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Intermediality and the Cinematographic Image in Angela Carter’s “John Ford’s’Tis Pity She’s a Whore” (1988)

Michelle Ryan-Sautour


Dans son introduction au recueil posthume d’Angela Carter, American Ghosts and Old World Wonders (1993), Susannah Clapp rappelle que Carter l’a autorisée à “‘tout faire pour gagner de l’argent pour mes garçons,’ – c’est-à-dire son mari, Mark, et son fils, Alexandre. Peu importe le niveau de média utilisé ; chacun de ses 15 livres pourrait être mis en musique ou transformé en spectacle sur glace” (Carter 1993, ix.). Ce commentaire reflète l’attitude irrévérente de Carter envers les arts, une attitude que la fiction cartérienne exprime à travers la multitude de jeux discontinus et troublants sur les cultures savante et populaire dans sa fiction. Dans ce recueil de nouvelles, le jeu carnavalesque avec le mythe américain et la tradition britannique tente et séduit le lecteur, manipulant ainsi ses attentes par un tissage habile du discours intertextuel et par une expérimentation générique. Dans un texte court, “John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore’” Carter navigue entre les représentations cinématographiques de John Ford, réalisateur américain du XXème siècle, et la pièce de théâtre du dramaturge John Ford du XVIIème siècle dont le thème principal est l’inceste. La nouvelle paraît comme un écran sur lequel le lecteur est amené à voir le vacillement des ombres de genres et de créateurs, favorisant ainsi un sentiment d’incertitude qui alimente l’engagement du lecteur avec les forces sous-jacentes du texte. Celles-ci revêtent la question de la valeur littéraire. La pièce originelle a été critiquée à des moments différents de l’histoire littéraire pour son traitement de la question de l’inceste, et la nouvelle de Carter met également en avant l’érotisme comme moyen d’explorer les forces politiques à l’œuvre dans la représentation de la sexualité. A travers un jeu adroit avec l’esthétique cinématographique, la nouvelle de Carter révèle des formes de persuasion subtiles, et souvent impalpables. Carter a écrit des scénarios, des pièces de théâtre et des pièces pour la radio, et elle investit les paysages génériques de sa fiction d’un esprit d’intermédialité, soulignant ainsi une extension de la stratification générique complexe qui caractérise sa fiction. Dans cet article, j’étudierai les différents moyens par lesquels la nouvelle “John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore’” exploite les images associées au cinéma à des fins spéculatives.

Entrées d’index

Studied authors :

Angela Carter

Texte intégral

  • 1  Of particular interest is Louvel’s study of the mirror as pictorial substitute in Carter’s “Flesh (...)
  • 2  Carter’s story “Puss in Boots” (1979) was transformed into a radio play (Puss in Boots 1982), and (...)
  • 3  Crofts takes issue with Sarah Gamble’s observation about Carter’s slow production between the writ (...)

1Upon exploring Angela Carter’s study after the author’s death, Susannah Clapp, Carter’s literary executor, discovered a profusion of “drawings and paintings” (Clapp 1993, ix), as Carter “always travelled with a sketchpad” (Clapp 1993, ix), revealing the author’s keen attention to the visual. Carter devotes an entire section to “Looking” in her collection of essays, Nothing Sacred, has written of her interest in art, particularly that of the surrealists, and comments in a 1989 conversation with Dawn Ades on “Painting Magical Realism,” how people are drawn to narrative in and about painting, saying that we are essentially “narrative making animals” (Carter 1989). Such an impulse lies at the heart of much of Carter’s writing. Her demythologizing writing practices, as an attempt to “find out what certain configurations of imagery in our society, in our culture, really stand for” (Carter 1994, 12), are fraught with image-narrative complexities, a phenomenon to which Liliane Louvel has devoted much critical attention1 Alison Lee also observes Carter’s interest in the “various modes of capturing how and what she saw” (Lee 1997, 1). These modes appear in the far-reaching intermedial aesthetics evident not only in Carter’s manipulation of visual tropes in her narratives, but also in her experimentations with writing for the radio and the cinema, which as Clapp has observed, “enlarge the scope and alter the contours of a rich body of work” (Clapp, 1997: ix). Similarly, Charlotte Crofts speaks of “reinvigorating the critical reception of [Carter’s] work” (Crofts 19) through a study of Carter’s productions for other media,2 as this work has often been overlooked by critics.3

  • 4  I will come back to this question later, in an exploration of how Carter’s writing for the cinema (...)

