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Angela Carter is widely acknowledged as one of the most important and beguiling writers of the last century. Her work stands out for its bawdiness and linguistic zest, its hospitality to the fantastic and the absurd, and its extraordinary inventiveness and range. Her life was as modern and as unconventional as anything in her fiction. Born Angela Olive Stalker in Eastbourne Angela Carter is widely acknowledged as one of the most important and beguiling writers of the last century. Her work stands out for its bawdiness and linguistic zest, its hospitality to the fantastic and the absurd, and its extraordinary inventiveness and range. Her life was as modern and as unconventional as anything in her fiction. Born Angela Olive Stalker in Eastbourne in 1940, her story spans the latter half of the twentieth century. After escaping an oppressive childhood and a difficult early marriage, the success of her first novels enable the freedoms of travel – journeying across America in a Greyhound bus, and then on to Tokyo, where she lived for three transformative years – before settling in London to write her last, great novels, amid the joys of late motherhood and prestigious teaching posts abroad. By the time of her tragic and untimely death at the age of fifty-one, she was firmly established as an iconoclastic writer whose fearlessly original work had reinvigorated the literary landscape and inspired a new generation. This is the story of how Angela Carter invented herself – as a new kind of woman and a new kind of writer – and how she came to write such seductive works as The Bloody Chamber, Nights at the Circus and Wise Children. Edmund Gordon has followed in Carter’s footsteps to uncover a life rich in incident and adventure. With unrestricted access to her manuscripts, letters and journals, and informed by dozens of interviews with her friends and family, this major biography offers a definitive portrait of one of our most dazzling writers.


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Angela Carter is widely acknowledged as one of the most important and beguiling writers of the last century. Her work stands out for its bawdiness and linguistic zest, its hospitality to the fantastic and the absurd, and its extraordinary inventiveness and range. Her life was as modern and as unconventional as anything in her fiction. Born Angela Olive Stalker in Eastbourne Angela Carter is widely acknowledged as one of the most important and beguiling writers of the last century. Her work stands out for its bawdiness and linguistic zest, its hospitality to the fantastic and the absurd, and its extraordinary inventiveness and range. Her life was as modern and as unconventional as anything in her fiction. Born Angela Olive Stalker in Eastbourne in 1940, her story spans the latter half of the twentieth century. After escaping an oppressive childhood and a difficult early marriage, the success of her first novels enable the freedoms of travel – journeying across America in a Greyhound bus, and then on to Tokyo, where she lived for three transformative years – before settling in London to write her last, great novels, amid the joys of late motherhood and prestigious teaching posts abroad. By the time of her tragic and untimely death at the age of fifty-one, she was firmly established as an iconoclastic writer whose fearlessly original work had reinvigorated the literary landscape and inspired a new generation. This is the story of how Angela Carter invented herself – as a new kind of woman and a new kind of writer – and how she came to write such seductive works as The Bloody Chamber, Nights at the Circus and Wise Children. Edmund Gordon has followed in Carter’s footsteps to uncover a life rich in incident and adventure. With unrestricted access to her manuscripts, letters and journals, and informed by dozens of interviews with her friends and family, this major biography offers a definitive portrait of one of our most dazzling writers.

