‘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 Scroll.in)

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