Divided into several sections including ‘Hazards / High Life + people’ and ‘Screen + stage’, the notebook shows Carter fashioning characters and plot from research, prior to writing a first full draft of the novel. Interspersed throughout the notes, however, are some longer prose passages – essentially the earliest draft fragments of Wise Children.
Carter’s approach to research
Like the final novel, the notebook brings together high and low culture for a lively and at times raucous read. Packed with rich and meticulous detail, we see Carter drawing ideas and inspiration from a variety of material. This ranges from Max Reinhardt's Hollywood production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, together with biographies of Victorian Shakespearean actors and many anecdotes about the worlds of music hall and pantomime.
What unites the material is Carter’s ever-present eye for the comic and absurd as well as for the kitsch and fantastic. So a section of notes on World War Two irreverently details the escape of a zebra after London zoo was bombed, and includes tales of night clubs where it was said that ‘Army boots were ruining the dance floor’.
It is particularly interesting to see how Carter weaves real, already-outlandish anecdotes into the novel, amplifying them into carnivalesque extremes. On f. 5r, for example, Carter records how in 1936 the Stratford-upon-Avon Festival Company received a cable from Dallas, Texas, requesting some earth from Shakespeare’s garden and water from the River Avon to consecrate a production. In Wise Children, Melchoir arranges for the Chance twins to import the same ‘sacred earth’ to his Hollywood production but, among other comic complications, it gets used as cat litter.
Drafting character and structure
As well as containing research notes, the notebook reveals the emerging structure of Wise Children and its characters.
There is a sketch of the Hazard family tree, both ‘official’ and ‘real’ (f. 11r). Ticks written next to individual notes (‘they posed for stocking ads up until the ‘60s – legs are the last things to go’, f. 24r) show the ideas Carter ultimately incorporated into the novel (although this should not be assumed to be wholly accurate or complete).
Beginning on f. 65r, Carter’s notes show that she originally envisaged the novel as seven chapters, ‘[Shakespeare’s] acts being 7 ages’. This was later revised to five chapters that reflect the five acts within a Shakespeare play.
- Article by:
- Greg Buzwell
- Art, music and popular culture, Literature 1950–2000
Legitimacy and illegitimacy, high and low culture, north versus south London, everything in Wise Children has duality at its heart. Greg Buzwell examines Angela Carter’s last novel, the story of Dora and Nora Chance, the Hazard acting dynasty, and a life lived in the public gaze.
- Article by:
- Susannah Clapp
- Art, music and popular culture
Susannah Clapp, Angela Carter's literary executor, describes going through the writer's papers after her death, and shares the postcards that Carter sent her during their friendship, many of which related to her creative interests.
- Article by:
- Kate Webb
- Art, music and popular culture, Literature 1950–2000, Gender and sexuality
Kate Webb introduces Angela Carter's Wise Children, which uses Shakespeare, carnival and Hollywood to challenge distinctions between high and low culture and explore the relationship between energy and disorder.