This was a wakeup call for me; I am in the process of collecting all of Carter’s books to devour. I’m placing the review here out of fear of link rot. The source link placed at the end.
The New York Times
MAY 22, 2015
By KELLY LINK
Many of the elements of Angela Carter’s stories have become commonplace in fiction and popular culture. Sexy vampires? Sure. The exploration of female desire? Yep. Fairy tales reworked in contemporary settings? An embarrassment of riches. What we don’t have, of course, is any more Angela Carter stories.
Carter died in 1992. She would have turned 75 this year, and how I yearn for more of her. What would she make of the stories we tell now? What new thing would she make?
When she died, I was in the second year of an M.F.A. program in Greensboro, N.C. I was trying to figure out how stories worked. The main business of the M.F.A. workshop was, in the ’90s, the business of figuring out how to write domestic realism. I couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to do this. Mostly I wasn’t writing. I was reading instead — heaps of science fiction and fantasy, romance novels and children’s books. I read Carter’s “Wise Children,” “Nothing Sacred,” “The Sadeian Woman” and, over and over again, “The Bloody Chamber” (reissued this month). Reading Carter was electrifying. What she was doing, of course, was rewiring some very old stories. But it felt as if it were me, the reader/writer me, who was being reconfigured in some necessary way. Carter’s versions of these fairy tales, the way she approached them — with intelligence, irreverence and joy — made me look again at the ghost stories and children’s books that I read for pleasure. Carter took the stories she loved and with that love she made new stories out of them. I wanted to do the same.
It didn’t hurt that I was working in a children’s bookstore. Every week we got new versions of “Cinderella” and “Little Red Riding Hood” and “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” The stories remained themselves, and yet they could be reworked over and over again. What a relief to see how much stretch there was to them. What a relief to see that a writer could be serious about whatever mattered to her, no matter if it seemed significant to anyone else.
And everything I needed to learn I found in “The Bloody Chamber”: the playfulness and generosity and friction — of ideas, in the admixture of high and low, the mythic and the realistic. Here are 10 overlapping stories about marriage and sexual awakening, decay and transformation, house cats and big cats, wolves and people who act like wolves. There are retellings of “Beauty and the Beast” and “Bluebeard.” There are counts and countesses, brides and husbands, mothers and fathers. There are only a handful of named characters, many just signifiers: Mr. Lyon and Beauty and Wolf-Alice.
My favorite story has always been “The Lady of the House of Love.” I love it for the luster of Carter’s language, its fizzing theatricality. A wholesome young soldier on the bike comes across a castle in Romania — and its inhabitant, a countess who feeds on rabbits and men. He’s stumbled into a vampire story, but is so good-hearted to remain oblivious. In fairy tales, innocence is a key that opens a door through which you can flee — without ever realizing that you were in any danger. (Experience is another key entirely.) Of course, there are worse things than vampires. The soldier gets back on his bicycle and rides off. It’s the eve of World War I. “Next day, his regiment embarked for France.” The shadow of real horror hangs over the painted backdrop of the unreal.
Carter published two books in 1979, the same year that Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister: “The Bloody Chamber” and “The Sadeian Woman.” It was a good era for fairy tales. In the same year, Jack Zipes’s “Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales” came out. Bruno Bettelheim’s “The Uses of Enchantment” had been published in 1976; Anne Sexton’s poetry collection “Transformations” in 1971. Stith Thompson had translated Antti Aarne’s tale-type index, which grouped stories together by motif. Carter herself would later put together two anthologies of folk and fairy tales: “Old Wives’ Fairy Tale Book” and “Strange Things Sometimes Still Happen: Fairy Tales From Around the World.”
Fashion, too, took on a storybook quality: peacocky and playful and transgressive.
I found many of these stories, much later on. In the 1970s I was reading the Grimm Brothers and Perrault for the first time. I was a child and I read like a child, for pleasure and in order to figure out what the rules were, and what price you paid when you broke those rules. And again, as an adult, it seemed to me that I was breaking the rules by continuing to read and reread the things that pleased me best.
And pleasure is often subversive, Angela Carter teaches us. We are thrown off balance by delight, by terror, by beauty, by humor. And sometimes we dismiss the kind of work that evokes these responses in us, because it seems undignified, unserious, unadult. The rules above the stairs in Mr. Fox’s house tell the trespasser, “Be bold, be bold, but not too bold, lest that thy heart’s blood run cold.” But the girl goes up the stairs anyway. The girls and women in “The Bloody Chamber” remake the rules of their stories with their boldness. They know boldness is the point.
Kelly Link is the author, most recently, of “Get in Trouble.” This essay is adapted from her introduction to an edition of “The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories” published this month for the 75th anniversary of Angela Carter’s birth.