Nights at the Circus Online Exhibition

Angela Carter’s novel Nights at the Circus formed the point of departure for Eileen Cooper’s forthcoming exhibition at Sims Reed Gallery. The show shares the same name as Carter’s acclaimed book published in 1984, which weaves fairy tales into magical realism – themes that frequently appear in Eileen’s work. Revisiting the novel elicited deep connections that tied Carter’s characters with imagery in Eileen’s work and subconscious. The result reveals a new body of work on paper which combines motifs inspired by the literary work and ideas drawn from her own imagination. A very personal interpretation of the story is told through Eileen’s eyes.

The exitbition will be online from March 4 – April 2, 2021

You can visit Sims Reed Gallery here

Illustrated edition of Nights at the Circus

The Folio Society are issuing a lavish, illustrated edition of Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus, with dazzling artwork by Eileen Cooper of the Royal Academy – you can read an interview with the artist here.

Nights at the Circus is her masterpiece; it’s also the most engaging and accessible of her fictions. Her earliest novels tend towards the stylised; Nights, by contrast, is a sprawling, garrulous book, a picaresque story of Rabelaisian proportions, with a suitably larger-than-life heroine: Fevvers, the winged Victorian ‘Cockney Venus’, six feet two in her stockings, with a voice like clanging dustbin lids and a face as ‘broad and oval as a meat dish’.”

Sarah Waters

Nights at the Circus tells the story of Sophie Fevvers, half woman, half swan, all super star, and journalist Jack Walser’s quest to find the truth behind her unlikely legend. Stuffed to the gills with Angela Carter’s wildly original storytelling, gorgeously slippery language, and all the pleasures and horrors of a fairy tale, this first illustrated edition features nine exclusive colour illustrations and a set of black-and-white chapter headings by celebrated printmaker Eileen Cooper. A Royal Academician, Cooper has credited fairy tales, mythology and the female figure as core inspirations for her work, making her the perfect artist to bring Carter’s lush imagery to life. Sarah Waters’s novel Tipping the Velvet trod the same theatrical boards as Nights at the Circus, and here she provides an introduction celebrating Carter’s ‘masterpiece’ and the author’s unique power to ‘unsettle as well as to inspire and console’. This is a sensational edition of one of the 20th century’s greatest literary spectacles.

You can buy the edition directly from the Folio Society

Online Exhibition

Eileen Cooper’s artwork for this edition will be displayed online at the Sims Reed Gallery in London. Opening on 4 March 2021, ‘Nights at the Circus’ will run until 2 April 2021. The exhibition is a unique opportunity for admirers of both Eileen Copper and Angela Carter to discover what happens when the creative genius of these two inspirational women collides.

Eileen Cooper on illustrating Angela Carter

The acclaimed British artist talks illustrating her first novel in a Creative Boom exclusive, as The Folio Society releases a new edition of a 20th-century classic resplendent with Eileen’s art.

A tale of love, magic, circuses and lies, Nights at the Circus is now available in a glorious new edition from distinguished publishers The Folio Society. With illustrations by celebrated printmaker Eileen Cooper, the release marks the novel’s first-ever illustrated edition. The book also comes accompanied by an exhibition of Cooper’s work, with an introduction by renowned novelist Sarah Waters.

In our interview, we learn more about Eileen Cooper’s work and vision for the book, including nine original colour lino-cut collages and a monoprint title page spread. All of the pieces perfectly suit Angela Carter’s wildly original storytelling and gorgeously slippery language, and what Waters describes as the author’s unique power to ‘unsettle as well as to inspire and console.’

A Royal Academician, Eileen has credited fairy tales, mythology and the female figure as core inspirations for her work, making her the perfect artist to bring the late Carter’s lush imagery to life. Each illustration is bold, striking, impossible to look away from. The chapter headings feature the ordinary and extraordinary totems of the life story of the half-woman, half-swan Sophie Fevvers. The tale recounts journalist Jack Walser’s quest to expose Sophie as a fraud, but who instead finds himself captivated by her beauty and strangeness, in a book widely regarded as a classic of British literature.
Nights at the Circus is such a classic book, and I would love to know what the book means to you as both reader and artist. Also, how did the project come about?