2Carter’s work for the radio, for example, complicates the process of ekphrasis by preparing it for the aural “eye” of radio; the image is not locked into the linearity of written narrative, but becomes “a kind of three-dimensional story-telling” (Carter 1985b, 7). Carter indeed sees the radio as a means by which to intensify the reader’s creation of the image, “radio always leaves that magical and enigmatic margin, that space of the invisible, which must be filled by the imagination of the listener” (Carter 1985b, 7).4

3In the Kim Evans documentary filmed shortly before Carter’s death, Lorna Sage remarks how Carter’s books “introduce people [...] to their images, introduce people to their shadows, introduce them to their other selves (Sage qtd. in Evans, 1992). Carter’s preoccupation with the “shadows” of film reaches back to her childhood experiences of “kitsch” collective viewing at the Granada, Tooting in London (Carter 1997b, 400). Susannah Clapp quotes her as liking “anything that flickers” (Clapp 1994, ix) and Carter admits that the cinema has “completely altered the way that we approach narrative on the page, that we even read nineteenth-century novels differently” (qtd. in Crofts, 92). Her attitude towards movies was mocking and probing, resulting in a carnivalesque frolic with Hollywood in Wise Children (1991), The Passion of New Eve (1977) and “The Merchant of Shadows” (1989). Such playful iconoclasm also lies at the heart of Carter’s short story, “John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore” (1988).

4The story title, as a direct quotation of the title of the original play (1633) by John Ford, the famous Jacobean playwright, underlines a playful superposition of creators and genres, as the playwright’s name is blurred into that of John Ford, the American film-maker of westerns such as “Stagecoach (1938); My Darling Clementine (1946); She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)” (Carter 1993a, 20). The original play is a tragic story of incestuous love between a sister (Annabella) and brother (Giovanni) which is complicated when Annabella becomes pregnant and is obliged to marry the nobleman, Soranzo. The play ends with Annabella’s murder at the hand of Giovanni, who in turn is killed by a servant. Carter’s version transposes the original plot details into the realm of the prairies of the United States, as portrayed in Ford’s westerns, in a semi-serious juxtaposition of fragments from the 1633 play, and a narrativized account of a screenplay in which she applies the “what if” of her speculative practices to the re-enactment of incest and tragedy on American soil, a radical intertextual move that jokingly investigates identities, aesthetics and temporality. The experiment hinges primarily on the ambiguity of the proper name, as is underlined in Carter’s ironic quotation from the film-maker in a footnote to the story, ‘My name is John Ford. I make Westerns” (20).

  • 5  “Alan Ayckbourn literally opened the play out in 1988 by employing the full technological resource (...)
  • 6  Two film versions of the play have been made, one by Giuseppe Patroni in 1973 and another directed (...)

5The characters in Carter’s version are labeled, as if John Ford, film-maker, were the “director,” as Annie-Belle and Johnny (21), “Blond children with broad freckled faces” (21), who are the children of a rancher. Their forbidden love also leads to pregnancy and the marriage of Annie-Belle to the minister’s son, leading Johnny to a fit of jealous rage. He ultimately shoots and kills the couple as they attempt to leave town and then takes his own life. Carter’s version of the story was originally published in Granta in the Autumn of 1988, which corresponds to a renewed interest in the play, as is evident in a production by The National Theatre in the same year.5 According to Simon Barker, John Ford’s play was previously considered aesthetically and morally inferior to those by the group of dramatists which had preceded him (Barker 107), primarily because of the subject matter of incest (Barker 108). The play was neglected during much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and was revived in the 20th century because of “modern concerns with the issues of sexuality” (Barker 14). Such questions are familiar Carterian territory, and it is not surprising that the author should turn to the defamiliarization of the “natural” Barker sees as being inherent to the original play (Barker 14). Carter’s story even undergoes an anachronistic intertextual twist; Barker cites Carter’s story as an example by which to understand the continued relevance of the play and its revival (Barker 105), as Carter’s version of the American west presents “a dramatic world as claustrophobic and morally ambivalent as that of the earlier Ford’s Parma” (Barker 105).6 Barker begins his critical reading of the 1633 play with the “contest” created by Carter’s confrontation of two worlds in her story.

  • 7  “The American cinema was born, toddled, talked, provided the furniture for all the living-rooms, a (...)

6In a review of Robert Coover’s A Night at the Movies, Carter comments on how “A critique of the Hollywood movie is a critique of the imagination of the twentieth century in the West” (Carter 1997, 382) and she openly foregrounds a preoccupation with American, Hollywoodian imperialism.7 As this statement was made in a review published merely one year before “John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore” was published, it is hardly surprising that this should figure as one of the main metatextual fields in the text. The light of the prairies is transformed by the narrator into a metonymy of American production of cultural myth:

The light, the unexhausted light of North America that, filtered through celluloid, will become the light by which we see America looking at itself. Correction: will become the light by which we see North America looking at itself. (29)

  • 8  This quotation was taken from the preface Deleuze wrote for the English translation of The Movemen (...)

