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


Virginia Woolf’s last letter

I just had to blog about this. Virginia Woolf’s life is a well publicised one. As is her death. On 28th March 1941, sixty-years ago today, she drowned herself by wading into the River Ouse in Yorkshire near her home, … Continue reading

Review: Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay

Jackie Kay‘s writing oozes ‘normality’, it’s unashamedly honest and at times unapologetically simple. But her personal life has been neither normal nor simple, and her identity has very much influenced her work; a Scottish poet and writer, Kay was born in Edinburgh to a Nigerian father and a Scottish mother. She was adopted at birth by a communist white couple and was brought up in Glasgow.

In Red Dust Road: An Autobiographical Journey, Kay tells us about the journey she took to trace her birth parents. Her journey is a metaphorical and physical one: from Glasgow to Milton Keynes to Aberdeen to Nigeria and back again, to the forked roads and the roads not taken and the long winding roads. Emotionally, the journey is a difficult one, and Kay doesn’t take the easy route. At an important stage of the story, she ignores advice and chooses to travel to her father’s village of Ukpor by road instead of flying. After the dangerous twelve-hour journey Kay’s journey ends with her finding her imagined red-dust road, and more:

The road welcomes me; it is benevolent, warm, friendly, accepting and for now it feels enough, the red, red of it, the vivid green against it, the long and winding red-dust road.

But it’s not just a search for genealogy, as the blood imagery of the red-dust road might suggest; it’s the search for a greater truth:

“This question fascinates me,” I say, leaning forward in my chair to be closer to him. “Nature or nurture?”

Throughout the book Kay indulges us with humorous, touching anecdotes about being a black adopted child with white parents in Scotland during the 60’s and 70’s, as well as her experience of being pregnant, and family, secrets, memories and religion, but it falls short of delving into the deepest recesses of her private life. I craved an insight into her sexual identity and personal relationships, particularly with Carole Anne Duffy to which she provides only one heart-breaking insight (“she didn’t love me anymore”). But the exclusion of the ‘juicy details’ only makes it clear that Kay doesn’t define herself by her sexuality or her relationships. And why should she, kiss-and-tell isn’t exactly Continue reading

Nawaal-El-Saadawi who?

Nawaal-El-Saadawi-who? I have never heard of her, let alone have I read any of her books. fact, I am ashamed that I have never heard of her – being a graduate of English Literature who spent most of her studies … Continue reading