Alice in Wolfland

Constantine Sandis
6 min readJul 4, 2017

The final story in Angela Carter’s 1979 collection The Bloody Chamber begins with a sentence replete with provisos:

Could this ragged girl with brindled lugs have spoken like we do she would have called herself a wolf, but she cannot speak, although she howls because she is lonely — yet ‘howl’ is not the right word for it, since she is young enough to make the noise that pups do, bubbling, delicious, like that of a panful of fat on the fire (1979:140).

In her introduction to the the 2006 Vintage reprint, Helen Simpson writes that Carter once joked that ‘the advantage of including animal protagonists in her work was that she did not have to make them talk’. But speak some of them do — and in this case it is a human who cannot speak, or indeed barely even howl. Had she been able to speak (or otherwise communicate) as ‘we’ do, the reader is told, she would not have identified herself as human but as a wolf. What a deceptively simple thought this is. The we in question might at first appear to refer to ‘us’ humans, a set to which the reader presumably belongs — bar Carter’s writings being enjoyed by alien species. But even then, it presumably doesn’t include toddlers and other human beings who lack the required communicative skills.

What is clear is that were this human girl able to speak, she would be speaking a human language and would share our concept of a wolf. But on what grounds, then, would she identify as a wolf at all? Carter continues:

they [her foster kindred] are trying to talk to her but they cannot do so because she does not understand their language even if she knows how to use it for she is not a wolf herself, although suckled by wolves (140).

The wolves are not talking to her but only trying to. Talking to, on this implied conception, is a success…

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Constantine Sandis

Co-founder of Lex Academic & Visiting Professor of Philosophy, University of Hertfordshire.