Typewritten and annotated drafts of Wise Children by Angela Carter, Chapter One


These undated typescripts contain the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth successive drafts of Chapter One of Wise Children, Angela Carter’s 1991 novel. Three are incomplete drafts.

Heavily annotated and revised in Carter’s own hand, the drafts reveal the fascinating evolution of the text. Carter shifts narrative voice, plays with scene setting, and remodels characters’ backgrounds. New lines or descriptive passages are frequently inserted into the typescript, cramming to the edges of the page or spilling over to the next, creating a strong physical impression of the way in which Carter’s novel densely layers references to British identity, class, empire, Shakespeare or popular culture.

Developing narrative voice

In the second draft, we see Carter add a touch of fairy tale storytelling – ‘Once upon a time’ – to an otherwise ordinary description of the north and south London divide. This spellbinding phrase is an early signifier that we are entering an extravagant, fantastical world, where an unusual number of twins can coexist, Grandma Chance’s ghost can appear, and babies (also twins) can be produced from coat pockets. Similarly important is the insertion of the descriptive phrase, ‘the kind of wind that blows everything topsy-turvy’ – ‘topsy-turvy’ being the key word, here, for a carnivalesque novel that inverts social, familial and cultural hierarchies. Carter had jotted down the word in notes relating to the first draft, where it is notably absent.

By the third draft (not shown here), Carter has cut out the section that is written in a third-person narrative describing Dora’s room and the cats as Dora looks out of the window. It is rewritten in Dora’s first person narrative voice, creating an altogether smoother, uniform narrative. In the fourth draft, Dora’s voice becomes even stronger. On the opening page Carter inserts Dora’s greeting, ‘Welcome to the wrong side of the tracks’. Alluding to geographical location, British class lines, illegitimacy, and the fact that Dora’s narrative is unconventional and potentially unreliable, this phrase is laden with multiple meanings that resonate throughout the novel. In this draft, Carter strongly refines the whole opening, cutting out much of the extended passage about the weather and wind.

The sixth and final version, titled ‘Last draft’, is close to the published novel. Crucially, Dora’s direct address to the reader – where she exuberantly wishes ‘Good morning!’ and briefly introduces herself – is inserted into the opening passage. This focuses the narrative, establishing an immediate intimacy between the reader and our divulging, charming narrator, but it also makes the issue of identity conspicuous and centre stage.

Full title:
Angela Carter Papers: 'Wise Children' 2
Manuscript / Typescript / Draft
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.

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British Library
Add MS 88899/1/17

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