This collection of yellow writing pads and loose manuscript sheets contain notes for Wise Children, the 1991 novel by Angela Carter, together with the first draft for each of the novel’s five chapters written in Carter’s own hand.

Notes for Wise Children

Providing a glimpse of Wise Children in early development, the notes include an overview of the novel, chapter outlines, and lists of quotations, references or other ideas that would be incorporated into characters and storylines.

Even minor revisions are revealing. Carter decides the novel should be a ‘comic family saga’ rather than the drier ‘long comic novel’. There are off-the-cuff notes on small but captivating details, like ‘stockings a problem’ (in reference to the Chance twins); notes on Louise Brooks, the American dancer and actress famous in the 1920s and 1930s who is one of several inspirations for the Chance twins; and a larger section of notes titled ‘Peregrine’s magic’ that focuses on Chapter Five where Perry, here explicitly named ‘Lord of Misrule’, makes an unexpected entrance at the Hazard birthday party.

Equally illuminating are notes that set the scene for the Chance twins’ home in Brixton (f. 70r). Including minute yet theatrical details down to the ‘gin bottle in the wastepaper basket’, these pages show Carter sketching out an entire fictional world.

The first draft of Wise Children

Given that these notepads contain the first of at least five drafts of Wise Children, the text is significantly different to the published novel. For example, Dora has less presence as a narrator; the exuberant direct address that opens the published novel, ‘Good morning! Let me introduce myself’, is absent, and there is a temporary switch to third person narrative. Instead, Carter focuses on an extended description of the blustery, windy weather that anticipates the carnivalesque disruption that is to come.

Relationships between characters are different, too. Dora sentimentally refers to Grandma Chance as ‘mum’, and she is the twin’s biological grandmother. Kitty Chance is cast as Grandma Chance’s daughter rather than the orphaned housemaid of the published novel, who is altogether a more tragic figure. But by removing this edge of familial legitimacy from the final novel, you could argue that Carter achieves a stronger representation of the Chances’ unconventional family life because, ‘Grandma raised us, not out of duty, or due to history, but because of pure love, it was genuine family romance, she fell in love with us the moment she clapped her eyes on us’.

This material shows the reflective and meticulous nature of Carter’s drafting process. After writing out the first draft, she recorded notes on what aspects of character or plot to develop in the next.