30 review for The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    'Why should anyone be interested in my boring, alienated, marginal, messy life?' Angela Carter, 1981 After her death in 1992 Angela Carter received the greatest acclaim of her career. It was like a long dormant volcano suddenly erupting. She was 'the benevolent white witch' of English letters, an 'oracle', a 'high sorceress', 'always on the verge of bestowing something - some talisman, some magic token you'd need to get through the dark forest, some verbal formula useful for opening of charmed do 'Why should anyone be interested in my boring, alienated, marginal, messy life?' Angela Carter, 1981 After her death in 1992 Angela Carter received the greatest acclaim of her career. It was like a long dormant volcano suddenly erupting. She was 'the benevolent white witch' of English letters, an 'oracle', a 'high sorceress', 'always on the verge of bestowing something - some talisman, some magic token you'd need to get through the dark forest, some verbal formula useful for opening of charmed doors.' Untangling Carter from these well-meaning nets is the burden of Edmund Gordon’s biography. It was Carter's burden too. For a writer who spent much ink telling us our sense of self is a performance, she suffered from chronic miscasting. During a party, an editor, fancying Carter as some kind of earth Mother, asked her to write something about the summer solstice. 'You just haven't got me, have you dear?' was Carter's withering reply. Carter tried on more roles than a modestly sized theatre company. Many came from the splits in her personality, rooted in her childhood. Carter idolised her Grandmother, a flinty matriarch who combined Yorkshire bluntness with an infinite store of superstitions. When Grandma was out of the picture, Carter's Mother doted on her obsessively, fretting over, feeding, and finally overfeeding her daughter. It was no small achievement to have a fat daughter when rationing was still in force. As with many British parents, stuffing children up with food was showing how much you loved them. Carter later shed five stone in almost as many months and became a borderline anorexic, causing Mother to smother her even more, prompting yet more rebellion. It perhaps explains why Britain's best-known feminist novelist wrote so few Mothers into her work. Carter worked hard, passing her 11-plus and netting a place at grammar school. An entire generation sprung from that much-derided institution - John Carey, Ted Hughes, William Golding, Alan Bennett, Tony Harrison. It was the first time, Carter believed, a genuine British intelligentsia had been created - 'a class of people who didn't believe they were born to rule, who had no stake in maintaining the class-bound structure of British society but who made their livings through dealing with ideas.' Unlike many Socialists before and since, she was not one for throwing the educational baby out with the bathwater. It seems likely a place at Oxford would have been hers. There was one problem. Mother proposed renting a flat to be near her, just to make sure she was ‘going about things properly.’ Marriage, Carter quickly saw, was the only escape route. Things get a bit thin at this point. We infer that Carter's first husband was a withdrawn, uncomplicated man, much prone to depressive spells. Gordon does not cast him as the domestic tyrant Carter sometimes did. It seems he didn't care much for arty endeavours or hangers-on. He also had the old-fashioned idea that whoever wasn't working should keep the house clean - or, at least, clean enough so guests couldn't write messages in the dust on the kitchen surface. Carter made a clean sweep by travelling to Japan. To her it was a place with first-world drive and third-world infrastructure. Sewers were primitive and laid a stink over the land thick as carpet. These chapters are by far the most satisfying part of the book, and rightly so. Japan charged Carter's intellect, and became the workshop where the best of her early work was made. Gordon has gathered much from two of her Japanese lovers. One was a virgin several years her junior, who made her feel like Humbert Humbert every time she took off his sturdy, sensible underpants. It was in Japan that the Angela Carter we know finally came to be. Although only a few years older than the Amis-McEwan generation, Carter was always regarded as a senior figure, and somehow easier to ignore. While she never grabbed the same attention or sales in her lifetime as her contemporaries, she rarely begrudged their success. Kazuo Ishiguro was one of Carter’s pupils, and made her beam with pride when he won the 1989 Booker Prize. There were a few exceptions, however. She never liked Ian McEwan, whose fiction, she said, never failed to make her joints stiffen. Carter didn’t seem to like American writers either. She detested Joan Didion, Philip Roth (‘boring') and delighted in running down Raymond Carver in front of her students. She also seems to have sincerely regarded Jean-Luc Godard films as some kind of cultural landmark. Carter’s fortunes improved in the 1980s. As much as she detested the Thatcher government, Carter was honest enough to note that she enjoyed her greatest success during its era, finally making real money from her work. Her 1984 novel Nights at the Circus, for many her best, provoked outrage when it failed to make the Booker shortlist that year. Luckily the novel went on to win the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and was later judged the best winner in the history of the award. We learn the novel wasn't shunned, as commonly supposed at the time, but was pushed by many of the Booker judges, including the chairman. It seems a pity that lively book failed where Anita Brookner's stupefyingly dull Hotel Du Lac triumphed. A pity, also, how Carter’s refusal to follow the party line also went largely unrecognised. In Britain, her publisher, Virago, was seen as a ghetto rather than a platform. In America, she was patronised for not being feminist enough, on the grounds she took a younger man as her common-law husband and bore him a son whilst in her forties. One of her wittiest books, The Sadeian Woman, about attitudes to pornography, still draws venomous remarks in some quarters. I remember reading it one balmy afternoon at Keele. A Canadian exchange student passed by, took one look at the cover, then stared at me as if I'd just set fire to her sister. Gordon is right to point out that The Bloody Chamber is her best work. Although other writers such as Robert Coover and Donald Barthelme explored the potential of fairy tales in their work, Carter wasn't merely following a trend. Fairy tales obsessed and influenced her right from the beginning. To read the stories in The Bloody Chamber is to watch a gifted, If wayward, writer come into her full fictional inheritance. If this reads like an interim biography (no input from the first husband or her students) this one will do well while we wait.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07x20bv Description: Edmund Gordon's illuminating biography about one of English literature's most inventive writers. This is the first authorised biography of Angela Carter since her death almost twenty five years ago. Edmund Gordon has interviewed close friends, collaborators, lovers and family members, and had access to her journals, letters and manuscripts and so created a vivid portrait of her unconventional and extraordinary life. Growing Up Bristol Japan Lo BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07x20bv Description: Edmund Gordon's illuminating biography about one of English literature's most inventive writers. This is the first authorised biography of Angela Carter since her death almost twenty five years ago. Edmund Gordon has interviewed close friends, collaborators, lovers and family members, and had access to her journals, letters and manuscripts and so created a vivid portrait of her unconventional and extraordinary life. Growing Up Bristol Japan Love Being Loved

  3. 5 out of 5

    Subashini

    I feel somewhat bereft that this is over. Gordon writes towards the end that writing this biography was a "strange and somewhat eerie process: a haunting, but there were times when I didn't know if the ghost was Angela, or me". I feel the that strange haunting; because this was a big book, and because I've gotten slower with my reading over the years, I set myself a deadline to finish by June 30, or else I know it would drag on forever, me wanting to drag out Angela Carter's story as long as I c I feel somewhat bereft that this is over. Gordon writes towards the end that writing this biography was a "strange and somewhat eerie process: a haunting, but there were times when I didn't know if the ghost was Angela, or me". I feel the that strange haunting; because this was a big book, and because I've gotten slower with my reading over the years, I set myself a deadline to finish by June 30, or else I know it would drag on forever, me wanting to drag out Angela Carter's story as long as I could. So I totally immersed myself in this book and nothing else for some days; even so, when I got towards the end and knew how it would end (she gets cancer, and her death follows pretty swiftly after the initial diagnosis), I was still surprised that Angela Carter had died. She had seemed so alive in my mind. Towards the end, as Angela stopped keeping a journal, Gordon's narrative starts to take on a slightly mechanical tone because she had settled into her life and was no longer fighting herself as much, and the accolades for her work were rolling in. He writes on the final page, "She's much too big for any single book to contain" and that's true. I would love to read a literary biography too, one that can dispense with having to lay out the chronology of a life, and focus totally on the aspects of life that went into her work. In Angela's own words (I keep referring to her as "Angela", like we're pals), "I think writing - or my kind of writing - is a process of self-analysis, of interpreting one's imagery and constantly mining inside oneself". Her imagery was so rich, varied, and complex. I'm hungry for more. My full review appears here: http://www.popmatters.com/review/the-...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    A little too much on her sex life, and not enough on her work for me, but as this is the only bio we have at present of this wonderful writer and wonderful human, it will have to do. Now go read her!

