I enjoyed this story tremendously, no doubt in part due to my own familiarity with the works of Edgar Allan Poe, which stand invisibly at the center of this tale like a dark monolith around which Angela Carter weaves her midnight dance. What I had already read in brief biographical sketches (repeated in countless preludes and introductions) Angela fleshes out with delirious poetry, with nuanced sensitivity and compassion. Her story is almost an apologia, and while it doesn’t seek to account for his talent, it tries perahaps to explain why Poe channeled it into the direction and themes that he did; the grotesque and illusory, the mad and depraved, the horrific and super-sensual.
Of course, Angela’s writing is delicious in and of itself – she could write about shopping lists and I would be entranced. Metaphors, alliteration, descriptions so detailed that the surreal becomes tangible, the fantastical concrete. Candles gutter and flare; illusory selves gather in the mirror before the actress, each role creating another infinitude in which she is at once reflected and lost; death pays call in a carriage steered by a coach man who’s eye sockets are filled with worms; it is in this world of shadow and illusion, death and despair that Edgar Allan Poe is raised, created, brought into being by Angela’s love, pity and imagination.
The power of this story is such that we are thoroughly convinced by Angela’s vision. Any child raised under such circumstances, amidst such transience, falsity and death would develop as Poe did, not growing out of his childhood but rather blossoming darkly into his heritage, his powers and thoughts forever obsessed with that which had marked him as an infant. Any amateur psychologist can connect the events of his youth with the themes of his work, with his perpetual quest for oblivion as an adult at the bottom of a bottle or in the arms of a child wife, but it takes an author of Angela Carter’s magnitude and talent to make of such a tragic story something more akin to dark poetry, a fever dream understood through metaphor and symbol, as authentic as it is fanciful, as terrible as it is beautifully written.