“Reading is just as creative an activity as writing and most intellectual development depends upon new readings of old texts. I am all for putting new wine in old bottles, especially if the pressure of the new wine makes the bottles explode” A. Carter Angela Carter’s production could be located in the bosom of English writers generation influenced by the second feminism and also interested on revealing in their works genre inequality. The re-writing of myths is often one of the most successful ways of recognition by the hand of a writer and a poet like Michèle Roberts, Sara Maitland, Michelle Wandor and Angela Carter. Carter is characterized by her concerning about unmasking mythical representations which had affected decisively the construction of genre as well as affected women life. In the following paper I will analyse the use of patriarchal myths towards feminism through the re-writing of Eve’s myth and the Paradise Lost at Carte’s works The Magic Toyshop (1969) and The Passion of New Eve (1977).
Taking into account the thesis written by Susanne Schmid about myth’s use by Carter, we will start with the premise that she performs a rewriting that changes the characters of her works until the complete striking of the sacred role. This is done as of the de-familiarization that the individuals and objects are exposed at, as well as the alteration of their living circumstances that is characters are taken apart from their daily reality as we will see in the future lines. In The Magic Toyshop, Eve is represented by the main character Melanie, a girl who lost her parents and gets with difficulty into her adolescence; The Passion of New Eve is a dystopic fantasy where Evelyn, a transsexual leaves apart reality. Through these works Carter recreates and gives examples of the debate that in the 70’s confrontation between rational feminists and cultural feminists: the revaluation of the couple woman/nature. Susanne Schmid identifies three different lectures of the myth at The Magic Toyshop: “culturally conveyed images of femininity, the Leda-myth and the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden”.
Those myths are superposed during the work that talks about Melanie, an adolescent that after her parent’s death has to go and live with her uncle Philip, the girl and her siblings change the scene of a pastoral life in the meadow by a dark house in London suburbs. In this first part of the story is where myths are mostly developed, for example in the first chapter Melanie gets into her parent’s bedroom, the ‘forbidden’ place of the house, opens a trunk and takes her mother’s wedding dress. She puts it on and goes out the garden, which becomes hostile. When she realizes that the main door is closed, climbs the apple tree in order to go back to her room. It can be easily compared through the symbols with Eve at the Genesis but the predestination element does not appear in this story, Melanie is a different Eve from the one in the Bible. In her tree-climbing days, the ascent would have taken only a few minutes. But she had given up climbing when she started to grow her hair and stopped wearing shorts every day during the summer holidays.
Since she was thirteen, when her periods began, she had felt she was pregnant with herself, bearing the slowly ripening embryo of Melanie-grown-up inside herself for a gestation time the length of which she was not precisely aware. And during this time, to climb a tree might provoke a miscarriage and she would remain forever stranded in childhood, a crop-haired tomboy. Eve’s motive is developed as long as the story moves forward, Melanie gathers experience at Philip’s house, then she meets Finn, a vulgar prince charming and experiences the incestuous relationship between Francie and her aunt Margaret, these facts shove the adolescent girl towards the adult world and provides her knowledge. When she changes of house for a second time, after Uncle Philip burned the house is a freeing for her and her siblings. In this story as in the Garden of Eden, the human has to obey God’s will in any circumstances; Philip Flower is the ruthless god not only in his puppet theatre but also at home.
At the end of the story, Melanie and Finn are sitting in the garden: “At night, in the garden, they faced each other in a wild surmise”. They are expelled from Eden, now they can break away from fear and pressure; they are the original couple, Adam and Eve at the end of Paradise Lost. Eve’s figure also appears at The Passion of New Eve, described by Carter as anti-mythical, but full of Biblical references. The author joins the creation myth of Eve and the banishment after the Ancestral Sin; she inaugurates the deconstruction of feminism, analyses the element that creates her identity and announces the creation of a new woman, the New Eve. Eve is the representation, in Judeo-Christian literature, of the creation of the feminine genre, moreover is considered the culpable of the Original Sin. She becomes the perfect demythologizing objective by Carter.
In this work, after a traumatic experience in New York, and getting Leilah pregnant, the young Evelyn gets into a desert in California looking for new adventures. There, the boy is kidnapped and taken to Beulah, a city under the earth inside the duplicate of a uterus. Proposition one: time is a man, space is a woman. Proposition two: time is a killer. Proposition three: kill time and live forever. Believing these propositions, Mother, the founder and goddess from this place subjugates Evelyn into a change of sexuality, creating an Eve from Evelyn, a woman from a man. The first woman created by feminine hands so now she can experience the dominant gender.
Since Eve’s birth there is a strong connection with the Genesis, Evelyn becomes against nature by being created against his choice and he defines himself as a monster: “Now I am being as mythic and monstrous as Mother herself… Eve remains wilfully in the state of innocence that precedes the Fall”. The image that Evelyn has now about himself is not recognisable by him, and he will not know who he is until he meets Tristessa. Both Eves from Carter stories are leaving paradise, on one hand Melanie leaves paradise after going away Uncle Philip’s house, on the other hand Evelyn escapes together with Tristessa.
Here is where the Eden image is represented in The Passion of New Eve: Eve and Tristessa, resembling Eve and Adam, are resting at an oasis. But this locus amoenus disappears immediately after the arrival of a group of W.A.S.P, who kill Tristessa and take Eve under their protection. Through these lines I tried to analyse the feminine canon of Eve in Angela Carter’s works The Magic Toyshop and The Passion of New Eve. Through characters like Melanie and Evelyn, Carter questions Eve’s association to sins, erasing the sacred link that this figure had but using common places that Eve has frequented. Carter’s strategy offers many distorted visions about feminine myths, giving both visions, the official and the reviewed adding fiction and erasing immutability visions and essentialism.
Carter, Angela. 1969. The Magic Toyshop. London. Virago.
1977. The Passion of New Eve. London. Virago.
1983. “Notes from the front line”. Wandor.
Schmid, Susanne. “Angela Carter: ‘Mythimania and Demythologizing’”. Thomas and LeSaux.
Isabel Ruiz Clemente