Modes of Reading
Examining "the Man": Masculine Representations in Angela Carter's The Magic Toyshop As a well-established champion of feminist prose, Angela Carter was published and known before the freethinkers of the 1970s began production of essays on feminist theory. The radical movers and shakers of the 1960s were inescapable. In Angela Carter's novel Love, Carter described herself as one of "the children of Nescafe and the Welfare State... The pure, perfect products of those days of social mobility and sexual license"(p. 113). Revolutionary ideas were bound to seep into Carter's mind, possibly influencing some of her ideas on masculine and feminine representations. A close examination of male characters within The Magic Toyshop demonstrates the complexity of "maleness" as it is represented within the novel. The definition of 'masculinity' becomes vague as it takes place within Angela Carter's portrayal of the toyshop-household. Masculine representations in The Magic Toyshop are rendered in varying shades, as each male takes on an exaggerated role of extremes. This essay will serve to analyse the varied roles of male characters within Angela Carter's novel, as each male ultimately contributes to the destruction of the magic toyshop and the patriarchy lead by Uncle Philip.
Masculine and feminine are correlatives which involve one another. I am sure of that--the quality and its negation are locked in necessity. But what the nature of masculine and the nature of feminine might be, whether they involve male and female ... that I do not know. (Quoted in Carter's The Passion of New Eve, pp. 149-50). Suffice to say that Angela Carter's writing may not spell out definitions of 'masculine' and 'feminine' in clear black and white terms. The Oxford Dictionary Online establishes the following definition of masculinity for the reader's reference: "Having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men." Yet, the construction of male characters in Angela Carter's novel is complex and varied. Is Melanie's categorisation of Uncle Philip as a "monster" (Carter 77) a "quality or appearance traditionally associated with men"? Essayist Anna Katsavos aptly presents the following idea in her analysis of The Magic Toyshop: The reader can only determine through Carter's acerbic language, that within the novel Carter "dismisses notions of male sexuality as aggressive, all-consuming and destructive" (64). So, the reader is left with the idea that the most resonant of masculine representations in The Magic Toyshop is extreme and undeniably patriarchal... Until patriarchy ultimately collapses on itself and all that is left are Melanie and Finn as "they face[d] each other in a wild surmise" (Carter 200). Similarly, the Oxford Dictionary Online defines 'feminine' as: "having qualities or an appearance traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness." Surely it is not possible to deconstruct the female to such a simple state? Angela Carter may have had a "fixed position" on feminist theory (Gargano 58), but the words "especially delicacy and prettiness" within the dictionary definition is almost laughable if applied to the context of Angela Carter's writing. Aunt Margaret's drab dress and emaciation do not make her less feminine, as these conditions are pressed upon her by Uncle Philip. Ultimately, examining masculine and feminine representations in Carter's writing reveals potentially complex notions which cannot be summarised by strict dictionary definitions. Angela Carter herself stated that "masculine and feminine are correlatives which involve one another" (149). This allows the reader to surmise that the two terms co-exist and are mutually exclusive. It is not a subjective idea, to reason that a clear divide or gender boundary exists within The Magic Toyshop, even in the most auxiliary of details. For example, Uncle Philip's build versus