Sheri Gee, Art Director at The Folio Society, had asked me if I was interested in illustrating a book for them quite a few years ago. My answer was an immediate ‘Yes’; then we decided to wait until the perfect book came up. I think it was clever of them to pair me with Angela Carter as there is a strong magic realist element in both our work.

I had read several of Angela Carter’s books many years ago, including The Bloody Chamber, which resonated with me. I hadn’t read Nights at the Circus, so this seemed like a real gift to me. Also, I hadn’t’ studied’ a book in this way since school!

The challenge for all readers is the sheer volume of characters Angela Carter presents us with. I particularly connected to the strong female characters and their journey both in terms of physical travel and individual growth. The main character Sophie is radical, exciting and funny, causing some controversy amongst feminists when the book was first published. It’s a hugely important and influential book. I’m very touched that I have had this opportunity to connect so deeply with it.

How would you say your pieces capture Carter’s vision?

This is a difficult question. I’m not an illustrator, so being an artist, I bring something to the text which is possibly more controversial than getting an experienced illustrator to do the job. I bring the wealth and depth of my own imagery, built up over 40 years as a practising artist. Perhaps some readers who love the book and know it in detail may take issue with my illustrations.

What do you think the author would have made of the final work?

All I can say is that I was inspired, and I learnt a lot about the book and Angela Carter. I believe she would have responded positively to my work; I’m sure she’d be open-minded and receptive to another creative wholeheartedly embracing her story. I feel very sad that she’s not here to see what I’ve done.

Have you worked with books before? If not, how was the experience for you?

I’m not an illustrator, so this way of working on a brief was new to me. Happily, I was given great freedom and some ‘artistic licence’. In fact, I did several more illustrations than were originally required.

I had previously done some small monochrome illustrations for a children’s book of poems by Carol Ann Duffy in 1995, with a full-colour front cover. That was the only other illustration project.

(read the full interview at Creative Boom)

Fairy Tale Day 2021: short stories from Grimm to Angela Carter

Delve back into your childhood or discover a brand-new book with our selection of tomes

(from the Independent)

Whether it was through stories read to us at bedtime or from a classic Disney film we watched a thousand times, everyone has a favourite fairy tale.

Perhaps it’s Cinderella, with her magical glass slippers, or Hansel and Gretel’s run-in with a cannibalistic witch and her house made of sweets, or maybe you loved it when Little Red Riding Hood bested the big bad wolf?

For thousands of years, fairy tales have been passed down from generation to generation. They’ve been danced to, sung about or in the case of any Disney blockbuster, turned into multimillion dollar films.

While many came about simply because there wasn’t much as to do, just as many were made up in order to force naughty children to behave (admit it, you were terrified of being turned into a pie when you were young!).

In honour of National Tell A Fairy Tale Day (26 February) we’ve reviewed some of the best fairy tale collections on bookshelves right now so you can delve back into your childhood or discover a brand-new story.

We looked for tomes that included a wide variety of tales and particularly focused on collections that included stories from around the world and that are often overlooked. We’ve tried to find books that have something for all ages as well. Finally, these books had to be beautifully designed.

It’s time to pull out a blanket and snuggle up with tales of princes and princesses, magical creatures, evil villains and worlds plucked straight for our imaginations.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

‘Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales’ by Angela Carter, published by Virago

It wouldn’t be a round-up if we didn’t mention something the queen of feminist fairy tales herself, Angela Carter. Of course you’ll have likely heard ofThe Bloody Chamber (which we decided not to include here as it’s so well known), but another wonderful offering from the author is Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales. This collection features tales about all sorts of women, from crafty deviants to maidens who aren’t quite damsels-in-distress, and compiles stories from all parts of the globe.

