Angela Carter’s ‘Wise Children’ is the fictional autobiography of Dora Chance, looking at both past experiences and, from the point of view of the author, real time events. It is written in the first person, from the point of view of Dora Chance, written in such a way as to convey the thoughts and feelings of the narrator without a direct notification of such thoughts and feelings. This means that for Angela Carter to put across Dora’s feelings and opinions of the events of the novel many other literary techniques must be involved.
The narrator herself uses many colloquialisms and phrases, sometimes turning them into puns or twisting them to a different outcome, for example ‘and what does the poor robin do then? Bugger the robin! ‘ this addresses the narrator’s point of view on formalities and stereotypes, allowing the reader to come to terms with her unique style. She acknowledges events and ideas which may be uncomfortable to a modern audience and gently pokes fun at them, for example ‘I’ll do it on the horsehair sofa, do what? What do you think?
‘ This indicates to the reader that the normal taboo’s of society do not necessarily apply and that the narrator is open with her view and opinions, this allows the reader to trust the narrator. The point of view of the reader changes as the book progresses, for example, within the first pages of the book the narrator directly involves the reader within the surroundings, for example, Dora states ‘this is my room’ although the room or any event leading up to entering the room is never described the scene is immediately set and the reader can imagine the room.
Carter subtly adds features to the room as the paragraph continues. For example, she suggests the reader ‘take a good look at the signed photos stuck in the dressing table mirror’ causing the reader to focus on the idea of the object as though they were actually shown around the room. There are at least two instances in which Dora involves the reader as though interacting with them ‘There’s Westminster Abbey, see? … careful, the paper is starting to crumble’ these allow the reader to feel involved and therefore more trusting of the narrator as the book progresses.
However occasionally Dora refers to these ‘real-time’ moments as though in the past tense, for example ‘I squinted’ as opposed to ‘I am squinting’ however at the same time describing events in real-time such as ‘She starts to pour out tea’ as though the event has just taken place and is being recounted for the benefit of the audience, also in these moments it is apparent that no other character acknowledges the presence of the reader.
This change in tenses could be for the benefit of the reader, as it would get tiresome to describe all event as they are happening and have no involvement of the reader. In the book time does not appear to be a linear construct. Dora appears to have the ability to stop time to allow the reader to catch up with current events, which she does so with the command, similar to a direction in a piece of drama, ‘freeze frame’.
During this it appears that the idea of real-time still exists, as Dora moves from the living room to the attic and directly interacts with the reader again. This is similar to the dramatic technique carried out by the chorus of Greek theatre, in which one or more character directly acknowledges the audience and interacts with them alone and can also interact fully with other characters in the play that do not acknowledge the presence of the audience.
It is indicated to the reader some time after, and quite unexpectedly that Dora has e-appeared in the living room and time has begun again with a prompt, another technique used in drama, when a command similar to the one above is used ‘press the button for ‘Play’, however, it is uncertain to whom she was addressing the command to, she could be directly involving the audience again, as the command had no speech marks, or to herself as a stage direction, or to another character.
When Dora describes and explains her family history she does not do so in a straight line, along the way she often refers to characters the reader is unaware of yet, as though she is unaware of this, perhaps she expects she is recalling the stories for her own benefit, as opposed to the benefit of the reader.
This means in many places she has to double back on her explanations and descriptions, many times stopping herself in the middle of a sentence to describe something else, for example while showing the reader a picture of her grandmother Estella as Desdemona from Othello she is just about to explain the relevance of the picture when she stops herself, saying ‘wait, I’ll explain that later’.
This technique is supposed to get the reader interested in the events Dora has tactfully not described to them, causing them to read on. Dora often re-tells rumours or stories from other characters, similar to how gossip would be passed on, however this is the first example of where the reliability of the narrator is brought into question, as often stories such as this are retold differently to the original, either deliberately or unintentionally, to make the story seem more interesting or dramatic.
Another technique that is used is to talk about a completely different subject after discussing a subject that involves the next subject in some way. For example she describes a story her Uncle Peregrine has told her about her grandmother Estella and then begins to talk about Peregrine, without finishing her story about Estella completely. This gives the impression that this is an after thought, and the narrator is making up as she goes along, improvisation.
This gives the narration a natural feel, as opposed to a pre-rehearsed, artificial feel sometimes apparent in other books of this nature; however it can cause some confusion to the reader, who may loose the plot of the novel, making it difficult to understand and thus read, discouraging the reader. The novel is very surreal, in many parts farcical, and some of the events are improbable in real-life. This is a carnivalesque technique and magical realism is used.
Much of the surrealism is therefore intentional; however, some of this magical realism could be caused by the narrator herself, who can be described as quite unreliable. Much of the book is based on memory from over 70 years ago, therefore it is understandable that many of the events described in the book can’t possible be remembered, for example when Dora was seven she states she can remember going to the pier with her Uncle Peregrine and he was wearing ‘a white suit with a straw bowler hat’ however this is probably Dora’s imagination instead of fact, and in a similar way, many of the events could be exaggerated.
For example, there was an event in her early twenties of a costume party in which the house caught fire and Dora describes how Saskia was still eating an entire swan in the chaos and everyone was having sex in the garden, this is probably exaggerated. As stated above, the use of a narrator directly involved in the unfolding events is that while describing events that unfold around them they can convey their thoughts and emotions into the scene.
A key example of this is the scene just before Tiffany allegedly commits suicide, where she appears on live TV to confront Tristram. Before this scene the tone of the narrator is very brisk and hurried, but mostly cheerful. When the suicide scene unfolds the narrator’s tone and speed of the novel slows down. The sentences become longer, more eloquent, and expressive. She uses very few colloquialisms and describes her own actions through the scene.
This conveys her feelings of worry for Tiffany and uncertainty of what is going to happen through the piece. In conclusion the narrator is what gives the book its unique style and, inevitably, its soul. It allows the reader to imagine the characters of the book as real people, with emotions and faulty memories and opinions, as opposed to a simple and straightforward look of a fictional characters life. Using the narrator Angela Carter has the ability to manipulate linear time and directly involve the reader in the events of the novel.