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OK, guys, go easy on this stuff, it’s all in Beta stage! Read the commentary afterwards for this to actually make sense and see what I was on about!

Freedom from Paradise

 

‘I can’t be found writing this, but I feel as though I must. It is important that in years to come, when this oppressive regime has come to an end, when people can love as they please, when people can love who they please, that you can read my struggle. That you can read my pioneering for the quest of equality within sexuality. And if this letter is found and the laws stand as they are, well, I hope that my words might convince some of you. Reach into the hearts of those of you who are curious of what the love of the opposite sex could be like and allow you to see in these words that I write, that it is natural. You are not an abnormality.’

 

Adam got to his feet and crossed the room to check outside of his front door for anyone that could be looking in through his window. The streets of London seemed as they had done since he had checked ten minutes earlier. The sun had set ten minutes lower into the Thames casting its deep viridian glow through the skyline that sat upon the water, making the cobbles along Whitechapel high street appear like individual emeralds littering the lane. Emeralds covered in the excrement of humans and animals. A well dressed man appeared to be vomiting into his hands across the street as his equally intoxicated partner seemed to be kneeling to an appropriate level for an attempt at receiving fellatio, whilst another watched them in shadow from a coach of opulent splendour.

 

As Adam took in the street’s happenings and the stench that flooded his house, he felt his moral superiority soar inside him. It pleased him to see these sights, to reaffirm him of his purpose to enlighten and inspire. He heard a noise a few feet away from that made him start, but realised it was just the couple who lived next door to him; two middle-aged women returning from work, the setting sun’s ray making them appear as two indistinct reptiles.

 

He closed his front door with a snap and walked back to his desk in the corner of his room reaching for the decanter of whiskey he kept in the drawer; it was empty. With a pang of annoyance at himself he remembered he had not picked up any alcohol tokens from the Hall of Benevolence, but quickly rid himself of embarrassment as he displaced it upon the government. This spurred him to sit and continue writing.

 

“This society I live in, the depths of its malevolence cannot be fathomed. Just at this moment I desired a drink whilst I wrote, but alas, we are permitted but a measured amount of alcohol a week. If we are partial to alcohol, tobacco, opium, chocolate or anything similar, we must first collect tokens from the Hall of Benevolence. The society I live in, that what I put into my own body must be mediated and surveyed, and that is not all. Reader, I bury this noble account of one man’s struggle against tyranny to perhaps help hundreds in the future, and will tell you of the society of today.

 

After the War of Unity, heterosexuality came into being. Now not for a minute am I suggesting that it did not exist before, it did, it happened, it just didn’t have a name. It was not particularly widely discussed, but it happened, I know it happened as there were many men and women who made a decent wage selling themselves to its cause. The Greeks were known to do it, the Romans too, and until the outbreak of war that brought all nations together, I did it too. It existed, it just was not placed upon a podium, labelled, dissected, analysed and then forbidden.

 

Before, to love someone of the opposite sex, whether it be emotionally, physically or an amalgamation of the two was certainly not exactly a condoned act. It was always seen as strange, unholy (when there was a church) and for the lower classes (when there was a class system) but not illegal. That was until the war.

 

In 1879, there was the outbreak of what is now called ‘The War of Unity’. It is named as such because after the revolutionaries overthrew the monarchy, they did away with nearly every facet of what was Britain and united all citizens. Religion, Monarchy and a class system were the first things to go; anything that they felt could spark a threat to their rule or could cause innate human emotion to boil over was eradicated. The Negros were liberated and have become our equals as a result of the liquidation of the hierarchy. Substances and sensations previously banned were made accessible and Hedonism was encouraged, as long as, that was, it was in the form of which they approved. Adultery was eradicated due to marriage also being a thing of the past. Individuals were precisely that, and were able to be with how many partners they wished, on the condition of them being ‘normal’. Education too was altered, no longer was academia pursued or appreciated. To be seen reading Shakespeare, Swift or Virgil on the streets of London in 1880 was to be frowned upon. Now, eight years later, it is to be arrested and interrogated. They do not trust the educated, the deep thinkers, the free thinkers; we are the threat.

 

It has been common knowledge since the days of old that the differences between the sexes ran beyond looks, and that unities lead to more anger, jealously and distraught than conventional same sex relationships. People partook in it for procreation, it was merely for those purposes.

 

It was through medicine that they rationalised it. Through investigation and research: the heterosexual was born. After a prominent figure within society, who was far more open with his preferences than the rest of us, caused particular offence to the new regime, they introduced a further paragraph into their ‘Criminal Amendments Act’. From then on, any man or woman caught engaging in ‘gross indecency’ was liable to prosecution and medical attention. After calling it an ‘inversion’ of sexual preferences, the ‘affected’ would be admitted for treatment and, the majority of the time, never seen again.”

 

As Adam finished this sentence there was a knock at his door. He froze, his fountain pen poised between his fingers and thumb as he turned to stare at his door. The heavy rapping sounded again. Fear pumped in waves through Adam, as if it were in his very heart being expelled around his body. Had he forgotten the schedule of the advisors? He couldn’t have, he had been so sure. The rapping did not sound again, and Adam slowly and quietly got to his feet, and crept towards his window. He saw the familiar backs of two men, Charles and Nathaniel, walking down the high street, their hands held. This caused a prickle of jealous anger through Adam. They were acquaintances of his, Nathaniel was perhaps more, and he worked with them at the Halls of Justice, although he had not known that they were now lovers. They disappeared into the now nearing dark of the evening and Adam felt relief surge through him like the antidote to the panic that had so recently swept over him. He knew no one would call for him now, the streets of London were not for citizens at night. Once the sun sets like an apple hiding behind its leaf, the street’s allegiance changes from the people to the animals, and the Ripper, one and the same some would argue.

“Freedom: that was what we have been informed we have been given. Emancipation from the tyranny and oppression of the monarchy and the church. We are now, apparently, free to do as we please and live out our dreams, just as long as we do everything they tell us. This includes weekly inspections of our homes by lifestyle advisors, the heavy handed enforcers of the new regime, who ensure our freedom from any comprising contraband or evidence of conflicting ideals. Weekly visits to the Halls of Gratification are also expected, to pay the percentage of our earnings to the upkeep of our nation. A monthly visit to the Halls of Preservation to donate your sperm into containers if you are male or to chance conception from said containers if you are not. The Halls of Education are also a monthly treat, here you are taught of the goodness of the society, new and innovative ways to achieve happiness, newer and simpler literature (if you could call it such) and the evil and crime against Britain that is the heterosexual. The Halls of Benevolence are a chance to receive your allowance of tokens for your drugs of recreation and your allowance depends on your donation to the Halls of Gratification and Preservation. Finally there are the Halls of Records; here one is expected to visit monthly to sit and record into your file, the activities of your week. This is said to encourage reflection, organisation and productivity. What really is encouraged is to include your sexual exploits and partner’s names, literature read or music listened to, hours worked and suggestions for the regime. I feel this last encouragement to be an aesthetic only.

 

There were some who resisted once, places one could go. Those that did so went to underground clubs, met with those of their choosing, listened to Beethoven, read Shakespeare, and were themselves. But the officers of the regime found them, and suppressed them.

 

This is the society I live in: one of surveillance and mind control, all projected as beneficial and consumed willingly by the masses. But the masses is not a term for the entire population, there are some of us, a brave few, who resist. Because it is not natural what has been force fed to us and, before the new regime, heterosexuals were not uncommon and were so by birthright. I am one these.

