Angela Carter didn’t enjoy much of what she called ‘the pleasantest but most evanescent kind of fame, which is that during your own lifetime’. She was known and admired, but on nothing like the scale that has caused her to be described since her death in 1992 at the age of 51 as ‘one of the 20th century’s best writers’ and inspired Lambeth Council to name a street in Brixton after her. This posthumous enthusiasm is not the first major reassessment of a reputation that always had something of a switchback ride. Beginning well in the 1960s, Carter saw her status go, as she put it, ‘from being a very promising young writer to being completely ignored in two novels’. At this distance those novels, the dystopian fantasies Heroes and Villains and The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, as well as The Passion of New Eve which followed, may seem like excursions. Their successor, The Bloody Chamber, a collection of stories extrapolated from folk and fairy tales which appeared in 1979, not only restored her popularity but brought her to the wider audience her work still enjoys. It was arguably a return to the form that best suited her imagination, well described by Ian McEwan as both ‘fastidious and sensual’, by giving it constraints to work against.
LRB 10 May 2012 | PDF Download