Angela Carter’s taste for the fantastic

The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography by Edmund Gordon

(review by Anne Chisholm, Prospect Magazine, September, 2016)

invention_angela_carterThe question of Angela Carter’s literary standing, both during her lifetime and since her death at the height of her powers in 1992, is not easily settled. She arrived with a bang: her first two novels, Shadow Dance (1966) and The Magic Toyshop (1967), with their electrifying prose, imaginative wildness and dark sexuality, established her as a powerful new voice in British fiction, a writer who from the start excited both admiration and unease. She went on to write or compile some 15 more books, won a prize or two, wrote a great deal of journalism and established herself as an original, unpredictable essayist and critic. Today, she is taught in schools and colleges around the world; critical studies and theses proliferate. Most of her work is in print. She has influential admirers: a new edition of her poetry appeared at the end of last year, presented by Rosemary Hill, and Christopher Frayling has recently published a book of essays built around an account of their friendship and shared interest in vampires. Now comes the first full and authorised biography, based on complete access to her personal and professional archive and help from family and friends.

From the start, Edmund Gordon presents himself as a biographer with a mission: to rescue Angela Carter from a carapace of misconceptions and myths. Since her death at the age of 51, he maintains, she has been venerated for the wrong reasons, regarded by academics and feminist theoreticians as a white witch of preternatural wisdom, her artistic genius muffled and misunderstood. The implication is that she has been more studied than enjoyed.

In most ways, this is a conventional biography, which despite starting with Carter’s death and its aftermath proceeds to tell the story of her life with only minimal traces of the modish quest approach that emphasises the biographer’s own adventures along the way. Instead, the quest in this book is Carter’s journey of self-discovery, and the story Gordon tells is “of how she invented herself.” Carter showed from early on in her life a taste for the fantastic and a marked distaste for the realistic and the restrained, both in her personal style and writing. (read full review at Prospect)