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5/1/2017 AngelaCarter,194092:AVeryGoodWizard,aVeryDearFriend

March8,1992

AngelaCarter,194092:AVeryGood
Wizard,aVeryDearFriend
BySALMANRUSHDIE

firstmetAngelaCarteratadinnerinhonoroftheChileanwriterJoseDonosoatthe
homeofLizCalder,whothenpublishedallofus.Myfirstnovelwassoontobe
publisheditwasthetimeofAngela'sdarkestnovel,"ThePassionofNewEve."AndI
wasagreatfan.Mr.DonosoarrivedlookinglikeaHispanicBuffaloBill,completewith
silvergoatee,fringedjacketandcowboyboots,andproceeded,asIsawit,topatronize
Angelaterribly.Hisapparentignoranceofherworkprovokedmeintoalong
expostulationinwhichIinformedhimthatthewomanhewastalkingtowasthemost
brilliantwriterinEngland.Angelalikedthat.Bytheendoftheevening,welikedeach
other,too.Thatwasalmost18yearsago.ShewasthefirstgreatwriterIevermet,and
shewasoneofthebest,mostloyal,mosttruthtelling,mostinspiringfriendsanyone
couldeverhave.Icannotbearitthatsheisdead.

Afterweheardaboutthecancer,Irangherupandwetalkedaboutit.Isaid,"Angela,
there'sonlyonethingforit.You'vejustgottobeatit,that'sall.""Yeah,"shesaidina
long,blackdrawl,"butwhataboutmystrongstreakofOrientalfatalism?"Isaid:"No,
listen.I'mtheOrientalinthisfamily.Wouldyoupleaseleavethefatalismtome,and
justbloodywellwin?""Oh,"shesaid,asifsomebodyhadjustsurprisedherwitha
goodsuggestion,"O.K."Andthenshefoughtliketheverydevil,foughtdeathwithall
herstrengthandallhercourage,butalsowithherwit,herhumor,hersenseofits
ridiculousness,heranger.Deathsnarledatherandshegaveitthefinger.Deathtoreat
herandshestuckouthertongue.Andintheendshelost.Butshealsowon,becausein
herfuriouslaughter,inherblazingsatirizingofherowndying,herdeflationofwhat
HenryJamessopompouslyentitledthe"DistinguishedThing,"shecutdeathdownto
size:nodistinguishedthing,butagrubbylittlemurderousclown.Aftershowingus
howtowrite,afterhelpingustoseehowtolive,sheshowedushowtodie.

Irepeat:AngelaCarterwasagreatwriter.Irepeatthisbecauseinspiteofher
worldwidereputation,hereinBritainshesomehowneverquitehadherdue.Ofcourse,
manywritersknewthatshewasthatrarething,arealoneoff,nothinglikeheronthe
planetandsodidmanybewitched,inspiredreaders.Butforsomereasonshewasnot
placedwhereshebelongedatthecenteroftheliteratureofhertime,attheheart.
Nowthatshe'sdead,Ihavenodoubtthatthesizeofherachievementwillrapidly
becomeplain.Howsadthatwritersmustdiebeforewegrantthemtheirplaceinthe
pantheon.Ofcourse,AngelaCarterknewwhoshewas.Butwecouldhavetoldher,
moreloudlyandmoreoftenthanwedid,thatweknewtoo.

Toomanyoftheworld'sfinestwritershavebeendyingyounglately.ItaloCalvino,
BruceChatwin,RaymondCarverandnowAngelahavebeensilencedwhentheir

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5/1/2017 AngelaCarter,194092:AVeryGoodWizard,aVeryDearFriend

voiceswereinthemiddleoftheirsongs.

Angela'slastnovel,"WiseChildren,"wasalsoherfinest.Init,wehearthefullrangeof
heroffthepage,reallifevoice.Thenoveliswrittenwithheruniquebrandofdeadly
cheeriness.Itcacklesgailyasitimpalesthecenturyuponitsjokes.Likeallherworks,
itisacelebrationofsensuality,oflife.Moreparticularly,itcelebrateswrongsideof
thetracksness,andwrongsideoftheblanketnesstoo.ItisaraspberryblownbySouth
LondonacrosstheThames,apaeantobastardy(andthenovelisabastardform,never
forget,sonovelistsmustalwaysstandupforbastards).AngelaCarterwasathumberof
noses,adefilerofsacredcows.Shelovednothingsomuchascussedbutalsoblithe
nonconformity.Herbooksunshackleus,topplingthestatuesofthepompous,
demolishingthetemplesandcommissariatsofrighteousness.Theydrawtheirstrength,
theirvitality,fromallthatisunrighteous,illegitimate,low.Theyarewithoutequal,and
withoutrival.

