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"The double-faced Hazard/Chance family is served up the reader as a model for Britain and Britishness."

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Introduction

"The double-faced Hazard/Chance family is served up the reader as a model for Britain and Britishness." To what extent do you agree with Kate Webb's assessment of the political underpinning of Wise Children? Wise Children, by Angela Carter, concerns itself with the life, family and societies inhabited by Dora Chance. Wise Children's plot contains subplots, messages and themes. Carter uses the traditional Shakespearian five act (and therefore, here, five chapter) structure which the reader would recognise as an integral part of a Shakespeare play. Shakespeare plays deal with societies and relationships, providing messages for the audience; the part we play in society and interact and how societies develop and function. The reader would see this in Wise Children's five-chapter structure. The characters Carter creates present sides of life that aim to change our perceptions of our world and of ourselves. The reader would consider the novel a commentary on Britain. Britishness is society within Britain over time. In the past, Britishness may have been the 2-up-2-down 2.5 children family but today Britain is multicultural, so traditional views of Britain have changed. Britishness is hard to define, therefore, but perhaps this difficulty in definition makes Britishness. Britain's 20th Century was a century of change and we must consider political context when studying Wise Children. During the early 20th Century, the industrial revolution, the new bourgeoisie classes and Victorian poverty were major issues. Trade Unions began to play a large role in politics and the Labour party was established with Keir Hardie (working-class, raised in poverty) at its head - previously politics had been for the socially and economically affluent, which is important, considering Carter's socialist beliefs. Real social welfare took over the commonly held attitude of "laissez-faire" (let it alone). The First World War nearly destroyed London's East End (where Dora and Nora live); the lack of young men meant women's importance grew, and women were given the vote in 1918. ...read more.

Middle

Shakespeare is not strictly high-culture, available only to those who have studied it, because Shakespeare wrote for everyone. The cultured actors, Ranulph and Melchior, choose Lear and Hamlet over Shakespeare's lower-class, but equally valid, characters such as King Lear's Fool who has more profound things to say than the King. The poor are as much Shakespeare as the courtiers, and Shakespeare is as much for the working classes as for the educated. Melchior and Ranulph are the aristocracy of the theatre, but not true aristocracy (Melchior only marrying into it). It would be hypocritical to try to keep Shakespeare for an elite because those representing it are not true elite. Shakespeare is a model for Britain, as is Wise Children. Comedy is tragedy that happens to other people. Dora is comic and tragic. The reader laughs when a white dove "craps" on the carpet at 69 Bard Road, but is saddened when Dora describes the war; The purple flowers that would pop up on the bombsites almost before the ruins stopped smoking, as if to say, life goes on, even if you don't. Carter's tone here is melancholic but hopeful, to show that Dora refuses "point blank to play in tragedy". Dora lets us see the tragedy in her life; thus in Britain. Surely, this is most melancholic - as Sarah Gamble said, Happiness, in other words, can only be achieved by an act of will: by engaging in an editorial process which brings good things in life to the fore, and doggedly elects to ignore the bad. The Hazards are also tragic. Ranulph kills himself and Estella, and Melchior hangs on to Ranulph's cardboard crown with such love that it exceeds love for his children. There is also comedy; Melchior's "package" is very visible during his speech at the beginning of filming The Dream, "How well he filled those tights!" That these two faces of theatre, comedy and tragedy, are portrayed throughout Wise Children's society shows that British society is united in ability to fall victim to tragedy and to overcome it with comedy. ...read more.

Conclusion

The two differing attitudes towards women presented to the reader show the different attitudes towards half of Britain's population at the time the novel is set. Furthermore, because the attitudes are presented through interactions with men, the reader is shown two attitudes towards men as well. Firstly, men are the protagonists, interested in surface beauty and selfish, to the degree that they will drive women mad and then abandon her, as with Genghis Khan and Melchior and Pretty Kitty. Secondly, men are passive, with the woman manipulating the man's natural interest in surface beauty. It is interesting to see that both men and woman can be seen as two sided, in what can be deemed to be a feminist novel. Comedy must relate to the reader and because the reader can recognise these portrayals, the reader will see the two sides of gender politics in Britain. Gender politics are part of Britishness, with "the worth of women" being a popular debate since mediaeval times (in Chaucer's The Merchant's Tale for example). Gender politics is portrayed in Wise Children through, for example, the power struggle between Lady A and Melchior within their marriage - who leaves whom, who needs whom for support and money, whom Saskia and Imogen will choose. This is a model for British gender politics. Carter's Wise Children is certainly a microcosm of Britain, and her characters represent different aspects of Britishness. There are two or more viewpoints on characters and situations. To call the family "double-faced" is to call Britain double-faced. Politics is double-faced: respectability masks scandal: Lady A retains respectability throughout Melchior's infidelity. Gender is double-faced - who is passive and who is active in the male-female relationship? Language is double-faced: words that mean the same have different connotations. Indeed, "the complexity and hybridity of British society and culture" (Kate Webb) is the very essence of why Carter must present the Hazard/Chance family, Britain, as double-faced: to present it as anything but a complex melange of different sides of Britain would be to present Britain inaccurately. ...read more.

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