The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Nights at the Circus begins in the London dressing room of Sophie Fevvers, an English circus star. Her maid, Lizzie, slaps cold cream on Sophie’s face while Sophie answers questions from an American reporter. Jack Walser, from California, is skeptical of Sophie’s story, to say the least. He doubts that the wings on Sophie’s back are real.

Sophie claims that she was not born; instead, she was hatched. She insists that she is partly bird. Walser takes down notes of the fabulous story told by Sophie and backed up by Lizzie. They tell of Sophie’s childhood, spent in a whorehouse, and of how she learned to fly.

To resolve his doubts and to get a better story, Walser joins the circus. He is hired as a clown by Colonel Kearney, the owner of the circus. The colonel, originally from Kentucky, has a pig named Sybil and drinks mint juleps in the middle of the morning. He plans a circus tour that will go from London to St. Petersburg, Russia, then to Siberia, Japan, and finally the United States for the start of the twentieth century. Walser tags along on the tour and endures some harsh abuse. He survives a tiger assault and a train wreck as he tries to get his story. He also takes in a destitute singer, the Ape-Man’s former wife.

Fevvers, meanwhile, hurts her wings when the train they take through Russia derails and wrecks. She and Lizzie are carried off by the bandits who caused the violent wreck. The bandits want...

(The entire section is 422 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Throughout her career, Carter constantly sought to speak the previously unspeakable, to express a broader range of experience than hitherto...

(The entire section is 1270 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

A challenging and playful novel that can be read on many levels, Nights at the Circus encourages readers to re-evaluate many long-held...

(The entire section is 393 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

What if ... a woman could fly? gender roles were reversed? patriarchy, capitalism, and the class system were no more? romance and other myths...

(The entire section is 1132 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Magic Realist fiction includes such disparate texts as One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Beloved by Toni...

(The entire section is 243 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

A highly prolific writer before she succumbed to cancer in 1992 at the age of fifty-one, Angela Carter put her dazzling imagination and...

(The entire section is 173 words.)