Angela Carter on the pleasures of distraction
"All this prevarication isn’t actually putting off writing; it’s part of the work process."
Angela Carter (1940–1992)
Last Thursday would have been Carter’s 80th birthday (she died, of lung cancer, at age 51). Best known for her 1979 novel The Bloody Chamber, she mixed fairytales, Freud, and feminism to write stories and novels that, in the words of her biographer, Edmund Gordon, “gave free rein to the fantastic and the surreal.”
In 1991, Carter described her daily routine to a reporter from the Sunday Times Magazine. At the time she was living in London with her longtime partner, Mark, and their seven-year-old son, Alex. After a disastrous first marriage, an escape to Japan and a pair of unconventional love affairs there, a return to England and the launch of her literary career, and the birth of her only child at age 43, it was a domesticated existence different from what Carter had expected for herself—and more enjoyable than she would have guessed. “When I was 30, if I’d known what life would be like at 50, I’d have slit my wrists,” she said. “What I wanted then was a bit of flash.”
On weekdays, Carter said, she woke at 7:30 a.m. and spent the first part of the morning getting her son fed and dressed. “There was a Fifties film called Woman in a Dressing Gown, and that’s what I become for the next few hours,” she said. “I put on this egg-stained dressing gown and become instantly squalid as I make breakfast.”
After breakfast, Mark would take Alex to school and then go to school himself; a construction worker when he and Carter met (when he was 19 and she was 34), he was then studying to become a teacher. Meanwhile, with the house empty, Carter would take a shower—or not—don “baggy trousers and a longish sweatshirt,” and set to work: