Angela Carter: Short Stories Background

Angela Carter: Short Stories Background

Born in 1940 in Sussex, England, Angela would be dead from lung cancer by 1992. Today, Carter is notoriously one of the most studied writers of the 20th century, but even as late as the day she died she was, in the words of her most infamous fan Salman Rushdie, devalued “as a marginal, cultish figure” due to her subject matter which focused on fairy tales, supernatural creatures, horror and sadomasochistic sexuality. To suggest that Angela Carter was a writer about twenty years ahead of her time who died just as the subject matter she’d obsessed over was about to go full tilt mainstream is to engage in the cruel irony of the obvious.

Carter wrote novels and plays and co-wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of her story “The Company of Wolves” with future Oscar-winner Neil Jordan. She also published a volume of poetry and an assortment of collected essays, works of non-fiction and books for children. Arguably her most influential body of work is the collective canon that make up her short stories, however. “The Bloody Chamber” and the aforementioned “The Company of Wolves” would likely be her most well-known individual stories, but it is the collection in which both stories are found and which shares the title The Bloody Chamber that is often regarded as the singular lasting achievement that has drawn more readers to the rest of her work than any other.

In addition to the aforementioned stories which revise the tales of Bluebeard and Little Red Riding Hood, The Bloody Chamber also contains alternative versions of Beauty and the Beast, Puss in Boots and Sleeping Beauty. These stories are central to the conception of Carter as both a writer of feminist stories and as a proponent of postmodernism.

Although distinctly original and irrefutably influential on the generation of writers came in her wake (echoes of Carter’s groundwork can be found in writers ranging from Stephen King to Gregory Maguire), Carter’s greatest strength as a short story writer lies in taking an existing story and spinning it to reveal fundamental questions about the authenticity of its emotional truth, morality and philosophical worldview. In addition to familiar fairy tale heroines and villains, Carter’s short stories also feature as characters the mistress of French poet Baudelaire, Edgar Allan Poe’s mother, Lizzie Borden as well as vampires, werewolves, puppets and even a “great white hunter.” (Then there is the story "In Pantoland" which alone references Cinderella, Robin Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Wizard of Oz and Aladdin.)

The great irony of Carter’s career is not just that she was a vigorously prolific author who died mercilessly young of an “old person’s disease” but that the very subject matter which marginalized her as a cult author during her lifetime has today been deemed worthy of blockbuster Broadway musicals, prime time television series, Oscar-winning films and one of the most commercial successful sub-genres in the history of fiction.

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