Angela Carter’s The Company Of Wolves:

Innocence ‘Strays From The Path’


Isaias Carvalho, 2000 [publicado em 2009]


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1  Introduction

Having been written in the last quarter of the 20th century, The Company of Wolves, by Angela Carter (1940-1992), had to be a meaningful work for our times, and a very ‘post-modern’ one. Although it is widely argued that ‘post-modern’ may refer to either a continuation of ‘modern’, or something in so many ways distinct that it wouldn´t be appropriate to call it so. However, this is not one of the main foci of the present paper.

“Don’t stray from the path”, the girl’s mother says as she determinedly heads to her grandmother’s house. Carter herself strayed from the path of mainstream literature, and this image is both literal and figurative: the path through the forest and the path of life. Carter, never conventional, explores what goes on when you leave the path. For her, the cauldron of story has always been a witches’ brew, bubbling over with primal ingredients: dark and mysterious forests, ancient grave yards, virginal girls and wise women, wolves with glowing eyes. (DALGLEISH, 1998, online).

Much has been written about these questions related to The Company of Wolves. A dialog among some of the experts on Angela Carter´s works will thus take place since the main purpose here is getting to know this author better, mainly through the analysis of the short story which is mentioned in the title of the present paper.


2  Magic Realism and Fantasy

 In magic realism, ordinary activities and settings are infused with a touch of magic, mystery, or unreality which intensifies the story. The art is deeply rooted in everyday  reality, but has overtones of fantasy or wonder. The term has been applied to the literary works of authors such as Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez. Angela Carter is said to be in that category too, although categories should serve more the critics than the writers themselves.

The strategy of the writer consists in suggesting a supernatural atmosphere without denying the natural, and the tactic is deforming the reality. Characters, things, and events are recognizable and reasonable, but because the narrator's intentions are to provoke strange feeling, the explanations are not clear nor logical. Also, there is no ambiguity or psychological analysis of the characters, instead they are well defined almost in opposition, and they never appear confused or surprised about the supernatural.

The way Angela Carter revisited the fairy tales, especially the one about Little Red Riding Hood, here analyzed in The Company of Wolves, can very well fit this category. Moreover, as Sílvia Anastácio suggests, the narrator of the fairy tales is always beloved, and can be considered the optimal narrator. The secret powers of such stories seem to teach us that we must face the myths of the world with determination, arrogance and wit. Also, they say reality is magical and fantastic.


3  Angela Carter: The Cunning of Innocence

 Feminist, leftist, iconoclastic, sensual, erotic or, for some, pornographic, disturbing. Angela Carter, like most good artists, can be all that and much more - an infinite web of qualities, good and/or bad. She was aware, however, of women’s complex cultural situation and of the image of women as an erotic object for men’s use, which had been constructed over the past centuries and was (is) still evident in her society. Despite all the improvement in the role of women today, she knew the feminists were not on the right path. Fighting against pornography, in the late seventies, when the feminists in London suggested the radical opposition to the use of the female body for the male excitement, and tried to prove that pornography was another kind of domination, Angela Carter came up with the idea that the problem of pornography was not exactly there, but in its reactionarism. The issue was in the conception of the predator and the prey, the one that eats and the one that is eaten. For her, the core of the question was somewhere else: in the notion that the only possible roles for women were the ones proposed by the Marquis de Sade, in the figures of the abused Justine, and of the sexually aggressive Juliette (WYLER, 2000, in the preface to the Brazilian translation of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, p. xxi).

            In her personal experience, she learnt what it was like to be a woman in society. One could say she ran away from her husband and British culture. She ended up working in a bar in Tokyo and writing in her free time. In the everyday struggle to be a female, as well as in her writings, she showed, therefore, a woman who chooses the right place to direct her desire, a woman who separates sex from love, who can even face sadomasochism if it is part of na agreed exchange between the partners. Wyler also points out that what Carter searched for, in her provoking reinterpretations of the fairy tales, for instance, was a woman who can use reason and feeling to the same degree, who does not necessarily have to be piteous, sympathetic, affectionate, or especially or even maternal.