  5. 5 out of 5

    nastyako

    ‘what I do feel, really, is that I am a lot more ordinary than I thought. This probably only means I’ve come to terms with being peculiar; possibly, also, the time for existential leaps is over and I am myself, now.’ Edmund Gordon told his version of the story of Angela Carter's life & it was a wonderful read & I fell in love with this Angela. This is not the dry type of biography where the writer meticulously lists facts & what the weather was like & what health concerns his subjects had every d ‘what I do feel, really, is that I am a lot more ordinary than I thought. This probably only means I’ve come to terms with being peculiar; possibly, also, the time for existential leaps is over and I am myself, now.’ Edmund Gordon told his version of the story of Angela Carter's life & it was a wonderful read & I fell in love with this Angela. This is not the dry type of biography where the writer meticulously lists facts & what the weather was like & what health concerns his subjects had every day (looking at you, Anton Chekhov: A Life by Donald Rayfield) but showed us a warm funny human being behind the myth. This is a must read for anyone interested in Angela Carter. Her influence has been acknowledged by many of the outstanding writers in the generations following hers, including Jeanette Winterson, Ali Smith, Anne Enright, David Mitchell, Sarah Waters, China Miéville and Nicola Barker. Through the work of these authors, the spirit of Angela Carter – her stylistic brio and her intellectual sharpness, her indifference to realism and her fondness for pulp genres – lives on into the twenty-first century.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    I’m gutted that this is the only existing biography of the wonderful Angela Carter. Gordon navigates this virgin ground in an accessible and engaging manner with an excellent attention to detail. Whilst the sections of Carter’s childhood, early marriage and her experiences in Japan were nothing short of fascinating, the authority of the biography tails off in the final third. It loses momentum. The exhaustive relaying of sales figures, contracts, how much the foreign rights were sold for etc. wer I’m gutted that this is the only existing biography of the wonderful Angela Carter. Gordon navigates this virgin ground in an accessible and engaging manner with an excellent attention to detail. Whilst the sections of Carter’s childhood, early marriage and her experiences in Japan were nothing short of fascinating, the authority of the biography tails off in the final third. It loses momentum. The exhaustive relaying of sales figures, contracts, how much the foreign rights were sold for etc. were an absolute slog to get through. Although I accept that sensuality and sexuality are integral themes within Carter’s writing, there was a bit too much (at times invasive, I felt) insight into her sex life which did little to illuminate her works or later experiences. I would have appreciated more of a focus and critical commentary on her novels/short stories/journalism. Angela’s voice speaks with startling immediacy from her letters and journals, and Gordon takes pains to present his research with a cool non-bias. Her identity as a socialist and feminist shine through in addition to her wit and sharp humour. It makes me sad that Gordon had to explain how there had been upset that a man was to write the first Carter biography; Carter herself believed that gender was nothing more than a social construct. Those accusations were definitely unfounded; Gordon certainly respects Angela’s femininity and his biography is an excellent tribute to her.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    Both very readable and enlightening (how many great writers worked in a shop with five novels under their belt?), this isn't quite sure-footed enough for *****, but not all that far off.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week: Edmund Gordon's illuminating biography about one of English literature's most inventive writers. This is the first authorised biography of Angela Carter since her death almost twenty five years ago. Edmund Gordon has interviewed close friends, collaborators, lovers and family members, and had access to her journals, letters and manuscripts and so created a vivid portrait of her unconventional and extraordinary life. Read by Emma Fielding Abridged by Sara Davies P From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week: Edmund Gordon's illuminating biography about one of English literature's most inventive writers. This is the first authorised biography of Angela Carter since her death almost twenty five years ago. Edmund Gordon has interviewed close friends, collaborators, lovers and family members, and had access to her journals, letters and manuscripts and so created a vivid portrait of her unconventional and extraordinary life. Read by Emma Fielding Abridged by Sara Davies Produced by Elizabeth Allard. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07x20bv The Guardian: Angela Carter: Far from the fairytale

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kitzel

    The long awaited biography of my literary role model. I'm happy that Gordon chose to use a chronological narrative because that's exactly what was missing from the corpus about her so far. However, I'm waiting for the one writjng about Carter on her terms: the fantastical with a hint of Gonzo Journalism, fiction always on the premises, and filled with the sources of inspiration that Carter devoured. I'm waiting for that one. In the meanwhile, this one is good. Get to know Angela Carter. Read thi The long awaited biography of my literary role model. I'm happy that Gordon chose to use a chronological narrative because that's exactly what was missing from the corpus about her so far. However, I'm waiting for the one writjng about Carter on her terms: the fantastical with a hint of Gonzo Journalism, fiction always on the premises, and filled with the sources of inspiration that Carter devoured. I'm waiting for that one. In the meanwhile, this one is good. Get to know Angela Carter. Read this.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Wanda

