Ways of Pleasure

Angela Carter's 'Discourse of Delight' in her Fiction and Non-Fiction

by Dominika Oramus (Author)
©2016 Monographs 206 Pages


The book demonstrates the thematic unity underlying Angela Carter's fiction and non-fiction. The author analyzes their interdependence and demonstrates how Carter's texts persistently examine existing theories of pleasure from many different angles. In this way, Carter’s works enter into dialogue with numerous pleasure connoisseurs, theorists as well as writers. The author determines the notion of ‘pleasure’ is both the key to accounting for the heterogeneity of Carter’s output, as well as the common denominator of all her diverse fascinations. This is an issue that remains unaccounted for in criticism to date.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgments
  • Works by Angela Carter. Chronology and abbreviations
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: ‘Discourse of delight’
  • 1.1 Critics on Angela Carter
  • 1.2 Angela Carter on Critics
  • 1.3 Mapping Pleasure
  • Chapter 2: The Way of Oscar Wilde
  • 2.1 Dandyism
  • 2.2 Fashion
  • 2.3 Costume
  • Chapter 3: The Way of William Butler Yeats
  • 3.1 Art
  • 3.2 Artificer
  • 3.3 Artefacts
  • 3.4 Artists
  • Chapter 4: The Way of Donatien Alphonse François de Sade
  • 4.1 Pornography
  • 4.2 Debauchery
  • Chapter 5: The Way of Sigmund Freud
  • 5.1 Desire
  • 5.2 Memory
  • 5.3 Theatricality
  • 5.4 Mother
  • Chapter 6: The Way of Hollywood
  • 6.1 Cult
  • 6.2 Screenplay
  • 6.3 Nostalgia
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • 1. Works by Angela Carter
  • 2. Works about Angela Carter
  • 3. General Works
  • Index

← 10 | 11 →


‘According to Apuleius, Pleasure is the daughter of Cupid and Psyche – of Love and the Soul, that is, a sufficiently elevated pedigree, one would have thought. Yet the British still put up a strong resistance to the idea that pleasurability might be a valid criterion in the response to literature’ (SL: 490). So claims Angela Carter in a book review written towards the end of her life. Thus formulated, her opinion that books are first of all for gratification, for the reader’s pleasure – not ideological statements, samples of literary tradition or tools of moral self-improvement – puts forward what seems to be crucial to understanding her own literary output, namely, the idea of pleasurability. It is the pleasurability of reading, and of living – together with evolving moral standards and definitions of pleasure which we have inherited from our cultural past – that are her primary interest. Both Carter’s fiction and non-fiction reflect these fascinations.

Angela Carter’s growing popularity is in my opinion partly due to the fact that hers is the literature of pleasure – with pleasure does it deal, and by its pleasurability is it remembered. Therefore, the detailed exploration of the ways of pleasure analysed and charted by Angela Carter seems to me a promising approach to her extraordinary prose. This is what this book aims at – my major concern in the following paper is with Angela Carter’s ‘discourse of delight’, a kind of writing focused on pleasure-giving. I seek to reaffirm her interest in the gratifying power of literature and to argue that the notion of ‘pleasure’ is both the key to accounting for the heterogeneity of her output, as well as the common denominator of all her diverse fascinations.

Considered a marginal writer and a part of the counterculture of the sixties and seventies – an attitude which started to change not until the eighties – Carter now belongs in the literary canon. Indeed, the amount and breadth of academic critique of her writing is altogether impressive. Analysed within the context of women’s studies, post-modern or post-structural writing, psychoanalytical schools, camp aesthetics and reminiscences of hippie culture, the fifteen books which Carter published (novels, collections of short stories, essays, journalism and screenplays) are usually read as specimens of cultural subversion.

For many critics Carter is first of all formidably well-read in literary theory and skilful at imitating specific discourses. Thus, she is considered to be a parody and a pastiche writer for whom theoretical premises reflect stereotypes in modern thinking. Keen on removing the camouflage from these epistemological traps, she is referred to as a great de-mythologizer who strives for a renegotiation ← 11 | 12 → of femininity and of sexual myths. Another influential tendency is to discuss Carter’s work as free play with literary traditions and an erudite exercise in intertextuality whose alteration of prior texts demonstrates their hidden meanings, thus passing judgements on our culture.

Although important and textually well-grounded, the studies approaching Carter from such specific perspectives are usually limited to but some part of her writing and take the form of essays, reviews and conference papers. The exception here is that of the best and the most exhaustive assessments of her career written by Lorna Sage, who knew Carter personally. But these are biography-based rather than theory-based. In general, the dominant critical tendency is rather to divide Carter’s output than to attempt an all-inclusive presentation. What is more, in the last few years the ever-growing interest in Angela Carter within academia has led to the inclusion of her work in various courses – not only those having to do with literature, but in cultural studies as well. This has resulted in numerous papers covering less obvious aspects of this oeuvre and, consequently, in still further diversification of ‘Carterian studies’.

