Nights at the Circus

Angela Carter

Illustrated by Eileen Cooper

Introduced by Sarah Waters

Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter’s tale of love and magic, circuses and lies, receives its first illustrated Folio Society edition. Royal Academician Eileen Cooper provides extraordinary linocut images, Sarah Waters introduces.

Add To Wish List
‘Angela Carter has influenced a whole generation of fellow writers towards dream worlds of baroque splendour, fairy tale horror, and visions of the alienated wreckage of a future world’
  1. The Times

Nights at the Circus tells the story of Sophie Fevvers, half woman, half swan, all super star, and journalist Jack Walser’s quest to find the truth behind her unlikely legend. Stuffed to the gills with Angela Carter’s wildly original storytelling, gorgeously slippery language, and all the pleasures and horrors of a fairy tale, this first illustrated edition features nine exclusive colour illustrations and a set of black-and-white chapter headings by celebrated printmaker Eileen Cooper. A Royal Academician, Cooper has credited fairy tales, mythology and the female figure as core inspirations for her work, making her the perfect artist to bring Carter’s lush imagery to life. Sarah Waters’s novel Tipping the Velvet trod the same theatrical boards as Nights at the Circus, and here she provides an introduction celebrating Carter’s ‘masterpiece’ and the author’s unique power to ‘unsettle as well as to inspire and console’. This is a sensational edition of one of the 20th century’s greatest literary spectacles.

Bound in printed and blocked cloth

Set in Laurentian

376 pages

9 colour and 13 black & white integrated illustrations

Gold slipcase

9½″ x 6¼″

A writer of lush, feminist literary fantasy, Angela Carter has a remarkable legacy. She has influenced authors as diverse as Salman Rushdie, Ali Smith, David Mitchell and Sarah Waters and the Women’s Prize for Fiction was created partly in reaction to her novel Wise Children failing to make the all-male 1991 Booker Prize shortlist. Nights at the Circus won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and in 2012 it was named the ‘best ever winner’ of Britain’s oldest literary honour. This first illustrated edition features the extraordinary work of Eileen Cooper, another trailblazer of the arts. Each illustration is bold, striking and impossible to look away from, while the chapter headings feature the ordinary and extraordinary totems of Fevvers’s life story. The binding is festooned with gold-trimmed feathers and features Carter's heroine making makes another of her death-defying leaps.

A great deal of thought goes into choosing the artist or illustrator we would like to work with on a Folio edition and we were incredibly pleased when Eileen Cooper agreed to illustrate Angela Carter’s seminal Nights at the Circus. A huge admirer of Carter’s fairy-tale inspired work, and often described as a magic realist, Cooper fully immersed herself in the commission, retreating to a house in France to complete the colour lino-cut collages and black-and-white title page that so perfectly portray Carter’s spell-binding world. However, Cooper didn’t stop when the commission was complete. Drawing on the subject matter, and the parallel themes of the female form and female identity that are at the heart of so much of her own work, Cooper continued to create artworks inspired by Nights at the Circus.

Sophie Fevvers – The Cockney Venus – is a circus star like no other. Half woman, half swan, she learnt to fly by leaping from the roof of a brothel, and from there soared on to international stardom. Journalist Jack Walser is expecting to expose her as a fraud, but instead finds himself captivated by her beauty, her strangeness, and her sheer star quality. Before he knows what has hit him he has thrown himself in with the circus in order to follow her across the world. From turn-of-the-century London to glittering St Petersburg and the frozen forests of Siberia, he will go much further than he could ever imagine to uncover the truth. Is the Cockney Venus a genuine marvel of nature, or the greatest feathered hoax of all time?

Angela Carter (1940–92) read English at Bristol University and was a fellow in Creative Writing at Sheffield University in 1976–8. She lived in Japan, the United States and Australia. Her first novel, Shadow Dance, was published in 1965, followed by The Magic Toyshop (1967, John Llewellyn Rhys Prize) and The Passion of New Eve (1977), among others. Nights at the Circus won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. She also published several collections of short stories, beginning with Fireworks (1974), as well as The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History (1979), and two collections of journalism, Nothing Sacred (1982) and Expletives Deleted (1992). Her short story collection, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories was published by The Folio Society in 2011, and one of the stories, ’The Company of Wolves’, became an award-winning film directed by Neil Jordan.

Sarah Waters was born in Wales in 1966. She has written six novels, including Tipping the Velvet (1998), which won the Betty Trask Award, and Fingersmith (2002), which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize, and won the South Bank Show Award for Literature and the CWA Historical Dagger; both of these novels were later adapted into multi-award-winning series by the BBC. She co-wrote with Christopher Green a stage adaptation of the lost 1928 supernatural murder-mystery novel The Frozen Scream, which premiered in December 2014.

Eileen Cooper was born in Glossop, in the Peak District, in 1953. She studied first at Goldsmiths College (1971–4) and then at the Royal College of Art (1974–7) and went on to teach at a wide range of art schools including St Martin’s, the Royal College of Art, City & Guilds in London and latterly at the Royal Academy of Arts. In 2000 she was elected a Royal Academician. From 2010–17 Cooper served as Keeper of the Royal Academy, the first woman to be elected to this role since the RA began in 1768. She has exhibited widely in the UK and internationally, and her work is held in many public and private collections such as the British Museum, the Royal Collection, the Victoria & Albert Museum and Yale University, USA. Cooper was made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) for services to Art and Art Education in 2016.


You May Also Like

  1. Image of Half of a Yellow Sun book

    Half of a Yellow Sun

    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    Illustrated by Unyime Edet


    The first illustrated edition of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s phenomenal Half of a Yellow Sun is published by The Folio Society, with a series of stunning watercolours by artist Unyime Edet.

  2. The Bell Jar

    The Bell Jar

    Sylvia Plath

    Illustrated by Alexandra Levasseur


    A witty and melancholic portrayal of 1950s New York set against the backdrop of mental illness, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is newly introduced by Plath biographer and scholar, Heather Clark, and features seven ethereal illustrations by Alexandra Levasseur.

  3. The Handmaid’s Tale

    The Handmaid’s Tale

    Margaret Atwood

    Illustrated by Anna and Elena Balbusso


    ‘Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen.’ Margaret Atwood’s chilling cautionary tale is illustrated by the Balbusso sisters.