            In The Company of Wolves, she describes the girl in the forest, heading to her grandmother’s house like this: “Her breasts have just begun to swell; her hair is like lint [...]. She is an unbroken egg; she is a sealed vessel; she has inside her a magic space the entrance to which is shut tight with a plug of membrane; she is a closed system; she does not know how to shiver. She has her knife and she is afraid of nothing.” As a matter of fact, she is longing to be deflowered; either consciously or unconsciously, that is what the reader can infer from the retelling of that story. Our time is not a time of innocence. Innocence has ‘strayed from the path’.


The Company of Wolves

 In recent years, there has been a trend in the field of fantasy: writers have been revisiting the fertile world of myth and fairy tale and reclaiming that world, investing it with new life and energy. Writers have become fascinated by the bloodier, morally ambivalent aspects of fairy tales, and are now modernizing the old stories while simultaneously going back to their roots. Before this trend was in vogue, Angela Carter had been reinventing fairy tales for years.

           The Company of Wolves is a good example of that. It is one of the short stories in The Bloody Chamber (1979), her last book, whose title refers to the Bluebeard story. In this book, Carter has brought together her fascination with the dynamics of female desire and her work on children's literature, for in this collection the grim quality of many fairy tales is fully explored in surrealistic meditations on such traditional fantasies (GILBERT; GUBAR, 1985, p 2.326).

            Innocence is put in question here. In The Company of Wolves, one of the three versions for Little Red Riding Hood, which closes the Bloody Chamber, nothing is what it seems, but the women, as Sylvia Plath used to say, definitely love the brute. The housewife who was once married to a wolf is somewhat nostalgic; as for Little Red Riding Hood, she finds out that the hunter is the wolf, therefore she cannot depend on anyone for help. But she does not care. She seduces the wolf, her grandmother's eater and a little nasty, but sexy, and he plays the fool. "See! Sweet and sound she sleeps in granny's bed, between the paws of the tender wolf." That is how the short story is closed. And that is perhaps what she was searching for when she insisted on going into the "the forest [that] closed upon her like a pair of jaws" in "the worst time in all the year for wolves": all the better to be deflowered, a werewolf would say.


5  Conclusion

 Those who stray from the path will supposedly meet with a dark fate, but our girl knew what to do. For us, ordinary people, this fate is literalized in the dream as werewolves, but the werewolves connote many things: death, sex, knowledge. If straying from the path leads to death, then it is not a good idea, but if that is what you have to risk to get sex and knowledge (and therefore power), then maybe it is worth the risk. And Carter took that risk.

She had an awareness of contingency as a disaster in the world of time: Yeat’s ‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold’ (BRADBURY; MCFARLANE, 1991, p.26).” If one is unable to locate the center, and if the idea of a center itself is gone, the path is uncertain if there is one.

The work analyzed here is part of Carter's great allegorical adventure at the early end of her life. Her allegory may be seen as a symbol for a world of free sexuality for men and women. A world without pornography, because without puritanism. Without guilt, because without sin. Is that a dead ideal? A utopia that died with her and with a generation of hippies and revolutionaries? Only time will tell. Actually, time is starting to whisper...

... but that is another story.



GILBERT, Sandra M. & GUBAR, Susan. Angela Carter. In: The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women – The Tradition in English. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1985, p. 2.327-34.

ANASTÁCIO, Silvia Maria Guerra. O Jogo das Imagens no Universo da Criação de Elizabeth Bishop. São Paulo: Annablume, 1999.

DALGLEISH, David. The Company of Wolves. 1998. Available at: http://subjective.freeservers. com/wolves.html. Access on: sept. 10, 2000.

WYLER, Vivian. Altos Vôos, Quedas Livres. Prefácio a O Quarto do Barba-Azul, de Angela Carter. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 2000, p. ix-xix.

BRADBURY, Malcom & MCFARLANE, James. The Name and Nature of Modernism. In: Modernism  1890 – 1930. New York: Penguin, 1991, p. 19-55.

Other publications by Isaias Carvalho - here

Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz - UESC
Departamento de Letras e Artes - DLA
Projeto de Extensão Dinamizando o Ensino da Língua Inglesa na UESC

Coordenação geral: Prof. Dr. Isaias Francisco de Carvalho

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