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Angela Carter Biography

(1940–92), Shadow Dance, The Magic Toyshop, Love, conte cruel, Fireworks, The Bloody Chamber

British novelist and short-story writer, born in Eastbourne, Sussex, educated at Bristol University. Although magical realism may have been the inspiration for some of Carter's early novels, which include Shadow Dance (1966), The Magic Toyshop (1967), and Love (1971), from the beginning she showed a much wider cultural and historical awareness of the polyglot aesthetic tradition within which she was working. She drew upon sources such as Kleist, the French conte cruel, Dinesen (Karen Blixen), Stead, and Japanese tales, as is evident in Fireworks (1974), her first and pioneering collection of short fiction. The short story was successful as a vehicle for Carter's unusual talent, which combined erudition and transformative imagination. The brothers Grimm are the inspiration for The Bloody Chamber (1979), probably her finest work, which recasts their traditional tales of metamorphosis in moulds that draw undogmatically on feminism and Freud; she adapted some of these stories for Neil Jordan's film version entitled The Company of Wolves (1984). Carter's project of deconstructive interpretation and retelling continues in Black Venus (1985), drawing this time on histories, legends and literary fictions. Some of her earlier novels, such as Heroes and Villains (1969), The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972), and The Passion of New Eve (1977), take place in science fiction landscapes; but Carter successfully made the transition from fantastic to more accessible and pleasurable novels with her works set in worlds where reality and artifice intermingle. Nights at the Circus (1984), a love story set in the theatrical world of fin-desiècle London, presents the quintessential Carter heroine, the trapeze artiste Fevvers who was born with wings. The comic Wise Children (1991), another theatrical novel, is Carter's tribute to Shakespearian comedies and displays a mellowing vision, more rooted in mundanity. Carter was a fine and varied critic, as her long feminist essay The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History (1979), and the reviews and occasional writings collected in Nothing Sacred (1982) and Expletives Deleted (1992), reveal.

Carter's early death left critics divided as to whether she was a major or a very original minor writer: nevertheless, her influence is evident in the work of celebrated contemporaries such as Michèle Roberts, Marina Warner, and Jeanette Winterson among others. Along with Rushdie, she is also to be credited with forcing British fiction away from its increasingly parochial concern with domestic or social realism by her insistence on textual diversity and the joy of passionate and eclectic reading. Her fascination with the macabre and erotic aspects of folklore and myth is evident in The Virago Book of Fairy Tales (1991) which she edited. Stories uncollected at Carter's death appear in the American Ghosts and Old World Wonders (1993); Burning Your Boats: Collected Short Stories appeared in 1995 with an introduction by Salman Rushdie. See Flesh and the Mirror: Essays on the Art of Angela Carter (1994), edited by Lorna Sage.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Henry Carey Biography to Chekhov Biography