7By inserting the devices of the screenwriter’s practices into a short story narrative riddled with quotations from a 1633 play, Carter adopts the ironic position of the film-writer to dismantle naturalized Hollywoodian myth from within. Her writing transforms the reader’s cultural memory, that is his/her “brain,” into a screen upon which are projected images that seek to foster new concepts. Through the aesthetic tensions of cultural and temporal cross-cutting, she reveals aesthetics reminiscent of Gilles Deleuze’s study of the cinema as a means of reflection. Without strictly adhering to Deleuzian philosophy, I will study how Carter’s manipulation of intermediality in this short story captures the spirit of Deleuzian thought in its connection of film direction with thinking. Deleuze writes: “it is not sufficient to compare the great directors of the cinema with painters, architects or even musicians. They must also be compared with thinkers” (Deleuze x.).8

8Since the publication of Fireworks in 1974, Carter’s attraction to the short story form has been apparent. Her afterword to the collection speaks of how “The limited trajectory of the short narrative concentrates its meaning. Sign and sense can fuse to an extent impossible to achieve among the multiplying ambiguities of an extended narrative” (Carter 1987, 132). The form is indeed one that allowed for experimentation, and her “stories” are often anything but, playing with generic definitions, pushing limits, in short, condensed, bursts of Carterian energy. Salman Rushdie observes how this intensity seems most adapted to the story form: “the best of her, I think, is in her stories. Sometimes, at novel length, the distinctive Carter voice, those smoky, opium-eater’s cadences interrupted by harsh or comic discords, that moonstone-and-rhinestone mix of opulence and flim-flam, can be exhausting. In her stories, she can dazzle and swoop, and quit while she’s ahead” (Rushdie ix-x). Crofts has commented, in reference to Clare Hanson, on the resonance between the characteristic open-endedness of the short story, with its emphasis on the implicit and ellipsis, and the radio, in that both “stir the imagination of the reader in a particular way” (Crofts 23):

Both forms paradoxically contain more imaginative space precisely because of their ‘lack’. The ‘blindness’ of radio, the absence of visual stimuli, necessitates the stimulation of the listener’s imagination (in Hanson’s terms, activating the ‘image-making faculty’), creating space for their active involvement in the process of meaning production (inviting the listener’s ‘desire’ into the text). The lack of narrative space in short fiction contributes to its open-endedness as a medium, demanding a similarly active readership. (Crofts 23)

9Although Carter’s focus is on the visual aspects of the cinema as juxtaposed with the dialogue of theatre, her story, “John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore,” shares many characteristics associated with the radio, in that it points to potential images, and draws upon the reader to create the scene. The piece is neither a reflection on adaptation, nor a meditation on the theme of time and image in the cinema, but rather places the reader in the position of the screenplay reader, that is the person who must imagine, anticipate the images that could be created if the piece were to be actually directed. The text thus plays with the screenplay as a field of potentialities. The reader is not confronted with a film, or even a narrative that imitates the visual and formal characteristics of film, but rather provides a vision of what could happen, what might be the result of superposing the work of the two John Fords in a discontinuous narrative in which are interjected fragments of screen-play and theatre. The privileged mode is one of speculation.

10In a manner characteristic of Carter, a didactic, authorial narrator, often figured in the text as “I” takes the reader – “you,” in the text – by the hand to explore this speculative field, proposing, for example, cultural commentary on America, “America begins and ends in the cold and solitude” (21), providing insight into the inner world of the characters: “What did the girl think? In summer, of the heat, and how to keep flies out of the butter; in the winter, of the cold. I do not know what else she thought” (23), and thrusting upon the reader the imperative of image-making: “Imagine an orchestra behind them: the frame house, the porch, the rocking-chair endlessly rocking” (23). Such open narrative interventions on the background music (“The ‘Love Theme’ swells and rises”) and on the validity of the scene (“No. It wasn’t like that!”) are, in turn, juxtaposed with screen directions:


(Long shot) Farmhouse.

(Close up) Petticoat falling on to the porch of farmhouse.



(Close up) Johnny and Annie-Belle kiss.

‘Love theme’ up

Dissolve. (24)

And with dialogue from the original play:

Annabella: Me thinks you are not well.

Giovanni: Here’s none but you and I. I think you love me, sister.

Annabella: Yes you know I do. (24)

11The piece, as a consequence, does not foster a linear reading pattern but rather, with the disruptions caused by shifts in style, narrative interjections, mimetic stage dialogue, and screen/film directions, fosters disjointed modes of visualization. Moments of convergence between the texts tend toward the three-dimensionality Carter associates with her radio plays. In terms of textual processing, the reader is led to leap from straight-forward didactic narrative, to imagining a film scene, with its “long shot” and “close-up” and “dissolve” functions, to perceiving the resonances with intertext authored by playwright John Ford. The story becomes a field of diverse textual “cuts” assembled into a composite form that places modes of narrative and visual representation in tension with each other.

  • 9  “La typographie, la mise en espace du texte peuvent produire l’effet d’image rythmant le texte de (...)

