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Carter, Angela

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1940-1992) UK author best known for her work outside the sf field, though all her novels and tales were characterized by an expressionist freedom of reference to everyday "reality" (see Magic Realism) which often emerges as fantasy. She won the John Llewelyn Rhys Memorial Prize for her second novel, The Magic Toyshop (1967), and the Somerset Maugham Award for Several Perceptions (1968). Her first tale to engage in a recognizably sf displacement of reality, Heroes and Villains (1969), does so with a similar freedom, for Carter was one of the few UK writers of genuine Fabulations, of Postmodernist works in which storytelling conventions are mixed and examined, and in which the style of telling is strongly language-oriented. Heroes and Villains is set in a Ruined-Earth England inhabited by (a) dwellers in the ruins of Cities, whose society is rigidly stratified into Professors and the Soldiers who guard them, and (b) Barbarians who live in the surreal mutated forests that cover the land. Like much of her work, the novel uses Gothic images and conventions to examine and to Parody the concerns of its protagonists and the desolate world they inhabit. In the story of Marianne, a Professor's daughter, who leaves the ruined city for a Barbarian life where she undergoes a violent erotic awakening, Carter definitively entangles Sex and decadence (or female freedom).

Erotic complexities, shamans and deliquescent urban landscapes proliferate in such later novels as The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972; vt The War of Dreams 1974), which is a quest into dream, several narrative sections of which are clearly influenced by Raymond Roussel's Impressions of Africa (1910) and Locus Solus (1914), so that the protagonist's increasing immersion in oneiric grotesquerie begins to resemble a trip through an abstract Archipelago; the homage to E T A Hoffmann is deliberate, though a habit in academic criticism of giving his name in full when the title is quoted lacks any sanction. The Passion of New Eve (1977) is a baroque picaresque through a Holocaust-enflamed America. Nights at the Circus (1984) unpacks a grandly fabulated, densely conceived phantasmagorical world which surrounds the tale of a "deformed" woman performer whose wings are real, whose womanhood is no deformity, and for whom flight is real through all the spectrums of meaning which may attach to the concept of flight, especially where women are concerned. Carter's stories were collected as: Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces (coll 1974; rev 1987), assembled with the non-genre Love (1971; rev 1987) as Artificial Fire (omni 1988); The Bloody Chamber (coll 1979), a series of contes dissective of female sexuality; and Black Venus (coll 1985; rev vt Saints and Strangers 1986), which includes Black Venus's Tale (1980 chap). Though she was never associated with the sf New Wave, it was perhaps through the widening of the gates of perception due to that movement that readers of sf were induced to treat Carter's difficult but rewarding work as being of interest to a genre audience; as an author of feminist sf (see Feminism), she was notably lacking in doctrinaire presentations of story, and her influence has grown steadily – for some time after her death, she was the most taught woman writer in American universities. Her early and unnecessary death – she could not break her addiction to cigarettes, and died of lung cancer – continues to induce a sense that the British literary world had been diminished. [JC]

see also: Anthropology; Disaster; Fantastic Voyages; Fantasy; History of SF; Mythology; Perception; Psychology; Werewolves; Women SF Writers.

Angela Olive Stalker Carter

born Eastbourne, Sussex: 7 May 1940

died London: 16 February 1992

works (selected)

collections and stories


works as editor

works as translator

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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