Magic Realism in Angela Carter’s Novels

Magic realism is a literary technique that combines elements of the fantastic and the real in a single narrative. It has been defined as “a mode of narration that merges the magical and the mundane, the supernatural and the real, the imaginary and the factual, into a single narrative framework” (Faris, 2004, p. 3). The term was first used by the German critic Franz Roh in the 1920s to describe a group of painters who incorporated fantastic elements into their work, but it was later adopted by writers in Latin America to describe their own literary style.

One of the most well-known practitioners of magic realism in the English-speaking world is the British author Angela Carter, whose novels often feature elements of the fantastic alongside realistic depictions of everyday life. This paper will explore the use of magic realism in three of Carter’s novels: The Magic Toyshop, Nights at the Circus, and Wise Children.

The Magic Toyshop

The Magic Toyshop tells the story of Melanie, a young girl who is sent to live with her eccentric uncle and his family after her parents die in a plane crash. The novel features a number of fantastic elements, including a toyshop full of magical toys, a mute giantess who lives in the attic, and a sinister puppet master who controls the family’s fate.

These elements serve to heighten the sense of danger and suspense in the novel, as well as to underscore the theme of the power of imagination. As critic Joanne Winning notes, “The Magic Toyshop is essentially about the power of the imagination to create and destroy, to give life and take it away” (Winning, 1991, p. 31).

Nights at the Circus

Nights at the Circus is set in the late nineteenth century and follows the adventures of Fevvers, a winged circus performer who may or may not be part bird. The novel is notable for its use of carnivalesque imagery and language, as well as for its depiction of gender and sexuality. Fevvers is a complex character who defies easy categorization, and her story highlights the limitations of traditional gender roles.

In addition to its feminist themes, Nights at the Circus also employs a number of magical elements, including a flying trapeze act, a magician who can turn objects into gold, and a group of tigers who can talk. These elements serve to create a sense of wonder and awe, as well as to challenge readers’ expectations of what is possible.

Wise Children

Wise Children is a novel about the lives and loves of the Chance sisters, who are the illegitimate daughters of a famous Shakespearean actor. The novel is set in the world of the theater and features a number of theatrical and magical elements, including a talking ghost, a magical time machine, and a chorus of singing nuns.

These elements serve to underscore the theme of the power of performance, as well as to explore the relationship between art and reality. As critic Laura Marcus notes, “Wise Children is a novel that celebrates the transformative power of art, while acknowledging its capacity for deceit and illusion” (Marcus, 2001, p. 16).


The use of magic realism is a central feature of Angela Carter’s novels and serves to create a sense of wonder and awe, as well as to challenge readers’ expectations of what is possible. By combining elements of the fantastic and the real, Carter is able to explore complex themes such as the power of imagination, the limitations of gender roles, and the transformative power of art. Her work remains an important contribution to the literary tradition of magic realism and continues to inspire readers and writers alike.

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