Angela Carter’s darkly satirical novel, The Passion of New Eve
(1977), centers on a man who undergoes a forced sex-change operation and re-evaluates everything he once believed about power, gender, and sexual identity. Though the book received mixed reviews for its controversial and revolutionary themes, it is now highly regarded for its comments on feminism. Carter was an award-winning novelist and short story writer. Before writing fiction full-time, she worked as a journalist. Best known for her imaginative concepts and diverse characters, she is considered one of the most significant female writers of the twentieth century.
The protagonist is Evelyn, otherwise known as Eve. A self-obsessed, misogynistic English professor who doesn’t think much of women, he recently accepted a teaching post at New York University, where he is looking forward to sampling all the women New York has to offer.
Before he sets off for America, Eve visits the cinema with a nameless girl. He takes her to see Wuthering Heights
because his favorite actor, Tristessa, plays the leading role. While he watches the movie fantasizing about Tristessa, the girl performs oral sex on him. His night complete, he leaves the girl behind and flies to New York.
New York is not what Eve expected. Crawling with oversized rats, crime plagues every corner and it is politically unstable. Women and African Americans run the city, terrorizing everyone else. Before Eve’s first day at New York University, a black activist group blows up the institution, leaving him stuck in a strange city without a job or money.
Despite this bad luck, Eve stays in New York. One night, searching for women, he meets Leilah, a model. Eve finds her mesmerizing, and they quickly move in together. The happiness doesn’t last long, though, because wanting to control her, Eve beats her when she disobeys him.
One day, Leilah declares she is pregnant. Horrified, Eve drags her to an underground abortion clinic. The procedure leaves her scarred and infertile. Deciding he doesn’t want her anymore, while she’s resting in the hospital, recovering from a serious gynecological infection, Eve runs away to the desert.
Eve doesn’t get far; a masked woman kidnaps him. She takes him to a mysterious town called Beulah. Men are not allowed inside Beulah, but the woman makes an exception for Eve. She has special plans for him. To Eve’s horror, the woman introduces him to Mother, the Queen of Beulah. She transformed her body so that she looks like an ancient goddess with many breasts. Before Eve can run away, Mother rapes him, collects his semen, and performs a sex change operation on him.
Eve wakes up horrified with his new body, but it gets worse—Mother plans to fertilize him with his own sperm. First, she makes him endure numerous videos and lessons on how to be female. One evening, when Mother isn’t looking, he slips from the laboratory and flees into the desert once more.
Again, Eve doesn’t get far because he remembers that he lost all his IDs back in Beulah. He doesn’t want to assume this new female identity because, no matter what his body looks like, he still feels like a man. Before long, a man, Zero, shows up and rapes him because he thinks that Eve is a beautiful woman.
Zero takes Eve home and introduces him to his seven wives. He makes Eve his eighth wife, angering the others because they each get Zero’s undivided attention one day per week. Eve lets them fight it out amongst themselves because he doesn’t want Zero. He is mainly worried about someone discovering the truth about his sexual identity.
One day, Eve runs off again. He somehow finds Tristessa’s house. Zero catches up with him and hunts down Tristessa. Zero reveals that Tristessa is transgender; now Eve questions his own sexuality because he loved Tristessa for so many years.
Eve plans to run away again. Zero catches him and makes him marry Tristessa. He then watches them consummate the marriage, but he cannot stop them from escaping together. For the first time, Eve runs away with someone else at his side. Realizing that Tristessa is wonderful, he falls in love for real.
Just after Eve falls for Tristessa, a passing gang draws up and shoots her dead. They kidnap Eve and take him away, but he escapes again, encountering Mother on the highway. They move toward the coast and Eve slips into a cavern. The cavern turns into a supersized uterus; there is no escape without rebirth.
Eve must shed his misogynistic beliefs and learn to respect women before he can be reborn a better man. If he cannot redeem himself, he will die. Eve accepts his transformation, embracing feminism. He jumps on a boat and sails away forever this time, deciding that he will treat women properly from now on.