    7 OCT 2016 - a recommendation through Laura. Thank you, Dear Friend. From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week: Edmund Gordon's illuminating biography about one of English literature's most inventive writers. This is the first authorised biography of Angela Carter since her death almost twenty five years ago. Edmund Gordon has interviewed close friends, collaborators, lovers and family members, and had access to her journals, letters and manuscripts and so created a vivid portrait of her unconventional 7 OCT 2016 - a recommendation through Laura. Thank you, Dear Friend. From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week: Edmund Gordon's illuminating biography about one of English literature's most inventive writers. This is the first authorised biography of Angela Carter since her death almost twenty five years ago. Edmund Gordon has interviewed close friends, collaborators, lovers and family members, and had access to her journals, letters and manuscripts and so created a vivid portrait of her unconventional and extraordinary life. Read by Emma Fielding Abridged by Sara Davies Produced by Elizabeth Allard. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07x20bv

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Oakes

    I know I'll be recommending this one. I'll be giving this book some thought for a couple of days, but I will be back with a post soon.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    It's always dangerous to read a biography (or watch a documentary) about one of your idols. For example, it took me several years to enjoy Chet Baker again after seeing "Let's Get Lost" – which obliterated the image I'd had of him as a golden crooner. A hundred pages into The Invention of Angela Carter I was afraid I'd end up disliking her too. Happily, I was wrong, possibly because I've never imagined her as a white witch or fairy godmother. I'd relished The Sadeian Woman and Expletives Deleted It's always dangerous to read a biography (or watch a documentary) about one of your idols. For example, it took me several years to enjoy Chet Baker again after seeing "Let's Get Lost" – which obliterated the image I'd had of him as a golden crooner. A hundred pages into The Invention of Angela Carter I was afraid I'd end up disliking her too. Happily, I was wrong, possibly because I've never imagined her as a white witch or fairy godmother. I'd relished The Sadeian Woman and Expletives Deleted, and the woman in Gordon's book is every bit the woman behind that voice: fiercely independent, savage and hilarious, no one's fool. Probably I was most shocked by her ex-lovers' comments on her hygiene, and then entertained as she merrily inflicted the same bad habits on her favorite characters. Ever since I read The Bloody Chamber in the early 80s, I've considered Carter nonpareil. No one will ever equal her wicked playful version of the famous tales. It's true, as Salman Rushdie writes in his introduction to Burning Your Boats, that Carter's high-wire act takes place over a swamp of preciousness, over quicksands of the arch and twee; and there's no denying that she sometimes falls off, no getting away from odd outbreaks of fol-de-rol, and some of her puddings are excessively egged … too much porphyry and lapis lazuli to please a certain sort of purist.That's the price of her exuberance; her genius. Right before Christmas I read most of these tales again, and they were as marvelous as ever, the best. My favorite passages focused on her years in Japan– the context for Fireworks and two of her most curious affairs. I was most impressed by how hard she worked at her writing. And (not surprisingly, somehow) how bravely she died. Like many of her readers who read her when, I've never reconciled myself to her loss. In his epilogue, Gordon acknowledges his awareness that "a number of my fellow Angela Carter fans have been disappointed to hear that the first biography was being written by a man." If that's true, it's silly and ungrateful. (Two of my favorite biographies – Sylvia Townsend Warner’s T. H. White: A Biography and Artemis Cooper's Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure – are lives of men written by women, and all the better for it.) For Edmund Gordon's work I have only appreciation.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Bill Hsu

    I'm enjoying the fascinating stories and perspectives so far. But not passages like this: This was the first time Angela had travelled alone, and the seething, neon-corrupted spectacle of Tokyo would have given even the most seasoned adventurer pause. No, it doesn't appear to be a quote from another source. There are also a number of gossip queen-style tangents, with tenuous connections to Carter's life. For example, we get over half a page (p. 294) on Harry Brewster, his accent, his skin (!), his I'm enjoying the fascinating stories and perspectives so far. But not passages like this: This was the first time Angela had travelled alone, and the seething, neon-corrupted spectacle of Tokyo would have given even the most seasoned adventurer pause. No, it doesn't appear to be a quote from another source. There are also a number of gossip queen-style tangents, with tenuous connections to Carter's life. For example, we get over half a page (p. 294) on Harry Brewster, his accent, his skin (!), his niece who was married to Bertolucci, etc. As far as I can tell, Brewster is not mentioned on any other page; p. 294 is the only entry for him in the index. His only connection with Carter seems to be his ownership of a converted monastery in Florence that Carter and her friend Lorna Sage used to stay at occasionally. I do agree with Edmund Gordon that Carter's life is too big for one book. But perhaps at least one of these books could be shorter. (So can this review, of course.) I'm also reading Douglas Crimp's chatty and gossipy Before Pictures, and not complaining as much about the gossip. But at least it's Crimp's autobiography, and the gossip is mostly about art and sex; maybe it's ok for me to be more forgiving.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    I don't normally cry at the end of biographies (even when the subject didn't live to a ripe old age), but I was quite devastated when I reached the final chapter, dealing with Carter's cancer and subsequent death at the age of 52. This excellent biography takes a generous and even-handed approach to Carter's life and work, succeeding in its aim to 'demythologise' Angela Carter and disrupt the image of her as a twinkly fairy godmother with witchy white hair. Although Gordon doesn't shy away from I don't normally cry at the end of biographies (even when the subject didn't live to a ripe old age), but I was quite devastated when I reached the final chapter, dealing with Carter's cancer and subsequent death at the age of 52. This excellent biography takes a generous and even-handed approach to Carter's life and work, succeeding in its aim to 'demythologise' Angela Carter and disrupt the image of her as a twinkly fairy godmother with witchy white hair. Although Gordon doesn't shy away from 'a few aspects - not all of them attractive' of Carter's character and behaviour, it's clear he holds her and her work in high esteem and treats his subject with fairness and great warmth.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Flawed, but valuable.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

    Excellent biography of Angela Carter and everything a biography should be – meticulously researched, comprehensive, clearly and accessibly written and thoroughly enjoyable.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Hunter

