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The Passion of New Eve

Angela Carter

Virago Press

UK Mass Market Paperback

ISBN: 0860683419

Publication Date: 08-27-92 [Originally Published in 1977]

192 Pages; £6.00

Review Date: 02-01-2003

Reviewed by: Serena Trowbridge © 2003



Science Fiction, General Fiction

Angela Carter's fiction has been described in the terms of many genres, from magic realism to Gothic and feminism. As a child she grew up surrounded by strong women and throughout her life she wrote about strong, characterful women in varying guises. Her work undergoes a shift in emphasis from 'The Magic Toyshop' (1967) to 'The Passion of New Eve '(1977). Although ten years separate these novels, they are both as like and unlike as possible; her characteristics as a writer, such as the magical grotesquerie and menacing fantasies she plays with, are present in both, but her characterization changes and her tone strengthens in the intervening period.

In 'The Passion of New Eve' the women are in control, in fact frighteningly so, and the tone of the novel is utterly different to that of her earlier work. Order and structure are replaced with chaos, representing the world which Carter creates for her readers. It opens with an obsessive monologue from a young man, Evelyn, who admits he has a strange and paradoxical relationship with women: he worships a mysterious screen goddess, but also humiliates the women he meets. This is not an unusual take, but it is dealt with strongly by Carter and one is quickly drawn into the strange world of Evelyn.

Visiting America, he meets an entirely different kind of woman, one that he cannot dominate or humiliate. In a rapid succession of events, Evelyn is overtaken by a strange tribe of women in the desert, and in a bizarre twist of the most unlikely kind of science fiction, he becomes his own fantasy woman. Through the regeneration of the "New Eve", Carter explores gender construction and reconstruction, as the misogynistic man becomes a "first woman" in an entirely unexpected manner, and explores an inverted Oedipus complex in which the man becomes his mother and the object of his own desire. Greek tragedy, religion, notions of time and space are all brought into play in this unusual work alongside the gender paradoxes and a notion of redressing the sins of a patriarchal society. Concepts of women and womanhood, particularly as portrayed by Hollywood and the media, are explored with an explicit, tub-thumping lack of subtlety that made the novel unpopular when it was first published.

Moreover, this is our own world as science fiction, a world we know somehow transmuted, filled with the narcotic glow of the Sixties and chaotic, dark, and reckless. The Women's Liberation is well underway in New York as Evelyn arrives there, and "the Women" are seen as responsible for any disaster; as a threat to men with a power now unleashed. The role reversal is central to the novel: the man who preyed upon women for his own pleasure also worships at the altar of a centralized Madonna-whore, from whom he cannot escape and eventually becomes. The women in this novel, starting and ending with the Dietrichesque Tristessa, are larger than life, and inescapable; they are strident, colorful, overtly sexual and political; the only colorless woman is Eve him/herself. The language is frequently that of feminist texts, and Carter employs the traditional and not-so-traditional ploys of the gender debate to twist and subvert our own ideas. The Passion of New Eve is a sensual novel full of foods and smells and colors, which acts upon the readers' senses like a psychedelic drug. This is not always an appealing novel, but it is always interesting, and is key to her later novels.