Angela Carter and the Modern Fairy Tale

Don’t talk to strangers, especially the unassuming, handsome ones! Our parents drum this into our innocent little minds as kids, usually the first time we walk to school ourselves or the first time we are allowed to play beyond their line of sight. Little did we know then that this wise warning was handed down from 17th century Frenchman, Charles Perrault, and his tale of Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, better known as Little Red Riding Hood. The fairy tale genre continues to thrive and nowadays, it’s a big deal on the big screen. But although evolving, what role does the fairy tale play in the modern world?

WPA poster by Kenneth Whitley, 1939.

ONCE UPON A TIME, fairy tales were used to scar virtues and morals into the minds of young children. However, with children now savvier and more informed than ever, it’s difficult to imagine that their behaviour could be influenced simply by reading The Boy Who Cried Wolf or Little Red Riding Hood.

In her article All the Better to Eat You With, novelist Angela Carter recognises that “the notion of the fairy-tale as a vehicle for moral instruction is not a fashionable one.” So with moral instruction becoming less fashionable, what purpose does the fairy tale now serve?

In 1979, Carter radicalised the fairy tale in her collection of short stories, The Bloody Chamber. Taking great care not to parody or pastiche the fairy tales of the Grimm brothers or Perrault, she creates new stories based on old tales to articulate feminist ideas, explore male sexual desires and subvert the traditional roles of fairy-tale women. But The Bloody Chamber is not one for kids! Read the rest of my article on The Flaneurthe indie art and culture magazine and website

Is Burlesque really a “platform for social commentary”?

A group of Burlesque girls got their placards out and went on protest in Edinburgh recently after receiving a less than complimentary review in The Scotsman.

Yet, the girls weren’t protesting because their show received a bad review, they were protesting because the review implied:

that if you were a burlesque performer you could not be a feminist

Sally Scott had tactfully suggested that the women’s expressions were like that of a  “blown-up sex doll”. That’s one way to ruffle the feathers of a bunch of burlesque ladies.

The performers, obviously not best pleased at being compared to sex commodities, said of the review Continue reading

Sexism and The Orange Prize

AS Byatt caused a bit of a stir at the Edinburgh Fringe when she criticised The Orange Prize, a prestigious literary award that is given only to women. The Guardian quoted her as saying:

The Orange prize is a sexist prize […] You couldn’t found a prize for male writers. The Orange prize assumes there is a feminine subject matter – which I don’t believe in. It’s honourable to believe that – there are fine critics and writers who do – but I don’t.

In 2008, novelist Tim Lott also claimed that the Orange Prize was sexist. His argument is based on the fact that women sell more books and to a largely female market, which makes the prize “unfair”:

Could the establishment of a men-only prize, with men-only judges, be justified given their level of relative exclusion in schools and the marketplace? Can you imagine the derision with which it would rightly be met?

Woman’s place in the respected literary canon has been a thing of controversy since women began writing. It started even before the publication of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own in 1929, and long before the wave of feminist criticism in the 1970’s, with the Brontes,  Jane Austen and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who metaphorically writes about the difficulties facing women writers in her short story The Yellow Wallpaper.

The Orange Prize is no stranger to controversy. In 2008, the appointment of Lily Allen as a judge, resulted in questions over the ‘seriousness‘ of the award. There is no doubt that Lott and Byatt will face criticism over their comments, but I wonder, does they have a point?

Having a ‘no-men-allowed’ award negates the progress that women writers and feminist theorists have achieved in the past 100-or-so years. It says: “you’re writing isn’t quite good enough to be worthy of a Man Booker prize BUT here’s a special award just for you.” Surely if women writers want to be regarded as equals to their male counterparts, then they should aim to be judged alongside them. Continue reading

Nawaal-El-Saadawi: religion, fundamentalism and female circumcision

Egyptian writer, feminist and doctor Nawaal-El-Saadawi on religion, fundamentalism and female circumcision.

Read my post on Nawaal-El-Saadawi and mainstream feminist education.

Review: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

In her 1899 short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman depicts the difficulties facing women and the practise of writing.

The female protagonist, prohibited from writing by her husband, is forced into writing her troubled thoughts in a secret journal.

Critic Paula A Treichler suggests that The Yellow Wallpaper is a “metaphor for women’s discourse”, and I would completely agree. Despite being under 100 pages long, the story runs deeper than you might initially think. Continue reading