The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman Analysis

Angela Carter

The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Desiderio, an old man, tells the story of the Great War between reason and unreason in which, fifty years earlier, he played a heroic role. The war begins when Dr. Hoffman’s infernal desire machine destroys the forces of reason in the Capital and installs a world of desire. The Capital’s ruler, the minister of determination, sends his twenty-four-year-old aide, Desiderio, to destroy Hoffman and his machine. Desiderio, already unconsciously desirous of Hoffman’s daughter, Albertina, sets off on a quest that is both heroic and romantic.

At his first destination, a seaside village, he meets Hoffman’s old teacher, now the blind proprietor of a peep show. Desiderio, accused of murdering a woman and sought by the police, takes refuge among the River People, who are Indians. Part Indian himself, he becomes one of them. On the eve of his wedding, however, Desiderio realizes that the River People are about to cannibalize him. After escaping, he again meets the peep show proprietor, now traveling with a carnival. Desiderio joins the carnival, masquerading as the proprietors nephew.

The proprietor, he learns, is allied to Hoffman; indeed, Albertina has commanded him to bring Desiderio safely to Hoffman’s castle. Desiderio’s love and desire for this woman he has never met increases, and his desire fuels his vision.

Desiderio is attracted to the carnivals grotesque but friendly performers. Most intriguing to him are the little...

(The entire section is 437 words.)