Back Cover: "An electrifying intellectual autobiography, with all the narrative expanse, drama, outrage, and high comedy of the author's fiction. Angela Carter is revealed here, anew, as one or the most important thinkers of twentieth-century world literature -- and one of its most pungent voices." -- Rick Moody One of contemporary literature's most original and affecting fiction writers, Angela Carter also wrote brilliant nonfiction. Shaking a Leg comprises the best of her essays and criticism, much of it collected for the first time. Carter's acute observations are spiked with her piercing matter-of-factness, her devastating wit, her penchant for mockery, and her passion for the absurd. Whether discussing films or food, feminism or fantasy, science fiction or sex, Carter consistently explores new territories and overturns old ideas. No cultural icon escapes her scrutiny; as in her fiction, Carter offers glorious evidence of the transforming power of the imagination. From delightfully wicked commentaries on Gone With the Wind, a Japanese fertility festival, and fellow writers, including Lawrence, Lovecraft, Borges, and Burroughs, to enchanting personal essays, Carter shares her thoughts and herself with glee. "What a wonderful collection -- sharp, funny, too decent for sarcasm but great wit and humanity, an unusual combination. But it makes us miss her, miss laughing with her, that real, intelligent, tough writing woman." -- Grace Paley "Angela Carter is a dazzling, unflinching, mordant observer of contemporary appetites, an ironist and a tragedian of twentieth-century cultural effects, a dazzling conjuror with language and with symbols, a writer whose originality of eye and mind never fails to divert, to illuminate, to change her readers' understanding and quicken our wits." -- Marina Warner
Shaking a Leg COLLECTED WRITINGS ANGELA CARTER With an Introduction by Joan Smith Edited by Jenny Uglow Research Assistant Charlotte Crofts
Colin Greenland: Michael Moorcock: Death Is No Obstacle Appendix: Introduction to Expletives Deleted
Chronology of Journalism and Occasional Writings (1964-91)
Editor's Note This volume contains a substantial selection of Angela Carter's journalism from the 1960s until her death. It cannot be comprehensive, but I hope that the chronology at the end of the book, which lists introductions as well as articles and reviews, will guide readers further.
In arranging the contents, I have followed Angela's own lead in the earlier collections, Nothing Sacred (1982) and Expletives Deleted (1992), using categories to define and separate but also to tease and provoke. Inevitably, because her approach was so open and because she loved strange conjunctions and overlapping currents, many pieces could move happily between categories -- she put reviews into sections on countries, for example, insisting that books were a guide to perception and should not always be fenced into literary divisions. I have adopted her line and have also followed her in dividing the final section into "Stories and Tellers" and "Writers and Readers", since her interest in genre, storytelling, magic and the way people make "tales" out of ordinary lives, led her to see certain works in a different light to others. Within each section the pieces run in date order except where two reviews relate to the same author, when they appear together.
The chronology has been compiled after wide-ranging research, first by Mark Bell and then by Charlotte Crofts, but it is still provisional and we hope that this volume will provide yet more leads. Several people have helped in the quest and have dug deep into their own files. We are particularly grateful to Paul Barker, former editor of New Society, who was an enormous help in the early stages of collecting material, and to William Scammell, the editor of Nonesuch Magazine at Bristol University, where Angela Carter's work first appeared. We would also like to thank Carmen Callil, Susannah Clapp, John Ellis, Kim Evans, Malcolm Edwards, Michael Moorcock, Deborah Rogers, David Pringle and Brian Stableford. And we all owe a debt to the various publications from which these marvellous pieces come and to the many editors and literary editors who -- as Angela herself said -- often accepted the most surprising things, "without batting an eyelid".
Jenny Uglow, January 1997
Introduction The first time I read a book by Angela Carter, it had such an impact on me that I rushed off to the local library in search of more. Knowing little about this author I had discovered -- it was the late 1970s and novels like Nights at the Circus and Wise Children were a long way in the future -- I devoured everything I could find, delighted to find that one woman had produced work as diverse as The Bloody Chamber, her sly re-casting of traditional fairy-tales, and a thrilling polemic like The Sadeian Woman. I had just returned to live in London after a long absence and Carter's hugely original engagement with the Marquis de Sade sustained me through a rather lonely Christmas in a borrowed flat near Kew Gardens; I remember wandering through the steamy palm house, mulling over her argument about the pornographic imagination beneath dripping green fronds, then the shock of stepping outside into the sharp winter cold. I wouldn't say reality intervened at that point, more that I'd been so caught up in a mental dialogue with this woman I'd never met that I'd forgotten what time of year it was. Carter's ideas were like that, staying in your head long after you'd put down the printed page, even when you weren't absolutely sure you agreed with her -- a quality I don't want to describe as feminine, precisely, but which certainly struck me then (and again now, reading this collection of her journalism and shorter writings) as aeons away from the bombastic, know-it-all style of so much male discourse. One of the many things I like about Shaking A Leg, in fact, is the way in which the articles and reviews show Angela Carter's mind working, coming at a subject from different angles, changing its focus, trying out a thought and seeing where it goes. The result isn't tentative, far from it -- few authors have been so passionately engaged -- but it's a kind of writing which invites the reader to think, to argue back, to accost its creator with sentences beginning: "yes, but what about. . .?"
