Angela Carter is a 20th-century British writer. Born in 1940, she died at the young age of 51 in 1992. Carter spent her childhood in South London, prior to later travels abroad. She grew up in a background of socialism, with her parents avid supporters. A teenage experience with anorexia marked a significant challenging time in her life. Carter's studies included psychology and anthropology.
Carter is considered to be a unique writer, falling into a cross-section of genres. Her work has been described as indicative of a wide range of categories, from magic realism, fantasy, science fiction, gothic and surrealism, with the latter considered the closest depiction. A feminist and postmodern orientation has also been used to classify her writing.
From the time of her death in 1992, Carter's writing became what Sarah Gamble posits as an "academic urban legend" in her study Angela Carter: Writing From the Front Line. It is said that Carter has ousted Virginia Woolf with the amount of postgraduate students wishing to study her work. The amount of doctoral students applying for grants to research her writing has reached a "quasi-folklore status," according to Gamble.
Carter was known to be ahead of the critics in her own reviews of her work. She was extremely well-read in terms of literature and appeared to anticipate what the critics would write prior to them doing so. This manifested in her having the upper hand, with critics unable to exercise leverage regarding a critical analysis of her work.
Carter's work comprised novels, short stories and plays. She also became interested in writing academic articles, together with cultural commentaries and non-fiction works. Carter presented the unexpected. She was adept at upsetting what was considered conventional and constantly challenged preconceptions of a wide range of topics. In many instances, this created a sense of outrage, which might have been precisely what she aimed at achieving.
At a young age, Carter played with writing poetry and entering the field of journalism. Her official writing career began in the 1960s. In 1967, her second novel The Magic Toyshop won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. This was followed a year later with the Somerset Maugham Award for Several Perceptions, her third novel. Achieving two substantial awards for such early works was a considerable boost to her professional status.
Carter did not stay in London to reap the accolades. Instead she traveled to Japan, spending time there from 1969 to 1972. A visit to the United States also took place later. She wrote two of her experimental works while she was abroad: The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman and The Passion of New Eve. These books were considered shocking and did not receive entirely positive responses.
By the late 1970s and early 1980s, she gained a broader audience. The Bloody Chamber, a collection of rewritten fairy tales from a subversive perspective, spread recognition for the writer. Her 1984 story The Company of Wolves was produced as a film, directed by Neil Jordan.
From a relatively unknown beginning, or an initial lukewarm response, Carter suddenly shot up in the popularity stakes. Thus, when she was not placed on the Booker Prize short list for her penultimate novel Nights at the Circus, there was considerable controversy and outrage displayed.
While Carter was employed at various universities in the U.K. and abroad in the creative writing departments, she amassed an association with colleagues and publishing contacts. Her work began to appear in academic critiques, and a considerable volume of academic essays on her writing became available. Carter's works are now studied, not only in departments of literature, but also within cultural studies and women's studies. The critic Lorna Sage was instrumental in publishing the first academic review of Carter's work when she interviewed her in 1977. Sage has also written further studies of Carter's writing and is the editor of a volume of essays studying Carter's canon. Additionally, Carter became a co-founder of Virago Press with Carmen Calil. The intention was to raise the profile of previously obscure women writers.
The role of being marginal, of commenting from the outside, was pivotal to Carter's scheme of writing. Although she interacted with the cultural environment, she remained a commentator and interrogator, perched on the periphery. Her alignment with socialism and feminism is clear, albeit that she also avoided being subsumed into the mainstream of these doctrines. Described at times as an anarchist, she was intent on pushing boundaries of held belief systems. Her writings graphically depicting violence against women and her penchant for pornography were contrary to feminism.
Nicola Pitchford in her Tactical Readings: Feminist Postmodernism poses Carter as a "fabulist, a connoisseur of the fantastic, the Gothic and the grotesque." The imaginative realm within which she placed herself and her readers is considered one of her most powerful writing attributes.