Signifying Passion: Angela Carter's Heroes and Villains as a Dystopian Romance

By Karpinski, Eva C. | Utopian Studies, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Signifying Passion: Angela Carter's Heroes and Villains as a Dystopian Romance


Karpinski, Eva C., Utopian Studies


One of Angela Carter's most misunderstood texts,(1) Heroes and Villains (1969) is by the author's own admission an important novel, dealing with myth making in the Barthesian sense of culturally constructed collective fictions or cliches (Katsavos 12). Throughout her career, Carter has consistently rejected myths, including the utopian elements of myth and the mythic element of utopian thought, as "social fictions that regulate our lives," dismissing these myths as "consolatory nonsense," or "extraordinary lies designed to make people unfree" (1983, 71).(2) In Heroes and Villains, demythologizing is part of her permanent critique of patriarchy,(3) subsumed under a larger project of "decolonizing our language and our habits of thought" (1983, 75). Carter interrogates the binaries of self/other, body/mind, male/female, nature/culture, passion/reason, or civilized/barbarian, binaries informing patriarchal institutions and representations that serve to justify exploitation and domination of one group by another. It is my contention that in her novel she experiments with the generic framework of what will be called a dystopian romance, so as to accommodate her combined interest in social and sexual relations.(4) Although the term "dystopian romance" is not commonly used, I want to introduce a new term best corresponding to Carter's combined use of the generic conventions of romance and dystopia. The dystopian romance stands in ironic contrast to the tradition of the utopian romance, such as Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, or William Morris's News from Nowhere. Both utopian romance and many works of dystopian fiction(5) make the reader test the validity of a certain society in terms of the viability of a personal relationship. The dystopian romance proves to be a suitable vehicle for Carter's didactic allegory of the relationship between the sexes, an allegory, one might add, that uses the utopian ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in order to rewrite the myth of the Fall as it structures Western representations of the social order and sexual difference.(6) Thus "signifying passion" means both "to signify passion" and "a passion to signify," referring both to constructions of female sexuality and otherness, thematically central to Heroes and Villains, and to Carter's own passionate, self-reflexive exploration of the territory between philosophy and fiction, where bodies are subjected to social control through various discursive practices.

In addition to Rousseau, Carter engages with a variety of utopias and dystopias, as well as romances and other canonical texts of patriarchy. She alludes to the Bible (the already mentioned myth of the Fall, the story of Cain and Abel, the New Testament) and Freud (the Oedipal scenario, the myth of the primal horde, and the id-ego-super ego structure). She creates intertextual resonances with as wide a range of sources as Levi-Strauss's anthropology, Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy, Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Wells's The Time Machine, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Gothic romances such as Wuthering Heights and Frankenstein, mythology (Cupid and Psyche) and fairy tales (Beauty and the Beast), and even visual quotations from paintings (Cormon's Cain, Henri Rousseau's The Sleeping Gypsy, and Goya's The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters).(7) The intertextual overkill seems to suggest that for Carter such master narratives, including utopias as models for a perfectible society, belong in what she calls "the lumber room of the Western European imagination," where she finds most of her material (1983, 72).

Her concern with signification and the need for debunking are signaled through the ironic juxtaposition of four epigraphs. The first, from Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville, the film that raises a gangster figure to the status of a mythic hero, foregrounds the theme of legend as form giving. The second, from Andrew Marvell's poem "The Unfortunate Lover," introduces a fantasy of the demonic male lover. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Signifying Passion: Angela Carter's Heroes and Villains as a Dystopian Romance
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.