Angela Carter (1940-1992) positions herself as a writer in ‘the demythologising business’ (1983b:38). She defines myth in ‘a sort of conventional sense; also in the sense that Roland Barthes uses it in Mythologies’ (in Katsavos 1994:1). Barthes states that ‘the very principle of myth’ is that ‘it transforms history into nature’ (Barthes 1993:129). This process of naturalisation transforms culturally and historically determined fictions into received truths, which are accepted as natural, even sacred. This thesis explores Carter’s demythologising approach in her collection of fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber, and her novel, Nights at the Circus. The readings of these texts are informed by the ideas that Carter discusses in her feminist manifesto The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History, which she describes as ‘a late-twentieth-century interpretation of some of the problems [de Sade] raises about the culturally determined nature of women and of the relations between men and women that result from it’ (1979:1). In The Bloody Chamber and Nights at the Circus, Carter questions the culturally determined roles that patriarchal ideology has ‘palmed off’ on women as ‘the real thing’ (1983b:38), and she scrutinizes the relations between the sexes that have resulted from them. In The Sadeian Woman, the subject-object dichotomy of gendered identity is explored as a predatory hierarchy. The Bloody Chamber explores the same ideological ground, and ‘the distinctions drawn are not so much between males and females as between “tigers” and “lambs”, carnivores and herbivores, those who are preyed upon and those who do the preying’ (Atwood 1994:118). The most discomfiting point that Carter makes in The Bloody Chamber is that patriarchal ideology has traditionally viewed women as herbivores, or ‘meat’, that is, as passive objects of desire and inert objects of exchange. In Nights at the Circus, the subject-object dichotomy is presented in its spectator-spectacle guise. Fevvers, the female protagonist, is a winged aerialiste who articulates an autonomous identity for herself that exists outside of patriarchal prescription. She presents herself as feminine spectacle and, in so doing, becomes simultaneously a spectator, as she ‘turns her own gaze on herself, producing herself as its object’ (Robinson 1991:123). Mary Ann Doane refers to this strategy of self-representation as the masquerade. In ‘flaunting femininity’, Fevvers ‘holds it at a distance’, and in this way womanliness becomes ‘a mask which can be worn or removed’ (Doane 1991:25). Susanne Schmid points out that ‘every act of deconstruction entails a process of reconstructing something else’ (1996:155), and this suggests that Carter, in demythologising, also remythologises. Roland Barthes argues that ‘the best weapon against myth is perhaps to mythify it in its turn, and to produce an artificial myth’ (1993:135). In the characterisation of Fevvers, Carter creates an ‘artificial myth’ that does not present itself as either eternal or immutable. In masquerading as a feminine spectacle, Fevvers temporarily incarnates an archetypal femininity. But this is just a performance, for Fevvers is also an agent of self-representation, and so she is both a real woman and an artificial myth of femininity.
Dissertation (MA (English))--University of Pretoria, 2005.