    Well researched and beautifully written.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week: Edmund Gordon's illuminating biography about one of English literature's most inventive writers. This is the first authorised biography of Angela Carter since her death almost twenty five years ago. Edmund Gordon has interviewed close friends, collaborators, lovers and family members, and had access to her journals, letters and manuscripts and so created a vivid portrait of her unconventional and extraordinary life. Read by Emma Fielding Abridged by Sara Davies P From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week: Edmund Gordon's illuminating biography about one of English literature's most inventive writers. This is the first authorised biography of Angela Carter since her death almost twenty five years ago. Edmund Gordon has interviewed close friends, collaborators, lovers and family members, and had access to her journals, letters and manuscripts and so created a vivid portrait of her unconventional and extraordinary life. Read by Emma Fielding Abridged by Sara Davies Produced by Elizabeth Allard. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07x20bv The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    For anyone with an interest in the life and works of Angela Carter, I recommend this book: interesting, engaging, well-written.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nike Sulway

    A comprehensive and astute biography of Angela Carter, which draws on a range of sources, including her journals, letters, interviews with her friends, family and professional associates, and travels to many of the places where she spent her life. Of course, it also makes explicit biographical links between her experiences and her (creative) works, sometimes with interesting results, and other times ... well, I think it's always a mistake to treat a writer's work as a concordance, seeking their A comprehensive and astute biography of Angela Carter, which draws on a range of sources, including her journals, letters, interviews with her friends, family and professional associates, and travels to many of the places where she spent her life. Of course, it also makes explicit biographical links between her experiences and her (creative) works, sometimes with interesting results, and other times ... well, I think it's always a mistake to treat a writer's work as a concordance, seeking their psychology in the work. It's there, but unravelling it from their ideas and critical commentary is, at best, a kind of reverse alchemy. The work is mostly a joy to read, blending commentary on the key works, including on their composition, publication and reception, with observations about her key relationships, including with herself. The one note I found ... grating? Was the biographer's apparent discomfort with Angela's relationship to feminism. Both her own identity as a feminist, and the ways in which her works have been and are received and discussed by feminist critics. At times, he seemed at pains to see her work 'rescued' from any association with feminist writing, criticism, or theory, asserting that she'd be loathe to see her work being taught at universities. An odd assertion, given that she studied at, and taught in, universities throughout her professional life. I would love to have seen Gordon grapple with this particular strong ambiguity in Angela's life and work: the love of ideas and intellect, and the persistent desire to be (or be seen as) an outside, an iconoclast. Overall, an excellent introduction to Angela's life and work, based on an enormous resource of materials, written in an approachable, clear style.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lee Kofman

    I felt that Gordon had a bit too much young writer’s admiration for his subject to portray Carter as a truly complex human (even though this was exactly the central mission of his book). Plus, I thought he pussyfooted too much around her relationships with people who are still alive, like her son. As a result, the depiction of Carter's last 15 years or so is quite flat and the tragedy of her illness and early death seem to be glossed over. Having said all this, there is lots to love about this b I felt that Gordon had a bit too much young writer’s admiration for his subject to portray Carter as a truly complex human (even though this was exactly the central mission of his book). Plus, I thought he pussyfooted too much around her relationships with people who are still alive, like her son. As a result, the depiction of Carter's last 15 years or so is quite flat and the tragedy of her illness and early death seem to be glossed over. Having said all this, there is lots to love about this book. I particularly enjoyed Gordon’s analysis of Carter’s works and his attention to her writing process. He is also good at giving socio-historical context to Carter’s life and work. The narrative of her life in Japan was quite gripping.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    Angela Carter is pretty high on my list of favorite authors, so I was delighted to see this book. Her stories refuse to fit neatly into any one genre; they have humor, magical realism, pure fantasy, literary fiction, grim fairy tales, and a lot more. She also wrote tons of journalism pieces, and had a huge volume of correspondence (which was one of the many sources Gordon mined). Her early novels are not much known these days, but her later ones- ‘Wise Children’ and ‘Nights at the Circus’- as we Angela Carter is pretty high on my list of favorite authors, so I was delighted to see this book. Her stories refuse to fit neatly into any one genre; they have humor, magical realism, pure fantasy, literary fiction, grim fairy tales, and a lot more. She also wrote tons of journalism pieces, and had a huge volume of correspondence (which was one of the many sources Gordon mined). Her early novels are not much known these days, but her later ones- ‘Wise Children’ and ‘Nights at the Circus’- as well as the reimagined fairy tales in ‘The Bloody Chamber’ sold well when published and are still popular now. Carter’s early life was suffocating. Her mother was controlling to the point of monomania. Angela was not allowed to use the bathroom alone until she was eleven, and her mother wanted to accompany her to college. The only way to escape perpetual childhood was to marry, which put her into a different type of prison. Her marriage to Paul Carter was happy at first; she loved him, and having her own house rather than being under her mother’s thumb made up for any number of faults. But as the years went on, and she wrote and went to college, holes appeared. Paul Carter seems to have suffered from depression, as well as wondering aloud why his wife couldn’t keep the house clean when she had plenty of time to read and write. When Angela won a writing prize that paid her to travel, she went to Japan by herself and the marriage soon ended. She had a couple of intense affairs while she was there, both with much younger men, and found herself perfectly capable of living on her own. Later, back in England again, she met Mark Pearce (again a younger man), a construction worker who fixed a plumbing problem for her. While not an ‘educated’ man, Pearce was far from stupid and their relationship lasted until her death. At 43, Angela gave birth to a son, Alex. Throughout this relationship, Angela continued to write ceaselessly, while Pearce went to college, tended to the house and Alex, started a pottery shop, became a teacher, and generally kept Angela’s life together. During this time, Angela was finally enjoying success and financial stability. Sadly, just when her life had all come together, she was diagnosed with lung cancer and died at 51. To say that Angela was an interesting person is an understatement. She didn’t put much stock in appearance or housekeeping, although her house was decorated like a bardo. Her many friends never knew what she would say next- just as she wrote what she thought without a filter, so did she speak. Her relationship with feminism was rocky; feminists liked her rewriting of fairy tales to have the female as the strong character, they were less than happy with ‘The Sadeian Woman’. She herself dealt with sexism all her working life; the financial details in Gordon’s book seem boring but they show in black and white how much less she was paid than male novelists of the time, who sold the same number of books as she did. The book was fascinating to me, but it’s not a fast read. Gordon quotes her friends, many of whom were still alive to interview, and had the resource of many of her letters. It’s dense with detail, a lot of it about her writing process and dealings with publishers and editors. Angela Carter, living in the time she did, had to invent herself as the old patterns for being a woman did not suit her, nor did the old patterns for writers to follow.

