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The Invention of Angela Carter

A Biography
Edmund Gordon
Publisher
Chatto & Windus
Price
£25.00
ISBN
9780701187552


EXTRACT COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL

From the Introduction

At the end of November 1991 - when she had stopped receiving treatment for the tumours that had advanced like 'tiny Rottweilers' across her lungs and onto her lymph nodes - Angela Carter was approached to be the sub­ject of a film for Omnibus, the BBC's flagship arts series. T should stress', wrote the producer, Kim Evans, 'that collaboration could take one of several forms - the most important thing is for you to choose the one you feel happiest with . . . The extent of the collaboration is really up to you.'

Angela no longer had the strength of a healthy fifty-one-year-old. She was often short of breath, and was becoming increasingly housebound as the cancer progressed. But here was a chance to take stock of her life and work, to represent herself to posterity, and specifically (as she told her nurse) to record something that her eight-year-old son, Alexander, might view in later years. She agreed to be interviewed for the programme, but explained that due to the severity of her illness, Evans's suggestion of filming 'either in spring or summer' wasn't going to be possible: there was no time to lose.

The production team arrived at her south London home on the morn­ing of 16 January 1992, and stayed for most of the day. They had to keep breaking so that Angela could rest. In the days that followed, though, she continued to channel her diminished energies into the project. She wrote Evans a flurry of notes, making requests and offering suggestions about almost every aspect of the production, from the music (she proposed the Goldberg Variations) to the visual effects ('might we be able to matte "C[ompany] of Wfolves]" [for which she had co-written the script] onto the Granada screen?'). At around the same time, she was planning her funeral in meticulous detail, selecting readings (from her own and others' work) and pieces of music that she felt reflected aspects of her character. 'A funeral', she had written almost a decade earlier, 'is no longer an invita­tion to share a common distress at the ubiquitousness of mortality': both the service and the film were opportunities to affirm her individuality. The need to do this had been with her since childhood. 'I always thought that she knew who she was,' said her friend and fellow novelist Salman Rushdie. 'She knew that she was Angela Carter. But she wouldn't have minded a few other people knowing.'

She died exactly a month after recording the interview. By the time the film was broadcast, in September, Angela Carter was a household name. Her obituaries in the British press received more space than any others published that year except those of Francis Bacon, Willy Brandt and Marlene Dietrich. Their tone was rhapsodic. 'Angela Carter . . . was one of the most impor­tant writers at work in the English language.' 'She interpreted the times for us with unrivalled penetration.' 'Her imagination was one of the most dazzling of this century.' Three days after she died, Virago (the publishing house with which her name was most closely associated) sold out of her books. Over the course of the next academic year, the British Academy received forty proposals for doctoral research into her work - compared to three on the whole of the eighteenth century.

Her long-term admirers regarded this sudden outpouring of acclaim -which was on a different scale to anything she had previously received - with a touch of exasperation. For more than twenty-five years, Angela Carter had been producing novels, short stories and journalism that stood defiantly apart from the work of her contemporaries. At a time when English litera­ture was dominated by sober social realists, she played with disreputable genres — Gothic horror, science fiction, fairy tale — and gave free rein to the fantastic and the surreal. Her work is by turns funny, sexy, frightening and brutal, but it's always shaped by a keen, subversive intelligence and a style of luxuriant beauty. She was concerned with unpicking the mythic roles and structures that underwrite our existences - in particular the vari­ous myths of gender identity - and during the last decade of her life she was beginning to emerge as a feminist icon. But it was only now, when her voice had been silenced, that her genius became widely acknowledged.