12This “cutting” is strikingly apparent in the visual, typographical dimension of text on the page. As Liliane Louvel observes, the set-up of the text can produce an effect of visual scansion which provides the rhythm of the text9 (Louvel 2002, 161). In Carter’s story, screen directions are expressed in capital letters set one inch from the margins, and fragments from the play, with character names in italics, are set alongside the margins with the ragged, short edged lines characteristic of writing for the theatre. Even the accompanying narrative, although following the stylistic norms of story presentation, is broken up by blank spaces inserted between paragraphs and sections. In this assemblage, one cut flows into the other as the narrator reworks the style or words of the play or screenplay, such as in the following example,

Giovanni: I am lost forever.

Lost in the green wastes, where the pioneers are lost. (26) (narrator)

  • 10  One can’t also help noticing a play upon the title of one of John Ford’s films, “She Wore a Yellow (...)

13The narrator appears to play upon words or aspects of the scene, amplifying details in what seems to be a willful manipulation of the reader’s “viewing” experience in the reading process, playing with transitions and reinforcing the thread that relates the pieces to a variegated whole. The predominance of stylistic variations in the framing narrative, with occasional privileging of parataxis, chiasmus, and repetition (She wore a yellow ribbon. Her hair was long and yellow” (40)),10 along with the incomplete paratactic sentence fragments in the screenplay sections (Train Whistle. Burst of smoke. Engine pulling train across prairie (41)), accentuates the process of “filling in the blanks” on a structural and visual level. The following excerpt, from the scene following Johnny’s shooting of his sister and husband, is an excellent example of the mental gymnastics required by Carter’s collage:

Seeing some life left in his sister, Johnny sank to his knees beside her and her eyes opened up and, perhaps, she saw him, for she said:

Annabella: Brother, unkind, unkind …

So that Death would be well satisfied, Johnny then put the barrel of the rifle into his mouth and pulled the trigger.


(Crane shot) The three bodies, the Minister

Comforting his wife, the passengers

Crowding off the train in order to look at the catastrophe. (43)

  • 11  “L’image ‘littéraire’, représentation mentale construite à partir d’un support extérieur, paraît o (...)

14The second segment is taken directly from the original John Ford play, resonating with Carter’s version as the words of Annabella, in a ventriloqual “voice-over,” replaces the speech of Annie-Belle. The image of Johnny constructed by the reader through the framing narrative, alternates with the cinematic image suggested by the jarring screenplay segment of the station scene in which the reader is led to imagine the frame of the screen. The god-like, distanced point of view afforded by the “Crane shot,” along with the reference to the three bodies, invites the reader to superpose the images of Carter’s story onto his/her past viewing experience, thus submitting his/her cinematic recollections to the enquiry inscribed in Carter’s “shots.” The image is a hybrid one, put together through fragments of narrative and memory, in a self-conscious shifting between the reading image a typical reader projects upon his/her internal screen during the reading of fiction (Jouve 42)11 and the imagined cinema screen as a frame. The involvement of the reader is heightened not only by the need to compensate for the different degrees of discontinuity in the narrative, the various breaks and jumps, the lurching from intertext to diverse narrative modes, but also the need to move between the types of images fostered by these modes.

15This process is accentuated by the narrator’s accompanying self-conscious reflections on the image. This is particularly evident in the use of the mirror, a recurrent motif in Carter’s texts, and one underlined by Louvel as being a substitute for the pictorial (Louvel 2002, 45). The mirror is fraught with signification in Carter’s work, and here it functions on multiple levels as it is associated with Annie-Belle and Johnny’s first act of transgression.

She propped a bit of mirror on the porch railing. It caught the sun and flashed. She combed out her wet hair in the mirror. There seemed to be an awful lot of it, tangling up the comb. She wore only her petticoat, the men were off with the cattle, nobody to see her pale shoulders except that Johnny came back. (23)

16The mirror falls, she jumps at his arrival (“She jumps up to tend him. The jogged mirror falls” (24)) and the brother and sister kneel to look at their image in the broken mirror (“In the fragments of the mirror, they kneel to see their round, blond, innocent faces that, superimposed upon one another, would fit at every feature, their faces, all at once the same face, the face that never existed until now, the pure face of America” (24)). The conflation of the brother/sister incestuous configuration and America highlights a glaring reflection about American identity. Further along yet, the brother and sister turn from the mirror and “saw the other’s face as if it were their own.” (25) thus amplifying the specular theme of otherness. Such recurrent metatextual reflection reinforces the cinematographic images suggested by the screenplay fragments. Another example can be found in the quotation mentioned above in which “we see America looking at itself” by the light of “celluloid.” This also suggests the specular dimension of the cinema in American culture. And yet again, towards the end of the story, the narrator invokes the photograph in combination with the imperative to “see”: “And see them, now, as if posing for the photographer, the young man and the pregnant woman, sitting on a trunk, waiting to be transported onwards, away, elsewhere, she with the future in her belly” (42).

