50 pages 1 hour read

Angela Carter

Nights at the Circus

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1984

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Part 2, Chapters 1-6Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Part 2: “St. Petersburg”

Part 2, Chapter 1 Summary

Walser is in St. Petersburg, Russia, touring with Colonel Kearney’s circus as a clown while sending reports back to the news chief in London. Walser recalls his first meeting with Colonel Kearney, a self-proclaimed red-blooded American who hails from Kentucky and dresses in red and white striped pants with a blue starred waistcoat, and Colonel’s incredible pig Sybil, who communicates in English via pointing at letters on alphabet cards to spell out words. Kearney is obsessed with what he calls the “Ludic Game”—that is, the game of making his circus dominant in the entertainment industry—and plans to “conquer” the globe by taking his traveling circus across Siberia to Japan, a feat which has not been accomplished before. Kearney is initially hesitant to hire Walser, but Sybil indicates with her alphabet cards that Walser could serve them as a “clown.” Kearney hires Walser despite his misgivings about Walser’s lack of clowning experience, as Kearney believes that all men make fools of themselves eventually, and so will Walser. Now, Walser lives on “Clown Alley” with the other clowns, in the home of an old Russian woman and her grandson Ivan, whom the old woman cares for alone because Ivan’s mother is a murderess.