Wise Children

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The last in a line of wildly inventive novels, WISE CHILDREN—published shortly before Angela Carter’s death—is in many respects her gentlest and most conciliatory work. Written as the first-person memoir of seventy-five-year-old Dora Chance, half of a twin-sister song-and-dance team, the novel re-creates five crucial periods in the sisters’ lives, each of which centers on an encounter between the twins and their natural father, Sir Melchior Hazard, the greatest Shakespearean actor of his day. Through these encounters, the novel explores the relationship between legitimacy and illegitimacy, fathers and children, reality and illusion, tragedy and comedy.

Orphaned at birth, the twins are adopted by the questionably respectable Mrs. Chance, who gives them lots of love and dancing lessons. On stage, they enjoy moderate success, but they are consistently disappointed by their father’s refusal to acknowledge them. When they are grown, he makes partial amends by taking them with him to Hollywood to appear in a Shakespearean film. Hollywood offers the sisters their big, if corrupt, chance, but they refuse to take it. They return to England, “sadder and wiser girls,” but with their innocence and goodness intact. Over the years, their vaudeville career declines. At the nadir of their fortunes, they are invited to Melchior Hazard’s one hundredth birthday party, where they at last find love and acceptance in a final scene of “laughter, forgiveness,...

(The entire section is 413 words.)