17The text is indeed about making the reader see with his/her inner eye, an eye that Carter shows to be culturally saturated. Through her intertextual/medial use of the work of the two John Fords, her story foregrounds how our relationship to the image is never innocent, but is indeed partially forged through aesthetics, of which Hollywood is definitely an imperial dominant. That Carter’s writing about the radio should resonate so closely with this text is indicative of her complex play upon media modes and language:

Tricks with time—and also with place, for radio can move from location to location with effortless speed, using aural hallucinations to invoke sea-coast, a pub, a blasted heath, and can make extraordinary collage and montage effects beyond the means of any film-maker, not just because of the cost of that medium but also because the eye takes longer to register changing images than does the ear (Carter 1985b, 7).

18In “John Ford’s ‘’Tis Pity She’s a Whore’” similar “collage” and “montage” effects are used to contemplate cinematographic memory. There is a great amount of irony in the idea that Carter’s hybrid “screenplay/narrative” would certainly be difficult to render in film format. On the contrary, with its disjunctions and halting progress, it calls more upon the adaptability and openness of the story form. It is perhaps not rendered through sound as is the radio image, but is in language, and in being detached from the traditional typographical linearity of the short story form, privileges a similar elasticity. It is this elasticity that Carter exploits for political ends. Deleuze has spoken of the dehumanization of the camera lens in the cinema, and the flexibility afforded by detaching point of view from the human eye (Deleuze 71-86), but here we see a strategic navigation between this mobile, dehumanized lens and a didactic authorial persona who appears to invest it with a political function.

19The screenplay segments, for example, highlight action and movement as a language of implicit clues; the viewer must draw his/her own conclusions. This is particularly evident in the scene where Annie-Belle is courted by the Minister’s son. The shifting “camera” between the farmhouse and the exterior, along with the change of Johnny’s shooting to an out-of-field sound, and the movement of the “lens” to a close-up on Annie-Belle and the Minister’s son fosters the impression of a language of sound and image, in an orchestration that speaks indirectly of the thwarted desire of the brother and sister, and the resulting conflicting emotions.


Row of bottles on a fence.

Bang, bang, bang. Johnny shoots the bottles

One by one.

Annie-Belle on porch, washing dishes in a tub.

Tears run down her face.


Father on porch, feet up on railing, glass and

bottle to hand

Sun going down over prairies.

Bang, bang, bang.

(Father’s point of view) Johnny shooting bottles

off the fence.

Clink of father’s bottle against glass.


Minister’s son rides along track in long shot.

Bang, bang, bang.

Annie-Belle, clean dress, tidy hair, red eyes,

comes out of house on to porch. Clink of

father’s bottle against glass. (30)

20As opposed to the dominance of dialogue in the original play, the characters are particularly silent in this scene. This is the case with most of the cinematographic cuts proposed in the text. The respective characterization of Johnny and his intertextual counterpart, Giovanni, mirrors this relationship to language. The original Giovanni was particularly well-spoken, well-educated, as stated in the play by Bonaventura, friar and tutor to Giovanni: “How did the university applaud // Thy government, behavior, learning, speech, // Sweetness, and all that could make up a man!” (Ford 1997, lines 50-52). Johnny, however, speaks very little, “I imagine him mute or well-nigh mute; he is the silent type, his voice creaks with disuse” (25-26). His work appears as a series of movements or gestures that “speak” beyond the voice, as “the vague, undistinguished ‘work’ of such folks in the movies” (26), thus resonating metatextually with the image succession and movement in Carter’s “film” version. The passage above foregrounds this shift from speech to gestures and movement, and the in and out-of-field sounds punctuate the resulting expressions of affect in the passage (“father’s bottle against glass”, as well as the repeated “bang, bang, bang”). Details such as Annie-Belle’s tears, her red eyes, the act of shooting bottles, speak indirectly of the growing tension in the family, a tension amplified by the subsequent arrival of the Minister’s son which is presented as a “long shot” accompanied by the out-of-field “bang, bang, bang” of Johnny’s gun, a detail that undeniably foreshadows the tragic end of the story. A similar orchestration of movement and play with the implicit through the lens of the virtual camera is apparent in the wedding scene:


Harmonium. Father and Johnny by the altar.

Johnny white, strained; father stoical.

Minister’s wife thin-lipped, furious.

Minister’s son and Annie-Belle, in simple

white cotton dress, join hands.

MINISTER: Do you take this woman . . .

(Close up) Minister’s son’s hand slipping

wedding ring on to Annie-Belle’s finger.


Fiddle and banjo old-time music.

Vigorous square dance going on;

bride and groom lead.

Father at table, glass in hand.

