Now BBC radio 4 is to broadcast readings of Carter's stories and novels. Make a date for The Bloody Chamber on 24th September. To create an ambience, listen to Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, listen to the sound of the sea and inhale the pure scent of white lilies, while it lasts.
The Bloody Chamber is her best story. What was I doing reading The Lady from the House of Love ,Carter's story of a female vampire set in an abandoned village in the mountains of Transylvania, and why does it linger with me ? We never read in a void. There's always a context, personal and political. Events from our own lives infuse and meld into our reading. Angela Carter died long before Brexit loomed into view but shades of Brexit crept in. Her story is set in 1918 with a handsome young officer in the British army who takes a cycle ride to an abandoned village in the mountains where he meets the lady of the house of love, a vampire. It is 2018 and a century after the setting of Carter's tale. As I read, off he goes alone through orchids and martagon lilies to an abandoned village, toward the border of Italy and Austria not far from the Marmolada Glacier and the trenches occupied by soldiers in the Great War. Many were casualties of avalanche and Alpine winters and their bodies, frozen into the glacier, were gradually carried down the mountain in the ice- and not exactly resurrected some century later. Imagine an elderly widow seeing the face of her lost husband, her forever young husband, no older than the day he died all those years ago. It's the stuff of Carter Gothic , for sure. The Great War frames Carter's vampire story. The young soldier escapes death by vampire, but the doom of war hangs over him.
'Next day, his regiment embarked for France.'
What has Brexit to do with this, you may ask? Well, the young soldier may think he can escape to the mountains and solitude, but he cannot shake off the political context of his times. No more than a 21st century traveller in Europe may shake off Brexit. It haunts him, like the war graves at Ypres, Thiepval and of the Somme. How can any of us be free of our times?
There's solace in the natural world, in the sounds of the sea, in sea-scape and cloud-scape. The art of Angela Carter is best illustrated in The Bloody Chamber, it's accomplished storytelling. Less gore perhaps , but she leaves a stain on lilies. The red rose, a motif in The Lady of the House of Love, fares no better. Of reeling odour, she concludes. One can overdose on Angela Carter. And on Brexit.
' What were you doing reading a vampire story?' I was asked amidst the sea-lavender of North Walney. ' I wouldn't have thought you'd be reading something like that.' As head of an English department one reads across the genres and cannot be squeamish. Anyway, I'm a nature writer now and I hope to be considerate of others' sensibilities.
Carter shows us how to deal with Bluebeard ( portrait of Harvey Weinstein, says Rushdie) in his sea-girt castle. It's about agency. Don't be passive, don't wait for the plot to consume you. Write you own story. Make ready for The Bloody Chamber on 24th September. Ensconce yourself in a sea-girt castle and listen to the music of the sea, of Liebestod. And don't inhale the perfume of lilies too deeply.