By Maggie Tonkin (auth.)
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Additional info for Angela Carter and Decadence: Critical Fictions/Fictional Critiques
The puppet play of Leda and the Swan in which Melanie is later forced to participate is performed to excerpts from the score of Swan Lake. Whilst the mock-rape is taking place, Melanie recalls her last visit to the theatre to see Swan Lake and her previous Olympia’s Revenge 49 fondness for ballet, a fondness, the narrative intimates, that is ‘snuffed out’ when she finds herself ‘on stage with an imitation swan’ (166). These references conjure up classical ballet’s iconography of femininity in the passive case: sleeping beauties, girls transmogrified into swans, village maidens dying for love, and squadrons of indistinguishable sylphides, nymphs, bayadères and willis.
191) ‘Disgust always bears the imprint of desire’: nowhere is the ambivalence of Melanie’s disgust more clearly apparent than in her ambivalent relation to Finn, whom she is attracted to and revolted by in equal measure. He is imaged as a Simple Ivan: graceful, supple, poetic, with extraordinary eyes and an oblique and disturbing glance. But he is also marked by poverty: his teeth are yellow and rotten; his eye has a cast in it; his clothes are filthy poor-box cast-offs. However, when Melanie and the children share a taxi with Finn and his brother Francie, it is their smell, above all, that evinces her disgust: Then there was silence and then Melanie began to smell the men.
In fact, Uncle Philip’s antagonism towards his niece is motivated as much by class hatred as by his misogyny. In the first chapter, the privileged material conditions of Melanie’s girlhood are meticulously inventoried: The house was red-brick, with Edwardian gables, standing by itself in an acre or two of its own grounds; it smelled of lavender furniture polish and money. Melanie had grown up with the smell of money and did not recognise the way it permeated the air she 36 Angela Carter and Decadence breathed but she knew she was lucky to have a silver-backed hairbrush, a transistor radio of her own, and a jacket and skirt of stiff, satisfying, raw silk made by her mother’s dressmaker in which to go to church on Sundays.