Aspiring dons desert tradition for Angela Carter

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The Independent Online
FORGET Henry Fielding, Samuel Johnson, William Cooper et al - the only novelist aspiring English dons want to study is Angela Carter, writes Ngaio Crequer.

Students who want to undertake research in English for their MA or Phd are deserting traditional English literature and opting in their droves for a writer described in the Independent when she died two years ago as a 'progressive, socialistic, feministic, university-educated sort of woman, and latterly a contented wife and mother'.

Research students who apply for financial assistance from the British Academy have to describe their proposed field of study. On one selection panel, two candidates proposed to study some part of 18th-century literature, but the other 30 people wanted to discover more about Angela Carter. The figures were similar for the second selection panel.

Angela Carter died of cancer at the age of 51 in February 1992. She was one of the most vivacious talents in English fiction. She was a fantasist, known for her wild imagery; a storyteller who was funny and intuitive.

She was described as a 'magic realist', someone who could combine fantasy and clarity to write about unrealistic events. Her short story, The Company of Wolves, was turned into a highly successful film.

Professor John Bate, of Liverpool University, who is on the BA selection panel, said: 'It is amazing. It is also alarming that so few people want to study pre-20th-century literature.'

He said there would be a knock-on effect in universities and schools. 'We already know that many students coming into university have not read enough pre-20th-century English literature.'

'The 18th century is perceived to be rather boring. Angela Carter could be thought to be lively and sparkling to a first lecturer.'

Tim Webb, head of the English department at Bristol University said: 'I am seriously worried about the current pattern of research in English studies. If present trends continue I fear that future teachers of English both at university level and in the schools will play a deadly role in destroying the subject.'

Carmen Callil, Angela Carter's publisher, said she was a one-off, witty and highly original, and had this advice for academics: 'Move over, it's time for someone else to be studied.'

(Photograph omitted)