In Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter succeeds in creating a heroine so untraditional, so much larger than life in both physique and personality, that the topic of who Fevvers is and what she represents is discussed even more by critics than it is by the book's other characters. The winged woman has been labeled a freak, a monster, a symbol of the New Woman of the 20th century, a gothic heroine, a victim and an anomaly by critics and characters alike. Considering that it is “the eyes” of her audience that tell Fevvers who she is, it is difficult to ascertain her true identity, and this is exactly Carter's point (Carter 290). By creating a heroine who is a hybrid—a bird-woman, a masculine woman, a monster and a beauty all at once—Carter encourages readers, once they have given up on solving Fevvers's puzzling identity, to simply accept her whoever she may be.
[...] But what would she become, if she continued to be a woman? (Carter 161) Here Walser reveals just how literally he has taken Fevvers's slogan, she fact or fiction?'” for he is determined that she be one or the other (Carter 8). The reporter is sure that if she is fiction, a complete illusion, then she is wondrous in her ability to bamboozle her fans so entirely. If, however, Fevvers is fact--is truly a winged woman--then she is nothing more than a mutated, though marvelous, monster. [...]
[...] “Re-membering Cassandra, or Oedipus Gets Hysterical: Contestatory Madness and Illuminating Magic in Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus.” Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 23.2 (2004): 339-69. Hallab, Mary. Diversity' in the Novels of Angela Carter: Which Ones Are the Freaks?” Studies in Contemporary Satire 19 (1995): 108-17. Katsavos, Anna. Interview with Angela Carter.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 14.3 (1994): 11-17. Kohlke, M. L. “Into History Through the Back Door: The ‘Past Historic' in Nights at the Circus and Affinity.” Women: A Cultural Review 15.2 (2004): 153-66. [...]
[...] It is Walser who, at this point in the novel, lacks the openness to accept Fevvers as a winged woman and feels she must exude symbolism in order to retain her femininity and humanity. He believes that it is only as a “symbolic woman” that Fevvers can escape objectification, not recognizing that his very efforts to name and classify her are in fact the worst kind of objectification (Carter 161). Nonetheless, Fevvers refuses to be simplified; instead, she manages to “evade reductive expectations of self and capitalize on the indefinite possibilities of ‘being' in performance” (Cella 58). [...]
[...] It is Fevvers's blurring of boundaries through performance, combined with Walser and the reader's reconstruction as an audience able to accept the bird-woman as she is, that truly brings about the deconstruction of gender, identity and narrative hegemonies. Works Cited Boehm, Beth A. “Feminist Metafiction and Androcentric Reading Strategies: Angela Carter's Reconstructed Reader in Nights at the Circus.” Critique 37.1 (1995): 35- 48. Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Performing Feminisms: Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre. [...]
[...] Fevvers possesses control of her own narrative and tells her story in such a way as to reinforce the paradoxical slogan that surrounds her, she fact or fiction?'” (Carter 7). Walser has come to expose her as one of the “Great Humbugs of the World” and instead finds himself prisoner of her voice, her cavernous, somber voice, a voice made for shouting about the tempest, her voice of a celestial fishwife” (Carter 11, 43). Only a brief time in Fevvers's presence and the skeptical journalist is already using paradoxical language in a desperate attempt to in some way define her. [...]
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