 

In 1872, when I was 12 years old, before the hypocrisy and the control, my family and I went on holiday to Brighton. The Bank Holiday Act had been introduced the previous year and I found myself excited to be on a train for the first time to see the beaches, sea and attractions that it was so rapidly taking me to. Whilst staying at the hotel, my fathers happened to meet by coincidence acquaintances of theirs from work, two ladies by the name of Pyne whom also had brought their daughter, Annabel. I remember a tirade of feelings washing over me instantaneously the moment she smiled at me in greeting: confusion, attraction, apprehension, arousal and additional confusion.

 

My parents had told me there were people in the world that were attracted to members of the opposite sex but it had been a mere mention, they had not gone into detail and I had assumed it was something rare and that would never affect me. But I was wrong, not only had I found the first person in my life that I felt both emotionally and physically attracted to, but I found that she reciprocated in this admiration.

 

The week that I spent there was one I will never forget, as it verified to myself who I was. The experimentation of our feelings for each other, and the varying feelings we could impart upon each other, resonates with me to this day, and since then I have been committed to staying true to myself.

 

I suppose,”

Adam paused and looked up from his desk. He wasn’t sure how he could say it without compromising his image. He wanted more than anything for you to believe him and not think him weak willed, confused or indeed that the society he lived in might indeed be the right one after all.

Moments past as Adam thought upon what he could write; he got to his feet and washed the plates that he had used earlier and lit a fire in the stove before returning to his desk and staring blankly at his paper. From the high street, the sound of wolves howling could be heard against the noise of the city. This seemed to rouse Adam from his inactivity and procrastination, and he dipped his fountain pen back into the ink and continued.

 

“I suppose I have had doubts. I have had relationships with men, all of them failed however, and I would like that point stressed. There were boys at school, men at work, most of whom I was approached by and, I suppose, I got confused. It is easy to forget yourself in the constant overload of ideology that is washed over one. Reader, you must believe me, I am true to myself.

 

My only hope is that one day someone may dig this up. My labour, my oppression and my struggle may be read by you; perhaps one day people may use this to know just how severe it was to live in this society. Perhaps one day you’ll know what it was like to be me.”

Companion

The writing of my creative piece, ‘Freedom from Paradise’ had certain key intentions behind it. Firstly, I aimed to create a short story that was postmodern in its style, and attempted to include numerous elements commonly associated within postmodern literature. I adopted many of these from Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve and Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, the intertextuality of which aided me in the formulating of the postmodern style. Secondly, I wished to explore the theories of essentialism verses social constructivism within gender and sexuality. I focussed principally on the sexuality element of this, and drew influence from the homosexual and lesbian short stories studied on the module such as: ‘Martha’s Lady’ by Sarah Orne Jewett, ‘Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself’ by Radcyffe Hall and ‘Arthur Snatchfold’ by E. M. Forster. Using these texts and much of the theory that surrounds them, I lastly intended to explore the attitudes towards homosexuality within the late Victorian era. In this companion I intend to explore my intentions within regards to the context of the module and my primary texts, whilst drawing on secondary research that had helped shape my understanding of these elements. Due to the restricted length of this companion however, I will only comment briefly upon the ones I feel most integral.

 

Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges I was faced with when writing my piece was to attempt to create a short story that was postmodern in its style. This is largely due to the facets of postmodern literature being ones that are largely debated between critics, unfixed and difficult to distinguish from modernism. It is therefore a highly difficult style to accurately distinguish and imitate. Bennett and Royle state that ‘there is perhaps something maddening the ‘postmodern’. Indeed, the postmodern appears to welcome and embrace a thinking of itself in terms of multiplicity.’ (Bennett & Royle 279) It is chiefly due this that I feel my piece embodies elements of both modernism and postmodernism, for example, the piece is largely melancholic towards the dystopian society it is set in, alike to much modernistic literature, as opposed to the postmodern. However, I learnt from the module and my secondary research that many of modernism’s traits are often found within postmodernism which allowed me more freedom.

 

Bennett and Royle suggest that ‘The word ‘postmodern’ itself seems odd, paradoxically evoking what is after (‘post’) the contemporary (‘modern’).’ (Bennett & Royle 279) which, when applied to considering texts that can conceived as postmodern and set in a dystopian society, Carter’s The Passion of New Eve for example, I presented with the possibility that if I was to combine these two elements, setting my piece in the future would be vital. This presented a problem to me due to so much of my piece wanting to reflect much of the Victorian attitudes towards homosexuality. However, after considering other elements of postmodernism, I realised that its reoccurring alliance with literary devices such as magic realism, left me free to do as I had originally planned. Time is often something that is played with in postmodern literature and, as Bennett and Royle go on to say:

…strictly speaking, the postmodern should not be thought of as a term of periodization: the postmodern challenges our thinking about time, challenges us to see the present in the past, the future in the present, the present in a kind of no-time. (Bennett & Royle 279)

 

Postmodernist literature, some critics have agreed upon, share some reoccurring traits which I have attempted to introduce into my creative piece. One that I have previously mentioned is magic realism. Wechsler suggests that ‘Magic realism does not invent a new order of things; it simply reorders reality to make it seem alien.’ (Wechsler 293)  The plot itself to a certain degree is an application of this technique, and additionally, the application of the sun’s colour and the indication of animals that roam the streets at night all combine to create this effect. I found this difficult to introduce without it becoming more alike to surrealism, however, they are all described in a very matter of fact manner, with anchoring to realistic elements. For example:

 

…the sun had set ten minutes lower into the Thames casting its deep viridian glow through the skyline that sat upon the water, making the cobbles along Whitechapel high street appear like individual emeralds littering the lane. (Beatson 1)

 

Carter’s text influenced me greatly in the writing of the city due to her description of the New York in The Passion of New Eve. ‘The skies were of strange, bright, artificial colours . . . from those unnatural skies fell rains of gelatinous matter, reeking of decay’ (Carter 12) The indication of the colour of the sun fits perfectly in with a surrealistic style but by having no further exploration into it and positioning alongside real life places and scenarios kept it within the boundaries of magical realism. By including these elements of magical realism, I was able to create ‘the loss of the real’ (Barry 86) that postmodernism creates.

 

Further techniques that I have attempted to adopt that are archetypal to the postmodern style are those of pastiche and the challenging of high and low culture, the breaking down of boundaries such as the ethnocentric, metafiction and intertextuality. Examples of these are the names that I have chosen, such as Annabel Pyne, the first name being synonymous with Humbert’s sweetheart in Lolita and the surname being a reference to Harriet Pyne, the lady that evokes Martha’s essentialist love in ‘Martha’s Lady’.

 

‘Approaches to metafiction have appeared whenever storytellers within a fiction result in an inner frame,’ (Wood 1) Within my creative piece is my attempt to consistently draw the reader’s attention to the fact that it is a piece of fiction, similarly to Lolita. I have also imitated, to a certain extent, Nabokov’s application of the unstable narrator. Despite Adam’s self-proclaimed superiority and noble intentions to his diary and claims of his innate sexuality, he still becomes doubtful and unsure of himself, and the use of the intrusive third person narrator shows his hidden feelings to the reader.

 

 

I attempted to place my story within the time period of my choosing effectively, therefore researching the historical context around my piece was essential. I attempted to recreate the homophobic society of Victorian England and therefore I used certain details collected from my study on the module and from secondary research.