  23. 5 out of 5

    CaitlynK

    " 'I seem to be on a lot of people's mailing lists. I get a lot of stuff asking me to subscribe to anti-pornography groups, and others asking me to subscribe to pro-pornography groups, but very little actual pornography.' " Scrupulously researched and brilliantly executed, I'm not sure anyone could hope for a more sympathetic biographer than Gordon. This is a large book, but never unwieldy, and so engaging that it reads almost like fiction. And a sense of loss hangs about the last few chapters, a " 'I seem to be on a lot of people's mailing lists. I get a lot of stuff asking me to subscribe to anti-pornography groups, and others asking me to subscribe to pro-pornography groups, but very little actual pornography.' " Scrupulously researched and brilliantly executed, I'm not sure anyone could hope for a more sympathetic biographer than Gordon. This is a large book, but never unwieldy, and so engaging that it reads almost like fiction. And a sense of loss hangs about the last few chapters, as we're given tantalizing snippets of Carter's last outlines and proposals, a ghost of the hundreds of pages that aren't there. Carter herself is a vividly drawn blend of childhood insecurity, petty urges, creative discipline, and lifelong loyalty (continuing to support students for years after she'd taught them). She's a person, so full of faults, but also full of kindness: after she comes into some money, she withdraws a request for funds from the Arts Council (two members of which write grateful and "bewildered" letters of profound thanks); and she staunchly stands with Salman Rushdie during the general disavowal of his work in the aftermath of the fatwā. I certainly didn't always agree with her decisions or lines of thought, but I did understand her motives, and especially appreciated the excerpts of journal entries and letters provided here. One of the great things about this book (especially in the later chapters, when Carter has assimilated herself more with London's literary scene) was collecting mentioned authors for future reading. One particularly outstanding moment was when Carter goes to a meeting hosted by Antonia Fraser and Harold Pinter of My History fame. Also surprising was the number of places Carter lived in or had visited that I, too, had been to, and, most unexpected of all, that we had an actual person in common (I suppose I'll have to put more faith in the six degrees of separation from now on). Gordon's epilogue addresses some missing information, admitting to gaps but giving the reader a sense of how big, and where, those gaps are. He also makes a somewhat self-conscious concession to the fact that perhaps it might be disappointing to have the first exhaustive biography of an iconically feminist author written by a man, but makes the point that Carter herself believed gender was a construct.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    One of the first things to leap out at me from this book is how ridiculous it was that Angela Carter was called Angela Carter. She was born Stalker, and wouldn't that just have been a much better name for all those tales of wolves and witches? Even her mother's maiden name, Farthing, has something of the appropriate Dickensian, music hall sensibility. Instead, because of when she lived, the stolid and entirely inapt Carter from her rather deadening first husband. But then, in itself that's oddly One of the first things to leap out at me from this book is how ridiculous it was that Angela Carter was called Angela Carter. She was born Stalker, and wouldn't that just have been a much better name for all those tales of wolves and witches? Even her mother's maiden name, Farthing, has something of the appropriate Dickensian, music hall sensibility. Instead, because of when she lived, the stolid and entirely inapt Carter from her rather deadening first husband. But then, in itself that's oddly suitable, because she was such a historically contingent figure - an everyday daughter become wife on the old model, child of an overbearing mother escaping to the only slightly more congenial company of a man who expected the housework done. There were legions like her, and surely thousands more of them whose lives suddenly developed more options once the sixties and feminism started erratically opening new doors. But of course, only one of them who had all the other fascinations and backgrounds and talents in place to then blossom into Angela Carter. As the title suggests, part of the angle here is the way Carter constructed and reinvented herself, with various enlightenments - New Worlds, the surrealists, even feminism to an extent - each taken on board and then moved past. The same was true of friends sometimes, and certainly of lovers - it seems to be only in her second marriage and "her boys" that she finally found some release from the push and pull of engulfment and abandonment, mastery and submissiveness, and made more accommodation with the powerful libido that had previously proved such a troublesome companion. Gordon is happy to acknowledge and explore, more than to judge, the many times when Angela's own account of events may not quite match the documentary record. I especially liked how, when a particularly significant night is recounted with variation in both a letter and an autobiographical short story, he wisely notes that neither version should be considered any more or less valid than the other. On the other hand, he does betray occasional blind spots, as with the idea that if a story of her ancestry is untrue, Angela herself must have been the one to change it. Why couldn't it have been corrupted or embellished at an intermediate stage in family transmission? Similarly, he refers at one stage to the "characteristic exaggeration" that first husband Paul wanted Angela not to work, so instead she stayed home writing - when by Gordon's own account, in fact Paul wanted the exact opposite, which is hardly 'exaggeration'. Still, in so far as one reads a biography because it's the best available substitute for knowing the subject, this is undoubtedly a successful biography. It helps, of course, that the subject was such a keen correspondent and so often offered analysis of herself, or at least the self she was aiming to be: "I have a desire for sleaziness which I can never be bothered to put into practice", say. Or her criticism of the type of litfic she found so tedious as "'novels of personal experience divorced from public context', all too frequently featuring a charlady among the minor characters, but never written from her point of view". Describing the bawdy sensibility of her later work: "the English...either don't take sex seriously, or approach it as if it were Canterbury Cathedral on low Saturday". And isn't that still horribly true? For all that she already had a vexed relationship with literary prizes (her constant slighting by the Booker judges was itself responsible for the establishment of the Orange/Bailey's/whatever prize), I really dread to think what she would have made of that sad, sniggering enterprise the Bad Sex Award. But for all that she's practically canonical now ("Angela Carter's elevation to great author status began the morning after she died", says Gordon, which isn't entirely fair but also not entirely unfair), there remains a certain reluctance to engage with a writer who always thought it more important that a novel be "a juicy, overblown, exploding Gothic lollipop" than that it intellectually cohere or exemplify some particular theory or philosophical position. There's an interesting current through the latter half of the story as she's either being read in light of feminism - and objecting to the doctrinaire, incomplete interpretations which follow - or criticised for betrayal of the sisterhood. But then, I generally think that anyone being criticised from both sides is probably doing something right. And she was nothing if not a queen of contradictions - there can't have been many contributors to Spare Rib from the off who were simultaneously writing for Men Only, or great lovers of lengthy telephone conversations who also deliberately site the 'phone where it can barely be heard ringing. And of course, underneath all that you have someone fascinated by "the myth of gender" - especially in the "balefully stylish' Passion of New Eve - whose published and private writings are both forever beset by the inarguable appetites and physicality of the female body (and indeed, the gleefully objectified male likewise). Read in light of the current mess, because isn't everything right now, it's quite reassuring to read of another time when Britain appeared doomed to terminal decline and everyone feared the idiot celeb the US had just elected would end the world. The geopolitical material isn't always the strongest - when both Gordon and Carter see 1970 Tokyo as forward-facing contrasted to a Britain stuck in the past, one can only marvel at how easily distracted they must be by skyscrapers. But still, one can't expect anyone to be an expert on everything. I loved the handy summation of "the plump cheerfulness of middle age" in the later books as against the "bourgeois virgin" protagonists of the early work, with which I've never gelled quite so much. And the story is dotted with all manner of odd little sidebars. For instance, the unproduced script Carter wrote - prefiguring both Judge Dredd and The Happiness Patrol - for the Ian Hendry SF series Don Quick, of which neither I nor my various cult TV fan chums had ever heard (judging from the surviving episode, it was pretty good in a sort of bleak, satirical fashion that was never likely to be appreciated by its demographic). Or knowing that Lorna Sage was married to a Vic Sage, which kept leaving me with images of Carter hanging out with the Question, and what a fabulous crossover that would have been. It is, in short, as maddening and crammed with loose ends and full of life and incident as one of Carter's own books. And what better tribute than that?

