she can not exactly be cast as a representative feminist.5 One of the main issues Carter had with the movement, is that in her opinion it often conceptualised female experience as a monistic given. She explicitly debates this: “The notion of a universality of female experience is a clever confidence trick” (SW 12). Throughout her career, Carter chose not to buy into any defined ideology and instead put forward a multiplicity of alternative worlds in her fiction. She performs a constant tightrope act in balancing between the exclusion of and inclusion in several groups (Gamble 5). By continuously testing the boundaries of the belief systems she was inspired by, Carter never fully belonged to any ideological movement. She remained an outsider artist and famously asserted: “I‟m all for putting new wine in old bottles, especially if the pressure of the new wine makes the old bottles explode” (Haffenden 38). Carter never shied away from crossing the lines which other empowering movements had set before.

A pattern of transforming empowerment is easily recognisable in many of Carter‟s novels. She often sets off with presenting her readership with a traditional fictional world, inhabited by characters that slavishly fill out their prescribed roles in a patriarchal framework.6 Childs explains why the author establishes such a platform: “[Traditional] history emerges as both the source of and the antidote to myth because cultural inventions distract from „the real conditions‟ of life but also reveal them” (116). The portrayal of victims Despite the fact that Carter regarded herself as a feminist writer, she repeatedly conflicted with the feminist movement. Especially The Sadeian Woman kicked up a lot of dust, as many feminist saw it as an accepting plea for pornography (Gamble 15).

Patriarchy is a concept which will be used throughout this dissertation. It is a society in which men (and especially fathers) occupy the dominant positions in society. All members of such a society live according to a „male law‟, a „phallic order‟.



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