Saturday, 8 September 2012

The Novels of Angela Carter: The 60s

PART ONE


I’ve set out to read all of Angela Carter’s novels this year, to mark the 20th anniversary since her death in 1992. The first five can be conveniently grouped together, since they were all written in the 1960s, and offer, in their own oblique and off-centre way, a reflection on the changes and upheavals of the decade. They are set beyond the glittering bubble of swinging sixties London (largely confined to the central half of the city, north of the river) in vaguely defined South London and Bristol locales which reflect aspects of Carter’s own life. She grew up in South London and moved to Bristol when she married. Regarding the sixties from a Westcountry city allowed her to view the rapidly self-mythologising nature of the decade with a little distance and perspective. Whilst the locales are identifiable, they are never specifically named, leaving them as generic anyplaces rather than realistic depictions of place and time. The 60s she explores is largely a country of the mind, the names of streets and buildings, rivers and parks a distraction, better left abstract and without a map to guide us. It was a time to get profitably lost and mark out new routes.


Shadow Dance (aka Honeybuzzard) was Carter’s first published novel, and the first in what Marc O’Day identified as her ‘Bristol trilogy’ in the Virago collection of essays on her work Flesh and the Mirror. It was published in 1966, but the first draft had been written in 1963/4 whilst Carter was studying medieval literature at the University of Bristol. It’s told from the point of view of Morris, a weak-willed and indecisive protagonist wholly in thrall to, and possibly in love with, his friend and business-partner Honeybuzzard (or Honey, as he knows him). Honey is a charismatic psychopath with whom Morris runs a junk shop, filled with the scavenged detritus of abandoned Victorian houses condemned to destruction in the face of council redevelopment schemes. Morris is married, but without any sense of connection with his dreamy pre-Raphaelite wife Edna, and he also lives in fear of a woman named Ghislaine, Honey’s old girlfriend. She has been assaulted and abused by Honey, with Morris possibly standing by as a stooge-like accomplice, and is left with a disfiguring knife-scar across her face. As she returns from a long stay in hospital, she takes on an aspect of almost supernatural terror for Morris, in spite of her doomed, self-annihilating passivity – a listless figure of death. The story views the carnival parade of the sixties and its magpie tendency to borrow from the lingering remnants of an imperial past through a dark, gothic eye, the colourful and playful theatrical props and costumes disguising a dark abyss into which Morris willingly follows Honey at the novel’s end, even though he knows it will lead to his damnation.


The Magic Toyshop, published in 1967, follows Melanie, its young female protagonist, from a comfortably middle-class country life to a dark and decaying Victorian house in South London, where she and her little sister and brother go to live with their Uncle Philip after their parents have died in a plane crash. Philip rules the household, which includes his mute Irish wife Margaret and her two brothers, Finn and Francie, like an iron dictator, inspiring fear and simmering hatred. The story, whilst remaining ostensibly realist in its telling, anticipates the fantastical and fairy tale tone of later work. Philip is a maker of old-fashioned toys and puppets, an artist-craftsman, and the shop in which his exquisite work is displayed and sold is an enchanted corner of the mundane world, even if the enchantment is a dark and malign one. Several Perceptions was written from March to December 1967 and published in 1968. The second in the ‘Bristol trilogy’, it features another aimless and weak male protagonist, Joseph. He makes a half-hearted and incompetently staged suicide attempt early on, and drifts along for the rest of the story, a restless dropout struggling with his self-consciously sustained angst about the state of the world and of his own life, and engaging in fractious and circular exhanges with his psychiatrist, his new neighbouring flat tenant Annie, and his best friend Viv. It all ends on a provisionally optimistic note with a great party in a sprawling Georgian house which gathers all the novel’s characters together for a Christmas eve’s night of revels, which brings about reunions, reconciliations and resolutions of a sort, at least for a short, magically suspended moment. There is an apparent miraculous curing of the lame (Annie’s limp), as if the world had temporarily shifted into a state of enchantment which defied the normal, relentless rules of iron severity. As such, it acts as a metaphor for the whole mythical aura which shimmers around the 60 era, lending it such a special glow.


