Angela Carter is best known as a novelist, having won several awards for her long fiction. Her earliest novels were surreal without being overtly supernatural, but after Heroes and Villains (1969) she made increasing use of fantastic devices, developing phantasmagorical symbolic landscapes of an extraordinary complexity in The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972) and The Passion of New Eve (1977). She also wrote a great deal of journalistic criticism, collected in Shaking a Leg (1997).
Angela Carter won the John Llewelyn Rhys Memorial Prize for Several Perceptions in 1968, the Somerset Maugham Award for The Magic Toyshop in 1969, the Kurt Maschler Award (for children’s fiction) in 1982, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Nights at the Circus in 1985. Following her untimely death in 1992—which allowed her work to be included in the syllabi of those British universities reluctant to venerate living writers—Carter was immediately hailed as the most important English fantasist of her generation.
Angela Carter is nearly as well known for her short fiction as she is for her novels. Her short-story collections include Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces (1974), Black Venus (1985; also known as Saints and Strangers, 1986), the highly praised The Bloody Chamber, and Other Stories (1979), which contains her transformations of familiar fairy tales into adult tales with erotic overtones, and American Ghosts and Old World Wonders (1993). She also wrote a number of fantastic stories for children, including Miss Z, the Dark Young Lady (1970), The Donkey Prince (1970), and a translated adaptation of the works of Charles Perrault, The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault (1977). In 1978, she published her first book of nonfiction, The Sadeian Woman: And the Ideology of Pornography, a feminist study of the Marquis de Sade that remains controversial among both literary and feminist critics. Other nonfiction essays by Carter have been published by British journals; Nothing Sacred: Selected Writings (1982) is a collection of her journalistic pieces, and Shaking a Leg: Journalism and Writings (1997) reprints other essays and reviews. She also wrote a screenplay adaptation of her novel The Magic Toyshop (1987) and cowrote, with Neil Jordan, the screenplay for the British film The Company of Wolves (1984), based on her short story of the same title.
With the publication of her first novels in the late 1960’s, Angela Carter received wide recognition and acclaim in Great Britain for blending gothic and surreal elements with vivid portrayals of urban sufferers and survivors. She was awarded the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize for The Magic Toyshop and the Somerset Maugham Award for Several Perceptions. Critics have praised her wit, inventiveness, eccentric characters, descriptive wealth, and strongly sustainednarrative while sometimes questioning her depth of purpose and suggesting a degree of pretentiousness. Her imaginative transformation of folkloric elements and examination of their mythic impact on sexual relationships began to be fully appreciated on the appearance of The Bloody Chamber, and Other Stories, which received the Cheltenham Festival of Literature Award. Nights at the Circus, recipient of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, helped to establish firmly for Carter a growing transatlantic reputation as an extravagant stylist of the Magical Realist school. Following her untimely death in 1992—which enabled her establishment in the syllabus of British universities traditionally reluctant to venerate living writers—Carter was immediately hailed as the most important English fantasist of her generation. Her critical writings, which add a robust and sometimes scathing rhetoric to the lucid prose of her fiction, also attracted new attention.
Day, Aidan. Angela Carter: The Rational Glass. New York: Manchester University Press, 1998. Presents an examination of Carter’s fiction that is generally accessible to the nonspecialist. Notes the similarity of themes in Carter’s work and describes how she was influenced by the books she read at various times in her life.
Gamble, Sarah. Angela Carter: A Literary Life. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Critical biography analyzes the relationship between the events of Carter’s life and her works. Examines how Carter was engaged in topical issues, such as politics, feminism, class, and national identity (particularly English identity).
Gamble, Sarah. Angela Carter: Writing from the Front Line. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997. Comprehensive study of Carter’s works, including her novels. Argues that Carter intentionally undermined traditional ideas about history, social codes regarding propriety and “woman’s place,” and the distinction between “high” and “low” literature.
Jordan, Elaine. “Enthralment: Angela Carter’s Speculative Fictions.” In Plotting Change: Contemporary Women’s Fiction, edited by Linda Anderson. London: Edward Arnold, 1990. An analysis of Carter’s use of mythological and fairy-tale motifs in parables of sexual liberation.
Landon, Brooks. “Eve at the End of the World: Sexuality and the Reversal of...
(The entire section is 634 words.)