Angela Carter: Writing from the Front Line

By Sarah Gamble | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3

Thematically as well as chronologically, The Magic Toyshop stands inbetween Shadow Dance and Several Perceptions, sharing elements of each, yet distinct from both, which is why I have not chosen to analyse these three novels in the order in which they were written. While The Magic Toyshop does not share the nihilism of Shadow Dance, its ending does not quite convey the carnivalesque exuberance of Several Perceptions. Moreover, while Shadow Dance and Several Perceptions are clearly expressions of sixties sensibility, in particular through their adoption of the aesthetics of camp, The Magic Toyshop is ostensibly less of a period piece. This is essentially due to the fact that Carter draws more overtly in this text on fairytale and folklore. Although faint echoes of fairytale motifs are to be found in Shadow Dance (in references to the story of Bluebeard, for example), in the main the texts to which both it and Several Perceptions refer most persistently are Romantic (Keats, Shelley and the eighteenth-century Gothic), nineteenth-century fantasy (Lewis Carroll and Edgar Allan Poe), or schlock (Hammer) horror. While The Magic Toyshop also alludes to such texts, certainly, its main inspiration lies in older, more ahistorical, traditions of story-telling.

Although I intend to go into Carter's views on fairytale in more detail in Chapter 5, it is worth introducing the issue here, particularly because her interest in this ancient narrative form stands as an interesting correlative to her fascination with camp. As her introduction to The Virago Book of Fairy Tales makes clear, Carter regarded the fairytale as a form eminendy worth appropriating, not least because it undermines the faith modern Western culture has 'in the work of art as a unique one-off. Of the typical fairy story, she says:

[It] was put together in the form we have it, more or less, out of
all sorts of bits of other stories long ago and far away, and has been

-66-

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