Bloody good bits of low life

Shorter courses from the late English outsider fare best. By Michele Roberts

Burning Your Boats

Collected Short Stories

by Angela Carter

Chatto, pounds 20

Now Angela Carter is dead, we can begin to measure the extent of our loss as all her work is resurrected into print. While we mourn the person, we can celebrate the books that prove her to be very much alive in the realm of language, her true and lasting home.This first volume of the Collected Edition displays the short stories which were her best work. It draws together the early, experimental pieces, the subsequent four collections Fireworks, The Bloody Chamber, Black Venus, and American Ghosts, and some uncollected stories published between 1970 and 1981.

While the early novels dazzle with intellect, sometimes their wit can be too coolly Grimm, their verbal tricks and games too lacking in feeling. The later novels occasionally go to the other extreme, apeing a panto jollity over-rich with thigh-slapping high camp. Only the short stories reach perfection, as she subjected her talent for wild, baroque improvisation to the discipline of the story form, its hard balletic grace. I've never managed to finish a single novel by Angela Carter, but I re-read The Bloody Chamber and Black Venus with deep pleasure.

It's exhilarating to read her afterword to Fireworks, appended here, and see her as a young writer pitting herself against the literary tradition and starting to map her territory: "Gothic tales, cruel tales, tales of wonder, tales of terror, fabulous narratives that deal directly with the imagery of the unconscious - the tale has relations with subliterary forms of pornography, ballad and dream, and it has not been dealt with kindly by literati.'' For some years, Angela Carter was not dealt with kindly by literati either, and one reason must be her enjoyment, visible in all her work, of "low'' forms and "low'' life.Carter stands outside normal English notions of class, just as she is unable to write anything cosy or naturalistic, just as she feels obliged to mock all female pieties, feminine or feminist. From the outset, she struck an outsider's pose and relished it.

The early pieces show her learning her craft, whether juggling with Victorian slang or writing journalistic prose on encounters in Japan. There are some fine comic moments of unconscious or deliberate pastiche - Cold Comfort Farm crossed with Nightwood. But she steadies herself, refines her movements and gestures, and gives us The Bloody Chamber.

Carter was one of a group of female writers, among them Sara Maitland and Emma Tennant, who were re-working the short story to encompass the re-telling of Greek and Christian myth, but she made the fairytale her own. The fact that a subsequent generation of writers and readers can take for granted that Little Red Riding Hood fancied the wolf, or that buried inside a male Beast is a tender Beauty, is a measure of her originality.

My favourite among these topsy-turvy revelations of modern desires and anxieties is the title story. "The Bloody Chamber" exposes the lure that Bluebeard has for a certain sort of girl, whisking her into sex-as-danger, fin-de-siecle decadence, and all the horror of the denouement of the original. Carter thoroughly chills your bones with terror, then releases you into the modern twist of a happy ending. The stories in Black Venus widen out the range, to take in a final wolf tale, an avenging look at Baudelaire's black muse and mistress Jeanne Duval, a jolly backstairs romp celebrating good sex and good cooking, an exquisite portrait of a modern flower market in Samarkand haunted by the wife of Tamburlaine. An additional treat is provided by Salman Rushdie's sharply loving, perceptive introduction to the volume, which works as an elegy as well as a fine, graceful piece of criticism.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee