Angela Carter in 2017
by Heidi Yeandle
February 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of Angela Carter’s premature death, and interest in Carter is consequently thriving. The Guardian is holding an Angela Carter Reading Group this month, and the ‘Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter’ exhibition is running at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) in Bristol until 19 March 2017 (curated by Dr Marie Mulvey-Roberts from the University of the West of England, UWE, and Fiona Robinson, RWA). In line with this exhibition, an international conference Fireworks: The Visual Imagination of Angela Carter was held in January 2017 in Bristol, organised by Dr Marie Mulvey-Roberts and Dr Charlotte Crofts (UWE). A range of diverse publications have also emerged over the last few months, including Scott Dimovitz’s Angela Carter: Surrealist, Psychologist, Moral Pornographer (Routledge, 2016), Edmund Gordon’s The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography (Chatto & Windus, 2016), Anna Watz’s Angela Carter and Surrealism: A Feminist Libertarian Aesthetic (Routledge, 2017), and Heidi Yeandle’s Angela Carter and Western Philosophy (Palgrave, 2017). There are still more publications in the pipeline: Mulvey-Roberts’ edited collection The Arts of Angela Carter: A Cabinet of Curiosities (Manchester University Press) is under preparation, and there is currently a call for book chapters for Pyrotechnics: The Incandescent Imagination of Angela Carter, edited by Mulvey-Roberts and Crofts. Bearing in mind the range of recent publications and events that celebrate Carter’s life and work, this piece discusses some of the developments in the current Carter world.
The availability of the Angela Carter Papers Collection at the British Library has resulted in a new wave of work on Carter underpinned by archival material: research notes, diary entries, and plans for novels and short stories. Sir Christopher Grayling’s keynote lecture ‘ANGELA and ME: A Bath Literary Friendship’ at the Fireworks conference in January 2017 was particularly revealing about the content of these papers. Reflecting on his friendship with Carter in the 1970s when she lived in Bath, Frayling recalled reading her notebooks and coming across conversations that he’d had with Carter. Carter’s account of these conversations was far from factual though; she had fictionalised and in some ways gothicised Frayling’s words, and these alternative dialogues feature in her published novels. With a number of recent publications referring to the archived material and commenting on its self-consciousness and unreliability (Dimovitz, Gordon, and Yeandle), Frayling’s reflection illustrates the veiled nature of Carter’s personal notes and the importance of not taking her words at face value.
Edmund Gordon’s 2016 biography of Carter demonstrates extensive engagement with the contents of the Angela Carter Papers Collection, but also references letters Carter wrote to friends and colleagues, as well as interviews with a range of people who knew Carter: family, friends, students, and ex-lovers. This publication therefore includes a range of new material, and is a useful resource for Carter scholars as well as wider readers. One particularly illuminating aspect of this publication is that it features extracts from the author’s interview with Sozo Araki, whom Carter had her ‘First Real Affair’ with in Japan (letter to Carmen Callil, Gordon 2016: p. 141), unveiling Sozo’s perspective on this formative time of Carter’s life. The biography also cites Sozo’s unpublished memoir, translated by Natsumi Ikoma from the International Christian University in Japan. Ikoma’s English translation of Sozo’s account is being published by Eihosha in Summer 2017, another exciting addition to the expanding body of literature related to Carter.
While engagement with both the archival material and the biography was central to many of the papers at the recent Fireworks event, the wide-ranging interdisciplinary focus of the conference paid tribute to both the diverse influences on Carter’s work as well as the influence she continues to have, as illustrated by the ‘Strange Worlds’ exhibition. With papers discussing Carter’s oeuvre in relation to cinema, surrealism, and the Gothic, as well as philosophy, theatre, and folk music, and examining topics such as the medieval influences on Carter’s early novels, the significance of tattooing, and the depiction of ageing to name a few, the event showcased the wealth of innovative research on Carter at the moment. It wasn’t just a literary event though, with talks from curators, artists, and musicians as well. For instance, Catriona McAra (Leeds College of Art, UK) discussed how Carter has shaped her curatorial strategies, and artist Kim L Pace reflected on Carter’s influence on her work, and showcased her film ‘Fabulous Beasts & Comic Bodies’, which includes Pace’s images alongside extracts from The Magic Toyshop (1967), ‘The Loves of Lady Purple’ (1974, in Fireworks), and Nights at the Circus (1984). Works by a range of contemporary artists inspired by Carter are featured in the ‘Strange Worlds’ exhibition, from Ana Maria Pacheco’s dominating installation The Banquet to Tail of the Tiger by Eileen Cooper RA, contradicting Gordon’s claim that Carter’s reputation is confined within ‘scholarly sarcophagi’ (Gordon 2016: p. 130).
It’s now 25 years since Carter’s death, and there is no sign of interest in her beginning to diminish: quite the opposite. Alongside new publications, exhibitions and art installations, a number of public events are on the horizon. These include a ‘Shadow Dance puppet workshop’, a Drawing Master Class inspired by Carter’s work on fairy tales, and a Folksong and Music Session inspired by Carter’s role in the 1960s Folk Revival. More information about these and other events is available at getangelacarter.com, a website related to the Bristol-based events commemorating the anniversary of Carter’s death, designed and curated by Crofts. In addition, Carter-related news and interviews are available at angelacarteronline.com, run by Dr Caleb Sivyer. These public events and websites are making Carter more visible and accessible for contemporary readers, and foregrounding her importance in 2017, and, it seems, for years to come.
Gordon, E. The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography. London: Chatto & Windus, 2016.