Wise Children By Angela Carter

by Lauren Caton

A richly comic tale of the tangled fortunes of two theatrical families, the Hazards and the Chances, Angela Carter’s witty and bawdy novel is populated with as many sets of twins and mistaken identities as any Shakespeare comedy, and celebrates the magic of over a century of show business.

Wise Children focuses on the lives of Dora and Nora Chance, showgirls, twins and now old women. Dora has taken it upon herself to write about their lives and how they are connected to one of the most prolific families of all time…the Hazards. A family of Shakespearian actors riddled with infidelities and more sets of twins than is easy to keep track of.

Their whole lives Dora and Nora have struggled to gain acceptance from their father, Melchior Hazard, one of the finest actors of his time. Their mother died whilst giving birth to them and Melchior disappeared after the one night stand which created the twins. Leaving them in ‘Grandma’ Chance’s care.  In steps Melchior’s twin brother Peregrine Hazard to take on the role of father to the girls. Although they grow up knowing Peregrine isn’t their real father everyone else believes the lie.

Dora and Nora are quite content growing up with the larger than life magician, Peregrine as their pseudo father but yearn for Melchior to accept and acknowledge them as his daughters. As Melchior works his way through three wives and he fathers yet more twins (one set who have suspiciously got the same looks as Peregrine rather than Melchior) Dora and Nora give up all hope of him accepting them. That is until they receive an invite to his 100th birthday which just happens to be on the same day as Dora and Nora’s 75th birthday.

This book takes quite a lot of getting used to, there are so many characters but luckily there is a character list in the back of the book and it often jumps around in time. Been a magical realism book it can be quite hard to just accept some of the things that happen in the book, such as how Peregrine seems to grow every time Dora and Nora see him but you also have to keep in mind that Dora is now old and she is looking back on her childhood so a lot of things could be down to an unreliable narrator due to her only writing about her experiences and views on things.

The book heavily references Shakespeare from the way the book is split up like the acts of a play, to the character list in the back like a play. The key part of the intertextuality comes half way through when Melchior is making a film version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which Dora and Nora also star. The whole centre ‘act’ of the book focuses on A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the characters lives in Wise Children reflecting those of the characters in the play. This whole section really plays on the idea of a play within a play just like Shakespeare did.

As a feminist writer Carter’s parody of A Midsummer Night’s Dream somewhat mocks the idea of our subscription to Shakespeare, he is quintessentially British and someone who people from around the world identify with when it comes to Britain. However Carter raises questions over why a male artist from a patriarchal society is still so heavily subscribed to.

Overall this is a very clever and well written book once you get into it. Eventually the magical realism elements become something you just accept in order to enjoy the book. This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but it is certainly worth a read.

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3 Responses to “Wise Children By Angela Carter”

  1. A nice interesting review xx

  2. Nice review good blog xx

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