Johnny, beside him, reaching for the bottle. (31-32)

21The emphasis on character expressions of affect (white, strained, stoical, furious), the relative positioning of the wedding party, the irony of the white dress, the wedding ring, and Johnny’s act of reaching for the bottle, asks the reader to “see” the story unfold through image, to shift to an internal screen of virtual film narrative. Carter’s story indeed not only plays with how we read, but also fosters a self-consciousness in the reader of the colonization of our imaginations by image producers: “The imaginative life is conducted in response to all manner of stimuli – including the movies, advertising, all the magical things that the surrealists would see in any city street” (Carter 1985a). According to Crofts, an impulse to subvert “the dominant visual economy” (Crofts 36) lies behind Carter’s attraction to radio. A similar impulse is apparent in the narrator’s repeated use of “same” and “you” in the following passage:

the Minister and his wife drove with them to a railhead such as you have often seen on the movies – the same telegraph office, the same water-tower, the same old man with the green eyeshade selling tickets (40).

22Hollywood’s influence is subtle however; it occurs not simply through viewing the original John Ford films mentioned in Carter’s footnote, but also through a dissemination of the image of the Western with its temporal complexity, for even the most western-averse reader would be able to project Carter’s hybrid “film” upon his/her internal screen. As Crofts observes in an admittedly unscientific experiment with a group of listeners of Carter’s radio play, Come Unto These Yellow Sands, listeners/readers tend to reproduce details (such as a toadstool) in a similar way:

This suggests that there is an ‘ur-toadstool’ of the cultural imagination, the toadstool we remember from the fairy stories of childhood, demonstrating that radio’s ‘third dimension’ is not an unlimited space outside of the symbolic order giving free-rein to the listener’s imagination, but is always still influenced by cultural and social factors outside the text (Crofts 32).

23Carter’s fiction engages with the intricate genealogy of such cultural images in this story.

24As is often the case in Carter’s speculative stories, the reader is being given a lesson which functions on multiple levels, removing him/her from the innocent position of spectator, so as to inform his/her viewing. In this process, his/her own contribution to meaning is submitted to the forces of a narrative that seeks to undermine and question from within. The jarring between the theme of incest and the plains of America as imagined in the typical Western fosters a sense of unease and foregrounds the affect associated with incest as an act of transgression of both family and religious law. Yet this flagrant incongruity between a story of incestuous love and the moral realm of John Ford, film-maker, is only the beginning of the speculative processes set up in the story through Carter’s cutting and assemblage of aesthetic fragments.

25Crofts has commented on the “polyvalent, polysemic approach” (Crofts 72) adopted by Carter in her fictional biographies so as to not “build unified character” but rather “deconstruct it; not to create a whole picture, but to fragment the image” (Crofts 72). Carter indeed appears interested, as mentioned above, in the reader’s own images, in “his/her own way of ‘seeing’” she says in relation to the radio play (Carter 1985b, 7). Through a studied reassembling of fragments, Carter participates in what Jacques Rancière sees as the politics of re-framing as a means to engage the power of the image.

Skepticism [about the political power of an image] came as a result of an excessive faith. It came as a result of the belief in a straight line linking affection, understanding and action. This is why I think a new trust in the political capacity of the image might be based on a critical, but strategic scheme. Artistic images don’t bring weapons in the struggle. They help frame new configurations of the visible and the thinkable which also means a new landscape of the possible. But they help it precisely to the extent that they don’t anticipate their signification and their effect. (Rancière 2008)

  • 12  “Le ‘tiers pictural’ entre le texte et l’image, fait advenir autre chose, ce qu’il joue entre les (...)

26Carter indeed frames the original play (of which, it should be noted, she alters not a word) with a culturally charged Hollywoodian structure. Through a studied placement of fragments of the original text in a new version inspired by a film-maker of the same name, she allows for resonances to emerge between texts and creators, and brings the reader to “see” the two John Fords in a different light, thus opening up to potential effects that, as Rancière observes, cannot necessarily be predicted. Ever the serious joker when it comes to the realm of identity, Carter’s high-flown experimentation with intermediality in this story creates politically charged effects, using the intensity, density, and multilayered quality of short story discourse to heighten the reader’s exercise of his/her imagination. Louvel evokes the term “tiers pictural” to refer to the floating space that emerges between text and image in the pictorially saturated text (Louvel 2010, 258), and suggests how the reader participates in the conjuring up of an image of his/her own invention through such mediation.12In Carter’s story, he/she is led to don the persona of the film director, to project, through the cultural frame of cinematic memory, a potential film upon his/her internal screen. The debates about the relationship between text and image are ongoing. In this story Carter reminds us that some form of text often precedes film, as the verbal dimension of the screenplay is generally the starting point of the image. Jacques Rancière has commented on how the “wordless” intimacy of the visible in the cinema is akin to literature in its ability to “anticipate an effect the better to displace or contradict it” (Rancière 2009, 4). By placing us in the seat of the director, at the crossroads of both media, Carter asks the reader to not only question the nature of this “wordlessness” but also see how the cinematic “visible” is wrapped up in re-creation, how image-making is always guilty of cycles of repetition. As such, she holds the temporality of the cinematographic visible aloft for re-examination, and highlights the anticipatory power of screen-writing. Her images hover on the horizon of the possible through a meticulous manipulation of remnants of the past.