Heroes and Villains, published in 1969, found Carter writing a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel. Her ruined England some years after the bomb has fallen is a significantly more brutal and savage place than the worlds depicted by that central figure of the English post-disaster novel John Wyndham in Day of the Triffids and The Chrysalids. It has more in common with novels like M.John Harrison’s The Committed Men and Keith Roberts’ The Chalk Giants, both of which had their origins in Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds magazine and its paperback successor New Worlds Quarterly. Carter’s novel partakes of the spirit of New Worlds, with its new wave emphasis on experiment in form and content, and its insistence on literary quality alongside the traditional generic virtues of startling ideas and imaginative sweep. It tells the story of the passage of the young female protagonist Marianne from the towers of the enclosed city of Professors and Soldiers in which she grows up, a safely ‘civilised’ but stagnant environment, to the unknown territory of the barbarian wilderness beyond its walls. Here, she half-willingly joins a wandering tribe, and is married to their leader Jewel, a man both primitive and educated, brutal and sentimentally tender. The novel’s journey takes us across a shattered landscape filled with the ruins of southern England (railway stations, country houses and seaside amusement parks) and populated with devolved mutant outcasts and savage wild beasts. Finally, we reach the sea, which marks both an ending and a moment of transition, with Marianne faced with the possibility of ascending to a position of power and authority within the tribe, or of retreating to another tower, a lighthouse on the clifftop.


Love was written in 1969 and revised in the Winter of 1970, and although it wasn’t published until 1971, it has a definite summary, end of the 60s feel. The third in the ‘Bristol trilogy’, it charts the trajectory of a disastrous love triangle, with the passive and suicidal Annabel coming to share the flat and lives of two unstable brothers, Lee and Buzz, as a matter of desultory happenstance. The ironically distanced and clinically analytical tone of the novel’s narrative voice mercilessly dissects the self-deceiving fictions of the main characters, laying bare their underlying motivations and emotionally stunted inner lives. There are a number of peripheral characters who look on with a mixture of pity, contempt and distaste as events move towards their inevitably tragic conclusion. It all amounts to a stringent anti-romance, and a critical look at the supposed sexual freedoms of the decade, and the way in which they could prove destructive as well as liberating. But essentially, the novel is an intensely claustrophobic story of three people retreating into the confined, enclosed space of a small flat, narrowing their existence to the circumscribed orbit of their own subworld, cut off from any wider reality. In this sense, it bears some resemblance to Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles or Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In The Castle. Carter would later revise the novel in 1987, making various changes and adding an afterword which followed the lives of the characters through the 70s and into the 80s. This is the only version now generally available.

