Angela Carter’s “The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter”

Angela Carter’s 1974 short story, “The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter” continues on the “daughter” theme of the previous Alastair Reynolds post, but Carter’s story is significantly different. It was originally published in Fireworks, and I found it in Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss’ The Year’s Best Science Fiction No. 8.

It’s a story about an ambiguous time and place on Earth. It’s like she’s focusing a telescope down on the story’s small community and watching them from afar, but she can see through walls and see the dirty side of a filthy existence. In fact, there is no dialog in the story. It’s all descriptive, and is primarily about the executioner and his daughter. It’s a gruesome tale that’s about incest by siblings as well as fathers. There’s no mention of mothers in the story, only the coveting of the singularly “beautiful daughter.” It’s a powerfully wicked story that concerns things that families in the past often didn’t or wouldn’t talk about. This story isn’t for everyone, but it reminds me of the importance of organizations such as the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network.

Another theme in the story has to do with the problem of “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” (who guards the guards). The executioner enforces his society’s one law, which is no one is to commit incest. The story begins with the executioner publicly killing his own son for his involvement with his sister. However, he indulges himself on his daughter without concern of punishment.

Also, it’s reminiscent of Avram Davidson’s “The House the Blakeneys Built,” which is also about an incestuous primitive community that’s on another planet in the far-future.

A great website with lots of information about Carter and her works can be found here.

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Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.