 

‘After the War of Unity, heterosexuality came into being. Now not for a minute am I suggesting that it did not exist before, it did, it happened, it just didn’t have a name.’ (Beatson 1) I have attempted add liberal amounts of references such as this one to Foucault’s theory that homosexuality was created through discourse. McNay states in his critical introduction on Foucault that:

 

far from a discursive paucity and even silence on that topic, a ‘veritable discursive explosion’ is in fact revealed.  The Victorian era represents the culminating moment of an obsessive interest, first emerging in the early eighteenth century, with sex as a political and social problem. (McNay 75)

 

I attempt to demonstrate this within my short story combined with Foucault’s theory of taking power through social control, which is precisely the way the government works within my piece. Furthermore, by mentioning that heterosexuality became a medical issue and an ‘‘inversion’ of sexual preferences,’ (Beatson 2) I include reference to the works of Kraft-Ebbing and Havelock Ellis.

 

The Criminal Amendments Act of 1885, a short time period before my story’s setting, made any acts of homosexuality, privately or publically punishable by law. Women were not included in this clause due to them being far more non-sexualised. In the society within my story all sexes are the same, therefore all sexes are punishable. Additionally, this is another element of postmodernism; the breaking down of the phallocentric patriarchy.

 

I decided to introduce the story to be set against the killings in Whitechapel in 1888 by the serial killer Jack the Ripper, this was mainly to anchor the story more firmly to historical events, whilst displaying that despite the regime attempts to regulate citizen’s emotions and behaviour, some inhibitions cannot be controlled, strengthening the argument for essentialism.

 

The aim of the new regime and governing body within my short story is to control people’s emotions by completely prohibiting heterosexuality, claiming that it is an illness and that due to conflicting hormones, less strife will be found within the country. The protagonist is arguing that he is born heterosexual, and cannot help the way he feels, whilst at times, he is witnessed to have had or still become confused with his feelings for other men. The story is an exploration into the argument between essentialism and social constructivism. There is evidence to support both within my creative piece deliberately challenging and blurring the two and, therefore making the piece slightly more obscure and chaotic. The evidence that there are others similar to Adam, and those that resist the social constraints are evidence of essentialism, yet Adam’s occasionally drift towards homosexual desire and those around him present the argument that it is your surroundings that can shape your sexuality. I had strong influences from near to all of my primary texts in this stage of my creative piece. In particular, The Passion of New Eve, which demonstrates more of an argument for social constructivism and the short stories of Jewett and Hall, which supports an essentialist point of view. The method of Adam’s continual and uncertain switch between sexualities is an attempt to highlight both sides of the argument, as well as providing a further style of postmodernist literature. As Barry states:

 

we show that elemental categories as heterosexual and homosexual do not designate fixed essences at all…we construct instead an anti-essentialist, postmodernist concept of identity…a kind of amalgam of everything which is provisional, contingent and improvisatory. (Barry 14)

 

 

 

Bibliography

  • Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literature and Cultural Theory. Manchester: Manchester University Press (2009) 132-149
  • Bennett, Andrew & Nicholas Royle. An Introduction to Literature and Criticism and Theory. Harlow: Pearson Education (2009) 279-288
  • Carter, Angela. The Passion of New Eve. London: Virago Press (1982)
  • Forster, E. M. ‘Arthur Snatchfold’ Gender, Sexuality and Writing Module Reader. (Bristol: Department of English, Writing and Drama, UWE, 2011) 22-37
  • Foucault, Michael. The Will To Knowledge. The History of Sexuality: Volume One. London: Penguin (1998)
  • Hall, Radcliffe. ‘Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself’. Gender, Sexuality and Writing Module Reader. (Bristol: Department of English, Writing and Drama, UWE, 2011) 11-20
  • Jewett, Sarah Orne. ‘Martha’s Lady’. Gender, Sexuality and Writing Module Reader. (Bristol: Department of English, Writing and Drama, UWE, 2011) 1-8.
  • Koertge, Noretta. ‘’New Age’ Philosophies of Science: Constructivism, Feminism and Postmodernism.’ The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 51 Oxford: Oxford University Press (2000) 667-683. Web. 30th April 2012
  • McNay, Lois. ‘Power and Repression.’ Gender, Sexuality and Writing Module Reader. (Bristol: Department of English, Writing and Drama, UWE, 2011) 75-78.
  • Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita. London: Penguin (2000)
  • Orwell, George. Nighteen-Eighty Four. London: Penguin (2004)
  • Wechsler, Jeffrey. “Magic Realism: Defining the Indefinite.” Art Journal 45.4, The Visionary Impulse: An American Tendency. College Art Association (1985) 293-298. Web. 6th May 2012.
  • Wood, Barry. “Malcolm Lowry’s Metafiction: The Biography of a Genre.” Contemporary Literature. University of Wisconsin Press. 19.1 (1978) 1-25. Web. 6th May 2012

Suffrage Boy

OK, guys, go easy on this stuff, it’s all in Beta stage! Read the commentary afterwards for this to actually make sense and see what I was on about!

Suffrage Boy

After politely dismissing the persistent landlady who assured her return in an hour with supper, Henry Bentley walked into the inn’s bedroom, shrugging off the black armband that clung to his arm just as he wished to also shrug off the afternoon’s bleak happenings. He was a sentimental man, and he had been thoroughly sobered by the afternoon’s proceedings.

 

His dismal disposition however, was altered, and not for the better as he spotted an unfamiliarly familiar package that had been slipped under his door, he assumed, by the landlady. From sombre sobriety his mood changed to suspicious suspense as he all too familiarly recognised the handwriting on the front of the envelope that read: “Please Read.”

 

Throwing his dog Holly the scraps of his hastily devoured breakfast, he sank into the chair next to the bed and considered the letter. He was reluctant to release its contents upon his already battered centre of emotion but, feeling it was his duty, he thumbed open the roughly clenched fingers of the document’s edges.

 

He expected to find a poorly timed delivery of the article that he had unwittingly stowed upon his journalist. Mr. Bentley was the editor of The Frightful Farthing 1/4d and therefore employed several journalists for his story paper who might attempt to outwit Mr. Harmsworth and his Halfpenny Marvel. His expectations were, however, misplaced.

 

As the package yielded its contents, Mr. Bentley discovered a form of diary, accounting for only a day or so, written by his only female journalist, Ms. Lucy Davison. As Mr Bentley looked at the handwriting he found himself experiencing a mounting sense of unease, as although the script was familiar to him, its progressively erratic and distressed form seemed to him a foreign trait of its caster. Despite his reservations, he poured himself a large glass of the whiskey that sat in the Victorian-esq decanter on the desk, and settled deeper into the chair.

 

‘It is as I sit here, in what could well be my tomb, that I wish to document what has befallen me. This is not so I may point the finger of blame to any, but merely so that others may learn from my folly, from disturbing memories that are best forgotten, and so that by doing so this may be laid to rest.

 

I arrived on Glastonbury at dawn yesterday, (June 4th 1913), to provide a thorough report regarding the tragic and mysterious death of two townsfolk that occurred at the premises of the also recently deceased Ms. Isobel Báthory. Ms. Báthory had been resident of a local manor at the foot of Glastonbury Tor, and a prominent member of the Women’s Social and Political Union, who had been killed during a rally in London.

 

After alighting from the train that had so swiftly carried me from London, I had my luggage sent ahead to the local tavern wherein I would be spending my night’s slumber and pulled my bicycle down from the train (a fusty gentleman had attempted to do this for me, yet I assured him I was able to perform this duty independently) I then proceeded to take the short four mile journey into the ancient town.

