An Interview with Angela Carter

Article excerpt

CRAMMED IN WITH ALL the other gear packed for a ski trip was my copy of Angela Carter's newest novel, Wise Children. Because sheer exhaustion made it difficult for me to stay awake past nine o'clock, I didn't get to finish the book, which in a sad kind of way turned out to be a good thing.

A week later I returned home to a stack of unread newspapers and very sorrowful news; while I had been struggling with moguls, Carter had succumbed to cancer. Though my dealings with her were limited (a few letters, phone calls, and two personal meetings), the sense of loss that I experienced was deep-felt. I immediately went for my copy of Wise Children, and for a long time gazed at the picture of the author's smiling face on the inside jacket; it was the same picture as the one in the Times's obit. Mixed in with my numbness was a peculiar sense of gratitude that there was something new she could say to me still. I began to read, but my thoughts kept reverting to that crisp November morning in 1988 when I had the pleasure of chatting with this woman over breakfast.

We met in the lobby of a well-known New York hotel, where she introduced me to Alexander, her son, who was off with his father to spend a few hours sightseeing in the big city. (Their arrangements--to meet at noon by the big clock in front of F.A.O. Schwarz--made me chuckle; recalling the clocks, magic, and toys in Carter's fiction, I thought that New York's own magic toyshop was, of course, the most fitting place to meet.)

My interview with Angela, as she insisted I call her, was to my surprise like visiting with an old friend. We talked about our young sons; we sized up the company around us; and we made one sexually loaded comment after another, each of us trying, like comedians in the spotlight, to get the last laugh. Not surprisingly, she won, hands down. I was having so much fun that I nearly abandoned the interview questions that Angela so graciously and patiently answered before we parted. We hugged, I thanked her, and she urged me to write to her if I had additional questions; I did, indeed, but many of them will remain unanswered.

ANNA KATSAVOS: In "Notes From the Front Line" you say that you are not in the remythologizing business but in the "demythologizing business." What exactly do you mean?

ANGELA CARTER: Well, I'm basically trying to find out what certain configurations of imagery in our society, in our culture, really stand for, what they mean, underneath the kind of semireligious coating that makes people not particularly want to interfere with them.

AK: In what sense are you defining myth?

AC: In a sort of conventional sense; also in the sense that Roland Barthes uses it in Mythologies--ideas, images, stories that we tend to take on trust without thinking what they really mean, without trying to work out what, for example, the stories of the New Testament are really about.

AK: In modern poetry women openly use traditional figures of patriarchal mythology, figures like Circe, Leda, Helen, not only to reinvent them but to retell their stories, as you say in The Sadeian Woman, "in the service of women." To what extent do you rely on traditional mythical figures in your writing? Are you drawn more to a particular mythology than to another?

AC: I used to be more interested in it. I'm not generally interested in doing that. I mean I'm not terribly interested in these particular characters. The second novel that I wrote, a very long time ago, The Magic Toyshop, has a whole apparatus about Leda and the swan, and it turns out that the swan is just a puppet. I wrote that a very long time ago, when I really didn't know what I was doing, and even so it turns out that the swan is an artificial construct, a puppet, and, somebody, a man, is putting strings on the puppet. That was ages ago, over ten years ago, when I wrote that. The idea was in my mind before I had sorted it out. But I just stopped using these configurations because they just stopped being useful to me. …