And we're done! Thanks for all your questions
Edmund has to be off - a big thank you to him, for coming on and answering all our questions.
We hope you’ve all enjoyed reading Nights at the Circus this month on the Reading group - next Tuesday, we’ll discuss which book to read by Anthony Burgess, whose centenary falls this coming Sunday (25 February) – do join us!
How do you think The Bloody Chamber short stories relate to the novel of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley? Are Carter’s and Shelley’s motives similar?
'Her favourite authors included Borges, Melville, Dostoevsky, Emily Bronte, Joyce...'
The first two parts of Nights at the Circus are quite different in tone, but both reminded me first and foremost of her short stories (a good sign of a unique voice). The third part, full of disintegrating and disintegrated personalities, really surprised me however. It reminded me more than anything of Gravity’s Rainbow.
What do you think Carter’s biggest literary influences were, especially on that particular novel?
Whilst studying Angela Carter’s books in school, I came across an interview where she was very insistent her work not be labelled as ‘modern fairytales.’ Why do you think she felt they needed the distinction, considering The Bloody Chamber was clearly inspired by such tales?
How do you, and how did Carter herself, view the film adaptations of her work? I believe she was directly involved in the adaptations herself - did the finished products adequately realise her intentions?
Carter’s focalisations, the personæ of her fictions, started out with a run of several male narrators in her Bristol period works, a good few kidnapped and astray girls in the scary fairy tales, a male bureaucrat turned libertine, a boy-made-into a-manmade-girl, a winged woman and finally a lady much older than Carter ever got to be. Is there a section, or a paragraph, or a sentence, in her writing where you thought – ah, that’s Carter speaking as herself?
I remember one interview in the past where Angela Carter said she enjoyed cutting her small baby’s fingernails by biting them. This rather stuck in my memory. During your research, were there any odd facts that stuck in your memory?
'My favourite of her books is The Bloody Chamber'
I’ve meant to read Angela Carter for several years - after finding her quoted to great effect in Caroline Walker Bynum’s Metamorphosis and Identity. What’s the best story to begin with in your view?
Her libretto of ORLANDO for Glyndebourne was completed, correct? Is it conceivable that some enterprising composer could set it to music?
(You can read more about Carter’s libretto on the OUP blog - Carter was famously negative about Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, calling it “the apotheosis of brown-nosing”.)
I am currently writing an undergraduate dissertation locating Carter’s The Bloody Chamber in relation to 18th Century Conduct books and sentimental literature. Do you feel that The Bloody Chamber is a direct call for women to unapologetically ‘behave badly’, i.e to refuse to be passivity? Best wishes.
'She described Arthur C Clarke as "possibly the most boring man in the entire universe…"'
siancain has a question:
Did Carter read much science fiction? Did she ever see some of her writing coming under that term or did she veer towards the label speculative fiction more?
Firstly I was wondering if Carter knew that Wise Children would be her last novel? And if she did, isn’t it amazing that it’s such a wonderful Shakespearian whirligig, stuffed full of life, riotous, hilarious & heartbreaking zinger of a novel?! At the very least it should have been shortlisted for the Booker. I recall the disappointment at the time it was passed over. Do you think the Booker mattered to Carter? I know (as does Selina Scott) that she was a judge in 1983 when Coetzee won. Do you know if he was her choice?
(Rushdie was shortlisted for Shame; Coetzee won for Life & Times of Michael K)
Do you think Angela Carter critiqued magical realism as much as she embraced it? (I’m thinking especially of books like Dr Hoffmann... Oh and how comfortable was she with the magical realist tag?)
I fell in love with Angela Carter’s writing when I was in university and I read pretty much everything she wrote; I feel that now she has been almost forgotten. Magic realism, ornate language, and of course feminism have fallen out of fashion or been subject to a powerful backlash.
Do you agree that she has fallen out of favour? Are there any indications that there will be a renaissance of interest in her writing (apart from with your biography)? how are the cultural trends she was a part of still alive?
(The RWA Bristol exhibition is on until 19 March, if you are a big Carter fan or keen after reading Nights at the Circus with us).
'I think Angela Carter's work has survived - and should continue to survive - incredibly well'
In our discussions on Nights at the Circus there seems to have been a split between people who loved the novel unconditionally, and those who couldn’t get into it at all. Of the latter, some have said they found the style off-putting, while others have considered it too much “of its time”. Yet it seems to me that Carter’s fluid gender politics ought to be ideal for our times.
How do you think she’ll be seen by coming generations? And will she remain an acquired taste, or might her works “cross over” into more mainstream acceptance?
