I am a PhD student at Cardiff University, proudly representing TLW in Wales. My research focuses mostly on the portrayal of objects and materiality in the work of Angela Carter. Naturally I couldn’t miss an opportunity to talk a bit more about her. While my research doesn’t directly concern itself with transatlanticism, it is worth looking at Carter for an example of a British writer’s critique of America.
If you’ve been one of our attendees from year 1, you’ll know that we invited Dr Heidi Yeandle (Swansea University) to tell us about her research into Carter’s portrayal of America. The case for reading her work in a transatlantic light is therefore a well established one, with researchers like Yeandle, but also Sarah Gamble, and Edmund Gordon’s recent biography. Carter’s relationship to the continent was a fraught one on multiple emotional, cultural, and political levels. Her first experience of America was a trip to the ‘US of A’ after she’d won the Somerset Maugham literary Award for her novel Several Perceptions (1968). Then accompanied by her first husband Paul Carter, she took a road trip around the country before embarking on a plane to Japan. A month there led to some drastic changes: she left Paul and filed for divorce, and what was supposed to be a short stay became a 2-year long expatriation that lasted until 1972. While her trip to America was comparatively shorter and less eventful, Carter still acknowledges its effect on her imagination in the essay ‘My Maugham Award’ she wrote in 1970:
‘In America, I saw a great many hallucinatory midnight bus stations and lived in a log cabin in a redwood forest for a while. I heard the windbells of San Francisco and the picturesque cries of the street traders of the Haight-Ashbury quarter … ‘hash … lids … grass’ I made a sentimental journey to the jazz museum in New Orleans and looked at a glass case containing Bix Beiderbecke’s collar studs and handkerchief through a mist of tears. […]’
The enumeration goes on. Carter compares the effect of the travels she undertook around that time with an ‘enormous barrage of imagery’ (204). Indeed, her writings bear the mark of an American inspiration, particularly her novel The Passion of New Eve (1977), set in the USA, and replete with allusions to Hollywood and the cinema industry. In addition, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972) takes place in an imagined South America – a homage to the continent of Magical Realism and Borges, who Carter had started reading while travelling in Asia.
When she returned to America more than a decade later, Carter’s career had blossomed. She had published her novels The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972) and The Passion of New Eve (1977), and the short story collections Fireworks (1974) and The Bloody Chamber (1979). In her polemical essay The Sadeian Woman, she had put forward radical ideas about the politics of sex, pornography, and pleasure. During the 1980s, Carter lived in the USA three times in total: in 1980, as a teaching fellow at Brown University; in 1985, for a similar position at the University of Texas, Austin; and in 1986, to work at the Writers’ Workshop of the University of Iowa. Unsurprisingly, her journals from the decade testify to her growing interest in American history, but also in contemporary American culture, with topics ranging from snake fights (yes, yes) to urbanism – on a random note, she took extended notes on the malls she visited there. Nevertheless, Carter remained very ambivalent in her assessment of her temporary home country. Her notes from that time reveal her frustration:
‘It’s a culture so entirely without sensuality that I find it very difficult to work here. It’s not something I can talk to Americans about, either; the sensuous apprehension of the world was written out of the script very, very early on.’
The short stories that she wrote during the decade, later anthologised in Black Venus (1984) and the posthumous Old World Wonders and American Ghosts (1992) show Carter working out her frustration with the American ‘script’ by exploring foundational myths. Carter’s America, home to Edgar Allan Poe, Lizzie Borden, Cotton Mather and John Ford, is a ghostly land, haunted by puritanism, violence, and repressed European paganism. It is also a colonised land, and the figure of the Native American appears in various guises throughout the collections. To conclude this (very) short introduction to Carter’s transatlantic aesthetics, I will leave you with her own depiction of the American continent, taken from the story ‘John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore”:
America begins and ends in the cold and solitude. Up here, she pillows her head upon the Arctic snow. Down there, she dips her feet in the chilly waters of the South Atlantic, home of the perpetually restless albatross. America, with her torso of a woman at the time of this story, a woman with an hour-glass waist, a waist laced so tightly it snapped in two, and we put a belt of water there. America, with your child-bearing hips and your crotch of jungle, your swelling bosom of a nursing mother and your cold head, your cold head.
Its central paradox resides in this: that the top half doesn’t know what the bottom half is doing.
 Angela Carter, Shaking a Leg: Collected Writings, ed. by Jenny Uglow (London: Penguin Books, 1998), p. 203.
 Edmund Gordon, The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography (London: Chatto & Windus, 2016), p. 143.
 See Edmund Gordon, The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography (London: Chatto & Windus, 2016), for a detailed chronology.
 Cited in Gordon, p. 314.
 Angela Carter, American Ghosts & Old World Wonders (Random House, 2012), p. 21.