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Authors: Angela Carter

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Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories

BOOK: Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories
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Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Books USA Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road,
Auckland 10, New
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England
First published in Great Britain by Chatto
Windus Limited 1995
First published in the United States of America by
Henry Holt and Company, Inc. 1996
Published in Penguin Books 1997
1 3 5 7 9 10
Copyright © The Estate of Angela Carter, 1995
Introduction copyright © Salman Rushdie, 1995
All rights reserved
Black Venus
was first published in the United States of America under the title
Saints and Strangers
and is used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.

Copyright © Angela Carter 1985, 1986.
Salman Rushdie’s introduction is reprinted by permission of The Wylie Agency, Inc.

Carter, Angela, 1940-1992.
Burning your boats: the collected short stories/Angela Carter; with an introduction by Salman Rushdie.
p. cm.
“A John Macrae book.”
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 0-8050-4462-0 (hc.)
ISBN 0 14 02.5528 1 (pbk.)
I. Title. PR6053.A73B87 1996 95-26312 823’.914-dc20
Printed in the United States of America
Set in Sabon

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.


The last time I visited Angela Carter, a few weeks before she died, she had insisted on dressing for tea, in spite of being in considerable pain. She sat bright-eyed and erect, head cocked like a parrot’s, lips satirically pursed, and got down to the serious teatime business of giving and receiving the latest dirt: sharp, foulmouthed, passionate.

That is what she was like: spikily outspoken—once, after I’d come to the end of a relationship of which she had not approved, she telephoned me to say, “
You’re going to be seeing a
more of me from now on”—and at the same time courteous enough to overcome mortal suffering for the gentility of a formal afternoon tea.

Death genuinely pissed Angela off, but she had one consolation. She had taken out an “immense” life insurance policy shortly before the cancer struck. The prospect of the insurers being obliged, after receiving so few payments, to hand out a fortune to “her boys” (her husband, Mark, and her son, Alexander) delighted her greatly, and inspired a great gloating black-comedy aria at which it was impossible not to laugh.

She planned her funeral carefully. My instructions were to read Marvell’s poem
On a Drop of Dew.
This was a surprise. The Angela Carter I knew had always been the most scatologically irreligious, merrily godless of women; yet she wanted Marvell’s meditation on the immortal soul—“that Drop, that Ray / Of the clear Fountain of Eternal Day”—spoken over her dead body. Was this a last, surrealist joke, of the “thank God, I die an atheist” variety, or an obeisance to the metaphysician Marvell’s high symbolic language from a writer whose own favoured language was also pitched high, and replete with symbols? It should be noted that no divinity makes an appearance in Marvell’s poem, except for “th’ Almighty Sun”. Perhaps Angela, always a giver of light, was asking us, at the end, to imagine her dissolving into the “glories” of that greater light: the artist becoming a part, simply, of art.

She was too individual, too fierce a writer to dissolve easily, however: by turns formal and outrageous, exotic and demotic, exquisite and coarse, precious and raunchy, fabulist and socialist, purple and black. Her novels are like nobody else’s, from the transsexual coloratura of
The Passion of New Eve
to the music-hall knees-up of
Wise Children;
but the best of her, I think, is in her stories. Sometimes, at novel length, the distinctive Carter voice, those smoky, opium-eater’s cadences interrupted by harsh or comic discords, that moonstone-and-rhinestone mix of opulence and flim-flam, can be exhausting. In her stories, she can dazzle and swoop, and quit while she’s ahead.

Carter arrived almost fully formed; her early story, “A Very, Very Great Lady and Her Son at Home”, is already replete with Carterian motifs. Here is the love of the gothic, of lush language and high culture; but also of low stinks—falling rose-petals that sound like pigeon’s farts, and a father who smells of horse dung, and bowels that are “great levellers”. Here is the self as performance: perfumed, decadent, languorous, erotic, perverse; very like the winged woman, Fevvers, heroine of her penultimate novel
Nights at the Circus.

Another early story, “A Victorian Fable”, announces her addiction to all the arcana of language. This extraordinary text, half-
Pale Fire,
exhumes the past by exhuming its dead words:

In every snickert and ginnel, bone-grubbers, rufflers, shivering-jemmies, anglers, clapperdogeons, peterers, sneeze-lurkers and Whip Jacks with their morts, out of the picaroon, fox and flim and ogle.

