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Not Your Fairy Godmother

The story Edmund Gordon tells in his superb new biography The Invention of Angela Carter isn’t the traditional once-upon-a-time kind, but it has a heroine as unforgettable as the ones in fairy tales.

Angela Carter was born on May 7th 1940 in Eastbourne, on the southern shore of England, the place to which her mother and older brother had been evacuated some months earlier. A few weeks later British forces were expelled from Dunkirk in France and retreated across the channel, making people realize that it had been a silly idea to flee the capital by moving closer to the front, and the family returned to London. Carter grew up there in relatively privileged circumstances, though she was oppressed by the generally stultifying atmosphere of post-war austerity and the smothering attentions of her overprotective mother. As she came of age, she developed a fierce independence; in the words of critic Joan Acocella, “she rebelled, went on a diet, and changed from a fat, obliging girl to a skinny, rude girl. She slouched around in short skirts and fishnet stockings, smoking and saying offensive things.”

For a young woman in those days the easiest escape was into marriage, and so at 20 she found an obliging partner who gave her little other than the last name under which she later made herself famous. It was during their troubled relationship that she started writing in earnest, but it was only when she abandoned him to travel to Japan that her artistic life really began. Drawing on English folklore, personal domestic experience, continental philosophy, a newly radical feminism, South American magical realism, and a touch of genius all her own, she produced a kind of fiction that no one had before ... continued