The book itself, which is beautifully illustrated with woodcuts created by Corinna Sargood, has been split up into 13 sections that deal with certain themes: “Good girls and where it gets them”; “Married women”; and “Clever women, resourceful girls and desperate stratagems” are a few. These tales are often gory and include a lot of adult humour – it’s probably best to not give this to anyone younger than 13 years old.

Why we are living in ‘Gothic times’

“We live in Gothic times,” declared Angela Carter back in 1974. It’s a theme Carlos Ruiz Zafón took up several decades later: “Ours is a time with a dark heart, ripe for the noir, the gothic and the baroque”, he wrote in 2010. Both authors had good reason. The Gothic has always been about far more than heroines in Victorian nightgowns, trapped in labyrinthine ancestral homes, and along with the supernatural, its imaginings probe power dynamics and boundaries, delving deep into disorder and duality.

If the 1970s (think the oil crisis, Watergate, a spike in “skyjackings”) primed readers to be receptive to such elements, it was a decade destined to be far outdone by the start of the 21st Century in terms of horror and upheaval (9/11, the global financial crisis, an intensified fear of climate apocalypse). The world seems to have grown only more uncertain in the years since, and it’s certainly tough to rival the age of Covid for gothic motifs made manifest. Claustrophobia? Try successive lockdowns spent working, learning, and socialising from home. Isolation? Ditto. Fear of a past that can’t be exorcised? Sounds a lot like “long Covid”.

Gothic literature is as long-lived as any curse or fanged anti-hero. Two-and-a-half centuries have passed since it was born into a Britain on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution’s wrenching change, and while the genre has never really left Western culture, there’s no doubting that this is boomtime for narratives that dare to peer into the darkest corners. As Stephen King puts it, in words crying out for a gothic font, “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.” So, no, that sound you hear isn’t some heavy-footed ghoul advancing up the stairs, it’s the thud of new Gothic-inflected tomes hitting the shelves by the dozen, and if most were written pre-pandemic, their themes and imagery nevertheless speak to us with eerie clarity in the present moment.

In coming months, fans can visit a castle-turned-girls’ boarding school that harbours tenebrous secrets in Phoebe Wynne’s Madam (Quercus), reimagine the life of Pride and Prejudice’s Miss Anne de Bourgh in Molly Greeley’s The Heiress (Hodder & Stoughton), and learn about the true story of an engineer and a medium in Big Brother finalist AJ West’s debut, The Spirit Engineer (Duckworth). The past oozes into the present in AJ Elwood’s The Cottingley Cuckoo (Titan), based around the famous Cottingley fairy photograph hoax, while Lizzie Fry’s The Coven (Sphere) imagines a world in which witchcraft is real, and a demagogue US president is out to hunt down its practitioners.

Feeling pre-apocalyptic? Sue Rainsford describes the lives of twins holed up on an abandoned commune in Redder Days (Doubleday). Want a horror hybrid? Catriona Ward’s twisty The Last House on Needless Street (Viper) features a missing child and a woman out for revenge. Meanwhile, in The Deception of Harriet Fleet, Helen Scarlett (Quercus) adds feminist riffs to a Victorian narrative, Karen Coles’ The Asylum (Wellbeck) draws on family history to explore mental health mistreatment, and Edwardian West Yorkshire provides a tantalisingly lonely setting for Mrs England (Manilla Press), Stacey Halls’s account of control and deception.
(read the full article at BBC Culture)

The much-missed vitality of Angela Carter

Alice Vincent examines the author’s wild and tremendous legacy for Penguin Books

This week, Angela Carter would have turned 80. The author, known for novels such as Wise Children and collections of short stories including The Bloody Chamber and Fireworks, died in 1992, from lung cancer when she was 51. Carter’s work was dark and subversive, twisted and exploratory and weird. It was often termed ‘magical realism’, dealing as it did with fairy tales and anthropomorphism, inexplicable transformations between man and beast and strange, other metamorphoses. But Carter rejected that term, calling her writing ‘more realism than not.’

