Fluids, Cages and Boisterous Femininity: The Grotesque Transgression of Patriarchal Norms in Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus

Author: Md Abu Shahid Abdullah (East West University, Bangladesh)
Speaker: Md Abu Shahid Abdullah
Topic: Language, Gender, Sexuality
COMELA 2022 General Session


The presentation will show that in Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter’s use of the themes of food consumption and excrement operate as both a grotesque means of emancipation from a feminine point-of-view, and a carnivalesque challenge to subversive patriarchal norms and deconstruction of arbitrary patriarchal hierarchies. By turning the simple act of eating into boisterous spectacle and by handling a bottle of champagne and water hose in a disturbingly masculine manner, Fevvers transgresses the boundary between masculinity and femininity, sheds the patriarchal constraints imposed upon femininity, and thus achieves agency and emancipation. Since she is not able to acquire biological signifier of masculinity, she achieves the transgression of the binary entirely through the performative carnivalesque. The presentation will also discuss that the overflowing nature of grotesque femininity (both physical and behavioral) enables the female characters to speak and act at their own will, and thus performs as a means of critiquing Victorian patriarchal cultural norms. Ultimately, Carter’s text is one which interrogates the naturalised hierarchy that is patriarchy in an attempt to render femininity not simply “a bird in a gilded cage” rather an agent for change.

Keywords: the carnivalesque, masculinity, grotesque femininity, patriarchal constraint