It comes as no surprise that Dr Marie Mulvey-Roberts’ shelves house an abundance of books, given that she is a Professor in English Literature at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), and specialises in Gothic literature. Included in the works nestled on her bookshelf are many books by a star of contemporary British literature: Angela Carter.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Carter’s death and earlier in 2017, Mulvey-Roberts co-curated an exhibition at Bristol’s Royal West of England Academy (RWA) art gallery entitled ‘Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter.’ The exhibition proved extremely popular and highlighted through the display of a variety of art exhibits, Angela Carter’s links with Bristol.
“This was important because I wanted to identify Angela Carter with Bristol, as she is often seen as a London writer,” says Mulvey-Roberts. Carter’s most productive time as an author, says the Professor, was when she lived in Bristol for a decade in the 1960s, where she wrote best part of five of her nine books. Three of the novels are set in the city and it is still possible to visit sites frequented by characters appearing in Carter’s works.
Co-curated by artist and writer Fiona Robinson, the exhibition featured film, illustrations from Carter’s books and paintings that related to Angela Carter’s ethos or writings. Other exhibits included historically significant works by William Holman Hunt, Paula Rego, Dame Laura Knight, Leonora Carrington and John Bellany, on loan from major national collections.
A Marc Chagall painting was borrowed from London’s Tate Gallery. The work, entitled The Blue Circus features a trapeze artist surrounded by animals. “Angela Carter said she wanted her writing to be like Chagall’s paintings as she writes visually,” says Mulvey-Roberts. “In her book The Nights at the Circus, there is a trapeze artist called Feathers who has real wings, so this painting seemed to evoke that.”
One of the particularly striking sculptures featured was The Banquet by Ana Maria Pacheco, depicting four dark-suited men around a dining table on which lies a nude man.
Critics have often described Angela Carter as one of Britain’s finest writers. The Times has ranked the novelist, short story writer and journalist tenth in their list of the 50 greatest writers since 1945. The Telegraph described her as “one of the most important writers at work in the English language.”
The three-month exhibition at the RWA was therefore crucially important to raise awareness about Carter. It had a lasting impact on visitors, of which there were over 11,000, and cemented recognition of her links to Bristol. Marie Mulvey-Roberts took part in a number of interviews for the media, including on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row show.
The exhibition also had a huge impact on the local community. School children came in to undertake creative writing exercises, inspired by the paintings. The exhibition also attracted young composers from the New Music in the South West (NMSW), a Bristol based non-profit organisation running a music and education project serving the south-west of England. The sixth formers attended the exhibition and wrote music, inspired from the works on display.
But Angela Carter’s influence is not limited to Bristol and the UK. The author still has a huge following around the world and interest in and awareness about her increased thanks to the exhibition.
Mulvey-Roberts has received many enquiries about Angela Carter from universities and art galleries around the world. She was invited to attend a special event at the Estoril Higher Institute for Tourism and Hotel Studies, based some 25km outside of Lisbon, where a banquet was prepared by students in gastronomy. “The university’s MA students in culinary design organised a gastronomic experience: a banquet around the theme of Angela Carter,” says Mulvey-Roberts.
As a result of the exhibition, the academic was also invited to the Universities of Lausanne and Bern in Switzerland, as well as the Light house Media Centre for an event organised by the University of Wolverhampton, where she gave presentations showcasing the Bristol exhibition. Her talks in Switzerland were arranged through Angela Carter scholar Professor Martine Hennard Dutheil de la Rochère, who is contributing to Mulvey-Roberts’s next book called The Arts of Angela Carter: A Cabinet of Curiosities.
Along with Charlotte Crofts, Associate Professor in Filmmaking and Caleb Sivyer, visiting lecturer in English at UWE Bristol, Mulvey-Roberts is founding an International Angela Carter Society, dedicated to the promotion of the study and appreciation of her work and life, which will involve a newsletter and bi-annual conferences.