Though very much under the influence of current criticism on Carter, this particular work aims at offering neither insights into Carter’s life nor a revolutionary counter theory whose aim would be to disagree with critics who claim that Carter demythologizes our culture. Written outside Britain my paper raises questions about the pleasures informing Carter’s texts, this being an extremely important issue, and one that is unaccounted for in the criticism to date. The aim of my book is to demonstrate the thematic unity underlying all Carter’s writing. Hence, throughout my work I simultaneously proceed to address both her fiction and non-fiction, ever indicating their interdependence. I argue that Carter in many various ways persistently examines different theories of pleasure, thus entering into dialogue with numerous pleasure connoisseurs, theorists as well as writers. I seek to demonstrate both what her favourite theory is and how she plays with it.

In Chapter One I attempt to give the reader some indication of the current state of academic criticism on Carter’s work, at the same time demonstrating the critical tradition to which I myself am indebted. Here I establish my central premise that Carter’s oeuvre may be read as ‘discourse of delight’, which is both about pleasure and pleasure-giving, and which consists of reconstructing different pleasure discourses, alluding to them and making them enter the intertextual dialogue. I explain the chief sources of the Carterian ‘discourse of delight’ model by discussing a number of critical texts to which she alludes most often while formulating her broad definition of pleasure. These texts are: Oscar Wilde’s “The ← 12 | 13 → Decay of Lying” (1889), Sigmund Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), the critical output of André Breton, and Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” (1964). Their examination charts the intellectual horizon within which ‘discourse of delight’ is inscribed.

In Chapter Two I take up the issue of Carter’s fascination with dandyism. I argue that in the frame of allusions varying from echoing the decadent aesthetics of Wilde and Firbank, through the fleeting fascination with the sixties countercultural style, to admiration of camp aesthetics, Carter reconsiders dandy-like pleasures found in aimless play with costume and decoration. My primary objective in Chapter Three is to examine pleasures derived from the possession of objects as presented by Carter in her studies of the delightful potential of artificiality and artefacts. Her descriptions of works of art – things which give aesthetical gratification and which are defined as ‘art’ by their uselessness, are here contrasted with pleasures obtained from becoming objects.

Additionally, I explore Carter’s fascination with the psychic mechanisms of fetishism and voyeurism involved in watching, and her play with the notions of subject and object. Here I demonstrate how by referring to the notion of narcissism she undermines the cliché view that male desire makes women passive objects of masculine gaze devised to produce pleasure in the male subject-spectator. In Carter’s texts patterns of voyeuristic pleasure are created according to the psychological needs of both male and female narcissist subjects who want to be looked at and thus obtain their own kind of gratification. I moreover address the theme recurring in Carter’s prose – the motif of subverting the artefact-artificer relationship – in the light of pleasures such a subversion may produce.

Chapter Four is a continuation of previous concerns. Here I deal with libertine pleasures of sadism and masochism as presented in Carter’s fiction and non-fiction. I examine her controversial analysis of de Sade’s oeuvre, her essays on Japanese masochist culture and her essays on Recession aesthetics in order to ground the further discussion of the diverse kinds of gratifying master-slave relationships found in her prose. I develop an extended analysis of her chosen stories to demonstrate the connection between libertinism and artificiality as Carter views it.

In Chapter Five I approach the influence of psychoanalysis on Carter’s vision of pleasure as defined by our culture. Using a close analysis of her chosen stories and articles, I present parodies of Freud’s writing embedded in her ‘discourse of delight’ together with her opinion on vulgar psychoanalysis as an influential cultural motif. ← 13 | 14 →

Chapter Six deals with Carter’s fascination with the cinema of the twenties and the thirties. Symbolized by the dream factory of Hollywood it absorbs and alters old myths and tales thus creating new mythology and quasi-religious cults of pleasure. With the golden age of Hollywood receding into history references to its greatest films evoke nostalgia. I argue that Carter’s Hollywood essays and reviews seek to reaffirm the power of imagination involved in retelling of stories. In this chapter I also analyse Carter’s own screenplays.

‘Discourse of delight’ is thus demonstrated not only to examine the ways of pleasure of our culture, but also to produce gratification as this consists of making the text a plaything rather than an ideological statement. And this, I argue, is true for the whole range of Angela Carter’s works: novels, short stories, articles, screenplays and radio plays. Though one part of this oeuvre belongs in fiction and the other in cultural criticism, and though they do interact with each other and pass judgements on our civilization, Carter does not stop at commenting on the ways of pleasure. She also proffers her readers the delight of reading, pleasure independent of extratextual context, this being something which, I strongly believe, will stand the test of time. ‘Discourse of delight’ aims at reaffirming the pleasurability of books, and this was always Carter’s ultimate goal. As she puts it in her quasi-manifesto “Notes from the Front Line” (1985): ‘I wanted to write stories that could be read by glittering candlelight in the ruins of our cities and still give pleasure’ (ibid.:43).

← 14 | 15 →

Chapter 1:  ‘Discourse of delight’

1.1 Critics on Angela Carter


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (April)
Postmodernism Intertextuality Psychoanalysis Surrealism Camp Cinema
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 206 pp.

Biographical notes

Dominika Oramus (Author)

Dominika Oramus is a professor at the Institute of English Studies University of Warsaw (Poland). She is author of books and articles on Angela Carter and J.G. Ballard as well as on science fiction and the poetics of postmodernism. She conducts MA and PhD seminars on British fiction of the 20th century.


Title: Ways of Pleasure
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
205 pages