"A Feminist Libertarian Aesthetic" : Angela Carter and Surrealism

University dissertation from Uppsala : Department of English, Uppsala University

Abstract: This study examines the intersection of surrealism and feminism in the writing of Angela Carter. Tracing the full extent to which Carter’s writing was influenced by surrealist aesthetics and politics, it reveals the way in which her growing discontent with the movement’s gender politics gave critical content to her own feminist poetics. Surrealism, as a direct influence on her writing and as an integral part of her feminism, is shown to have remained a crucial element in Carter’s literary project as a whole. This study also extends critical feminist debates on surrealism more broadly in order to explore both the limits and the possibilities for feminism in reclaiming the representation of women and female desire.As a first step, chapter 1 elucidates the central presence in surrealism of the figure of woman and outlines key feminist responses to this figure. Carter’s early influence by, and subsequent critique of, surrealism is then situated in the context of this debate. Chapter 2 shows how – at the beginning of her literary career – Carter adopted a surrealist iconography of violence in order to produce both estrangement and shock, the effect of which is double-edged. While her writing at this stage aimed to challenge prescribed notions of femininity, it simultaneously uncritically made use of – and perpetuated – arguably misogynist surrealist imagery of gendered violence. Chapter 3 traces the subsequent shift in Carter’s writing towards a more overt use of surrealist iconography, at the same time as she began to formulate a more distinctly feminist critique of surrealist representations of women. Chapter 4 argues that Carter’s ensuing translation of Xavière Gauthier’s path-breaking study Surréalisme et sexualité is to be considered as a major reference point in Carter’s feminism. Furthermore, it argues that Gauthier’s study should be read as a companion piece to Carter’s polemic The Sadeian Woman. Lastly, chapter 5 investigates Carter’s fictional response to both Gauthier’s text and surrealism, and suggests that this response – both a critique and a celebration of surrealism – constitutes a renewal of surrealism itself.

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