  25. 5 out of 5

    Morgan Owain Morgan-Jones

    Was it history, destiny, or both that conspired against Angela Carter to render her less widely known and celebrated than she deserves to be? Born in England during the war, of a class presuming nothing, entitled to nothing, and growing to adulthood during the past-war years in England, it seems that all the cards were stacked against her. With the Welsh and with the French, it appears she had more in common. Her intelligence, deprived of any silver spoon, of any conceivable advantage born even o Was it history, destiny, or both that conspired against Angela Carter to render her less widely known and celebrated than she deserves to be? Born in England during the war, of a class presuming nothing, entitled to nothing, and growing to adulthood during the past-war years in England, it seems that all the cards were stacked against her. With the Welsh and with the French, it appears she had more in common. Her intelligence, deprived of any silver spoon, of any conceivable advantage born even of the bourgeoisie, she sought the reliably unconventional, the unimaginably unpredictable. Her sense of fashion, in her writing as in her dress and demeanour, was also the realisation of an interweaving of artfulness and artifice all her own. To penetrate such widespread malaise, ennui, complacence, discontent, indifference, it is imperative to shock. Fashion being most striking where least expected. She appeared as she was. She was as she appeared. Only after having read all of Angela Carter did I venture into her biography. There were surprises, of course, but nothing astounding. More than anything else, through all that was revealed, my profound admiration for her, and of her writing, was but compounded manyfold. I came to Angela Carter from times, places, and conditions not wholly dissimilar to hers. For decades, since my first encounter, I have felt her the elder sister I never had, possessing some blood that was mine, but that I had never known. Angela Carter remains poignant in my memory, because she reminds me of no one else. Though your writing raves and rages on, dear sister, may you rest in peace.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Aurelie

