Interpretation, gender, and the reader : Angela Carter's self-conscious novels.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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This thesis attempts to account for the unusual problems raised for interpretation by the works of Angela Carter, as well as the particular pleasures which they provide. It demonstrates how Carter's self-conscious novels speculate about the very nature of fiction and, in doing so, challenge conventions which govern the way we interpret not only fiction but also ourselves and our world. The second half of the thesis is concerned with issues of sexual difference, specifically the strategies used by Carter to demystify the false universals which govern gender politics.
Chapter 1 engages with both Nights at the Circus and a selection of reviews of Carter's work in order to establish the particular reader/text relationships which her fiction demands. The breakdown of the traditional distinction between centre and margins in The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman is the focus of Chapter 2: this chapter incorporates Jacques Derrida's model of invagination in its examination of the distinctive intertextual qualities Carter's work displays. Chapters 3 and 4 demonstrate an important strategic technique employed by Carter's novels to expose and exploit specific reading conventions which underlie the interpretation of character, identity, and gender. Chapter 3 shows how four novels, The Magic Toyshop, Heroes and Villains, Love, and The Passion of New Eve, promote a 'realist' mode of reading character whilst continually reminding the reader that character is a construction, in order to demonstrate the power of the conventions which create the illusion of knowablc individuals both within and outside fiction. Chapter 4 shows how The Passion of New Eve foregrounds a central feminist question, 'What is a Woman?' This chapter examines the ways in which Carter utilises gender stereotypes, particularly those used to define the female body, in order to debunk them. It also contains an account of the debate about pornography which Carter's work has excited amongst critics. Finally, Chapters 5 and 6 discuss the New Eve figures which recur across Carter's fiction and examine the affirmative feminist politics which sustain it. Chapter 5 asks the question, 'What constitutes a liberated female subject?' while Chapter 6, returning to Nights at the Circus, celebrates Fevvers as just such a figure. Each chapter demonstrates how Carter's work continually anticipates readers' responses and dramatises its own fictional procedures. Each chapter also attempts to illuminate, from a variety of perspectives, the liberating 'reading space', which her fiction opens up.
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