An air of theatricality and artifice pervades all of these novels, which are peopled with characters whose lives are lived behind a series of masks and performed with mannered and self-consciously constructed gestures and poses. The opening sentence of the first novel, Shadow Dance, sets the tone: ‘The bar was a mock-up, a forgery, a fake’. It provides a stage for the entrance of Ghislaine, the spectre returned to haunt Morris’ angst-ridden world. Shadow Dance is filled with junk shop props, the ‘oddments, fragments, bits of this and that’ which are ‘the abandoned detritus of other people’s lives’, all of which serves as the backdrop for play and masquerade. Even the local café is turned into a music hall environment, with the old woman who works there singing the old songs to herself (‘she sang about how the boy she loved was up in the gallery’). The shop in The Magic Toyshop centres around a similarly theatrical environment, with its shelves full of wooden puppets, toys and masks. And in the basement there is an actual stage, upon which Uncle Philip makes his obsessively crafted, life-sized puppets dance through his little dramas, strange self-penned scenarios of warped innocence. The rituals and customs of Heroes and Villains have an invented and self-sustaining theatricality, with colourful costumes, feathers, jewellery and body decoration expressing a primitive dandyism and sense of tribal identity and status. The wedding of Marianne and Jewel is an elaborately staged affair, full of colour and drama designed to make a lasting impact and establish this new alliance at the heart of the tribal hierarchy. Wedding dresses themselves are treated as theatrical costumes, with a powerful associative symbolism which can threaten to overwhelm the wearer. In these novels, they have wholly negative connotations, being linked with death and the annihilation of the self. In The Magic Toyshop, Melanie puts on her mother’s dress and plays out a fairytale scene which swiftly descends into panic and fear as the night closes in around her and the surrounding woods hint at a dark world beyond the protective domestic glow. The dress is torn as she frantically climbs an apple tree (the source of forbidden self-knowledge) to try to get back into her room, and is left hanging from its branches overnight like a spectre caught in its grasp as it floated by. The following day she buries its tattered remains. She associates her desecration of the dress with the news she subsequently receives of her mother and father’s death in a plane crash, as if it has possessed some magically protective quality which had now been dispelled. In Heroes and Villains, the wedding dress which Marianne is forced to put on for her marriage to Jewel is a mouldy and timeworn relic, ‘musty and stale’ and with ‘shadows of mildew in every fold of the voluminous skirt’. Marianne finds it ‘horrible and disgusting…and probably full of germs too’, and it becomes ‘an image of terror’. After the wedding she burns it. In Love, Annabel puts on what she considers to be a wedding dress to stage the theatrically arranged tableau of her suicide, a bridal gown in which to meet death. Although ‘because her wedding dress was black, she chose a long, plain white dress of cotton with a square-cut neck and long, tight sleeves’. Her wedding in life was more of a deathly affair than this union with death, for which she seems more actively engaged.


The dominant male characters in the novels can often be found in harlequinesque costumes, a motley and jumbled assortment of bright rags. In Several Perceptions, Joseph is described by Mrs Boulder, his friend Viv’s mum, as ‘a real scarecrow dandy’. Of Beverley Kyte, or Kay as he’s more informally known (and he’s an informal sort), a colourful free spirit who turns up as a recurrent peripheral figure in Several Perceptions, it’s said that he ‘gave the appearance of being in costume, like a little superhero’. Jewel, the barbarian leader in Heroes and Villains, is a ‘beautiful savage’ who bedecks himself with ‘charms and amulets to keep away wild beasts, devils and sicknesses’. Lee and Buzz, the brothers in Love, ‘both appreciated they were exotics’, and cultivate an air of mystery and danger. ‘People rarely mentioned them separately but always as the Collins brothers, like bandits. They knew of, and encouraged, this practice’. Along with the harlequin’s bright ragamuffin wardrobe and gadfly stance, the male characters in these novels also wear masks, literal and figurative, in order to take their part in the daily carnival parade. Honey in Shadow Dance ‘liked to wear false noses, false ears and plastic vampire teeth’, disguises both confrontationally grotesque and deceptively innocent. The barbarians in Heroes and Villains colour and shade their faces into fearsome masks when they are preparing to go out on raids. Jewel recalls that ‘when I painted my face…I became the frightening thing myself’. Worn with sufficient conviction, the mask becomes the person, creating a self-willed possession. By the end of the novel, Jewel longs to become ‘tiger boy’, tattooed from head to toe and transformed into a savage wild animal whose humanity has been wholly subsumed. Lee’s counterfeit smile in Love becomes a practised expression, a well-rehearsed theatrical gesture which can be employed at will to win people over. We learn that ‘at a very early age, Lee discovered the manipulative power of his various smiles and soon learned to utilize them in order to smooth his passage through life’. He also has a sensitivity to light which results in his eyes watering at frequent intervals, tears which have no connection to any authentic emotional state, but which are interpreted as signs of sorrow, sadness or contrition – of some degree of self-reflection or depth, the presence of a soul or a heart. Names are also changed or assumed, different characters tried out and either discarded or added to the repertory cast of selves. When he travels to London, Honey calls himself Harrison Lowell. Buzz in Love names himself, as if he is trying to shrug off his Englishness and become an all-American action hero. As the name of the Apollo 11 astronaut who didn’t walk on the moon, it also expresses his sense of inferiority to his brother, something also reflected in his nickname for Lee, Alyosha – the most heroic and selfless of Dostoevsky’s three Brothers Karamazov. Lee himself was christened Michael and renamed Leon by the socialist aunt who brought him up, before he finally claimed his own name and identity. Names are assigned to others, too, to allusive or symbolic effect. Melanie in Heroes and Villains becomes both Lilith, Adam’s first wife in Jewish mythology, and subsequently demonised, Miranda from The Tempest and ‘our lady of the wilderness – the virgin of the swamp’. The latter echoes the ‘Queen of the wasteland’ honorific bestowed on the statue of Victoria in the overgrown parkland of the National Exposition of 1852. This is clearly a version of Crystal Palace park, the neglected grounds (in 1967, at least) of the 1851 National Exhibition building (the crystal palace itself) which had been moved there from its original Hyde Park site.