 

As I cycled, noticing just how bitter the air was against my skin, I couldn’t help but be slightly perturbed by the weather. Those ominous dark clouds, the lonesome blowing wind and the rain that seemed to cry tears down my own face. This was not the weather I had expected of June, nor the weather I had left in London. It disturbed me significantly, and I approached the town with more trepidation than I would have liked. This was contributed by the overhanging, dominating presence of Glastonbury Tor. It leered over the town, seemed to grow in size and presence even once I arrived and was consistently in my peripheral vision.

 

On arrival into Glastonbury I checked into the tavern that bore the name ‘The Bloody Lady’ on a rickety and rotten wooden sign, which creaked and thumped as the icy wind knocked it against the old building.

 

I could tell you of the nature of the inn, the peculiar and overtly sexist nature of the locals, the queer terror that arose when I mentioned my purpose. I could tell you of the bump in the night that awoke me, and the figure of a small skeletal boy that I had thought I had seen, sat at the end of my bed watching me sleep, but I dare not. It would detract from what I need to say and I do not know how long I have until he returns, or till I lose the ability to process real memories and am left with the echoes of ones that took place here, so many years ago. Therefore I skip to my arrival at the house: my inevitable resting place.

 

The manor was a short cycle ride from the town’s centre, and I swiftly came to the foot of Glastonbury Tor, and the pathway that led to the old mansion.

 

It was a sublime sight, like its surroundings, and filled me with a type of terror and awe that I had yet to feel in the city. It had gargoyles or each corner of the roof; they glared down at me daring me to enter and at the same time pleading my return to The Bloody Lady.

 

I left my bicycle as I reached the doorway, hoisted my suitcase containing my typewriter under my arm. With great effort, I pushed the monstrously tall door which creaked with immense weight and showered me in dust and cobwebs, and stepped into the dark and dank hall.

 

It smelt of damp, and the air was thick with dust and, alike to the door, cobwebs clung to every corner of the majestic room. Despite its obvious age, the time had apparently been taken to install electricity within its ancient walls and as I was able to light the room instantly. It was vast and square, with a staircase in the centre leading above, a doorway that I had been informed led to the kitchen, and a small, oval door behind the staircase, which seemed to be the only part of the house that was clean and seemed to have been in recent use. This sparked my interest: the two men that had been found dead had both been found in a cellar.

 

I set my typewriter on an ancient chaise lounge that expelled copious clouds of dust and headed straight for the door, notebook clutched to my breast. I stooped to open the undersized door and cross through it and was confronted with a pitch black hole with a flight of stairs.

I activated the lights to the cellar and as I did so, I saw him.

 

The boy that had been in my room the night before, stood at the bottom of the steps. Naked, skeletal, with pale skin that barely stretched across his face. He had sunken eye sockets with empty, bottomless black eyes, dried blood around his miniature ears and a mournful expression across his dry, chapped mouth.

 

He screamed, just as I did the same, and his face became contorted with rage. The next thing I knew I was tumbling down the steps towards him and crashed at the bottom. It took me a few minutes to come around and pick myself up from the cold stone floor of the cellar and look around. He was nowhere to be seen. I was, of course, terrified and regardless of my rational way of thinking, strong will and resolve, I turned to run up the stairs and leave this building forever.

 

However, it was then that I noticed a pristine and gleaming table set up in the middle of the room with three piles of documents upon them. They appeared to a mixture of newspaper cuttings and handwritten notes of which the writing was evidently of a child’s hand. I approached the table and began to sift through the papers.

 

It took me well over an hour to read everything, I could not stop myself, and after I had done so I had understood its relevance. The newspaper cuttings showed the rallies and exploits of Isobel Báthory: activist, independent woman and, what the newspapers could not divulge, mother. The notes were written by her son, they did not mention his name. Due to her status as a suffragette (a coinage I had read recently in the Daily Mail) Ms. Báthory had resented, despised and, seemingly, tormented the boy. That was what the paper-trail diary seemed to denote at any rate. The boy wrote that he had been locked in the very cellar I stood in, without food or ventilation for days at a time. Whenever Ms. Báthory went away on a rally or a convention, had acquaintances to visit or simply when the sheer sight of him caused her to remember his existence, he was locked in the cellar. It seemed as though this was where he had died, without anyone’s knowledge, from suffocation and starvation after his mother had been killed and never returned to emancipate him.

 

The notes were painfully distressing to me, and what was more I felt that the air in the cellar was starting to dwindle. I was struggling to breathe, despite the cellar door being wide open and the paper upon the desk rippling from the wind that surely blew in from the hall; air was becoming less and less easily absorbed into my lungs.

 

I staggered up the stairs, gasping, and reached for the doorway but the door snapped shut. I pulled and tugged at it as my mind began to cloud and my vision blur. However, just as I thought I had lost consciousness, I felt a hand upon mine, a small, bony hand with overlong nails that dug painfully into my hand and turned the handle of the door. It flew open and there I lay upon the hall floor, hyperventilating and feeling the sweet cold air flood my lungs and bring me to my senses.

 

I looked down at my hand and noticed, with a jolt in my stomach, that five, finger spaced, nail shaped cuts were upon my hand. Blood was seeping down my wrist like scarlet tears from my knuckles.

 

It was at this same time, as I sobbed on my knees holding my hands, I heard a sound that caused me to jump in fright. It was a bell. But there was no doorbell, I thought, and no one came up to this house, the locals had made that much clear as day. I gazed at the monstrous door.

 

However, as I knelt with the hair beginning to stand up on the back of my neck, the sound of a bell sounded, louder this time, and carried on ringing, over and over again. I suddenly recognised its sound; it was from my bicycle. I sprinted to the door, praying to find one of the strange locals signalling for me, and hauled open the door and ran out onto the porch way where I had left my bicycle. The sound had stopped as I crossed the threshold of the house to the outside and I noticed that my bicycle was not where I had left it. It was several meters away, on the pathway, and looked as though it had been thrown.

 

The chain that worked the wheels from the pedals had slipped off and I bent down and reattached it into its correct place; I was ready to climb upon it and ride back to the town. As soon as it clicked into place the pedals started whirring and spinning, the wheels turning rapidly, whilst my hand was still inside the chain. Its teeth snapped at me and I fell backwards with a scream as ruby red blood scattered across my clothes.

 

As I staggered into the house, attempting to find a tap to run my hand underneath, I noticed my typewriter had moved. It was lying, in pieces on the floor, as if someone had smashed it. The paper that had been inside it, ready for my recordings lay crumpled on the floor, yet I could see the trace of ink upon it. I crossed the room and scooped it off the floor, my heart thumping in my throat, and unfolded the note and realised that it had been typed upon, just two words, before the destruction of the typewriter.  “HELP. ME.”

 

I…’

 

The diary stopped here. Mr. Bentley assumed the worst of what had happened after she had written these final words. The locals had informed him that they had found Lucy’s body in the corner of the cellar of the house, lifeless from asphyxiation.

 

A shiver ventured from the back of his collar and made its way down his spine as he considered just how the landlady could have come across the letter and, more troublingly, how she could had known it was for him. He heard a creak outside his door and glanced up from the paper.

 

Holly growled deeply and retreated into the corner as the door slowly opened.

My key intentions for my final assessment were to emulate themes, conventions and certain styles found within Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black and ‘The Beckoning Fair One’ by Oliver Onions and, in particular, illustrate and explore the role and treatment of the New Woman within these tales. Near to all of these elements I have applied can be found within both Onion and Hill’s stories but due to the restricted limit to this companion I will only be looking at certain ones in detail.