    I'll admit I'd never heard of Angela Carter before the review of this book appeared in NYRB, and Carter's style of novels really doesn't appeal to me, but this is the best biography of a writer I've read in a long time. Edmund Gordon manages to make Carter come alive, although she has been dead for 25 years. Making a biography subject come alive does not sound like a remarkable accomplishment, but it really is, and in this case it also does justice to Carter's appetite for life. We get a good id I'll admit I'd never heard of Angela Carter before the review of this book appeared in NYRB, and Carter's style of novels really doesn't appeal to me, but this is the best biography of a writer I've read in a long time. Edmund Gordon manages to make Carter come alive, although she has been dead for 25 years. Making a biography subject come alive does not sound like a remarkable accomplishment, but it really is, and in this case it also does justice to Carter's appetite for life. We get a good idea of her friendships, loves, writing habits, jobs, and of course books. The writing is a pleasure to read. I enjoyed learning how she came into her own, leaving an oppressive household for a short-lived first marriage during which she wrote her first published works. Carter was a bit an adventurer - she travelled alone to Japan and Russia - and I loved the parts where she went to the U.S. to teach at Brown University, the Iowa Writers' Workshop and UT Austin. It was so fascinating to read about her perception of the U.S. in the 1980s. My only minor comment is that I wish the author had accompanied his figures in British pounds (when he says how much Carter was paid as an advance on this or that book) with their equivalent in US dollars. But this is really nitpicking. This is a exceptional book which deserves to be widely disseminated and shortlisted for many literary awards. 

  27. 5 out of 5

    Justine

    Moved to tears by this book, so I can't give it less than 5 stars. I read two books by Angela Carter before picking her biography up; it was hard in the beginning, because Edmund Gordon begins with her family background, and I wanted to know more directy about her. But I knew it was necessary, so I put the book down and went back later. It was unputdownable after the first chapter. I was completely immersed in Angela Carter's life. It was a joy to read her life - and I also felt indignation for Moved to tears by this book, so I can't give it less than 5 stars. I read two books by Angela Carter before picking her biography up; it was hard in the beginning, because Edmund Gordon begins with her family background, and I wanted to know more directy about her. But I knew it was necessary, so I put the book down and went back later. It was unputdownable after the first chapter. I was completely immersed in Angela Carter's life. It was a joy to read her life - and I also felt indignation for the way she was treated by the literary world. She really had recognition after her death, which is quite sad. Nearing the end, I couldn't keep tears from coming and going, until the final chapter, where I cried like I lost someone I knew and cherished. I loved that the epilogue was a way for the author to explain his choice in writing this biography. Now I want to read all the books she wrote, like a kind of tribute, and because I'm sure I'll love them.

  28. 5 out of 5

    John

    One of my women friends once pushed a book to me called "The Bloody Chamber". With a glint in her eye, she had a bawdy proclamation. "Angela Carter is a feminist that likes writing about getting fucked". Over time, I learned Carter wrote much more than this--her work was smart, picturesque and often full of magical realism. She wrote a lot of essays about culture as well. It's very progressive stuff (especially for the time) but perhaps not as inspirational and liberating as subsequent waves of One of my women friends once pushed a book to me called "The Bloody Chamber". With a glint in her eye, she had a bawdy proclamation. "Angela Carter is a feminist that likes writing about getting fucked". Over time, I learned Carter wrote much more than this--her work was smart, picturesque and often full of magical realism. She wrote a lot of essays about culture as well. It's very progressive stuff (especially for the time) but perhaps not as inspirational and liberating as subsequent waves of feminism would like. Her Fairy Tales are a bit more lurid, primal and feral than tradition. The "authorized" biography is largely chronological and perhaps explains too much--rather than letting readers fill in the lines (i.e. the author spends a fair amount of time trying to decipher what Carter and a lover discussed...when they weren't having sex). So, it is in a way--odd. I find Carter's work extremely sexual. Yet am a bit at odds with her biography being so revealing.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Gabriella

    I can tell how much I've enjoyed a book by flicking back through and seeing how much of the text I've underlined, noted, and starred in pencil. The fact that not a single page of "The Invention of Angela Carter" has escaped my sacriligeous scribbling says it all! I have always loved Angela Carter's works, but I feel that I now have a new and deeper understanding of so many of her novels and short stories. She was a complex woman, and I feel that Edmund Gordon has done her justice in this biograp I can tell how much I've enjoyed a book by flicking back through and seeing how much of the text I've underlined, noted, and starred in pencil. The fact that not a single page of "The Invention of Angela Carter" has escaped my sacriligeous scribbling says it all! I have always loved Angela Carter's works, but I feel that I now have a new and deeper understanding of so many of her novels and short stories. She was a complex woman, and I feel that Edmund Gordon has done her justice in this biography. Usually it takes me a couple of months to slowly read through a biography, but this one I demolished in a matter of days. Angela Carter lived an interesting life which she documented thoroughly in her diaries and letters, but it was Gordon's insights into her writing and psychology which made this book such a fascinating read. I would have loved to have met her, and wish that she was still around to write her surreal and magical tales.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Gurteen

    It was interesting learning more about the life of Angela Carter. Ever since I read The Bloody Chamber when I was 16, I have been in love with her work. Edmund Gordon's biography was filled with information and was well-researched. It was richly described and a joy to read. I did, however, feel like this biography focused a lot on her romantic life and her fiction work, however, even though there were other aspects of her life. Gordon also tried very hard to fit her into the label of 'feminist' It was interesting learning more about the life of Angela Carter. Ever since I read The Bloody Chamber when I was 16, I have been in love with her work. Edmund Gordon's biography was filled with information and was well-researched. It was richly described and a joy to read. I did, however, feel like this biography focused a lot on her romantic life and her fiction work, however, even though there were other aspects of her life. Gordon also tried very hard to fit her into the label of 'feminist' which from the additional reading I have done on her I know she didn't identify as this even if she shared a lot of the same beliefs. This is a problem with biographies though, in an autobiography we can focus on what the person prioritizes in their life but in a biography, we can only see what we focus on now.

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