All of these masks and theatrical guises are also an expression of what Carter herself described as an act of male impersonation, a more or less unconscious decision to start out attempting to write from a male perspective, which somehow also manages to retain a woman’s viewpoint – a double drag act, as Marina Warner calls it. The idea of dressing up and playing roles also has a childish dimension, with all childhood’s attendant cruelties and insecurities. This is evident in Honey’s tantrum when he loses the game of chess he is playing with Morris; in the game of heroes and villains (police vs barbarians) which the children play in the post-apocalyptic urban enclaves, and which Marianne opts out of – games which are effectively extended into adulthood; in the toys to which Philip and to a lesser extent Finn dedicate themselves in The Magic Toyshop; in Joseph’s sudden childish whims in Several Perceptions – setting the badger free from the zoo and sending a turd to LBJ as a response to the continued American bombing of Vietnam; in the adolescent exchanges of Joseph and Lee with their psychiatrists, who stand in as surrogate parents (Joseph’s telling him he’s ‘a bad actor’); and in Lee’s attraction to one of his school pupils, who ends up seeming the more mature of the two. In Heroes and Villains, Mrs Green, the mother figure, says of the barbarians that ‘they like bright colours…they’re like kids’. This infantile or adolescent quality evokes the childlike aspect of the 60s, with the barbarians appearing like a hippy gypsy tribe who’ve got themselves back to the country. But Carter undermines the innocence to which the young generation laid claim, revealing a darker, more alienated and directionless core. Whilst she by no means rejected 60s values, she doesn’t buy into the back to the nursery regression. For her young pre-adolescent girl protagonists, Melanie and Marianne, the imperative is to grow up. If they don’t, they end up like Ghislaine or Annabel, passive living dolls abused by the vicious children which surround them.

The idea of life as a performance, or as an edifice constantly in the process of being built (and knocked down again) from a varied assortment of cultural components, is furthered by the range of literary and cinematic references scattered throughout, with analogies often drawn by the characters themselves. The film parallels are suggestive of a reality subsumed by the artfully edited world viewed on the big screen which is then absorbed into the perceptions of the everyday, providing a readymade modern mythological interpretation of events. In Several Perceptions, Joseph first sees Annie at an odd angle from his sick bed, a viewpoint from which she is ‘melodramatically foreshortened, like a portentous shot from a German expressionist film’. Later, a young woman who puts on a histrionic display of dramatics in the local pub is described as a ‘cut price Magnani’ (a reference to Italian actress Anna Magnani, star of films such as Pasolini’s Mamma Roma and Rossellini’s Rome Open City, as well as one of the temptresses trying to lead Pete and Dud astray in the famous ‘bleedin’ Greta Garbo’ sketch). In the Magic Toyshop, Melanie’s discovery of a severed hand in the drawer is likened to ‘a still from a Hammer film’, the cinematic simile perhaps an admission of its unreality. When she is in the overgrown ruins of the National Exposition park with Finn, she dissociates herself from the tension of the moment in which they embrace by thinking that ‘they must look very striking, like a shot from a new-wave British film’. The original version of Love (which I haven’t read) was apparently filled with film references which Carter subsequently excised. Lee and Annabel’s wedding is still said to be ‘more Rene Clair than Antonioni’, however, as if it didn’t have enough substantial character to be directly described in its own terms.