 

I chose numerous conventions within my tale. These are such as the haunted house, a story within a story, bumps in the night, a locked door, pathetic fallacy, hostile landscapes and a grisly secret. These conventions allowed me to link certain theory within the gothic ghost story, for example, the application of Freud’s classification of Fear, Dread and Fright.

 

“‘Fear’ represents a certain kind of inner state amounting to expectation of, and preparation for, danger of some kind…‘Dread’ requires a specific object of which we are afraid. ‘Fright’, however, emphasises the element of surprise…when we find ourselves plunged into danger without being prepared for it.”  (Freud 51)

 

Fear, I created using mounting suspense within the story, for example: the bumps in the night and the use of pathetic fallacy. Dread was simple in creating the reappearing ghost of the boy as an object to be afraid of which ultimately led to Fright: the discovering of the secret of the boy’s existence and death, the newspaper cuttings and diary.

 

I also intended for ‘Suffrage Boy’ to contain liberal references to the uncanny. This is a theory that is prevalent within both of my chosen primary texts and one that is iconic to the gothic ghost story in numerous forms. Simple examples include the editor’s simultaneous feelings of familiar and unfamiliarity and his ‘mounting sense of unease’ (Beatson 1). The latter is an application of the uncanny within gothic literature I had identified from my secondary reading of Angela Carter who states the definition uncanny within gothic literature, ‘retains a singular moral function-that provoking of unease.’ (Carter 133) This can be witnessed within Onions’ story also: ‘Oleron had moments of deep uneasiness…’ (Onions 44)

Other examples of my application of the uncanny can be identified in the simple use of the ghost being neither dead or alive, the ghost’s use of animism of the bicycle and typewriter, and the repetition of the ghost’s haunting. These elements are ones that I have imitated from both Hill and Onions’ stories. Another example is the theme of suffocation which was an attempt to create the uncanny fear of being buried alive.

 

Intertextuality is something I chose to focus on heavily within the writing of my ghost story and led it to becoming a pastiche. The way in which I have achieved this can be witnessed in the names chosen for characters within the story and places. The name for the heroine, Lucy Davison, was one of careful selection. Lucy is the figure of the New Woman, as I will explore fully later, and her Christian name and surname is a reference to two women who also represented this figure and were punished for it. Lucy, is a reference to the character within Bram Stoker’s Dracula and ‘Davison’ is a reference to the suffragette Emily Davison, who was fatally injured under the Kings horse during a rally for women’s rights on the 4th of June 1913. This is subsequently the date of Lucy’s imprisonment and torture from the ghost. Lucy’s occupation is a journalist, intended to emulate the figure of Elsie within ‘The Beckoning Fair One’ who occupies the same vocation, and is also a figure of the New Woman. Similarly, the dead mother Isobel Báthory is deliberately chosen to contain the surname of Elizabeth Báthory, Countess in Hungary in the 17th century whose alias of ‘The Bloody Lady of Čachtice’ is echoed in the name of the inn. The character of Henry Bentley is a reference to Mr Bentley, who is the employer that sends Arthur Kipps to Eel Marsh House.

 

My profuse application of intertexuality is due to the convention itself being a form of haunting, a return, alike to story telling and literature itself: to recall figures from the past. This is why I chose to have the editor reading the diary, similarly to Hill’s novel.

 

I will now briefly comment upon the historical and social contexts. I took great care to have historically accurate details about aspects like technology, so I undertook considerable research into the period in which I was writing and attempted to include these details. Therefore, the line of: ‘Mr. Bentley was the editor of The Frightful Farthing 1/4d…who might attempt to outwit Mr. Harmsworth…’ (Beatson 1) is demonstrating the presence of the Halfpenny Marvel ran by Alfred Harmsworth, pioneer of tabloid journalism, who put the Penny Dreadful out of business.

 

One of my key intentions with my creative piece was to explore the figure of the New Women within the gothic ghost story that rose in the late 19th century and the ‘Long 19th century’ that my story is set in. ‘…the “New Woman” emerged increasingly into public controversy. The New Woman, or 1980s feminist, challenged gender roles…’ (Hurley, 121)  In Onions’ story, Elsie is independent, financially sound, has an occupation and pursues Oleron in a traditionally masculine manner. She is then punished by the presumably jealous ghost who represents the traditional Victorian woman and the past. This is similar in Hill’s novel, as the ghost of Jennet Humfrye who is punished for having a child out of wedlock. In my story the ghost of the boy, whose mother (a suffragette) was the cause of his death, punishes Lucy. Lucy represents the New Woman: she is independent, has a job and has mastered modern technology. She is then punished by the very technology she uses.

 

The idea of the ‘Long 19th Century’ is partly due to society within Britain containing many of the same fears as the fin de siècle of the previous century. Onions and Hill’s stories reflect these and this is something I have attempted to do also. This includes the fear of science and rise in technology, the rise of the New Woman and a general anxiety of change. Ghost stories offered an anchoring of the past to the present and the ghosts themselves as a bridge between them. The boy within my story has died due to many of these social fears and he represents the past, punishing anyone who stands for them.

Bibliography:

 

  • Carter, Angela. “Afterword” Fireworks: Nine Stories in Various Disguises Cambridge: Harper & Rowe (1974). 133.
  • Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) London: Penguin (2003) 51.
  • Hill, Susan. The Woman in Black. London: Vintage (1998)
  • Hurley, Kelly. The Gothic Body: Sexuality, Materialism, and Degeneration at the Fin de Siecle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1996) 121
  • Onions, Oliver. ‘The Beckoning Fair One’. Gothic Literature Module Reader (Bristol: Department of English, Writing and Drama, UWE, 2011) 131-156
  • Stoker, Bram. Dracula. London: Penguin (1994)


OK, guys, go easy on this stuff, it’s all in Beta stage! Read the commentary afterwards for this to actually make sense and see what I was on about!

Illustration by Elliot Coffin, check out his awesome art and illustration at: Elliot Coffin Illustration 

For years, the forest of Lyca was perfect for taking a short cut to the larger towns and somewhere that the children could roam free and play without fear or care of any kind. That was before the disappearances, before the howls in the night and the cries of children silenced.  

 

The creature that dwelled deep inside Lyca forest was one that was simply evil. It was the worst type of creature, the one all the other bad creatures cross the road to avoid passing. It was thirteen and a half feet tall, and that was with the hump in its back that caused it to lean over at a slight angle to the right. It was clothed in robes that hooded the creature, that were of a most bottomless and hopeless black and ripped and torn as if they had been through barbed wire. Its face was one of terror incarnate, with entirely white eyes, slits for nostrils and a wide, gaping pit for a mouth that constantly hung open as if it were howling with misery. It had teeth that were broken and jagged, skin that seemed to not be large enough to fit its face and therefore appeared stretched and peeling. It was, in short, horrifying.

Perhaps the worst thing about the creature was its affinity for children. Its yearn for taking children from their families who henceforth could never hope to see them again. What it did to them, reader, even I do not know, but if I did, I still would not tell you. This is certainly evidence enough for mothers far and wide adamantly refusing their children entry into the forest, it is known that in particular, the creature preyed most preferably upon girls that were reaching the time wherein childhood is but a repressed memory and womanhood a tentative cycle journey away.

Before, parents around the land had not known that the disappearance of their children and the mournful, spine chilling scream that arose from the forest each time they did, were due to the monster. This was until seventeen children had gone missing, and after each and every one had been devoured the parents could hear the same soul-wrenching howl that meant the monster had indeed struck again. One of these had been Alice’s own brother, and since then children had been banned from entering the Forest of Lyca, children just like Alice.