It’s curious to think of her being 80, a contemporary of those other grand, outspoken doyennes of literature – Toni Morrison, who died last year; Alice Munro; Margaret Atwood. One wonders if she would have a Twitter account, and what she would post on it. After all, Carter documented certain periods of her life meticulously. A letter-writer, she wrote them nearly every day while living in Japan, explaining in one of them that her ‘life had become like a cheap novel’.

Carter’s life was like something out of her books. Its documented best in The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography, written by Edmund Gordon in 2016, but a brief recap would touch upon a strange and cosseted childhood under a mother who was so protective she could barely go to the bathroom alone. Before she was out of her teens, Carter met her husband, a folk singer who gave her his surname. Within a decade, she used funds from a writing prize to abandon him and move to Tokyo, where she took in young-looking men and examined life by looking in lieu of understanding the language. It was this time, she wrote, that she started ‘my own questioning of the nature of my reality as a woman. How that social fiction of my “femininity” was created.’

‘I don’t think it is too much to say that the influence of The Bloody Chamber is everywhere now, especially in children’s fiction… If you ask me, the makers of Frozen should have put her name in the credits.’

Carter’s feminism is crucial to her legacy. She left the Seventies in a blazing, controversial trail of it, with both non-fiction work The Sadiean Woman and the Ideology of Pornography (hated by Andrea Dworkin and other second-wave feminists) and The Bloody Chamber (which became a near-instant set text).

‘Her feminism was actually much closer to that we see now than it was to many of her contemporaries,’ Gordon tells me. ‘She upset a lot of feminist writers. She didn’t believe that many differences between men and women were due to the biological fact of sexual differentiation, she thought they were societal impositions.’ I posit that her views would be intriguing in the current socio-political hot potato of trans rights, and Gordon agrees. ‘I suspect she would not agree with Germaine Greer currently.’

Gender was something that Carter made as slippery as the barriers between the real and the ethereal in her work. In The Passion of New Eve, her 1977 novel, a man becomes a woman in a dystopian America. In The Bloody Chamber, beasts are transformed into men by touch, and women into beasts by similar encounters.

‘Carter’s inversions of stories like Beauty and the Beast gave us a new folklore,’ Anne Enright tells me. The Irish author studied under Carter during her creative writing MA, but it was Carter’s books that inspired her to take the course ( ‘I have some paperbacks of Carter’s work on my shelves. When I check inside, I see that even my signature has changed – I was that young’).

‘I don’t think it is too much to say that the influence of The Bloody Chamber is everywhere now, especially in children’s fiction,’ she continues. ‘The victories of various princesses over the stupidities of their fathers and suitors were a commonplace in the picture books I read to my children, 15 years ago. They have gone altogether mainstream in the heroic princesses of Pixar and Disney. If you ask me, the makers of Frozen should have put her name in the credits.’

(read the full piece at Penguin Books)

The Little Peach

(from The Invention of Angela Carter by Edmund Gordon)

Angela Carter and her husband, Paul, flew to New York on July 29, 1969. They arrived in the aftermath of the Stonewall riots, when the city was fractious and twitchy in the midsummer heat. A few weeks earlier, the first American troops had withdrawn from Vietnam (an outcome Angela thought was “in human terms … the single most glorious event since the abolition of slavery”), but in August the headlines were dominated by gun battles between Black Panthers and police, the bombing of the Marine Midland building on Broadway by a radical left-wing activist, and the gruesome murders perpetrated by the Manson family in Los Angeles and the Zodiac Killer in San Francisco. Angela felt that the status quo “couldn’t hold on much longer. The war had been brought home.” She found Manhattan “a very, very strange and disturbing and unpleasant and violent and terrifying place … The number of people who offered to do me violence was extraordinary.” The trip was the basis for the Expressionist portrait of New York in her novel The Passion of New Eve—it’s depicted as a society in the last stages of moral and economic collapse—which she described as “only a very slightly exaggerated picture, not of how it was in New York but of how it felt that summer.” She met one of the models for Tristessa—the novel’s transvestite leading lady—in Max’s Kansas City, the legendary nightclub in the East Village where the house band was the Velvet Underground,and the clientele was composed largely of artists, writers and musicians, including such luminaries as Andy Warhol, William Burroughs, and Patti Smith.