Edgar Allan Poe - a presiding presence
Edgar Allan Poe is the presiding literary spirit, and is emblematic of the gothic undertones of all the novels. Honey, sporting a new waistcoat, is described as looking like a character from The Fall of the House of Usher. The crumbling Victorian house in which the terrible denouement of the story, with its descent into murder and madness, takes place could also be seen as a modern day equivalent of Roderick Usher’s cracked, doomladen manse. Ghislaine, wearing her black hat and coat towards the end as she stumbles half-knowingly towards her grim fate, is one of Poe’s revenant women, arousing terror whenever she appears, exuding the damp odour of grave dirt. Poe also sets the autumnal atmosphere in The Magic Toyshop, in which ‘the nights drew in earlier and earlier, clothed in sinister cloaks of mist like characters by Edgar Allan Poe’. Joseph quotes lines from Poe’s poem Eldorado in Several Perceptions whilst he’s in bed with Mrs Boulder, a poem about aging, the waste of a life spent in pursuit of tantalising mirages, and the incipient approach of death: ‘Over the mountains of the moon, through the valley of the shadow, ride, boldly, ride’, he cites. It’s a rather morbid sentiment to bring up in a post-coital moment with a woman considerably older than him, full of the cruel insensitivity and arrogance of youth, but perhaps it sums up the disappointment of their lacklustre lovemaking (Joseph’s problem as much as Mrs B’s). Joseph goes on to recall ‘I used to be very fond of Edgar Allan Poe…I thought he knew the score’, pretending to a world-weary wisdom which he has yet to earn. Later, at the party, he displays his affected pessimism once more, asking Annie ‘who do you think has come along as the Red Death?’ He’s making his Poe-literate reference to the story The Masque of the Red Death in which a personification of the plague crashes a masqued ball, systematically infecting the noble guests who have shut themselves away to avoid its depredations, assuming that their privileged status will protect them. In Love, Poe is encoded into the very names of the doomed lovers, Annabel and Lee, a reference to Annabel Lee, his love poem to a corpse in which the haunted lover dreams of lying down by the side ‘of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride,/In the sepulchre there by the sea,/In her tomb by the sounding sea’. The tower in the park becomes a gothic locale to which both Annabel (who ‘preferred the Gothic north’) and Lee are drawn at the beginning and end of the novel respectively, Lee collapsing on the bench in front of what has now become the Fool’s Tower from the tarot. They are linked by a certain shared sensibility which is suggested by the natural connectivity of their names. During their estrangement, Lee thinks he glimpses his brother Buzz appearing as ‘a gaunt figure…folded in the wings of a black cape like Poe’s raven named Nevermore’. Poe’s influence can also be detected in the necrophile atmosphere which infuses the novels. Both Shadow Dance and Love end with carefully and aesthetically staged deaths. There’s Honey’s creation of the grisly tableau in which Ghislaine’s murdered body is ceremonially laid out on the table, candles blazing around her; and Annabel’s careful preparation of her own perfect bedroom sepulchre, with her corpse as the central object laid out for display. Both of them attain the eternal status of the haunting dead women in Poe’s stories and poems – the lost Lenore, Madeline in The Fall of the House of Usher, Ligeia, Berenice, Morella and Annabel Lee herself.