Alice was, well, perhaps not like any other girl her age; she was naive and curious as fourteen year old girls surely are, but she possessed an essence of beauty that was blossoming with her age. She had long, wavy dark hair that swallowed one’s gaze and flowed right down to the bottom of her back; her eyes were the lightest shade of blue, so blue that it seemed she had inherited them from the wolves in the hills and her lips were full and of a blood red. Her skin was pale, and made the red hooded coat she had recently purchased from running an errand for her sick mother, stand out boldly against it. And her mother was just that: sick. The type of sick that people don’t come back from.  But Alice had been told that there was a plant, a herb of the rarest kind that grew only in the heart of the Forest of Lyca, and it was that alone that could save her mother.

Alice was stubborn and headstrong, and despite her mother’s refusal, at dawn she had made her departure from her house in secret, two hours earlier than her mother normally rose from bed. She would at least adhere to the warning she was given, and had been given since she could remember: “Keep To The Path. Do Not Stray From The Path.”

As Alice stood at the gates of Lyca Woods, she contemplated the weather. It was spring, the weather was still bitterly cold at times and the villagers were still treated to the odd bout of snow, often preceded by sunshine that lacked all warmth and merely glared down at the villagers as if showing them its potential whilst deliberately refusing it. However, the closer Alice had got to the forest, the fouler the weather became. The sun had almost completely retreated and now its foul cousins the wind and rain had come. The wind itself seemed to be attempting to blow her back the way she had come and the rain seemed to be trying to weigh her clothes down with so much water that she would be unable to walk on. Even the odd ray of sunshine seemed to be pointing in the direction of home.

The trees at Alice’s point of entry towered over her and seemed to glare menacingly whilst simultaneously welcoming her in with branches outstretched like great gnarled arms, and indeed, as Alice crossed the threshold of the forest she turned her head to see if some knobbly and gnarled fingers weren’t reaching out to grasp her from behind.

They in fact, were not, although Alice noticed that the moment she passed under the candid stare of the tree a deafening silence engulfed her. You might question how a silence can be deafening, but from the terrific noise and commotion from the weather that Alice’s ears had become accustomed to, the sudden instant that she crossed the threshold of the forest it silenced, causing her to jump and scream and look about as if the tree’s imaginary fingers had placed their hardened hands about her head. However, Alice was levelheaded and brave enough to regain herself. She shook her head and walked along the path that snaked suggestively through the forest.

It was a path that was not really a path. There was no man-made evidence that made it a path, nor a consistent heavy footfall that had created one. There was just gentle falling of leaves and shrubbery that seemed to beckon her to the desired route. As Alice walked along she noticed how she could, at best, see only ten or twelve steps in front of her at a time. This was partly due to the dim and gloomy light that only partially provided a vague picture of her surroundings, but also due to the path only having a very short stretch in front before snaking round a bend of trees restricting the route from Alice’s view.

Aside from the growing feeling of being watched, the random snap of a twig and her own mounting feeling of unease that she ignored, Alice found her earliest hours walking through the forest to be thankfully uneventful.

It was not till two hours after this that Alice began to tire. She thought that it must be around noon at least, although looking above to see how the light had changed she remained unaware as the trees still admitted no sunlight, or any light it seemed. The eerie, dim light had a green tinge to it that made it seem that it came directly from the trees themselves, as if each one were a part of a sun that lit the forest.

As she sat upon a boulder that lay next to the path, Alice drew her cloak around herself and looked around. She had certainly thought she had heard a lot of activity within the forest surrounding her, but she had not seen a single animal. The plants were changing too. They had appeared like any of the plants that grew outside in the fields, but as Alice progressed through the forest she had noticed them changing. They, similar to everything in the forest, seemed to have a life, a soul, seemed to shrink away if she stomped too close, to follow her scent as she walked. There were tall, imposing flowers that were of a vivid pink, with arms that seemed to sway in the wind and gills in its neck allowing it to breathe.

As she tried to not allow the bizarre foliage disturb her anymore than it already had, she heard something. It was a movement, a scurrying in the thickets around her. She instinctively got up from the boulder she was resting on and returned to the path.

Alice set off looking around her as she went, but she couldn’t locate the origin of the sound that was beginning to distress her more and more. Throwing back her hood and feeling the muggy, frozen forest air wash over her face, she stopped walking and listened intently. The sound had stopped. Whatever it was appeared to be waiting for her to make her next move.

The next thing Alice knew there was a sudden movement in a tree above her, and she ran as fast as she could up and along the path constantly looking behind her to see if anything was following her. She ran for as long she could until, partly due to the light, partly due to fatigue, she tripped over a thick root that lay conveniently along the path. She fell with the full force of her sprinting, and collapsed, face first, biting into and removing a large, fleshy segment from the inside of her bottom lip. There she lay, panting, with blood flooding from her lips that matched the colour, and onto her cloak that did the same. As she did so she noticed the scurrying grew closer and seemed to be coming from behind her; she turned onto her back, ready to face the creature if she must.

Staring at her, from the path, were two animals. One was a squirrel. But a squirrel unlike any that Alice had ever seen before. This, she thought, must be the king of all its kind. It was larger than most, and its coat was of the most beautiful looking fur Alice had ever seen. It, like the trees, seemed to have a glow emanating from it, which gave it the combined and total look of splendour.

Beside it was a stag, a stag of the same astonishing beauty as the squirrel that sat next to it; it seemed almost to be straight out of a dream. Alice gazed at it in awe, wished that she could gaze at it forever, but it turned and cantered off from the path, out of sight, and the squirrel followed it.

Alice ran, away from the path and after them. She wasn’t able to explain it, but she had a compulsion that swelled deep inside her to be near them, to touch them, to follow them wherever they led her.  It could have been that she was just grateful of the company in the forest, but she couldn’t say. She ran, not looking where she was going.  The trees were becoming a blur of green and brown, but her way ahead was clear. Alice could see a third creature in front, much bigger, alongside the other two; she needed to see it, to find out what it was, to be close to it.

It wasn’t long before Alice had to slow down. Her lungs could not keep up with her will, and battery acid was flowing through her veins as her heart begged for a chance to catch up. As she stood, her head hung, panting, she heard it. Breathing, breathing that quickened with excitement. A rasping, moaning wheeze of a breath and a sniffing, a deep smelling of the air, of her scent.

As she gazed into the impenetrable darkness she saw it appear, two pearls through the fog. Two oval shapes of purest white, two eyes. It had found her. The creature that Alice had been told of, the thing that all others feared, and she could see why. Alice had to silence a scream when it jumped to her lips as it came into view; it was horrific. The tattered cloak, the stretched and disfigured face, the disgusting drooling mouth with the overwhelming expression of sadness.

It was then Alice noticed a breeze, a breeze that flowed through her hair, around her neck and towards the creature. The monster breathed in deeply, a slow, wheezing breath and its white pupils seemed to bulge, its mouth to contract. This caused Alice to gag, and nearly be sick, but just as this happened the stag smashed through the undergrowth and landed with a clatter between Alice and the monster. Before then, Alice must have been rooted to spot with terror, unable to move due to sheer horror and repulsion. Whatever had been holding her lifted now with arrival of the stag and she found herself running, faster than she had been before, faster than she had all day, faster than she had ever run.

