- Subjecting Spaces:Angela Carter's Love
Experiencing buildings in terms of metaphors is not unusual.Witold Rybczynski, The Most Beautiful House in the World
Criticism of Angela Carter's works has mainly focused on questions of subjectivity, especially in its subversive, carnivalesque representations. The inevitability of such a development may perhaps be due to Carter's own deep interest in performances and performatives manifested through the instrument of the body, which are then translated into modalities of subjectivity. Many of the depictions of performance/performativity in her narratives are also related to sexuality which, for Carter, is simultaneously a site for transgression against and abject conformity to the patriarchal, heteronormative status quo. Unsurprisingly, then, her writings often revolve around themes and representations of (female) victimhood, sadomasochistic strategies, (symbolic) castration, and the grotesque. Also unsurprising is the fact that of all her works, Nights at the Circus (1988), perhaps her most celebrated novel, is also the most studied, for the various issues of subjectivity that significantly mark Carter's oeuvre culminate in this penultimate novel.1
Although this essay will also focus on subjectivity, I wish to do so from a perspective that has been neglected in scholarship on [End Page 413] Carter's writing. My principal interest is spatiality and the way Carter represents it as an extension of the subject. More particularly, I am interested in the way space becomes both a platform upon which subjectivity is staged and a canvas upon which subjects project their desires, thus marking it with a perversion that in turn defines them. I am not suggesting that space and subject are dialectical; however, because space functions as a mirror reflecting subjective desires, it does, to an extent, "mold" the subject into a profile befitting its dimensions. And as the subject begins to undergo profound transformations—evident on the site of the body—so does the space she inhabits. Indeed, Carter deploys spatial and architectural metaphors considerably to capture the states of emancipation or, more often, entrapment and repression encountered by her characters. In stories such as The Magic Toyshop (1967) and "Reflections" (1970), space "contains" an unconscious dimension which insinuates itself as a mode of disturbance that is often more "felt" than "known." As Maurice Merleau-Ponty notes, such spatial "disturbance does not affect the information which may be derived from perception, but discloses beneath 'perception' a deeper life of consciousness" (329).2 Encountering such a space exposes the extent to which subjectivity inadvertently shapes space, and to which such a performative resignifies its position. For example, in "Reflections," which capitalizes on the mirror trope, space and subject are collapsed into each other to thoroughly problematize notions of self and other, male and female, visibility and invisibility, reality and refraction. Indeed, the metaphorical spaces of Angela Carter's narratives often proscribe onto bodies (and by extension subjectivities) certain configurations that reveal their states of helplessness, perversion, and (sometimes) transformation and liberation (as in Fevvers's experience after her train derails in a Siberian blizzard in Nights at the Circus). But space is also a stage in and through which [End Page 414] the subject moves as much as she responds and gives definition to it. It is both backdrop and screen upon which the subject's (un)conscious desires and fears become inscribed.
For the purpose of my analysis, I consider Carter's postsixties realist novella Love (1971), a work that has gained little critical attention. Here, space is a crucial element in the delineation of subjects; the way it is employed or abused reveals profound insights into the three main characters' psyches. But it is not so much merely a grafting of the subject's materiality onto space that renders the latter "meaningful"; it is also the way in which the narrative seems to set space up precisely for the subjects to "realize" their materiality—like a stage awaiting its actor.
At the risk of drastically oversimplifying this complex novel, I will briefly summarize it before proceeding with my analysis. Love recounts the troubled relationship between Annabel and her boyfriend-husband, Lee (who works as a schoolteacher), exacerbated further by the presence of Lee's peculiar half...