Nights at the Circus Essay - Critical Essays

Angela Carter


Many critics regard Nights at the Circus as a postmodern classic. It retells a historical period from a marginalized perspective. The narration changes toward the end, from third person to first person (in Fevvers’ voice), then switches back again. By the end, the reader is forced to ask who the author is, Fevvers herself or someone else. The narrator, whoever it is, in a self-reflexive aside makes no pretense of telling an authentic history of turn-of-the-century Russia. The work is clearly fantasy: The Russian setting is less a scrupulously realistic depiction than a fantastic background for the characters to tell their story.

In Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter displays her own brand of feminism. She attempts to undermine male-dominated, misogynistic society by rewriting its history with fantastically strong and wild heroines. Fevvers is immensely likable, uncouth, and dominating. She farts without shame and fornicates with wild abandon, though she lies that she is a virgin. When she confesses in the end that her virginity was a deception, she invites the reader to ask what else about her is not true. This increase in doubt relates to history itself: It calls the sense of the past into question and reinvents the present and future. Nights at the Circus looks forward to an era led by fiercely independent women such as Fevvers.

Men also must change. At the novel’s start, Walser is cool, detached, and...

(The entire section is 570 words.)