Women also take on a lamia aspect, the belle dame sans merci, leading men to their doom. Even in their blank passivity, they are objects of fear, inspiring a cowering, cringing terror. Morris is terrified of Ghislaine, describing her in gothic horror terms as ‘the fiend woman from the monster magazines’ and indulging in grim fantasies in which her head is turned into a carved out turnip lantern. Emily, the woman who comes back with Honey from London, also appears mysterious to Morris in her cool self-possession and measured regard, and is referred to as being ‘witch-like’. Joseph in Several Perceptions demonises his old girlfriend Charlotte, recasting her as ‘which woman. Incubus’. In Heroes and Villains, Marianne is viewed with fear by the barbarians as a creature possessed of supernatural power after she has seemingly risen from the dead, recovering from a poisonous snake bite (another powerful Poe revenant). They make the sign of the evil eye to protect themselves against her imagined curses (we later learn that this is in fact the sign of the cross). Although he brutalises her and seemingly subjugates her, it becomes clear that Jewel is under her spell and also fears her. She is destined to bring about his fall from power and eventual death, a fate of which he is fully aware but lacks the will or desire to evade.

Millais' Ophelia
If Poe sets the gothic pitch of the novels, then allusions to pre-Raphaelite art put forward a certain ideal of feminine beauty and propriety – a pale fragility which contains within it an inherently propensity towards the tragic. In Shadow Dance, Morris’ wife Edna is described as looking like Janey Morris posing as Guinnevere in William Morris’ painting. Morris (named after William?) later tells Honey, who has bedecked himself with jewellery found in one of the houses they are scavenging through, ‘you look like an illustration to Goblin Market’ (Christina Rossetti’s narrative poem to which her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti provided a pictorial accompaniment). Melanie has her pre-Raphaelite reveries in The Magic Toyshop, too. At the beginning of the novel we find her looking at herself in the wardrobe mirror, ‘posed in attitudes, holding things. Pre-Raphaelite, she combed out her long, black hair to stream straight down from a centre parting and thoughtfully regarded herself as she held a tiger-lily from the garden under her chin, her knees pressed close together’. She also tries out a Toulouse Lautrec pose to provide a sluttish, wicked contrast. Millais’ Ophelia painting provides the necrophile alternative from Victorian Britain to Poe’s dead gothic sirens. Annabel in Love is compared to her. Lee buys her ‘a print of Millais’ Ophelia in a second-hand shop because Annabel often wore the same expression and she seemed surprised and contented enough with that, though she bore him a concealed grudge’. She resents being aligned with such an icon of passive self-negation, perhaps because it arouses an awareness of her own nature. When she lays down on her bed to commit suicide at the end of the novel, it seems like a semi-conscious act of homage. In Several Perceptions, Joseph does his own Ophelia impression, laying down in the pond below the tower in Brandon Hill park. As he lies there, trying to stop shivering in order to maintain the aesthetic stillness of the painted scene, ‘his hair floated out on the water like that of drowned Ophelia’, precisely the effect he is going for. Other artists are also added to the eclectic jumble of sixties’ favourites. The plastic buttonhole rose from which an ‘obscene, ridged, pink, tactile rubber worm leaped out, quivered momentarily, and then sank back into the crimson nest of plastic petals’, seems to refer to Blake’s illustrated poem The Sick Rose from the Songs of Experience. Finn’s vengeful painting in The Magic Toyshop, which visualises the extreme tortures of hell for Philip, draws on Hieronymous Bosch. Annabel’s favourite artist at college is Max Ernst. And the scene near the end of Heroes and Villains in which Lee sleeps on the beach and is investigated by a curious lion could be illustrated by Rousseau’s painting The Sleeping Gypsy (minus the lute and vase).

