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The Imperial "Object" and the Problem of Power in Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus

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Title: The Imperial "Object" and the Problem of Power in Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus
Authors: Sprott, Jill
Issue Date: 15 Jan 2014
Publisher: University of Hawaii at Manoa
Abstract: "I'm in the demythologising business," Angela Carter writes in "Notes from the Front Line," in which she discusses her position as a woman writer. Myths, she maintains, are "extraordinary lies designed to make people unfree," unlike folklore, which she claims is "a much more straightforward set of devices for making real life more exciting and is much easier to infiltrate with different kinds of consciousness" ("Notes" 71). This definition of myth may well have been informed by Roland Barthes' discussion of myth, as in "Change the Object Itself: Mythology Today." According to Barthes, myth has four basic elements. First, it "is something socially determined." Second, myth "consists in overturning culture into nature or, at least, the social, the cultural, the ideological, the historical into the 'natural'... presented as being a 'matter of course."' Myth is also "discontinuous." It "disappears, but leaving- so much more insidious- the mythical." Finally, myth is "a type of speech ... a semiology" with a connoted and a denoted form (Barthes 166). Carter's involvement in the relationship between myth and history informs her life's work in the "demythologising business" as a woman and a writer living in an industrialized, post- imperialist country. The elements of art, gender, and imperialism merge in Nights at the Circus (1984), a novel that features the spectacular winged aerialiste Sophie Fevvers, the star of Colonel Kearney's Imperial Circus. She's the object of interest for audiences all over the world, including the "objective" yet enamored young journalist Jack Walser, whose inquiry into the legitimacy of the myth of Fevvers draws him into the turn-of-the-century circus empire. Nights reflects Carter's understanding that while the histories of gender and imperialism are informed by and responsible for the perpetuation of myth, they are not irreparably bound to myth. She presents history as a mixture of both fact and fiction, open to a "demythologising" which subjects even the most "factual" elements of history- such as empire- to the scrutiny of imagination. In doing so, Carter enables the construction- or re- construction- of a malleable past and future, rearticulating time and space in her creation of a history which considers the constructions of masculinity and femininity as they are performed within the context of empire.
Pages/Duration: 49 pages
Rights: All UHM Honors Projects are protected by copyright. They may be viewed from this source for any purpose, but reproduction or distribution in any format is prohibited without written permission from the copyright owner.
Appears in Collections:Honors Projects for English

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