From the very first pages of this book, which opens with Angela Carter's reflections on her family history, there is a sense of someone returning again and again to the same subject, seeing it from a different point of view. She has opinions but they are not set in stone; sometimes she pokes fun at her younger, more solemn self. You get the feeling that, by writing it down, she is trying to understand her background, a process which involves demolishing a few family fictions -- and, perhaps, one or two of her own. Some of her relatives, her father and her maternal grandmother for instance, emerge vividly and immediately from her prose. Her mother, a shadowy figure compared to these domestic colossi, is revealed more slowly as a figure in her own right -- and this gradual unveiling suggests, more powerfully than if it had been addressed directly, the uneasy relationship between the women of Angela Carter's generation and the one immediately before it. For she is in many senses a child of the 1960s, a decade which it has recently been fashionable to denigrate, and she lived through those extraordinary upheavals which amounted to a revolution in style, taste, politics -- in everything from superficially trivial issues like fashion, about which she writes brilliantly and very funnily, to weighty matters like class. That decade changed people's lives, mostly for the better in my view, but it also created a generation gap more profound, I suspect, than anything that had gone before. This was especially true for women and when Carter writes about her mother, she does not hesitate to acknowledge limited aspirations and missed opportunities. There is also a muted note of self-interrogation, as though she is forever asking herself, as have many of us whose lives were shaped by the great wave of feminism which came out of the 6os, "how do I come to be as I am?"
What she was, in Carter's case, is difficult to define. Novels, short stories, radio plays, fairy-tales, polemic, journalism: the scope of her writing, in an era when authors tend to be pigeon-holed as soon as their work begins to be published, is breathtaking. It is tempting, given this range, to characterise her as a Renaissance woman, were it not for that fact that it is writers like Carter herself who have taught us to be suspicious of such terms. It is easy to imagine her worrying at that phrase in one of her elegant essays, praising the humanism of the period yet taking satiric bites out of the rumps of the famous men -- and they were all men -- who created the great works of art for which the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries are famous. She seems to have been constantly aware that, for all the enduring problems women of our age have to contend with, this is the only century in which a woman like herself could flourish. In that sense, her feminism rings clear and true from these pages. She never whines, never indulges in self-pity, even when she is writing about a painful subject like her own anorexia; on the contrary, she displays an almost gleeful relish at the prospect of re-interpreting, from an intelligent feminist's point of view, cultural icons from Emily Brontë to Georges Bataille to D. H. Lawrence, and personal ones like her own female relatives. She is also, and this puts her in a separate category from many feminists, particularly the heavyweight Americans, acutely aware of the importance of class. It is one of the things, along with a sense of place -- superbly evoked here in pieces about the north of England and about Japan -- which make her such an acute observer of whatever scene happens to catch her attention.
But to adopt Angela's own kind of terminology for a moment, what emerges most powerfully from Shaking A Leg is her ability to detect bullshit at two hundred paces. Years before the term "foodie" had been invented, she was mocking the pretensions of the cookery writer who insists on recherché ingredients not because of their qualities but their snob value. And it is a delight to find her, years before the porn star Linda Lovelace came out as a victim of the sex industry, deconstructing the actress's sexual braggadocio as a species of false consciousness -- and discerning a profound rage behind Lovelace's notorious skill at fellatio. The permissive societies of which Lovelace is a product, Carter points out more than once, are actually deeply repressed: why else do people need permission to explore their sexuality? Only someone with an appreciation of the sweaty, earthy pleasures of sex could create this kind of critique, outspoken and completely unprudish; one of the delights of this book is the way in which the articles act as signposts, over a longish period stretching back to the 1970s, to to an emerging erotic sensibility which would one day create a bawdy, life-enhancing novel like Wise Children.
This is not to say that the pieces in this collection do not stand alone. They are connected to Angela Carter's other work but they also demonstrate the unique features of her journalism at its best: the writing is thoughtful yet immediate, concise but not shallow. Carter had a rare ability to use her own experience as a springboard for ideas. Where run-of-the-mill columnists turn a visit to their local shop into. . . well, a visit to their local shop. . . the reader could trust Carter to use it as, say, the starting-point for an exploration into the history and cultural significance of retailing. Everything interested her, nothing seems to have daunted her, and few journalists can claim to have such a sure grasp of both high and low culture. Clear-sighted arid compassionate, she is the kind of radical thinker thrown up all too rarely in Britain; as I read these marvellously iconoclastic pieces, it strikes me how well they have stood the test of time. In a timid and conformist decade like the 1990s, when political debate is bogged down in platitudes, wry voices like Angela Carter's are sorely missed. Among the many pleasures of Shaking A Leg is the speculation it prompts about what she would have made, in her own highly original style, of the way we live now.