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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Friday, 10 November 2017

"The Passion of New Eve" by Angela Carter

New York is a nightmare city. The “blacks” have fortified Harlem and now use it as base base for armed incursions into the rest of the city. People are randomly gunned down in the streets. Militant feminists attack men. Rats run everywhere. This is very much a dystopian vision as seen in the mid-1970s when urban decay seemed to be inevitable. Having impregnated his girlfriend, Evelyn from England flees into the desert where he is saved from death and captured by a gang of militant feminists who perform surgery to transform him into a woman, Eve, to be inseminated by his own, harvested, sperm. (s)He escapes into the clutches of Zero, is raped, and forced to join Zero's harem. Then Zero and the girls go to the lonely mansion of reclusive ex-film star Tristessa, femme fatale of so many Hollywood movies, because Zero believes that Tristessa has made him sterile.

A quite bizarre picaresque.

First, there is Carter's obsession with mirrors. In New York Evelyn's girlfriend exotic dancer Leilah puts her make-up on every night in a cracked mirror as the narrator watches: “Her beauty was an accession. She arrived at it by a conscious effort. She became absorbed in the contemplation of the figure in the mirror but she did not seem to me to apprehend the person in the mirror as, in any degree, herself. ... she brought into being a Leilah who lived only in the not-world of the mirror and then became her own reflection.” (p 28) “She was a perfect woman; like the moon, she only gave reflected light.” (p 34) Later as he flees into the desert “As dawn came up over the New Jersey turnpike, I saw the desolation of the entire megapolis and it was a mirror of my own.” (p 38). Having had his sex changed he is allowed a mirror “But when I looked in the mirror, I saw Eve; I did not see myself.” (p 74) And again, and again:
  • I saw him step back and I saw his reflection in the mirror step back and the reflection of that reflection in another mirror stepped back.” (p 132)
  • I had become my old self again in the inverted world of the mirrors.” (p 132)
  • I was a boy disguised as a girl and now disguised as a boy again.” (p 132)
  • She invaded the mirror like an army with banners; she entered me through my eyes.” (p 151)
  • The glass was broken, cracked right across many times so it reflected nothing, what's a bewilderment of splinters and I could not see myself nor any portion of myself in it.” (p 181)

Of course the reflection of Evelyn into Eve and the subsequent discovery of Tristessa seem to suggest that men and women are mirror images of one another.

This also seems to be a book about sterility. New York is fecund but only of rats: “Outside, in the dusty street, the wind saying songs of loneliness in the geometric web of power cables and telephone wires.” (p 40). The desert is, of course, sterile: “the desert, the abode of enforced sterility, the dehydrated sea of infertility, the post-menopausal part of the earth.” (p 40). So is Zero; he blames Tristessa. Everyone is childless; Evelyn forces Leilah to have an abortion; he flees the feminist the day before he is about to be impregnated; the continent itself seems to be dying.

Written in 1977 Carter seems to have extrapolated the tensions between white and black and between men and women in New York and seen the potential for urban decay (which has taken over, for example, Detroit), and magnified the rioting of those days into full scale civil war. 

And there is a clear Gothic theme running through the book. New York is avowed as a Gothic city: “In New York I found, instead of hard edges and clean colours, a lurid, Gothic darkness that closed over my head entirely and became my world.” (p 10). But when Eve flees from the feminists we have the Gothic theme of the fleeing heroine (as in Jane Eyre) and when Zero and the women take over the reclusive film star's mansion we have so many Gothic themes including the burial chamber (although it is a waxworks museum) and a wonderful catastrophic Fall of the House of Usher. Even at the end we have the theme of the heroine crawling through subterranean passages.

Kavka (2002, 211) points out "A range of feminist and queer criticism has suggested that the Gothic must also be understood as a blurring of boundaries between the masculine and the feminine." This book is all about the blurring, or mirroring of those boundaries. But perhaps most Gothic of all is the fundamental theme of this book. Eve/Evelyn is Frankenstein's monster, created by the mad scientist/plastic surgeon Mother.
And then we have flashes of Freud. 
  • That we should all be happy posits, initially, a consensus on the notion of happiness. We can all be happy only in a happy world. But Old Adam’s happiness is necessarily dysfunctional. All Old Adam wants to do is, to kill his father and sleep with his mother.” (p 16) 
  • “Just as I crossed the filthy threshold of that gaunt, lightless, vertical, extinguished apartment block, all tenanted by strangers, my senses were eclipsed in absolute panic. ...And scrawled in chalk upon the wall ... INTROITE ET HIC DII SUNT [Slaney from answer bank says that the original phrase was Introite et nam hic dii sunt; ‘these words were attributed by Aristotle to Heraclitus who called them out to passers-by as he was seated in a smoky bakers's cottage. Enter, for here too are gods - meaning the gods are everywhere even in lowly places; In a letter dated 4th December 1896 Sigmund Freud wrote The psychology of hysteria will be preceded by the proud words, Introite et hic dii sunt "Enter -- for here too are gods." Aristotle, De partibus animalium. This second source, being more exactly what Carter writes, fits with her discussion of Ald Adam a few pages before. So this suggests that Carter is referencing Freud for this work. Freud wrote ‘The Uncanny’ which explores the psychoanalytical implications of Hoffnung’s The Sandman, potentially a classic German Gothic story. The rather tamed Sandman is a popular figure in American culture].” (p 25) 
    • OK> Enter for here too are gods. Does this theme continue throughout the novel? Clearly Mother in the underground feminist compound is intended to be a god. Is Zero, inhabitant of the lowliest hovel in the desert another god? Is Tristessa a goddess of the silver screen? Are these the gods that we have to find? Or is it all Freudian in which case I probably haven't so much failed to perceive this theme or misunderstood it but I have suppressed it. Hmmm.
  • They were case histories, rather than women.” (p 99)

It is a complex novel and there are times when Carter's prose is so poetic that I want to swim in it. But I found it difficult to read. 

Other lines I enjoyed:
  • I took up rugby football and fornication. Puberty stormed me. I grew up.” (p 8)
  • Leilah, Lilith, mud Lily, as you slip on another pair of the sequinned knickers that function as no more than a decorative and inadequate parenthesis round your sex.” (p 29)
  • so aroused was I by her ritual incarnation, the way she systemically carnalised herself and became dressed meat, that I always managed to have her.” (p 31)
  • Does a change in the coloration of the rind alter the taste of a fruit?” (p 68)
  • I did not like the way he flagellated me with the unique lash of his regard.” (p 90)
  • Emmeline even tried to bob down in a gross facsimile of a curtsey, all cramped at the top of the stairs as she was.” (p 124)
  • Tristessa had no function in this world except as an idea of himself; no ontological status, only an iconographic one.” (p 129) 
  • The erotic clock halts all clocks.” (p 148)
November 2017; 191 pages

Carter also wrote (reviewed in this blog):
Wise Children: about twins and therefore also naturally obsessed with mirrors and dualities
The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman which is also a picaresque
Heroes and Villains set following the destruction of the old world
The Bloody Chamber a brilliant collection of short stories based on fairy tales

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