Despite appearing later in her career, Nights at the Circus, first published by Chatto & Windus in 1984, stands as one of the most important novels in Angela Carter’s vast oeuvre of fiction, in terms of expanding her readership and bringing her greater posthumous recognition. The novel was met with mixed reviews; many readers celebrated its rich prose, inventive narrative structure, and poignant political commentary, while some critics, like famed literary critic Michiko Kakutani for the New York Times, balanced praise with accusations of pretentiousness, overly-rich prose, and didacticism.
Nights at the Circus won the 1984 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. In 2006, the novel was adapted for the stage by Tom Morris and directed by Emma Rice, and, like its source material, the play was met with mixed reviews. Kate Bassett, writing for the Independent, calls the show "underdeveloped and patchy." Of the source material, Bassett writes, "Firstly, Carter's book isn't that great, even if it still speaks to mellowed feminists and ladettes," and characterizes the novel as being full "of florid prose and cloying slush."
Though the dense, hyper-descriptive style and raunchy, post-feminist content remain contested among critics and readers, Nights at the Circus remains one of Carter's most widely-read, widely-loved works.