Barker, Simon. Introduction. Ford, John. ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore. 1633. Ed. Simon Barker, London: Routledge, 1997. 1-18.

Bell, Mark. Production Notes. Carter, Angela. The Curious Room. Ed. Mark Bell. 1996. London: Vintage, 1997. 503-510.

Carter, Angela. Afterword. Fireworks. 1974. New York: Penguin, 1987

---. American Ghosts and Old World Wonders. London: Vintage, 1993a.

---. The Curious Room. Ed. Mark Bell. 1996. London: Vintage, 1997a. vii-x.

---. “John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore.” 1988. American Ghosts and Old World Wonders. London: Vintage, 1993a. 20-44.

---. Interview by Anna Katsavos. Review of Contemporary Fiction. 14.3 (1994). 11-17.

---. Interview. Angela Carter’s Curious Room. Dir. Kim Evans. BBC 2. 15.9.1992. Film Documentary, BFI Film archives, London.

---. Interview with Dawn Ades. “Painting Magic Realism.” London: ICA Video, July 20 1989. Audio cassette.

---. Interview by John Haffenden. Novelists in Interview. London: Methuen, 1985a. 76-96.

---. “The Merchant of Shadows” 1989. American Ghosts and Old World Wonders. London: Vintage, 1993a. 66-85.

---. Nothing Sacred. 1982. London: Virago, 1993b.

---. Nights at the Circus. 1984. New York: Penguin, 1993c.

---. The Passion of New Eve. 1977. London: Virago, 1995.

---. Preface. Come Unto These Yellow Sands. 1978. Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Bookes Ltd, 1985b.

---. “Robert Coover: A Night at the Movies.” Shaking a Leg, Ed. Jenny Uglow. London: Chatto & Windus, 1997b. 382-384.

---. Shaking a Leg, Ed. Jenny Uglow. London: Chatto & Windus, 1997b.

---. Wise Children. 1991. New York: Penguin, 1993d.

Clapp, Susannah. Introduction. 1993. Carter, Angela. American Ghosts and Old World Wonders. London: Vintage, 1994. ix.-xi.

---. Introduction. Carter, Angela. The Curious Room. Ed. Mark Bell. 1996. London: Vintage, 1997. vii-x.

Crofts, Charlotte. ‘Anagrams of Desire’: Angela Carter’s Writing for Radio, Film, and Television. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003.

Deleuze, Gilles. The Movement Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.

Evans, Kim. Dir. Angela Carter’s Curious Room. BBC 2. 15.9.1992. Film Documentary, BFI Film archives, London.

Ford, John. ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore. 1633. Ed. Simon Barker, London: Routledge, 1997.

Lee, Allison. Angela Carter. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1997.

Louvel, Liliane. Textes / images. Rennes : Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2002.

---. Le Tiers pictural. Rennes : Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2010.

Rancière, Jacques. The Future of the Image. 2003. London: Verso, 2009.

---. “What Makes Images Unacceptable?” PNCA + FIVE Idea Studios Program. 8 December 2008. Portland. Video. Web. March 5, 2010.

Rushdie, Salman. Introduction. Carter, Angela. Burning Your Boats. 1995. New York, Penguin, 1997. ix-xiv.


1  Of particular interest is Louvel’s study of the mirror as pictorial substitute in Carter’s “Flesh and the Mirror” (Louvel 2002).

2  Carter’s story “Puss in Boots” (1979) was transformed into a radio play (Puss in Boots 1982), and the radio play, Vampirella (1976), followed a reverse trajectory when it was rewritten as a short story, “The Lady of the House of Love” (1979). She wrote for the stage as well, but according to Clapp was less successful and wrote an operatic version of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando entitled Orlando: or, The Enigma of the Sexes (1979). Carter’s well-known text “The Company of Wolves,” however, speaks most clearly of the intermedial character of her work. It originated as one of the three “wolf” stories in The Bloody Chamber (1979), “The Compagny of Wolves,” “Wolf Alice,” and “The Werewolf,” and was written as a radio play (The Company of Wolves (1978)) before it was again transformed, and combined with the other two stories, into a screenplay (The Company of Wolves (1984)) with a “Chinese box” structure directed by Neil Jordan (Jordan qtd. In Bell 507). Carter wrote a screenplay for her novel The Magic Toyshop (1985) and another in 1988 about a matricide committed by two school girls in New Zealand. Her piece “Gun for the Devil” was originally written as a draft for a screenplay in 1987 and later published in American Ghosts and Old World Wonders (1993) as a short story.

