Wise Children

The story revolves around the twin Chance girls, music hall performers and illegitimate daughters of the great Shakespearean actor, Sir Melchior Hazard. The novel is underpinned by opposites and contradictions. It draws on a rich variety of high and low culture – music hall, cinema and Hollywood, theatre and Shakespeare – and features central themes of doubling (or twinning), identity, fatherhood and legitimacy/illegitimacy. It is fast paced, comic and entertaining, and for these reasons is considered to be more approachable than some of Angela Carter's earlier works, such as the provocative Sadeian Woman (1979).

Carter spent much of her childhood and later life in south London, and Wise Children is a mourning for a lost era of Lyons tea shops, and also a celebration of the dizzying linguistic richness of London's inhabitants. It gains its metaphorical strength from the geography of the city. Wise Children is Carter's last work. After her death in 1992 at the age of 52, Carter became one of most widely taught novelists in British universities. Part of her appeal lies in the way her works defy genre, playfully combining elements of surrealism, Gothic, magic realism, traditional fairytales, feminism and postmodernism.

Angela Carter

Related articles

Angela Carter: fairy tales, cross-dressing and the mercurial slipperiness of identity

Article by:
Marina Warner
Fantasy and fairy tale, Literature 1950–2000, Exploring identity

Marina Warner explores cross-dressing and the performance of identity in Angela Carter's fairy tale-inspired works.

‘What a joy it is to dance and sing!’: Angela Carter and Wise Children

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.

Bad-good girls, beasts, rogues and other creatures: Angela Carter and the influence of fairy tales

Article by:
Marina Warner
Fantasy and fairy tale, Exploring identity, Literature 1950–2000

Marina Warner describes how Angela Carter collected, reimagined and borrowed from fairy tales and folklore.

Related collection items

Related people

Related teachers' notes

teacher note image - Angela Carter's Wise Children manuscript with Cecil Beaton photo of the Ruthren Twins from 'The Book of Beauty'

Angela Carter's Wise Children: The show must go on

Hone creative writing skills by exploring the themes and literary and historical sources within Wise Children.

PDF Download Available

School students at the British Library

Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber: Rethinking the Gothic

Examine Angela Carter's writing process and her treatment of the Gothic and fairy tale genres.

PDF Download Available