Without looking where she was going Alice tore through the forest. Branches whipped across her face, cutting her, and roots and rocks tried to tripped her up, but she did not stop. She did not look back to see what had become of her assailant or rescuer but continued to run, as blood and tears streamed down her face she ran until she collapsed against a tree, broke down and sobbed into her muddy, bloody hands.

It wasn’t until some time later that Alice looked up from her tears and stared around her. She pulled herself to her feet, pulled herself together and pulled her hood back over her head. As she brushed the dark strands of her hair that had stuck to her face she realised for the first time that she was no longer on the path but far from it. It seemed she had followed the animals and ran into the heart of the forest. The air was thicker, the strange light was stranger and the ear-perforating silence engulfed her more than ever.

Moments later, Alice saw something emerging from the dense shadows. It was a figure, unlike the one she had run from previously. It made no noise, and seemed to glide rather than walk and, for good or for bad, was coming directly towards her. There was something about it that filled Alice with unease. She felt as if she knew it, but at the same time had absolutely no idea what it was.

As it grew closer, Alice saw that it was the figure of a man, or was it a man? It seemed to be of human form, and male, but young, only a few years older than she was in fact. As he approached Alice realised, with a shock greater than any other she had encountered yet, why he was familiar.

It was her brother. Although Alice had not known him well before he had left home and disappeared, she knew that she was not mistaken. The confirmation came from within her.

“Brother?” She called. “Brother, is that you?”

It was he and she knew it. Although he did not seem to quite be there; it seemed as though he was not of solid form, a mist-like substance, smoke, as if a breeze occurred too strong and he might be blown away in an instant.

The figure of her brother made no sign of recognition, or any sign that he heard Alice speaking to him at all. Instead, he merely grew closer and closer to her; his eyes unfocussed yet staring right through her. Although he made no obvious sign of threat, Alice couldn’t help but feel the instinct of fear and mounting unease that was becoming so familiar during her trip into the forest. She began to back away.

It was at that moment that many things happened at once. Firstly, Alice, backing away from the apparition form of her brother, tripped over. Her shoes had managed to locate yet another root poking out from the undergrowth. Secondly, the misty and translucent vision of Alice’s brother had come closer and she noticed that he had changed ever so slightly in appearance. It was if his features had been blurred, or burned and inexpertly patched back together again. His eyes had focussed with an unnatural hunger and burned momentarily red. At the same time as she noticed this she fell over, and by doing so, her hood fell back and her skirt flew up.

Before she could even get to her feet, he was upon her. For a vision that seemed to almost be made out of smoke, he was solid enough. Solid enough in all of the places she feared and he pinned her to floor. She could not move an inch, she could feel her cloak threatening to tear as she struggled, and his weight upon her was causing her to lose breath.

But as her mind clouded, as the air that could not reach her body seemed to fill her mind, and all hopes of rescue and prolonged childhood seemed to flicker and die, the scene around her came back into focus. She could breathe again, and the smoke-like figure of her attacker was fading. Something had driven it away. Alice looked around her and saw what it was. The creature, the hideous monster that she thought she had escaped from was stood in an opening of the trees behind her, wheezing deeply, drooling from its mouth and watching her.

Alice got to her feet but staggered and winced with pain from her midriff. She looked down at her clothes, they were ripped and torn and she was scared at where blood was coming from.

The creature limped towards her, dragging one of its legs as it did so. Alice, too weak to run anymore, tried to move away, but her back found the cold and tough touch of a tree’s trunk blocking her path. She slumped to the bottom of it as the monster bent over her. It gazed intensely at her with its bulging, bottomless white eyes. It did not seem as if it were readying itself to attack her. It seemed to be considering her, trying to communicate. This did little to calm Alice’s fear however: those teeth were meant for only one thing.

The thing extended an arm from its robes, at the end of which was what Alice supposed was a hand. It was crooked, and deformed, with brittle jagged claws for fingers. It grasped her arm and pulled her away. She kicked and screamed but it was pointless. The monster was far stronger than she and her voice, like the rest of her body, no longer had the will to resist.

In the distance, Alice could see the path that she had run from. It snaked through the forest going ever deeper into its heart. The light in the forest appeared to be dwindling, yet she found she could see further. The creature limped, dragging her along with it back towards the path as Alice sobbed and made one last futile attempt to break free. As she felt the claws clutching at her arm, she was surprised at how gentle they were when holding her, despite denying her freedom. She was in no pain from the creature. Well, she thought, not yet at least. That part would surely come soon enough.

It was then that Alice heard it: another sound in the forest that began as an echo. A dull, rhythmic thudding that quickly grew in volume and clarity. Hooves, Alice thought.

With a crash from a nearby tree, the figure of a horse smashed into the surrounding undergrowth occupied by Alice and the creature. With a roar that Alice had never heard any horse make before, it reared and kicked the monster where its chest ought to have been and sent it soaring into the bushes. With smooth, muscular arms, it picked Alice off the floor who gazed at it opened- mouthed.

She was staring into the face of a longhaired, bearded man, but she could have sworn she had noticed no rider as the horse dived through the trees. With a queer thought she looked down, and her mouth, if possible, dropped even lower.  There was a point where the bare-chested man, who held Alice carefully in his arms, ceased, and the horse that had gallantly attacked the monster, began. He was both horse and man, and a superb specimen of both. He was broad and wild, with piercing blue eyes and a long, silky mane of blond hair.

“I am a centaur, Alice.” He said, as if it needed clarifying, in a deep, slow and reassuring voice. “I have come to ensure that you will no longer fall prey to the hideous creature that curses these woods.”

He placed Alice upon his back, and began to walk away from the path.

“How do you know my name?” Alice asked. It was this, rather than the fact she was sat, riding on the back of a mythological creature, that most concerned her.

“I know many things.” The centaur said, in his calculated tone. “I know of your purpose here, I know of your past and of what is to come.”

“I need to find the plant,” Alice said. “I need to find the herb that can save my mother.”

“I know of your purpose here,” The centaur repeated, shaking his magnificent head so that his hair danced around him. “And I shall take you to where it grows.” He spoke no more, but broke into a canter and Alice found herself drifting heavily into a sleep despite her not being in the least bit tired. She could not keep her eyes open.

When she awoke, it was to find herself curled up in a haystack; her bleeding had stopped, her clothes were repaired and the green light from the forest appeared to be shining brightly again around her, so much so that it caused her to squint and shield her eyes.

She pulled herself out of the hay and looked behind her. To her astonishment there was a small, old stone cottage with a thatched roof that seemed familiar to Alice with smoke puffing out of its chimney. Alice turned to pick up her red cloak from the haystack.

“Alice,” Said a deep voice making her jump and causing her to drop her cloak. The centaur stood at the doorway of the cottage, but she could have sworn he had not been there before. “Come into the cottage. We have prepared the plant that you need to save your mother. It is brewing inside. Come in,” He opened the door, “and we shall make a batch up for you to take home. I will escort you back to ensure no harm comes to you.”

“Thank you,” Alice stammered, “Thank you ever so much.”

She collected her coat again and approached the centaur and the cottage.

“Give that to me.” The centaur said, in his deep, commanding voice, taking Alice’s cloak. “And your dress, you won’t be needing them anymore.”

Alice did not question him, but did as he said, took his outstretched hand and stepped into the cottage with the centaur at her back.

It was smoky in the cottage. Alice couldn’t see clearly, but she could see figures huddled in the corner and a cauldron bubbling with a sickly sweet smell coming from it.

