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Angela Carter: Heroes and Villains

A feminist post-apocalyptic tale, with Carter plunging deep into the female id. The setting is England after some unspecified apocalypse and the country is divided into three groups – the Professors, who live in settlements and who maintain the intellectual heritage of the country (protected by the Soldiers), the Barbarians who are, well, barbarians and the Out People who seem to be a variation of the barbarians but are less nomadic. Marianne is the daughter of a professor and has always lived in the protected society of the Professors. She has seen some violence – the Barbarians periodically raid the Professors and, during one of these raids, she sees her brother killed, as well as seeing some of the barbarians killed. Now, past puberty, she has no time for the men she sees every day so when the dashing young hero comes on a raid, is injured and crawls to safety, instead of turning him in, she goes to his rescue and flees with him, only half unwillingly.

Now, with her Barbarian, Jewel, who lives a fairly brutal life and does not treat her too well – he rapes her and she is forced to marry him – she has a more adventurous life but a more difficult one. For a start, there is Donally, a sort of professor gone wrong and his subnormal (but sexually active) son. There are Jewel’s brothers and the moderately kindly Mrs. Green and Jen, who is clearly jealous of Marianne. There is the discomfort, the nomadic lifestyle and the ever-present threat of attack and fighting, which can and does bring swift and brutal death.

Carter has taken a post-apocalyptic story and moved it up a level, making it both a myth and a Freudian feast, as Marianne’s sexual fantasies are played out, both on a conventional but also on a mythical level. Colourful, savage, erotic and exotic, this is a fun story and a fascinating novel.

Publishing history

First published 1969 by Heinemann