Hi Edmund! My partner has just bought The Invention of Angela Carter for me for Valentine’s day; I’m very much looking forward to tucking into it.
In Nights of the Circus, which we’ve just read, Carter’s interest in folklore, fairytale and myth is wedded to her feminism and interest in women. Judging by The Magic Toyshop, this was always a combination that factored into her work, and yet Carter herself claims to have had her awakening well afterwards, during her Japanese years.
Was Carter myth-making even her biography, or do you think her work from Love onwards has a marked shift in emphasis?
'Carter was not just one of the most intelligent English writers of the last century, but a human being of exceptional moral and personal courage'
How did you end up feeling about Carter? Anthony Burgess’s biographer famously found out that he despised his subject. Presumably you admired her as a writer before you started, how do you think you can disentangle that skein of regard and admiration to be objective about her?
(The Burgess biographer mentioned is Roger Lewis, if you’d like to read a review of that biography – Blake Morrison did not enjoy it.)
'Carter was furious about being overlooked by the Booker prize!'
I have seen it written that Nights at the Circus was Angela Carter’s attempt at a Booker. I was wondering, why do you think she never made it onto a short list for the prize, and was she upset at being overlooked?
How did AC decide the shifting levels horror/humour in her works? Instinctively or with planning?
'I'm proud of the book, but five years does seem to me to be an awfully long chunk of a life'
Our very own samjordison asks:
Having been hugely impressed with the book, I became jealously aware of your young (for a biographer!) age and that you had dedicated five years to writing about Angela Carter. Did you know at the outset that it would take so long? And how do you feel about the time spent on the book now?
'Her sequel to Jane Eyre would have been pretty damn wonderful.'
How wonderful would her proposed sequel to Jane Eyre have been?
Hello Edmund. What a treat for us. Congratulations on having written such an acclaimed book. Heard the Vintage podcast. Could I ask what drew you to write about Carter? Also in writing a biography how do you balance introducing new readers to an author against those who will really know her work? Thanks.
'Carter was vehement about overturning taboos relating to female sexuality – I can't shy away from that side of her life'
Hello Edmund, congratulations on writing such a wonderful book about Angela Carter. I look forward to your future books. I wondered how you approached writing about such a very private person in detail for public consumption and how difficult it was for you to demythologise a literary heroine? How did you decide what to leave in and what to discard?
You mention that you are her first official biographer and expect others will follow you? What aspects of her life have yet to be written about?
Nights at the Circus is the first of Angela Carter’s books that I have read. I particularly enjoyed the heroine Fevvers - was she a reflection of Carter’s own personality in any way?
Vasco Resende asks:
I am aware Angela Carter admired Anthony Burgess’s oeuvre and that he reciprocated with warm praise of her books. Do you know which Burgessian novels Carter loved most?
Edmund Gordon is with us now
Post your questions in the comments below! He’s with us for the next hour.
Join us at 1pm on Friday 24 February
Edmund Gordon, author of The Invention Of Angela Carter, A Biography will be joining us at 1pm GMT on Friday 24 February for a live Q&A.
Gordon spent five years writing the first major biography of Carter, making use of 30 years’ worth of journals and papers, not to mention countless interviews and published pieces. He received rapturous reviews for his pains. Here at the Guardian, Rosemary Hill called it a finely judged and elegantly written biography. The Independent’s Max Liu said the book “will fascinate” Carter’s admirers. In the Financial Times, Alexandra Harris described it as gripping, saying: “Gordon’s achievement is tremendous. From baroque entanglements of material and controversy, he brings living contours into view.”
What emerges is a portrait of a hugely important literary and cultural figure - and one who remains controversial and hard to place. Carter told all sorts of stories about herself, some more true than others. Her feminism, meanwhile, was always expressed with force, but rarely fitted comfortably into any pigeonhole. She could also be gloriously provocative. “I do not really write like a woman and some men may get upset,” she explained. Her opinions were also often nuanced and complex. This is, after all, someone who wrote a book intending to give “the old monster” the Marquis de Sade “his due” for placing “pornography at the service of women”.
There’s lots to discuss, in other words. Carter is also a writer who seems just now to be – as Rosemary Hill says – “on the wing of posterity”. Hill adds that “it will take another generation to see her ‘in the round’ and other biographies will appear; but they will not supplant this one, which has the irreplaceable imprint of a life still warm to the touch of memory”.
So we are lucky to be able to ask questions of its author. Edmund Gordon will be here at 1pm on Friday – but do please feel free to get your questions in early.