Be advised, these early stories say: this writer is no meat-and-potatoes hack; she is a rocket, a Catherine Wheel. She will call her first collection

Several of the
stories deal with Japan, a country whose tea-ceremony formality and dark eroticism bruised and challenged Carter’s imagination. In “A Souvenir of Japan” she arranges polished images of that country before us. “The Story of Momotaro, who was born from a peach.” “Mirrors make a room uncosy.” Her narrator presents her Japanese lover to us as a sex object, complete with bee-stung lips. “I should like to have had him embalmed … so that I could watch him all the time and he would not have been able to get away from me.” The lover is, at least, beautiful; the narrator’s view of her big-boned self, as seen in a mirror, is distinctly uncosy. “In the department store there was a rack of dresses labelled: ‘For Young and Cute Girls Only’. When I looked at them, I felt as gross as Glumdalclitch.” In “Flesh and the Mirror” the exquisite, erotic atmosphere thickens, approaching pastiche—for Japanese literature has specialised rather in these heated sexual perversities—except when it is cut through sharply by Carter’s constant self-awareness. (“Hadn’t I gone eight thousand miles to find a climate with enough anguish and hysteria in it to satisfy me?” her narrator asks; as, in “The Smile of Winter”, another unnamed narrator admonishes us: “Do not think I do not realize what I am doing,” and then analyses her story with a perspicacity that rescues—brings to life—what might otherwise have been a static piece of mood-music. Carter’s cold-water douches of intelligence often come to the rescue of her fancy, when it runs too wild.)

In the non-Japanese stories Carter enters, for the first time, the fable-world which she will make her own. A brother and sister are lost in a sensual, malevolent forest, whose trees have breasts, and bite, and where the apple-tree of knowledge teaches not good and evil, but incestuous sexuality. Incest—a recurring Carter subject—crops up again in “The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter”, a tale set in the kind of bleak upland village which is perhaps the quintessential Carter location—one of those villages where, as she says in the
Bloody Chamber
story “The Werewolf”, “they have cold weather, they have cold hearts”. Wolves howl around these Carter-country villages and there are many metamorphoses.

Carter’s other country is the fairground, the world of the gimcrack showman, the hypnotist, the trickster, the puppeteer. “The Loves of Lady Purple” takes her closed circus-world to yet another mountainous, Middle-European village where suicides are treated like vampires (wreaths of garlic, stakes through the heart) while real warlocks “practised rites of immemorial beastliness in the forests”. As in all Carter’s fairground stories, “the grotesque is the order of the day”. Lady Purple, the dominatrix marionette, is a moralist’s warning—beginning as a whore, she turns into a puppet because she is “pulled only by the strings of Lust”. She is a female, sexy and lethal rewrite of Pinocchio, and, along with the metamorphic cat-woman in “Master”, one of the many dark (and fair) ladies with “unappeasable appetites” to whom Angela Carter is so partial. In her second collection,
The Bloody Chamber,
these riot ladies inherit her fictional earth.

The Bloody Chamber
is Carter’s masterwork: the book in which her high, perfervid mode is perfectly married to her stories’ needs. (For the best of the low, demotic Carter, read
Wise Children;
but in spite of all the oo-er-guv, brush-up-your-Shakespeare comedy of that last novel,
The Bloody Chamber
is the likeliest of her works to endure.)

The novella-length title story, or overture, begins as classic
grand guignol:
an innocent bride, a much-married millionaire husband, a lonely castle stood upon a melting shore, a secret room containing horrors. The helpless girl and the civilised, decadent, murderous man: Carter’s first variation on the theme of Beauty and the Beast. There is a feminist twist: instead of the weak father to save whom, in the fairy tale, Beauty agrees to go to the Beast, we are given, here, an indomitable mother rushing to her daughter’s rescue.

It is Carter’s genius, in this collection, to make the fable of Beauty and the Beast a metaphor for all the myriad yearnings and dangers of sexual relations. Now it is the Beauty who is the stronger, now the Beast. In “The Courtship of Mr Lyon” it is for the Beauty to save the Beast’s life, while in “The Tiger’s Bride”, Beauty will be erotically transformed into an exquisite animal herself: “… each stroke of his tongue ripped off skin after skin, all the skins of a life in the world, and left behind a nascent patina of hairs. My earrings turned back to water … I shrugged the drops off my beautiful fur.” As though her whole body were being deflowered and so metamorphosing into a new instrument of desire, allowing her admission to a new (“animal” in the sense of
as well as
world. In “The Erl-King”, however, Beauty and the Beast will not be reconciled. Here there is neither healing, nor submission, but revenge.

BOOK: Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories
10.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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