Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Fearless Children and Fabulous Monsters: Angela Carter, Lewis Carroll, and Beastly Girls

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Fearless Children and Fabulous Monsters: Angela Carter, Lewis Carroll, and Beastly Girls

Article excerpt

Angela Carter's various revisions of "Little Red Riding Hood" lay open the violent, alluring, and often distressing reality of adult sexuality Although the relationship between Carter's stories and the earlier tale has been ably analyzed,1 relatively little attention has been paid to the figure of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Carter's work on "Little Red Riding Hood." I would argue that Alice is an important figure in and that Carroll's work is a vital intertext to Carter's short story "Wolf-Alice" and the film The Company of Wolves. Carter's stories are about the animalistic, exploitative potential of human sexuality, whereas Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Loofang-Glass and What Alice Found There use animals to remind us of the seemingly arbitrary, nonsensical rules of the adult world. Both stories concern active girls exploring a world that is dangerous because of its unfamiliarity and the power of adults. By invoking both Alice and Little Red Riding Hood, Carter is able to present a more complex vision of female sexual awakening under patriarchy, its pleasures as well as its genuine risks and sufferings.

"Wolf-Alice," a short story that appeared in the collection The Bloody Chamber, is the tale of a girl raised by wolves who has been taken from her wolf-mother by the same hunters who killed that mother. She is trained to perform simple tasks by a convent of nuns and is placed as a servant in the castle of a duke who is a sort of werewolf-vampire composite. Here Carter gives us an Alice who grows up, unlike Carroll's, and her sexual maturation brings her and the beastly duke with whom she lives into humanity. Alice, like most children, begins her story as a beast, and like many children, she makes her home in the house of a monster, an incomprehensible adult. Raised by wolves, she lives in the castle of a man who may or may not be a werewolf, who may or may not be a vampire, but who most definitely is a ghoul, eats the dead, and does not cast an image in the mirror. In Carters story, it is the man and not the girl who finds himself on the wrong side of the looking glass: "[His] eyes open to devour the world in which he sees, nowhere, a reflection of himself; he passed through the mirror and now, henceforward, lives as if upon the other side of things" (Carter, "Wolf-Alice" 222).

To live on the wrong side of the mirror, for both Carroll and Carter, is to become a monster. The duke eats corpses and wears a wolf's pelt. When Carroll's Alice goes through the looking-glass, she finds that she is the fantastic beast: "This is a child!" the White Kings messenger tells the Unicom. The Unicom responds by exclaiming, "I always thought they were fabulous monsters!" The Unicorn then introduces Alice to the Lion by crying out, "Its a fabulous monster!" Subsequently, Alice is addressed as "monster" throughout the rest of the chapter (Carroll, Annotated Alice 228-31). Both Carter and Carroll emphasize the affinity between children and monsters: Carter by allying Wolf-Alice with a man who masquerades as a wolf-man and Carroll by emphasizing the relative nature of the category of monster. To be a monster is to be out of ones own place, to be on the wrong side of the mirror.

Like Alice at the beginning Looking- Glass, Wolf-Alice is fascinated by the mirror, and in the beginning of their stories, neither girl seems to have quite grasped the purely imitative, two-dimensional nature of the glass. Although Alice remains in this childlike state, Wolf-Alices realization of the meaning of reflection is connected to her menarche and maturation. Wolf-Alice initially understands her reflection as a playmate: "She rubbed her head against her reflected face, to show that she felt friendly towards it, and felt a cold, solid, immovable surface between herself and she" (Carter, "Wolf-Alice" 225). Carter's confusing syntax reflects Wolf-Alice's own confusion about the nature of her reflection and thus about her own identity, a confusion that is reminiscent of Alice's introspective meditations on her identity. …

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