Angela and the Beast

Patricia Craig

  • Black Venus by Angela Carter
    Chatto, 121 pp, £8.95, October 1985, ISBN 0 7011 3964 1
  • Come unto these yellow sands by Angela Carter
    Bloodaxe, 158 pp, £12.95, October 1985, ISBN 0 906427 66 5
  • Mainland by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
    Hamish Hamilton, 285 pp, £9.95, October 1985, ISBN 0 241 11643 0
  • The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler
    Chatto, 355 pp, £8.95, October 1985, ISBN 0 7011 2986 7
  • Arrows of Longing by Virginia Moriconi
    Duckworth, 252 pp, £9.95, October 1985, ISBN 0 7156 2069 X

Angela Carter’s Black Venus is Baudelaire’s Creole mistress Jeanne Duval, whose hair the poet once likened to a sea of ebony, among other things; his enchantment and her disenchantment figure in the story, the first in an inspiriting new collection of eight by an inveterate scrutiniser of the whole romantic box of tricks. There’s Baudelaire’s voluptuous reverie, on the one hand – full of his chère indolente, le charme des soirs, with the astonishing hair – and, on the other, cross Jeanne, toughened by experience, poking with a stick at a smoky fire. Men and their fancies don’t count for much with this unimpressionable ex-cabaret dancer – un serpent qui danse, the poet said, using an image not highly regarded by the girl who knows perfectly well how snakes move. Nor is she willing to accept without comment the exotic heritage he foists on her – la langoureuse Asie et la brûlante Afrique (all that) – knowing herself, in fact, to be completely déracinée. Hasn’t her family history been all but excised, with only a Creole grandmother, gabbling a broken dialect, to anchor her to a shady lineage? Carter – who’s created a bizarre déité or two of her own. notably Fevvers in Nights at the Circus – imagines the reality behind the narcotic lines, in which the poet goes overboard for the scents of tar and musk and coconut oil. Pungent odours indeed.

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