Angela Carter's Book of Wayward Girls & Wicked Women – review

A collection of stories by and about women shows the whole spectrum of female experience

In this collection of 18 stories about women by women, Angela Carter familiarises us with the legion of 20th-century writers who, like her, portrayed feisty ladies. The title might be deemed a little negative, and Virago's claim that "all of [the stories] are about not being nice" is altogether unfair, for herein lies a set of protagonists who, to borrow Carter's words, share "a judicious use of their wits" and "a sense of self-esteem, however tattered". The book presents the reader with an array of forthright females, young and old, who range from precocious innocents and evaders of victimhood to dangerous seducers, divas and, sometimes, machiavellians. Carter doesn't just render stock naughty girls prospering; she shows a far wider spectrum of female experience.

Examples of the wicked are probably scarcer here than the wayward, which usually manifests itself as sharp defiance of the status quo. Take obstreperous Gloria, the unfortunate lesbian heroine in Rocky Gámez's piece from "The Gloria Stories", or Grace Paley's 14-year-old narrator, Josephine, in "A Woman Young and Old", determined to marry her crush, a corporal. There are, of course, more sinister manifestations of womanhood, notably Carter's own "sexually profligate" puppet in "The Loves of Lady Purple", characters from classic modernist short‑storytellers Katherine Mansfield and Djuna Barnes, and Jane Bowles's Latina anti-temptress in "A Guatemalan Idyll".

The anomaly here is New Yorker darling Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl", a mother's lecture on how to be a lady and not "the slut I know you are so bent on becoming". The (to our knowledge unerring) little girl is presumably being lectured as a preventive measure. Wicked, wayward or otherwise, Carter's classic collection is a very erudite expression of girl power and a good stockingfiller for girls or boys with a penchant for 'tude and sass.


Mina Holland

The GuardianTramp

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