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These two essays are part of the Angela Carter archive held by the British Library. The first is a draft of ‘Alison’s giggle’, a piece that explores literature and sexuality. The second, also in draft, examines ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ and Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s influence is felt in Carter’s short story collections The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories and Fireworks.
Throughout her career as a novelist, Angela Carter also wrote journalism. After a brief spell at the Croydon Advertiser when she left school, Carter’s first ‘serious’ journalism began in 1967 for New Society magazine. She was the daughter of journalist Hugh Stalker.
Whether her subject is food or fashion, literature or art, the writing carries Carter’s recognisable voice: gutsy, dynamic, often satirical, always thoughtful. Each subject is examined from new angles, unpacked and deconstructed – an approach we identify in Carter’s fiction, such as the short story collection The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, a retelling of traditional fairy tales.
Carter’s journalism is published in Nothing Sacred (1982), Expletives Deleted (1992) and Shaking a Leg: Collected Journalism and Writings (1997).
Published in 1983, ‘Alison’s giggle’ is centred on the heroine of Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale (written at the end of the 14th century). Alison’s giggle - “Tee hee, quod she” – occurs immediately after she tricks her older, foolish husband into kissing her ‘ers’ [arse] and as she returns to bed with her younger, handsome lover.
In her argument, Carter highlights the subversive, disruptive power of laughter, using Alison’s giggle as a jumping-off point to discuss the representation of women’s sexuality. Carter argues that this kind of laughter, associated with a woman’s sexual pleasure and her humiliation of a man, has rarely been heard again in literature. More widely, literature has seldom produced such an honest depiction of women’s sexual experience. Carter considers the male writers who ‘cannot bear to hear it’ as well as the rise of women writers in the 18th century who, like Jane Austen, tended to ‘omit both the giggle and the kind of sexual circumstance that provokes it’.
By contrast Carter’s own fiction would seem to address this gap, openly representing sex and laughter. A notable example is ‘The Company of Wolves’, where Red Riding Hood laughs in the face of the wolf who threatens to both physically eat and sexually consume her.