In Valerie Stivers’s Eat Your Words series, she cooks up recipes drawn from the works of various writers.
The writer Angela Carter (1940–1992) had many guises as a novelist, fairy-tale writer, and feminist theorist but was always occupied with archetypes of womanhood; her heroines undergo dark, gory, and magical processes of becoming brides or lovers, wolves or girls. I’ve loved Carter since first encountering her book of cultural theory The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography at Brown in the nineties (for a course entitled History 99X: Pornography and the Politics of Culture!). In it, she argues that the work of Marquis de Sade has liberating feminist underpinnings, and in the process takes something dark and frightening, like being a young woman in a world where one’s body is a porn object, and molts it into something slightly better, a promise that sexuality can offer freedom too.
Along the same lines, the book I’ve chosen to cook from this week, Carter’s 1967 novel, The Magic Toyshop, is a fable about a girl, Melanie, stepping out of the sane, safe, and sexless world of childhood and into the world of womanhood, which is “as distorted and alien as its miniature in the witch-ball.” She ultimately survives this dangerous transformation but only after being mock raped by the patriarchy—represented metaphorically during a puppet show where she plays Leda and her evil uncle controls the puppet strings of a swan described as having an “empty body … white and light as meringue.” After this climatic scene, Melanie burns the house down and escapes with her siblings, her lover, her abused aunt, and her self-respect. Read More