Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

From the Bloody Chamber to the Cabinet De Curiosités: Angela Carter's Curious Alices through the Looking Glass of Languages

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

From the Bloody Chamber to the Cabinet De Curiosités: Angela Carter's Curious Alices through the Looking Glass of Languages

Article excerpt

Tant que la lecture est pour nous ľincitatrice dont les clefs magiques nous ouvrent au fond de nous-meme les portes des demeures ou nous n'aurions pas su pénétrer, son rôle dans notre vie est salutaire.

-Marcel Proust, "Sur la lecture," 208

Here's what I mean by the miracle of language. When you're falling into a good book, exactly as you might fall into a dream, a little conduit opens, a passageway between a reader's heart and a writer's, a connection that transcends the barriers of continents and generations and even death. And here's the magic. You're different. You can never go back to being exactly the same person you were before you disappeared into that book.

-Anthony Doerr

Stories take you somewhere beyond what you know.

-Marina Warner

From Wunderland to Wonderland: Traveling Words and Creative Encounters

Angela Carter, a self-confessed bookish writer who memorably associated intellectual development with the "new readings of old texts" ("Notes from the Front Line," 37), found food for thought and inspiration for her multifaceted oeuvre in reading widely across genres, periods, and languages. When Carter died from cancer in 1992, Margaret Atwood said in a deeply felt obituary for The Observer, "She was the opposite of parochial. Nothing, for her, was outside the pale: she wanted to know about everything and everyone, and every place and every word. She relished life and language hugely, and revelled in the diverse" (61).

Traveling both reflected and fostered this insatiable intellectual curiosity Carter's exposure to foreign languages in particular was an important source of inspiration that fed into her literary project of boundary crossings and reading against the grain. During her two-year stay in Japan, she likened her experience to Alice's time in Wonderland, because it revealed the constructed nature of language, cultural norms, and social order, to the point of changing her perception of herself as a woman and reinventing herself as a writer.1 A few years later, translating the fairy tales of Charles Perrault during the hot summer of 1976 was another eye-opening activity that stimulated Carter's philological curiosity and revealed the potential of the familiar stories for retellings in different styles, genres, and media.2 Angela Carter's entire oeuvre, I believe, was indeed shaped by a translational and transcreative dynamic that underpins the development of literature worldwide, although this phenomenon is often obscured by national canons, monolingual scholarship, and ideological agendas.3 Examining Carter's work from a cross-linguistic, transnational, and transcultural perspective therefore questions traditional conceptions of the fairy tale as either universal invariant or reified expression of national culture and instead brings out the complex web of interconnections, mutual borrowings and exchanges, translations, responses, and reinventions out of which it developed.4 In this essay I link Carter's encounter with foreign languages and cultures to her lifelong engagement with Lewis Carroll's Alice books and the nonsense tradition, including its legacy in the surrealist movement. Specifically, I focus on the fictional possibilities opened up by the linguistic and literary resonances of the word cabinet, which Carter drew on to celebrate curiosity in The Bloody Chamber and beyond.

Carter's Curious Alices: From Metaphysics in the Nursery to Japanese Cats and Wolf-Girls

Like Carroll, Carter uses wordplay to quicken the intellect and unlock new imaginative doors. Because a foreign language confronts the learner with the challenge of making sense of unfamiliar words or signs, strange grammar, syntax, rhythms, and sounds, it brings an unsettling realization that no two languages are similar and makes cultural difference and worldviews palpable, and this experience is not unlike falling into a rabbit hole or stepping through a looking glass. As such, it provokes wonder about language, its relation to the world, and our perception of it and of ourselves. …

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