FAIRY TALES GONE WILD: ANGELA CARTER’S REWRITING OF THE FAIRY TALE
BEHOLD! THE NEW WOMAN HAS HATCHED!
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In the tumultuous cultural context of the 20th century, one of the women writers who sought to recreate the distorted image of women living in patriarchal societies and to highlight their qualities and strengths was Angela Carter (1940-1992). She was a very prolific and chameleonic feminist writer and, from the multitude of her literary works, I have chosen to discuss two of her most significant works, the novel Nights at the Circus and the short-story collection The Bloody Chamber; after taking into account their most noteworthy traits, I have chosen the title Angela Carter: The Demythologizing Business for my dissertation paper.
Very few readers would consider Angela Carter a very successful business person; I, for one, wouldn’t. Nonetheless, what does she really imply when she states that she is into the “demythologizing business”? To begin with, the term “to demythologize” incurs the elimination of the mythical aspects from a piece of writing and the desired purpose is to reach a new and improved meaning. Angela Carter refreshes characters from mythology and folklore and gives them another personality, analyzes them from a feminist perspective. In an interview by Anna Katsavos, Angela Carter explains why she conducts this “demythologizing business”: Well, I’m basically trying to find out what certain configurations of imagery in our society, in our culture, really stand for, what they mean, underneath the kind of semi religious coating that makes people not particularly want to interfere with them.”
The reason for which I have chosen to deal with Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus and The Bloody Chamber is that I have always been fascinated by the ways I which fairy tales have been embraced by all the cultures over the centuries; I was also interested in the way in which their morals have been passed on from generation to generation and their truth value has never been questioned. Moreover, I was amazed by Angela Carter’s talent to rewrite these adored fairy tales and I wanted to find out how these rewritten tales are capable of conveying a new message by means of the dramatically revised characters’ voices.
Angela Carter’s readers are, at first, baffled by her style of writing and of recreating characters from classical tales because she fully exploits her vivid imagination so as to be able to transmit her desired message. Not only does she recreate well-known protagonists from folklore tales, but she also places them in highly uncanny situations, thus confusing her avid readers. Throughout the three chapters of my dissertation paper I wanted to find out the reason why Angela Carter uses powerful and shocking images, outlandish characters and the unexpected relationships that occur between them all located in carnivalesque sceneries. Moreover, I needed to draw a conclusion in respect to the coda of these works, as well as to which regards the purpose of the new roles assumed by the characters. In order to achieve my goal, I used several approaches, among which a feminist, a sociological and a structuralist approach by means of which I managed to explain the manner in which the works’ messages can be easily understood if outrageous and controversial images are employed.
The first chapter, entitled Fairy tales gone wild: Angela Carter’s rewriting of the fairy tales, deals with the ways in which intertextuality is used in the process of deconstructing the fairy tales, the female characters and the male protagonists, the representatives of patriarchy. Moreover, I analyzed the significance of the new situations and characters that assume totally different roles than those in the fairy tales. The influence of Julia Kristeva is obvious in Carter’s works as she applied Kristeva’s theory of intertextuality, thoroughly explained in The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism:
The concept of intertextuality derived from the poststructuralist claim that signifiers refer always and only to other signifiers: that language can be transformed, translated, transferred, but never transcended. Words gain their meaning not by referring to some object present to the mind of the language user but from the never ending play of signification. To use the word 'love' is not to refer to some extra-linguistic biological or psychological object but, consciously or unconsciously, to join in a conversation that takes in the lays of the Troubadours, Shakespearean tragedy, romantic lyrics and the songs of the Beatles.
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