Re-membering Cassandra, or Oedipus Gets Hysterical: Contestatory Madness and Illuminating Magic in Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus

Jennifer Gustar, Okanagan University College
Vol. 23, No. 2 (Fall 2004), 339-369

Corresponding to a theory of disbelief offered by Catherine Clement, this essay argues that one may discern a disbelieving model of narrative in Angela Carter’s writing. The special challenge is not so much to fill in gaps of attention in feminist history as to deal with the present: a postmodern world where there is no choice but to negotiate the terrain of disbelief. The essay provides an alternative Cassandrian model to unite contestatory madness (that is, theoretical and narrative representations of Freudian symptomology that resist and undercut an Oedipal paradigm) with illuminating magic. Incommensurable traits are combined in the figure of Cassandra: in her function as seer, Cassandra is empowered as one who can identify and confer truth; as a hysteric, she is disempowered, robbed of voice, and mad. Yet these apparently contradictory aspects combine. Thus Cassandra is symbolic of belief and disbelief simultaneously. Cassandra becomes a trope for possibilities in feminist fictions, and in Nights at the Circus, Fevvers, the main female protagonist, is the embodiment of a Cassandrian model of disbelief.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]