A-level English/Wise Children/Magical Realism

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Magical Realism[edit]

The book is an example of Magical Realism. The novel switches between actions, which are described as being so extravagant that the reader has to suspend their disbelief to everyday dialogue between characters. Wise Children cannot be looked at as a realistic level. However Carter does blend the absurd with realism. Many of the character's emotions are real - Dora's longing for acceptance from Melchior, however this is contrasted by absurd moments.


Examples of Magical Realism include:

  • Grandma Chance's ghost who visits Dora and Nora before they go to Melchior's 100th birthday.
  • The end of chapter two where Dora has sex as the building is burning down
  • The coincidence that there are so many twins.
  • "She’d got a fishbowl on her head with a fish in it. I kid you not" - Imogen's headwear at the end of the novel.
  • The amount of 'coincidental' links to Shakespeare
  • The majority of events that occurred during the filming of 'The Dream'
  • Peregrine - everything about him, his appearance, (the size of him), how he always seems to disappear and then turn up miraculously. Links with carnivalesque/carnival, "he was like a travelling carnival".


Wikipedia has an article on magical realism, which you may want to read: Magic realism. For the purposes of studying this novel the definition of magical realism could be Magical "magical elements appear in an otherwise realist setting".

Theatrical references[edit]

Dora makes theatrical references:

  • I made my bow fives minutes after Nora
  • The curtain call of my career as a lover (Dora with Perry)

Allusions to fairy tales[edit]

There are also many allusions to fairy tales

  • Once upon a time
  • Cinders, you shall go to the ball
  • Saskia is described as the wicked fairy (in sleeping beauty)
  • Melchoir is portrayed as the fairytale villain

Carnivalesque[edit]

The term "carnivalesque" refers to a certain spirit that pervaded the medieval European carnivals as described by a Russian named Mikhail Bakhtin. According to Bakhtin, carnival was a time when all the hierarchies that were so firmly established in medieval life were inverted. Similarly in 'Wise Children' hierarchy is inverted - Lady A becomes known as Wheelchair and is compared to a sheep.

Another aspect of the carnivalesque is chaos and flux - this can be seen in the way that the novel refuses to give a chronological account of events and instead the narrative jumps between different generations.

The refrain "What a joy it is to dance and sing" is asking readers to enjoy the lighter side of life.

There are many references to the carnival in ‘Wise Children’

  • Peregrine says “Life is a carnival”
  • ‘The carnival’s got to stop, some time’
  • Peregrine is the one character that embodies the carnivalesque.
  • He is a magician who can summon doves out of handkerchiefs.
  • Make a set of china and cutlery disappear after an afternoon picnic.
  • Remove a scarlet macaw from Melchior's tights.
  • Dora remembers her time with Perry fondly. She describes the trip to Brighton as the happiest time of her life. He can do magic tricks and exhibits extravagant behaviour – e.g. having an affair with Lady A.
  • He appears at every party or extravaganza such as the weddings at the end of the dream and Melchior’s 100th birthday.