Manuscript notes on Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter


This is one of two notebooks containing Angela Carter’s ideas and research notes for her magical realist novel, Nights at the Circus (1984).

It includes notes on the character of Sophie Fevvers, the six-foot-two trapeze artist who is the novel’s heroine. In Part One, Fevvers tells us (via interview with the American journalist Jack Walser) the story of her otherwordly birth: she was hatched out of an egg that was left on the doorsteps of a Whitechapel brothel, and at puberty sprouted wings. Here Carter describes Fevvers as, ‘Aerialiste. Hoverer. A magical, seminal being; a bird-woman, a star’ (f. 8r), but also hints at Fevvers’ fantastical self-creation, noting that, ‘She was able to project what she aspired to be’.

Many of Carter’s notes relate to Fevvers’ impressive strength and physical presence: ‘her hair is unique in length’ (f. 8r), ‘blonde as a peroxide moon’ (f. 8v); she has ‘Excellent white teeth, made for crunching rosy apples’ (f. 8r); she is ‘A big girl, a strapping girl. A healthy appetite’ (f. 8r); ‘she has a kind of electricity’; ‘she has conquered gravity’ (f. 8v).

Also digitised here are Carter’s notes on others aspects of Colonel Kearney’s Circus, including the ‘lady lion-tamer’ (ff. 11r–13v), clowns (‘The mirth the crown creates grows in proportion to the humiliation he is forced to endure’; ff. 14r–15v), and the circus ring itself (‘a pure sphere of ^continuous/discrete astonishment’; ff. 16r–16v).

The notebook reveals that Carter drew on diverse sources for her research, including Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute (which features the character of Papagena, who is feathered and known as ‘the birdcatcher’), ancient Jewish texts (in reference to Azazel, who is portrayed as a fallen angel and an ‘impure winged character’), and Homer’s Odyssey.

Full title:
Angela Carter Papers: 'Nights at the Circus' 1
Manuscript / Notebook
Angela Carter
Usage terms

© Displayed with the permission of the Estate of Angela Carter c/o Rogers, Coleridge & White Ltd., 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN. Angela Carter’s work is published in the UK by Vintage, Virago, Penguin Classics. You may not reuse the material for commercial purposes.

Held by
British Library
Add MS 88899/1/11

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