My Before and After Over a period of almost 20 years leading up to her death, Angela Carter wrote or published four volumes of short stories (this collection, the last, was published posthumously in 1993, a year after her death). Impressions on Various Narrative Vehicles In this, the fourth volume, she advanced even further, by inventing narratives and placing them in more recent or newly appropriated literary structures: Lizzies Tiger (a prequel to The Fall River Axe Murders); John Fords Tis Pity Shes a Whore" (a Jacobean tragedy reconceived as a western film); Gun for the Devil (a western genre novel/story set in Vienna and a Mexican border town); The Merchant of Shadows (a film students research into a film director and his lead actress widow that reads like (and could almost have become) a film noir murder mystery); The Ghost Ships (a Christmas story that is more pagan than Christian); In Pantoland (a fictionalised thesis on the sexual innuendo and explicitness of pantomime that reflects anthropological, carnivalesque and feminist interests); Ashputtle (or The Mothers Ghost)" (three investigations into the mutilation of children); Alice in Prague (a Freudian casebook inspired by an animated film made in "an age in love with wonders": "there's a theory, one I find persuasive, that the quest for knowledge is, at bottom, the search for the answer to the question: 'Where was I before I was born?'"); Impressions: The Wrightsman Magdalene (impressions on the portrayal of Mary Magdalene over time, including Georges De La Tours The Magdalen with the Smoking Flame): Superficially, In Pantoland gives the impression that it's an unfinished sketch containing Carters notes to herself about the subject matter and style of her piece. Later on, though, when Annie-Belle discovers she is pregnant, she confesses: "Oh, Johnny, you knowed we did wrong." Banned Daemonology In "Gun for the Devil", Carter contrasts the old and new worlds: "Out of the sandstorms, hallucinatory figures emerge and merge, figures of demons or gods not necessarily those of Europe. Dream, That Uncensorable State The next story pits the liberty of the imagination against the constraints of Puritanism, as personalised by Cotton Mather: "The greatest genius of the Puritans lay in their ability to sniff out a pagan survival in, say, the custom of decorating a house with holly for the festive season; they were the stuff of which social anthropologists would be made! The master of these revels was the Lord of Misrule himself, the clown prince of Old Christmas..."He is mirth, anarchy and terror...During the twelve days of Christmas, nothing is forbidden, everything is forgiven...The Romans called it Saturnalia, when all was topsy-turvy...A merry Christmas is Cotton Mather's worst nightmare." The Infinite Riches of a Dirty Mind Angela Carter deconstructs the commercial and cultural aspirations of Disneyland in "In Pantoland". That is, everyday discourse which has been dipped in the infinite riches of a dirty mind...Filthy work, but somebody has to do it...Saturnalia, the topsy-turvy time, 'the Liberties of December', when master swapped places with slave and anything could happen..." She then investigates the role that women play in Pantoland, "this rude femaleness...flirting, flattering, fluttering...in the most salacious manner...I have come back to earth and I feel randy!" Then she recognises, "As Umberto Eco once said, 'An everlasting carnival does not work.' You can't keep it up, you know; nobody ever could. Masters were masters again the day after Saturnalia ended; after the holiday from gender, it was back to the old grind..." Angela Carter's short stories are truly excessive (they question and transcend social and literary boundaries), even transgressive, without being merely long and verbose. SOUNDTRACK: (view spoiler) Cotton Mather - "My Before and After" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRlBO... Prince - "Dirty Mind" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3GPP...
(Yes, I thought I could tell here and there--a word repetition, maybe a line that could have been cut--despite her rather florid use of language she seldom has a hair out of place, to coin a metaphor.) This collection lacks the intertwining of themes and images that makes The Bloody Chamber so amazing and, I must say, a tad of the raw force of the best stories of Venus. Below are the updates--a few notes on individual stories of the latter half of the collection. "Ashputtle." A tad schematic, of course--but a nice insight into how Carter twists fairy tales (like those in The Bloody Chamber) into so many beautiful shapes in her imagination. Angela Carter could write nonsense but the images and luscious cadence of the syntax would still be better 'n most.
Part Two, however, contains what I would call five short essays rather than stories - essays in which she attempts to turn on their head various (mainly) old world fairy tale legends (the last work being an essay assaying a painting of Mary Magdalene, with characteristic unconventional insights).
American Ghosts And Old World Wonders (1993) is a strangely mixed bag - compared to the equally strange yet more uniformly excellent Black Venus (1985), aka Saints And Strangers. The best of them - Lizzie's Tiger, John Fords Tis Pity Shes a Whore and The Ghost Ships stand far apart from the others, although, having now finished the collection, Gun for the Devil sticks in the mind in an unsavoury yet Clint Eastwood Pale Rider kind-of-way, and The Merchant of Shadows feels like a cross between Kerouac and Hemingway, but a tale I would be glad to drive away from, with its double-crossing stars. Wonderful stuff, to mix the two media, the two forms, and tell a tale of tragic love as wrenching as Romeo And Juliet. Gun For The Devil - 6.7 A seedy tale of revenge in a lost niche of the world nobody wants to live in - so why do they go to live there? Impressions: The Wrightsman Magdalene - 7.47 Carter's tale of the three Mary's is inspired by Georges de La Tour (1593-1652), a French Baroque painter, who painted mostly religious chiaroscuro scenes lit by candlelight, and Donatello's Magdalene Penitent.
In 1969 Angela Carter used the proceeds of her Somerset Maugham Award to leave her husband and relocate for two years to Tokyo, Japan, where she claims in Nothing Sacred (1982) 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 a collection of short stories, Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces (1974), and evidence of her experiences in Japan can also be seen in The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972). As well as being a prolific writer of fiction, Carter contributed many articles to The Guardian, The Independent and New Statesman, collected in Shaking a Leg. She adapted a number of her short stories for radio and wrote two original radio dramas on Richard Dadd and Ronald Firbank. She was actively involved in both film adaptations, her screenplays are published in the collected dramatic writings, The Curious Room, together with her radio scripts, a libretto for an opera of Virginia Wolf's Orlando, an unproduced screenplay entitled The Christchurch Murders (based on the same true story as Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures) and other works. At the time of her death, Carter was embarking on a sequel to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre based on the later life of Jane's stepdaughter, Adèle Varens.