Angela and Paul spent three days in the city before traveling by Greyhound bus through Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Angela wrote to her friend Carole Roffe: 

Riding the buses is weird, since one sees only the Other America—the poor people, spades, Mexies, mountain men & European tourists. Everyone else is in a car or plane. Eating at bus station cafes in strange dawns, each station identifiable only by the differing postcards in the stand & the sugar lollipops labelled A Present from Knoxville … Or Phoenix or Memphis depending on the town. Black girls twisting their hair into spikes & applying the de-kinking fluid as the bus roars at 70mph through a Mississippi night, a fanfare of electrographics heralds another city.

The rush of the prose suggests something of the disorientation produced by visiting eleven states in just over a month. She hardly had time to process her impressions of one before moving on to the next. In New England, they spent a few nights sleeping in a log cabin in a redwood forest. In Virginia, they stayed with a Scottish weaver who “brewed Typhoo tea while nibbling imported shortbread & sighing for black pudding as though it were the fruits of a lost Eden”. In Arizona (“the most beautiful, barren, wild place”), they passed a Comanche village, and through the bus window Angela watched a young boy throwing stones at a wasted Chevrolet—“the only glimpse I caught in all my travels in America of the vanishing American himself.” On the Berkeley campus of the University of California, “saffron-robed figures sang and danced ‘Hare Krishna,’ to my exquisite embarrassment, and everywhere they advertised burgers—hamburgers, bullburgers, broilerburgers, every kind of burger including Murphy’s Irish Shamrockburger.” She thought that America was “like a Godard movie, like all the Godard movies playing at once,” but also “a nation entirely without voluptuousness.” It was an ambivalence that stayed with her, though she returned to the country several times. At the very end of her life—having lived for periods in Texas, Iowa, Rhode Island, and New York State—she wrote: “I think of the United States with awe and sadness, that the country has never, ever quite reneged on the beautiful promise inscribed on the Statue of Liberty … and yet has fucked so much up.”

The only constant was her traveling companion. But Paul isn’t mentioned in either of the short pieces of journalism she wrote about the trip (for BBC Radio 3 and the Author), or in the journal entries she made while they were there, or even in her letters to Carole. It’s an eloquent omission, as her later descriptions of the journey make clear. The narrator of “The Quilt Maker” recalls traveling by bus around the USA, “somewhere along my thirtieth year,” in the company of “a man who was then my husband.” At the bus station in Houston, Texas, she asks him for money (“he used to carry about all our money for us because he did not trust me with it”) to buy a peach from a vending machine. There are two peaches available in separate compartments of the machine, and she selects the smaller one; he teases her about this instinctive self-denial. “If the man who was then my husband had not told me I was a fool to take the little peach,” she says, “then I would never have left him, for in truth, he was, in a manner of speaking, always the little peach to me.”

Even so, she hadn’t finally decided on leaving Paul when, on September 3, they boarded separate flights at San Francisco Airport. It’s clear from subsequent letters that they parted on good terms: there had been no dramatic bust-up, and the plan was still for her to return to Bristol in late October. Neither of them imagined that it would be their last moment together as a married couple.