WITHAngelaCarter'sdeathEnglishliteraturehaslostitshighsorceress,itsbenevolent
witchqueen,aburlesqueartistofgeniusandanticgrace.Thoseofuswhohavelosta
friendcanscarcelybelievethattherewillbenomoretwohourtelephonechatswith
thatvoicethatcouldsoartoheightsofscatologicalpassionorswoop,athermostlethal
moments,downintoasortoflittlegirlcoo.DeprivedoftheFairyQueen,wecannot
findthemagicthatwouldhealus.Nordowewishtobehealed,justyet.Wesitgazing
intothehugeholeherdeathhasleft,and,aswegazeintothecraterofourloss,we
remember.

ShediedonFeb.16.ThreeweeksbeforethatIgaveAngelaalongessayI'dwritten
aboutoneofherfavoritefilms,"TheWizardofOz,"andaskedherifImightdedicateit
toher.Sheagreed.Ineverfoundoutifshewaseverabletoreadit,whichissad.Butat
leastinthatdedicationIwasabletosayalittleofwhatIfelt.WhenDorothyasksthe
GoodWitchGlindaiftheWizardofOzisgoodorbad,Glindarepliesthatheis"avery
goodWizard...butverymysterious."TheWizardofOzturnsouttobeafraud.But
AngelaCarterwas,indeed,averygoodWizard,perhapseventheFirstWizardDeluxe.
AverygoodWizard,andaverydearfriend.

ANANGELACARTERSAMPLER

Leedeludedhimselfthat,sincehewasnotemotionallyinvolvedwiththegirl,Carolyn,
hewasnot,significantly,unfaithfultohiswife...."SleepingwithAnnabelislike
readingSamuelBeckettonanemptystomach,"hesaidtoCarolynashewalkedher
home....Thoughhespokeprimarilytoclarifythesituationtohimself...itcame
throughtoherasaseductionspeech....Shelaughedoutofembarrassmentand
inquirythespacebetweenthemvanishedimmediately.

From"Love"(1971).

Wearinganantiquebridalgown,thebeautifulqueenofthevampiressitsallalone...
undertheeyesoftheportraitsofherdementedandatrociousancestors....Sherises
whenthesunsetsandgoesimmediatelytohertablewheresheplayshergameof
patienceuntilshegrowshungry....Sheloathesthefoodsheeatsshewouldhave
likedtotaketherabbitshomewithher,feedthemonlettuce...buthungeralways
overcomesher.Shesinksherteethintotheneckwhereanarterythrobswithfear....It
isthesamewiththeshepherdboysandgypsylads....Whenshetakesthembythe
handandleadsthemtoherbedroom,theycanscarcelybelievetheirluck.Afterwards,
hergovernesswilltidytheremainsintoaneatpile.

From"TheBloodyChamber"(1981).
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5/1/2017 AngelaCarter,194092:AVeryGoodWizard,aVeryDearFriend

OnthestageattheAlhambra,whenthecurtainwentup,thereshewas...behindtinsel
bars,whilethebandinthepitsawedandbrayedawayat"Onlyabirdinagildedcage."
...Fromaloft,theyloweredhertrapezes....Sheroseupontiptoeandslowlytwirled
round,givingthespectatorsacomprehensiveviewofherback:seeingisbelieving.
Thenshespreadouthersuperb,heavyarmsinabackwardsgestureofbenedictionand,
asshedidso,herwingsspread,too....Thenshebroughtdownherelbows,sothatthe
tipsofthepinfeathersofeachwingmetintheairaboveherheaddress.Atthefirst
crescendo,she...jumpedupsome30feetinasingle,heavybound....Herwings
throbbed,pulsed,thenwhirred,buzzedandatlastbegantobeatsteadilyontheair....
Whatmadeherremarkableasanaerialiste,however,wasthespeedorratherthelack
ofit....Shedawdled.Indeed,shediddefythelawofprojectiles[and,]apparently,
potteredalongtheinvisiblegangwaybetweenhertrapezeswiththeportlydignityofa
TrafalgarSquarepigeon...andthensheturnedheadoverheelsthreetimes,lazily.

From"NightsattheCircus"(1985).

Norawasalwaysfreewithitandthrewherheartawayasifitwereausedbusticket.
Eithershewasheadoverheelsinloveorelseshewasbrokenhearted.Shehaditoff
firstwiththepantomimegoose,whenwewereMotherGoose'sgoslings....Thegoose
hadNoraupagainstthewallinthealleyoutsidethestagedooronefoggynight,
couldn'tseeyourhandinfrontofyourface,happilyforthem....Don'trunawaywith
theideathatitwasasqualid,furtive,miserablething,tomakeloveforthefirsttimeon
acoldnightinabackalleywithamarriedmanwithstrongdrinkonhisbreath.Hewas
theoneshewanted,wartsandall,shewouldhavehim,byhookorbycrook.Shehada
passiontoknowaboutLife,allitsdirtycorners....Whenshesawhermanwasgone,
theplumehattedgoosewifeslappedherthigh.Therewasajealousmadnessinthat
woman.

From"WiseChildren"(1992).

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