Carter became very famous in the course of her career, and her reputation has grown even more since her death. Her novels The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffmann (1972), Nights at the Circus (1984), and Wise Children (1991) are among the most interesting pieces of post-war British fiction. The Bloody Chamber is one of the most famous and widely discussed and taught collections of British short fiction. She published three volumes of short stories during her life, and two more came out after her death. Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces as published in 1974, The Bloody Chamber, and Other Stories in 1979, and Black Venus in 1985. The two posthumous volumes are American Ghosts and Old World Wonders (1993) and Burning Your Boats (1995).
Carter’s short fiction is deeply literary. Legends, folk-tales, fairy tales, and myths are reworked and often appropriated for feminist purposes. Supernatural motifs abound. Her characters are shape-shifters, talking cats, werewolves. The Gothic is plundered for characters, situations, and settings. Carter adores the picaresque. Allusions are rife to major works, not just from British but from world literature: Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Pérrault. Carter is, in addition, fascinated with violence and emotional and sexual extremes. Rape, enslavement, passion, death, fetishism – these are her subjects. Her work, like that of several contemporaries (Patricia Duncker, for example), shows affinities with pornography. Carter’s language veers dizzyingly between the informal and demotic and the elevated, producing a baroque style that is part of the fascination of her work. Her texts are virtuoso fabulations attesting to the power of language and the human mind, and to the richness of the world. They also, most of them, are powerful examples of feminist littérature engagée.
The stories in The Bloody Chamber will surely be her most enduring short fictions. The traditionally anti-woman legend of Bluebeard, designed to inculcate obedience in difficult wives, is rewritten in the title story, to produce a text that acknowledges, undermines, and ultimately rejects male power and its glamour. Ambiguity marks many of the texts in the collection. The narrator of “The Erl-King” both loves and fears the innocent wild man whom she ultimately kills. Stories like “The Tiger’s Bride” and “The Company of Wolves” are disturbingly ambiguous, like authentic legends and myths, their rough edges and strange turns of action designed to provoke thought. Carter will long intrigue readers by virtue of her panache in fusing a deep traditionality (folk tales, beast fables, gothic fiction) with a contemporary fascination with the pornographic and a rigorous but thoughtful feminist agenda.
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