Women's Day: Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

published 1984       Part 2 chapter 10

Fevvers shut the window with a clang. The longhairs from the Conservatoire had learned their lesson well; the show indeed went on but the relentless jollity of the circus orchestra did not drown the baying of the crowd.

‘Cheer up Colonel,’ she said. ‘I’ll make them forget. They ain’t seen nothing like me before.’

When she dropped her wrap and donned her plumed topknot, it was as though a huge , not altogether friendly bird appeared among them. She cast a glance at the opulence reflected in the mirror, admired her own bosoms. In the auditorium, they demanded her. She cocked her ear.

‘Suckers,’ she said.

Lizzie morosely flung the feather cloak over her young friend’s shoulders and the aerialiste stumped out, slamming the door behind her to open it again for a parting shaft.

‘I’ll expect a bonus for this.’…

[after the show] It hurt the eyes to look at Fevvers and she was, besides, flushed and resplendent with the way she’d just snatched victory from disaster, erased the memory of the madman and the carnivore by the winged miracle of her presence. She was feeling supernatural tonight. She wanted to eat diamonds.

observationsYesterday’s Hotel du Lac won the Booker Prize: Nights at the Circus, published the same year, wasn’t shortlisted. Angela Carter, who died in 1992, didn’t like Brookner’s books – there’s an interview in which she disses her (Brookner isn’t named, but it’s obvious who it must be) and says she’d like to smack her because her heroines are dreary and putupon. You can understand that someone who wrote the spectacular Nights at the Circus probably isn’t going to like Hotel du Lac.

Fevvers has wings. She is an oversized delight of a woman, and though the book keeps wrong-footing the reader – narrators change, realism becomes less real, what is true and what isn’t? How does Fevvers escape from the Grand Duke? – she is never less than a fabulous heroine. She goes her own way, enjoying her adventures and relying on herself, living a life of freedom in the 1890s/1900s. Therefore she seems a splendid choice for International Women’s Day.

Links on the blog: There’s a particularly good feathered hat for an Edna O’Brian heroine here, and a feathered dress here. Last year’s International Woman’s Day entry featured Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and a lovely dress.

The picture is from the State Library of New South Wales.


  1. I've never really read any Angela Carter as it doesn't sound like my kind of thing. I've read plenty of Anita Brookner and her heroines are dreary, but I suppose that's part of the attraction.

  2. My favourite Angela Carter is Wise Children, which I'll be featuring in the future - I think you might like that one Sarah. She's not everybody's cup of tea I know, but I love the way she combines serious, proper fiction, with being very funny and subversive. She was one clever woman...

  3. Moira, thanks for linking in with Books You Loved

  4. Gorgeous cover and outstanding review as always. THANKS for sharing.

    Stopping by from Carole's Books You Loved March Edition. I am in that list as #15.

    Silver's Reviews
    My Book Entry

  5. Moira - Thank you for the reminder of Angela Carter. And I do have to admit to a guilty interest in the - er - difference between Carter and Brockner. Thanks for sharing that and for the lovely 'photo as always. It is really a terrific choice for International Women's Day :-).


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