Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Anne R. Zahlan


Angela Carter is well-known for her gothic twists on fairy tales and the use of magical realism in creating alternate worlds and monstrous creatures that exist within our own. The meaningful "twists" that her tales take often have to do with gender, reversing traditional roles and transcending barriers. In her fiction, Carter creates characters and scenes that often include "traditional" roles, displaying an awareness of the sexual stereotypes that have been in place for centuries. Her female characters offer a complex commentary on the patriarchal standard that suggests that a woman's value is dependent upon her virginity.

Her book The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography (1978) is a collection of essays analyzing the literature of the Marquis de Sade, specifically his two tales of the sisters Justine and Juliette. The sisters represent the two extreme sexual stereotypes through which society views women, those of the virgin and the whore. Carter incorporates Sadeian prototypes into her female characters in ways that reestablish their existence in society, while questioning and challenging their validity. Carter uses the stereotypes to redirect the attention of her readers. It is not Sade's pornography that she embraces, but what it allows her to do. In reinforcing the prototypes, she seems to accept them in order to subvert them. Referring to pornography and its stereotypes as "myth" and "consolatory nonsense" (19), Carter disguises her intentions by pretending to accept patriarchal values in her fiction, in order to gain control of the situation and redirect the argument.

In The Sadeian Woman, Carter argues that Sade should be looked at as what she calls a "moral pornographer," that is, one who uses "pornography as a critique of current relations between the sexes." She contends, "Such a pornographer would not be the enemy of women, perhaps because he might begin to penetrate to the heart of the contempt for women that distorts our culture even as he entered the realm of true obscenity as he describes it" (19). The question prompted by these "penetrations" is the one asked by Fevvers, the central character of Nights at the Circus: "Wherein does a woman's honour reside, old chap? In her vagina or in her spirit?" (230). Though patriarchal stereotypes point toward the former, Carter proposes that a woman's honor does reside within her spirit.

This thesis takes a close look at the way that Carter incorporates Sadeian prototypes into her female characters in The Magic Toyshop (1967), Nights at the Circus (1984), and several of the short stories in the collection The Bloody Chamber (1979). The thesis includes a chapter devoted to each of the texts, revealing the steady progression of Carter's feminist thought as her use of the prototypes becomes more satirical from one book to the next. Through a close analysis of the texts, using The Sadeian Woman as a theoretical background, this thesis shows how Carter uses the prototypes of Justine and Juliette not only to question patriarchal ideas, but to mock them.