Henri Rousseau - The Sleeping Gypsy
Fairy tales are another important element in all of the stories, anticipating the stories for which Carter would become best known in the 80s. The Magic Toyshop is the most thoroughly steeped in such allusions and images, and is the most recognisably Carteresque of these early novels (and therefore the one most often reprinted). Several references are made to Philip’s house as being like Bluebeard’s Castle, with another reference to its folk tale variant, Mr Fox’s manor house. The puppets hanging from the walls in his basement workshop and theatre room are the limp and lifeless equivalents of the murdered bodies strung up by the bloody duke. In Shadow Dance, too, Emily, the woman who comes up from London with Honey, likens the studio where Morris hides his paintings to Bluebeard’s chamber, the secret male room in which their carefully guarded heart is locked away. The severed hand which Melanie finds in the kitchen drawer in The Magic Toyshop, probably as no more than a mental projection of these fairy tale analogies, causes her to exclaim ‘I’m going out of my mind…Bluebeard was here’. Although it could equally be Mr Fox, the crafty charmer from the folk tale whose potential new conquest finds a severed hand in his house and realises that it would be wise to leave promptly. The folk-rock group Mr Fox recorded an eponymous song which powerfully tells the tale. The tale of another predatory shapeshifter is also alluded to when Melanie tells Finn, who has just destroyed one of his treasured puppets, that Philip’s false teeth are not in his bathroom glass, an indication that they are in this mouth and that he is up and about somewhere in the house. ‘All the better to eat me with’, remarks Finn, the perennial object of Philip’s violence, who’s really for it now.

Heroes and Villains with Grunewald cover
The fairytale elements are also reflected in the monstrous, grotesque mother and father figures found in the novels. This is most evident in The Magic Toyshop, whose confined world is dominated by the ogreish father figure of Uncle Philip. He casts a heavy and fearful shadow over the house even though he is frequently absent, labouring away in his basement underworld. He is Bluebeard and ‘the Beast of the Apocalypse’. The father figure in Heroes and Villains is Donally, the self-appointed head of the tribe who contrives an imposing, ritualistic image with his cloak, bird mask, paint and feathers, and who invents a phallic snake cult (complete with fake snake) over which he presides as head priest, investing himself with illusionistic power. Jewel is his adopted son and heir, and also his pet, whom he half educates. He makes sure he remains ‘beautifully savage’, however, in case he should follow the classic mythological pattern and kill the father to absorb his power. Heroes and Villains also has its mother figure in Mrs Green, a wise woman who loves her adopted boys (she comes from the Professor’s cities too) but can see through their self-deceiving bravado. In Several Perceptions, Viv’s mum Mrs Boulder, whom Joseph ends up going to bed with, is a grotesque mother figure, an aging prostitute with a ‘Martello tower of hair’. Mrs Kyte, Beverley’s mum, has retreated into her ‘great Georgian palace’ of a home, never leaving her bedroom, from which she is able to perpetually restage the time when she was ‘a footlight favourite of the 30s’. Parental figure are significantly absent in Shadow Dance and Love, with the older generation represented in the form of the café waitress whom Morris refers to as a Struldbrug, the immortal race in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels who have devolved into an existence of misery and dejection. In fact, she’s a cheerful soul who is kind and considerate to Morris, a character who doesn’t strike one as being inherently likeable, and who offers him a respite from the nagging angst of his daily life, and the agonies caused by his supposed friends. If anyone is a Stuldbrug, albeit a premature one, it is Morris. In Love, we learn that Lee and Buzz’s mother had an operatic breakdown on Empire Day, ‘stripping off her clothes and screaming to the morning ‘I am the whore of Babylon’’. They were subsequently brought up by their aunt, a radical socialist and canteen worker, in South London. She is an alternative mother figure, a strong role model who ‘worked her unsentimental and strong fingers to the bone to support the two boys and inculcated in them a sense of pride and a certain critical severity’. She did her best, but it was all in vain. Her absence (she dies of cancer before the novel’s narrative period begins) goes a long way to explaining their wild and self-destructive behaviour.

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