Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Authorial Ghosts and Maternal Identity in Angela Carter's "Ashputtle or the Mother's Ghost: Three Versions of One Story" (1987)

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Authorial Ghosts and Maternal Identity in Angela Carter's "Ashputtle or the Mother's Ghost: Three Versions of One Story" (1987)

Article excerpt

In her introduction to The Virago Book of Fairy Tales (1990) Angela Carter comments on the status of the authorial figure in relation to the collective, oral tradition of the fairy tale: "Ours is a highly individualised culture, with a great faith in the work of art as a unique one-off, and the artist as an original, godlike and inspired creator of unique one-offs. But fairy tales are not like that, nor are their makers" (x). This collective dimension is clearly at the heart of Carter's attraction to "fairy tales, folk tales, stories from the oral tradition," as she says such narratives reflect "the most vital connection we have with the imaginations of the ordinary men and women whose labour created our world" (ix). Her interest in the fairy tale indeed emerges out of this sense of history, a sense of the complex genealogy of voices that speak through the oral and literary history of folk narrative and appear to feed what Lorna Sage identifies as a "disclaiming [of] individual authority" in Carter's fiction (Introduction 2). Carter's interest in the tale underlies much of her writing. She published a translation of the tales of Charles Perrault (1977) two years before what many critics see as her masterpiece, The Bloody Chamber (1979). 1 The latter collection brings revisionist fairy tales to resonate with her feminist appropriation of Sadeian philosophy, clearly set forth in The Sadeian Woman (1979), and now constitutes a well-worn path of literary scholarship upon which numerous intellects have tarried. When questioned about her attraction to the genre, Carter declared, "I was taking the latent image - the latent content of those traditional stories and using that; and the latent content is violently sexual. And because I am a woman, I read it that way" (Interview by Goldsworthy 10), suggesting even then the provocative spirit that informs her performances of such "infinitely various narrative" (Carter, Virago ix).

The folk narrative, as many critics have observed (Roemer and Bacchilega), is structurally and thematically metamorphic in Carter's aesthetics, slipping through multiple guises and constituting, according to Stephen Benson, "a seam through her output from the early novels to one of her last published volumes" ("Angela Carter" 31). Her preoccupation with the tale resulted more than ten years after the publication of The Bloody Chamber in the editing of the aforementioned collection of international fairy tales, The Virago Book of Fairy Tales, which was followed by The Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales (1992). During this period of editorial activity Carter wrote another, lesser known, revisionist tale: "Ashputtle or The Mother's Ghost: Three Versions of One Story" (1987).2 The story fittingly appears toward the end of Carter's career in a posthumous collection of stories gathered by Carter's publisher, Susannah Clapp, American Ghosts and Old World Wonders (1993), and openly explores preoccupations that are present in much of her fiction in a didactic mode far removed from Carter's characteristic baroque exuberance. "Ashputtle" indeed openly plays with the concept of origins through an ironic foregrounding of maternal benevolence in three versions of "Cinderella." In her introduction to The Virago Book of Fairy Tales, Carter highlights the multiple versions of this tale in existence, writing, "the basic plot elements of the story we know as 'Cinderella' occur everywhere from China to Northern England" (xv). In its open juxtaposition of three renditions, "Ashputtle" weaves together the genealogy of the Cinderella tale with questions of motherhood and ultimately generates allegory about culture and authorship. Carter's attraction to the anonymous author concept is set forth in her introduction to The Virago Book of Fairy Tales - "Years ago, the late A. L. Lloyd, ethnomusicologist, folklorist and singer, taught me that I needn't know an artist's name to recognize that one had been at work" (xxii) - and she continually demonstrates a subtle navigation between individual production and the diffuse tradition of the tale: "Who first invented meatballs? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.