Literary Sisters: Angela Carter

Angela Carter  1940-1992


images Copyright photo by Tana Heinemann

Biography and background

‘Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself,’ Angela Carter once said.  ‘You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world.  You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.’

An iconic British feminist writer, Angela Carter began to receive more critical attention after her death from cancer at the age of 51.  She started her working life as a journalist then in 1960 went on to study literature at Bristol University.  In 1969 – funded by the proceeds from the Somerset Maugham Award – Carter moved to Japan (purportedly foreign enough to be different from the UK but civilised enough to have toilets and a good transport system).   It is there, she claims, that she  ‘learnt what it is to be a woman and became radicalised’ – she wrote about her experiences there in articles for New Society and in short stories.  In the 1970s and 1980s she spend most of her time as a writer in residence at various academic institutions, including University of Sheffield, Brown University, the University of Adelaide, and the University of East Anglia.

Why is she important?

Carter was astonishingly prolific, encompassing a wide range of forms.  She wrote for radio, television, film and opera librettos, as well as producing fiction and essays.  She is perhaps best known for her reformulation of fairy tale, a revisionary ‘demythologising’, which was influenced both by surrealism and by cultural politics.  Not afraid to embrace radical subject matter – sexuality, sexual politics and gender roles – her work has earned her the label of feminist icon


You might want to read…

The Magic Toyshop (1967).  Carter’s second novel; the story of a teenage girl’s awakening sexuality and a critique of masculine power and control.

The Passion of New Eve (1977).  A gender-bending, post-feminist parody, which is set in the dystopian context of a civil war United States.  Also an exploration of identity, it is a critique of society’s fascination with screen idols which still resonates today.

The Bloody Chamber (1979).  An exploration of ‘desire and its destruction, the self-immolation of women, how women collude and connive with their condition of enslavement’ (Marina Warner)

Nights at the Circus (1984).  Revealing Carter’s fascination with performance; the tale of a celebrated circus artiste, which dissects the traditional fairy tale structure.







More info 

More on Angela Carter’s life and work:

A radio interview with Carter from the BBC Archive:

Angela Carter interviewed by Lisa Appignanesi:




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