3  Crofts takes issue with Sarah Gamble’s observation about Carter’s slow production between the writing of Nights at the Circus (1984) and Wise Children (1991), emphasizing Carter’s growing preoccupation with other media during this period: “But far from being a fallow period, Carter was busy working on the script for A Self-made Man (1984a), collaborating with Neil Jordan and David Wheatley on her two film adaptations, The Company of Wolves (1984a) and The Magic Toyshop (1986a) and continuing to publish a range of journalism. Furthermore, as these unrealized texts demonstrate, Carter was putting considerable creative energy into a number of projects which, for one reason or another, did not come to fruition between 1978 and 1989. The irreverent treatment of traditional theatre in Wise Children may stem from her unfruitful collaborations with the Glyndebourne Opera House and the national Theatre, the highest echelons of ‘high art’. The balancing act between her critique and celebration of the Hollywood production of The Dream might also be read in the light of the successes and the failures of her various film projects. The novel is steeped with allusion to cinema, television, video and digital technology, demonstrating the cross-fertilisation between her work in media and her writing for the printed page” (Crofts 196-197).

4  I will come back to this question later, in an exploration of how Carter’s writing for the cinema also explores the potentials of such imagined visual spaces.

5  “Alan Ayckbourn literally opened the play out in 1988 by employing the full technological resources of the National Theatre and staging the play on an enormous revolve, the design of which seemed to owe not a little to the cityscape which greets the visitor to modern-day Parma. The action took place in rooms and courtyards linked by alleyways and bridges beneath a covering of red-tiled roofs. The beauty of Roger Glossop’s very public and centrifugal set contrasted with the poignant but deadly private activities of the figures which occupied it” (Barker 15).

6  Two film versions of the play have been made, one by Giuseppe Patroni in 1973 and another directed in 1980 by Roland Joffé for the BBC (barker 15).

7  “The American cinema was born, toddled, talked, provided the furniture for all the living-rooms, and the bedrooms, too, of the imagination of the entire world, gave way to television and declined from most potent of mass media into a minority art form within the space of a human lifetime. In the days when Hollywood bestraddled the world like a colossus, its vast, brief, insubstantial empire helped to Americanise us all.” (Carter 1997b, 382)

8  This quotation was taken from the preface Deleuze wrote for the English translation of The Movement Image.

9  “La typographie, la mise en espace du texte peuvent produire l’effet d’image rythmant le texte de la scansion du visible.” (Louvel 2002, 161).

10  One can’t also help noticing a play upon the title of one of John Ford’s films, “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949).

11  “L’image ‘littéraire’, représentation mentale construite à partir d’un support extérieur, paraît osciller entre les deux orientations (l’image onirique et l’image optique). On peut cependant inférer du caractère peu directif des stimuli textuels que l’image-personnage penche davantage du côté du rêve, donc du côté du plaisir.” (Jouve 1992, 42). “The ‘literary’ image, as a mental representation constructed by means of an external medium, seems to oscillate between the two orientations (the dream image and the optical image). However, because of the limited character of textual stimuli, it can be inferred that the character-image leans more towards the dream, that is towards the side of desire.” (My translation).

12  “Le ‘tiers pictural’ entre le texte et l’image, fait advenir autre chose, ce qu’il joue entre les deux. Ce tiers pictural serait l’image flottante (…) suggérée par le texte mais qui reste une image suscitée par des mots, une image qui peut renvoyer à un tableau dans l’extra-texte mais aussi à un tableau (ou l’un des ses substituts) imaginaire à reconstruire par le lecteur, image qui sera alors sa propriété, son ‘invention’, puisqu’elle ne coincidera jamais avec celle qui fut mise en texte par le narrateur plongé dans sa vision intérieure.” (Louvel 2010, 260) “The ‘pictorial third’ between text and image makes something else happen, something which plays out between the two. The pictorial third is a floating image (…) suggested by the text but with remains an image inspired by words, an image that can not only refer to a work outside the text but also to an imaginary work (or one of its substitutes) to be reconstructed by the reader, an image that would then be his property, his ‘invention’, as it would never coincide with that which the narrator puts in the text, immersed in his internal vision.” (my translation)

Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Michelle Ryan-Sautour, “Intermediality and the Cinematographic Image in Angela Carter’s “John Ford’s’Tis Pity She’s a Whore” (1988)”, Journal of The Short Story in English, 56, spring 2011, 59-74.

Référence électronique

Michelle Ryan-Sautour, « Intermediality and the Cinematographic Image in Angela Carter’s “John Ford’s’Tis Pity She’s a Whore” (1988) », Journal of the Short Story in English [En ligne], 56 | Spring 2011, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2013, consulté le 29 mars 2017. URL :


Michelle Ryan-Sautour

Michelle Ryan-Sautour is Associate Professor at the Université d’Angers, France where she is a member of the short story section of the CRILA research group. Her research focus is the speculative fiction and short stories of Angela Carter and Rikki Ducornet with a special emphasis on authorship, reading pragmatics, game theory, and gender. She has published articles in The Journal of the Short Story in English, Etudes Britanniques Contemporaines, and in several edited collections.

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