Today marks the 25th anniversary of Angela Carter’s death. She was just 51 when she died on the 16th February 1992 from lung cancer.
In his biography of Angela Carter, Edmund Gordon notes that she greeted death with courage, anger and her trademark humour. She joked to Michael Moorcock that he should not worry about her since she was “not bringing up bits of lung”. Carter told another correspondent that she was “hanging on like grim death for the chance to vote this bloody government out. It’s what the hospital calls ‘an excellent short-term goal'”. And on another occasion when speaking with her friend Corinna Sargood on the telephone, Carter “noted that a man was coming to the door. ‘It’s all right,’ she said. ‘I’ll let him in. He hasn’t got a scythe.'”
Despite her declining health, Carter continued to work on projects up until her death. This included editing The Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales (1992) and helping create two television documentaries, The Holy Family Album (1991) and Angela Carter’s Curious Room (1992). A few works were also published posthumously, such as Expletives Deleted (1992), American Ghosts and Old World Wonders (1993) and The Curious Room: Plays, Film Scripts and an Opera (1996). Sadly, Carter also left behind a number of planned projects that never came to fruition. Chief among these was a brief plan for a new novel, which she pitched to Carmen Callil: Adela was to be “a fantasia on the life of Jane Eyre’s pupil Adèle Varens”, as Gordon explains, and would involve Adela discovering that her mother was not in fact dead, seducing her benefactor Mr Rochester, and later being placed in prison after the Franco-Prussian War breaks out during her stay in Paris. As Carter wrote, the novel would “play some tricks with history”. Indeed! In addition to Adela, Carter was also approached by Neil Jordan to see if she would be interested in helping produce two new films. The first was to be an adaptation of her own short story ‘The Cabinet of Edgar Allan Poe’, collected in Black Venus (1985), and the second was to be a series of sexual encounters with ironic moral twists, provisionally entitled Erotic Tales.
Much to her excitement and pleasure, in what would be the last year of her life Carter was invited to appear on the Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs, which she had fantasised about for many years. However, owing to her poor health she was unable to travel to the recording studio. When the BBC refused to record the episode at her home, Carter responded with typical frankness: “Fuck them, then”. However, she did get as far as making her selection for the programme and you can listen to them in the playlist I’ve compiled below.
Carter also chose the book and luxury item for Desert Island Discs: the former was to be Larousse Gastronomique and the latter was to be a zebra. Hearing of this latter choice, Corinna Sargood was later inspired to paint a three-panelled screen with a zebra on it for Carter’s memorial service, held at the Ritzy cinema in Brixton. This is now on display at the Strange Worlds exhibition at the RWA in Bristol, alongside a copy of the official invitation to the service, also designed by Sargood.
In many ways, the Strange Worlds exhibition feels like a tribute to this most imaginative of writers, the variety of strange, disturbing and funny works on display capturing something of both Carter’s character and the quality of her writing. It is sad to think of all the projects that Carter left unfinished, and in these dark times many people wish she was here to provide us with a typically razor sharp and witty response or diagnosis. However, as the Get Angela Carter festival demonstrates, Carter’s narratives, images and ideas live on and continue to delight and amuse, provoke and disturb, and fire the imagination.
What are your thoughts on Angela Carter’s legacy and reputation 25 years after her death? Which of her texts resonate with you? Do you think her ideas and narratives are still relevant today? Leave a comment below, on the Facebook Public Group page or Tweet me @AngelaCarterFan
For more information on the Get Angela Carter festival, which celebrates Carter’s Bristol connections around the 25th anniversary of her death, head over to the official website here. Details about the RWA Strange Worlds exhibition can be found here.
To find out more about and to purchase a copy of Edmund Gordon’s The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography, head over to the official Penguin website here.