For Angela Carter, says Lorna Sage, the sixties were not necessarily an era of liberation in the simplistic sense, but rather 'the period when the illusions broke, dissolved, came out in their true colours'.1 If this is so, then although the sixties' insubstantial pageant had well and truly faded by the time the seventies dawned, the movement from optimism to disillusion is already registered in the books Carter published at the latter end of the decade, Heroes and VUlains and Love. In their different ways, both signal her withdrawal from a narrative approach characterised by its conspicuous linking of fiction and its contemporary cultural milieu through references to fashion, settings and various aesthetic and behavioural cultural codes. Heroes and Villains places the countercultural, revisionist impulse in the dubious service of the self-created matriarch, and reduces the dandy to the status of grubby hippy drop-out. Although Love reworks the themes of her first novel, Shadow Dance, with more skill and far greater control, it crucially changes the mood of the setting, exchanging the former novel's dark and dangerous delight in its own subversiveness for an insidious ennui and a hideous resignation in the face of horror.
In the seventies, Carter's fiction turned away from the kind of playful, subversive representation of its contemporary culture which is so striking a characteristic of many of her novels written in the sixties. Instead, as Love intimates, one of the dominant tropes of Carter's seventies narratives is disillusion and alienation, especially as far as the fiction I intend to explore in this chapter is concerned: the novel The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman and Carter's first collection of short stories, Fireworks. In both books, disenchantment is not just a mood which permeates the text, but a dominant plot motif which frequendy controls its action.
Whereas Carter's ex-centric2 impulses had found an echo and, to a