Nights at the CircusPaperback
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- Publisher: Vintage Classics
- Format: Paperback | 368 pages
- Dimensions: 127mm x 198mm x 25mm | 259g
- Publication date: 3 January 1998
- Publication City/Country: London
- ISBN 10: 0099388618
- ISBN 13: 9780099388616
- Sales rank: 15,326
Is Sophie Fevvers, toast of Europe's capitals, part swan...or all fake? Courted by the Prince of Wales and painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, she is an aerialiste extraordinaire and star of Colonel Kearney's circus. She is also part woman, part swan. Jack Walser, an American journalist, is on a quest to discover the truth behind her identity. Dazzled by his love for her, and desperate for the scoop of a lifetime, Walser has no choice but to join the circus on its magical tour through turn-of-the-nineteenth-century London, St Petersburg and Siberia.
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Angela Carter was born in 1940. She lived in Japan, the United States and Australia. Her first novel, Shadow Dance, was published in 1965. Her next book, The Magic Toyshop, won the John Llewllyn Rhys Prize and the next, Several Perceptions, the Somerset Maugham Award. She died in February 1992.
"'Angela Carter has influenced a whole generation of fellow writers towards dream worlds of baroque splendour, fairy tale horror, and visions of the alienated wreckage of a future world. In Nights at the Circus she has invented a new, raunchy, raucous, Cockney voice for her heroine Fevvers, taking us back into a rich, turn of the 19th century world, which reeks of human and animal variety' The Times. * 'Nights at the Circus is a glorious enchantment. But an enchantment which is rooted in an earthy, rich and powerful language...It is a spell-binding achievement' Literary Review * 'A glorious piece of work, a set-piece studded with set-pieces. The narrative has a splendid ripe momentum, and each descriptive touch contributes a pang of vividness. By doing possible things impossibly well, the book achieves a major enchantment' Times Literary Supplement * 'A mistress-piece of sustained and weirdly wonderful Gothic that's both intensely amusing and also provocatively serious. This is a big, superlatively imagined novel' Observer * 'A remarkable book by any standards' Guardian"
Half-serious, half-silly, consistently stylish if only fitfully amusing: a farcical picaresque (London to Russia) about an 1899 touring circus - with Carter's usual feminist themes poking and darting just below the frolicsome surface. In the first of three sections, US journalist Jack Walser does an all-night dressing room interview with "Fevvers," a.k.a. "the Cockney Venus," the most famous aerialiste of the day: she's hugely tall, Cockney-earthy, and famous for having wing-like growths on her back (was her father really a swan?) - which allow her, it seems, to do impossibly slow somersaults in the air. Walser is skeptical, yet oddly smitten, as Fevvers tells her life story, assisted by ribald/pedantic asides from foster-mother Lizzie. And the story, though fragmented and distanced by the interview-framework, is a Dickensian doozy: baby Fevvers is abandoned, raised in a cozy brothel, then forced to display herself in Madame Schreck's "museum of woman monsters" (where Fewers' deformity is comparatively minor); she nearly gets raped-and-killed by a priapic cultist. ("This is some kind of heretical possibly Manichean version of neo-Platonic Rosicrucianism, thinks I to myself; tread carefully, girlie!") Now, however, Fewers is a star-attraction, an Amazonian success story - and young Walser is so enraptured that, disguised as a clown, he follows the circus to St. Petersburg. There, in Part II, Walser experiences the humiliations of clownhood, rescues the Ape-man's abused wife (who has her own woeful history), and hesitantly woos the dominating Fewers - who herself fights off yet another rapist. Then Part III takes the circus via train into Siberia, where things get excessively, effortfully wacky: Walser, dumped off the train, is rescued by a band of murderesses, who've just staged a jailbreak (inspired by Sapphic passion); suffering from amnesia, he is adopted by a far-out Shaman, who supplies hallucinogenic urine and speaks "an obscure Finno-Ugrian dialect just about to perplex three generations of philologists." And finally, as Walser chants a Siberian version of "Bird in a Gilded Cage," he's rescued by Fevvers - who fears marriage ("My being, my me-ness, is unique and indivisible") but sees real possibilities in the new, much-humiliated Walser: "I'll make him into the New Man, in fact, fitting mate for the New Woman, and onward we'll march hand-in-hand into the New Century." Dense with literary allusions, puns, parodies, and whimsies in the British tradition from Gilbert & Sullivan to Monty Python: an extravagant, baroque variation on familiar themes (the New Woman, the abused woman, the bird in a gilded cage), offering sporadic but rich rewards to connoisseurs of historical/verbal fancy. (Kirkus Reviews)
Back cover copy
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY SARAH WATERS 'A glorious piece of work' Times Literary Supplement Is Sophie Fevvers, toast of Europe's capitals, part swan...or all fake? Courted by the Prince of Wales and painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, she is an aerialiste extraordinaire and star of Colonel Kearney's circus. She is also part woman, part swan. Jack Walser, an American journalist, is on a quest to discover the truth behind her identity. Dazzled by his love for her, and desperate for the scoop of a lifetime, Walser has no choice but to join the circus on its magical tour through turn-of-the-nineteenth-century London, St Petersbury and Siberia. See also: Wise Children