A Musing: Nights at the Circus


I was thinking that I would have to read Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus again before I even attempted a musing on it, but realized that another reading, and perhaps yet another after that wouldn’t pin down anything: the novel’s very core dances with the concept of truth. I still wouldn’t “know.” I can’t even give you a plot summary — the turn of the last century. A woman with wings, performing in a circus. London, then train travel to Russia, then Siberia. A women’s prison. A takeover of the train by outlaws. No, not really. See? Can’t do it.

What’s swirling around in my head? Notions of feminism, postmodernism, performativity, appetite. Power (“She was feeling supernatural tonight. She wanted to EAT diamonds.”), politics. Subjects and objects. Chaos (oh my god I’ll never look at a clown in the same way) and order. Desire. Love. Change. Utopia. Allegories and theories. Gorgeous, gorgeous language and narrative acrobatics.

Brilliant. Risky. Difficult and worth it. I love, love, loved it. I need to go to Angela Carter World much more often.

How inconvenient to have wings, and by extension, how very, very difficult to be born so out of key with the world. Something that women know all about is how very difficult it is to enter an old game.

Carter, Angela. A Conversation with Angela Carter, The Review of Contemporary Fiction. Fall, 1994.


  1. Candiss

    I have this one on my to-read list. The only Angela Carter I’ve read thus far is The Bloody Chamber, which I enjoyed despite its unrelenting darkness. Have you read others by Carter? If so, is Circus your recommendation for a next read, or do you prefer another of her titles? I will probably be reading her collection Saints and Strangers sometime this year, as one of the stories it contains is part of the short story challenge I participate in…so I might as well take the opportunity to read the whole collection. But I’m curious as to which novel to choose next.

    Have you read Jeanette Winterson? She’s one of my favorites. I always feel she and Angela Carter could probably swap fan clubs for a day and all parties would find themselves happy.

    • jackiemania

      I asked this same question after I read The Bloody Chamber, and those in the know told me to read Nights at the Circus and Wise Children as my next two books.

      I haven’t read Winterson yet, but have her high on my to-read pile — Written on the Body was one of the books I was thinking about taking on my trip. After you said the bit about JW and AC swapping fan clubs happily, I want to read it immediately!

      • Candiss

        Wise and Nights are the two novels I’ve had my eye on – and the library has them, unlike some of her more obscure stuff – so it sounds like I’m on the right track!

        I must admit I haven’t read Winterson’s Written on the Body yet, so I can’t give you an affirmation of enthusiasm for it, but reviews suggest it’s great. The Winterson books I’ve read are:
        – Sexing the Cherry (quite dark and earthy at times, but also hilarious and wonderfully archetypal and mythic, and it includes a pastiche of the Twelve Dancing Princesses tale at the center, which I totally didn’t expect…I just loved it!)
        – The Passion (also excellent, with beautiful language as with all her books…this is probably more accessible than Cherry)
        – Oranges are Not the Only Fruit (This is my least favorite of the bunch, but people who dislike the fantastical might like it best. It’s semi-autobiographical, and I think I’d prefer to just read her autobiography/memoir, Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?)

        Her language is so evocative and poetic, as hackneyed as that descriptor may be…it’s still accurate. Now I’m itching to read both Carter and Winterson to compare them!

  2. My Book Strings

    I just recently read The Bloody Chamber and also feel at a loss of how to review it. I think I get the stories, but maybe not, but they are just so beautifully written. Nights at the Circus is my favorite book by Carter so far. After reading your discussion with Candiss, I think I will have to check out Winterson. I don’t know her.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s