“The Bloody Chamber” makes 100 Best Horror Books of All Time

Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is ranked number 25 in Reedsy’s 100 Best Horror Books of All Time

“Angela Carter is perhaps the preeminent magical realist writers of the twentieth century, female or male. The Bloody Chamber, a collection of darkly reimagined fairy tales and folktales, takes a distinctly feminist slant with its portrayal of female characters: many of the heroines in these stories save themselves, rather than waiting for a hero on a white horse. Of course, they have to go through some pretty scary stuff first. Horror lovers who also enjoy a bit of Holly Black or Marissa Meyer, this is unquestionably the collection for you.”

See the full list here.

Emma Rice brings “Wise Children” to Manchester.

Acclaimed director, Emma Rice is bringing her adaptation of Angela Carter’s 1991 novel to Manchester.

Wise Children is the first production from Emma’s new theatre company and will run for a week at HOME Theatre, Manchester from February 26 to Saturday March 2. For information or to book tickets, click here.

Wise Children



The play spans three generations as the twins tell the story of their lives up until their 75th birthday. The sisters live in Brixton, while their father who doesn’t recognise them lives in Chelsea. We caught up with Emma, the former artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, ahead of the show’s arrival in Manchester next week.

Emma said: “Everybody can relate to this, it’s about illegitimacy and legitimacy, privilege and poverty, family of choice vs family of blood – such universal things that we can really relate to. “It’s about getting older too – it’s got age and beauty.

“The power of theatre is allowing us to all inhabit these two women at all stages of their life.”

Each character is played by three different actors at each stage of their lives. Born in Brixton, the twins work as showgirls.

Emma said: “We go to Brighton comedians on the pier. We go to burlesque, and Shakespeare as well. It’s got high art, it’s got low art and lots of family secrets.”

Wise Children is the debut play for Emma’s new theatre company, which is also named Wise Children. Having studied acting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Emma went on to work as an actor for many years before moving into directing – working on various shows from small theatres to West End productions. In January 2016, Emma became the artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London; a position she held until April 2018. Emma tells us that audiences will see more of her in this production than you would see if you see her acting. Talking of her new theatre company, Emma said: “Wise Children is a love letter to theatre. The two words are perfect. I need to be really smart, use all the experience I’ve got to be clever and make this work for me. I also need to keep my innocence and joy. Great theatre is smart and silly.”

‘The Sadeian Woman’: How Angela Carter empowered her readers to embrace sexual liberation

The influence of the British author’s feminist reframing of pornography and women is demonstrated in a letter by performer and Drag King pioneer, Diane Torr.

This story begins with a serendipitous find at the British Library, during a research trip to examine the archives of writer Angela Carter. Carter’s correspondence attests to the friendships and literary connections that she formed during her life. But on that particular trip it was a single letter sent to Carter by performer, activist and Drag King pioneer Diane Torrthat caught my attention.

More than just fan mail, Torr’s six-page letter is a powerful narrative of her life, as well as fascinating evidence of how Carter’s work effectively empowered her readers. The letter begins:

I have been composing letters to you in my head since I first read your book The Sadeian Woman 2 years ago but now I really have to do it as I leave for England in a week & I was hoping to maybe have the opportunity to meet you. [sic]

Dated March 1, 1983, Torr’s letter, sent from Berlin, makes for arresting reading. Torr recounts her life as a temporary office employee struggling to make a living from her real craft, dance, and tells of how she moonlights as a go-go dancer to boost her earnings. What is most striking about the letter is its sense of urgency. Torr’s writing demands that her reader – Carter – bear witness to her life’s fight for recognition. The letter seems to have been written feverishly, in one sitting, with the ink changing colour mid-sentence about halfway through the pages.

Torr tells of how the writer’s 1978 polemic The Sadeian Woman allowed her to reconcile the different aspects of her life: her position of subjugation in the office, her desire to be a performer recognised for her skills, and her nightly transformation into the object of male sexual desire. As Torr states:

By the time I had finished your book, I was really transformed – not exactly a Juliette, but I knew how to sell my body & at the same time how to maintain a sense of my own subjective reality within each strange place I would travel to.

(read the full article at

The draft typescript of The Sadeian Woman is available to read at the British Library Website.