There was a creek, as one of the shadowy figures opened one of the windows, and the air seemed to immediately clear, as the outside air guzzled the smoke up.

As Alice’s vision cleared, the figures around the cauldron came into view. There, stood gazing at her, was a squirrel and a stag. She knew them to be the same animals that she had met what seemed like a lifetime a go, but they could not have looked more different. They were not glistening and soft, but matted, mangy and with open sores all over their skin and foam at their mouths. Their eyes no longer shone hope and benevolence, but contained malice and a twisted hunger. Outside, Alice could see the strange light surrounding the clearing in the wood; the flowers were beautiful, the trees majestic, but that light seemed obscured from this room. And as Alice looked down at herself, she noticed her bleeding had restarted and that her cloak was nearly torn in two.

Alice turned to flee, but found her path blocked by the centaur. He too had transformed. No longer did he appear so glorious, he was balding, weak chinned, fat and ugly. His eyes were crossed and his smile wicked. He was laughing, and no longer was his voice the deep and calm tone it was before, but a high-pitched cackle that emitted from his evil mouth. She could not escape.

Outside stood the monster, gazing through the window, trembling and shaking with grief. It’s horrific face twisted in agony, and tear drops of the thickest oil-like substance splattered onto the windowsill. As the tear hit the windowsill, onto the patches where the light of the forest could not reach, it turned to a pearly white. And the mouldy claws that rested next to it appeared to be hands of the most beautiful pale skin.

The creature, turned from the cottage, threw back its head to stare pleadingly at the heavens, and howled. It howled and screamed in misery, the same howl that the surrounding towns had feared and presumed evil.

“Alice! Alice!” A voice. A voice from what seemed so far away began to come into focus and clarity.

Alice opened her eyes to find her mother standing over her.

“Where, how did I…”

“You’ve been ill Alice,” Her mother said. “quite ill in fact. But the doctor managed to find a rare plant that would cure you.”

Alice stared up at her in amazement. “But what about you?” She asked. “And your illness?”

“Quiet now Alice.” Her mother said calmly. “You’ve been asleep for three days now. I found you outside the house, collapsed! It was after you got back from town on that blasted errand I could have probably run myself.”

Alice stared at her surroundings. The sunlight was peeking in through her open window and offering no warmth. She had no visible signs of injury, and the red hooded coat she bought on the same trip to town was hanging up on her bedroom door, untarnished and intact.

And she lived.

Note to Reader: If you have not read my fairy tale, ‘The Forest of Lyca’ this will not make an awful lot of sense. Please see that post before reading this one!

Introduction:

 

The fairy tale is an ancient form of story that many of us encounter at an exceptionally young age and become some of our earliest memories of literature. The precise origin of the fairy tale is unclear, although it is thought that they are birthed from folklore: oral tales told for entertainment and distraction, inherited through the generations and passed on from travellers, blended by the many recipients who each would detract and add parts to the tale to suit their needs. Jack Zipes recalls the social history of fairy tales to state that:

‘Their origins as oral folk tales can be traced back thousands of years to the ice age […] Recent historical research has demonstrated that the primitive folk tales were told as socially symbolical acts to unite the people of a tribe, to provide a sense of community. As such, they were cultural endeavors to interpret and understand natural and social phenomena […] Religions and ideologies that became male-oriented caused the contents and functions of the characters to be changed.’ (Zipes 1982 23)

It is surprising that fairy tales known from childhood exist in many separate versions and variations. If one were to consider the tales of Red Riding Hood, as I will be doing primarily, it is likely the tales from Charles Perrault and The Brothers Grimm that surface to memory. However the tale dates back before both of those versions and continued to adapt after their publication, absorbing many of their elements whilst removing others. It is perhaps this evolving and fluctuating nature of the genre that captured my interest and inspired me to create a tale that borrowed so much from another story whilst maintaining its own identity.

Whilst reading the traditional fairy tales it is sometimes easy to overlook the dark and sinister content within them – this is often due to the association they have with being read to children and the assumption that their content has been deemed appropriate for that audience­. However, upon submitting them to closer study, it becomes clear that they are filled with violence, misogyny and taboo that one would not think to subject to children. This is a point that Maria Tatar comments upon:

‘For many adults, reading through an expurgated edition of the Grimms’ collection of tales can be an eye-opening experience. Even those who know…that doves peck out the eyes of Cinderella’s stepsisters…or that a mad rage drives Rumpelstiltskin to tear himself in two will find themselves hardly prepared for the graphic descriptions of murder, mutilation, cannibalism, infanticide, and incest that fill the pages of these bedtime stories for children.’ (Tatar 364)

The genre of the fairy tale itself was another reason that I decided to dedicate my creative writing piece to it. Within the fairy tale there is scope to create and imagine, something that I was extremely keen to do. The fairy tale has become mostly directed towards children and therefore can embody the elements of fantasy and departure from reality that the majority of fiction for adults lacks. I decided to keep within some of the structures that fairy tales seem to conform to, but was nonetheless left with far more freedom. I decided I would emulate Angela Carter’s ability to create the fantastical world of the fairy tale and set it out as children’s fiction whilst, at times, mixing mature themes into the narrative that would be deemed inappropriate. I have, therefore, intended to merge the styles of several fairy tale authors into my piece. The style of the writing and the themes share likenesses with both the traditional fairy tale authors and Angela Carter in her tales of The Bloody Chamber. My story is at times graphic like Carter’s but it attempts to keep its suitability for children by only hinting to its graphic nature and with potentially disturbing and horrific events being averted and resolved. This is similar to some of the traditional authors, the Grimm’s tale of ‘Little Red Cap’ for example. The girl is consumed by the wolf but is rescued almost immediately by the huntsman. It sits between the authors too by emulating much of Carter’s themes yet keeping the patriarchal framework of the predecessors. An example of this is the scene during the tale wherein the spectre-like image of Alice’s brother attempts to rape her. Although the description is not explicit, the references and metaphors are not overly complex and it is obvious to most readers what the indication is. However, Alice is rescued and the crisis is averted.

It was important to my tale that I emulated certain facets of Carter’s tales – ‘The Company of Wolves’ being the main inspiration. I have included certain elements such as the description that makes it clear the heroine is at the age of puberty and the use of pathetic fallacy regarding the weather. Another example is introducing the gothic convention of the uncanny in scenes such as the one with Alice’s brother. She recognises him but simultaneously does not know who he is. I also mention Alice’s ‘mounting unease’ (Beatson 12) or phrases similar to represent the uncanny, which is a direct influence from Carter who mentioned that the uncanny in gothic literature ‘retains a singular moral function-that provoking of unease.’ (Carter 1974 133). However, Carter’s tales are more of a feminist reading, and I preferred to keep much of my tale colluding with the patriarchal themes contained within the traditional tales. I found difficulty finding balance when demonstrating the story as a classic tale yet at also adding the mature and hardcore elements of Carter. An example of my mixture of the two is in the final line: ‘And she lived.’ (Beatson 17) This displays the fairy tale ending but without the archetypal ‘happily ever-after’ closing phrase – this suggests to my readers that life to come will be hard for Alice, but keeps the emphasis on the fact that she had survived.

The key intention of the piece was to highlight the graphic and mature themes within the traditional fairy tale by (like Carter) accentuating them and placing them amongst the fantasy and innocence of a child’s story. Additionally, I wished to display the type of moral tale that was so often used in the classic variations within a fairy tale that was written in the present day. By the plot being subjectable to a reading of a girl’s rite of passage – with the forest being her journey through adolescence and the struggle it poses and threat to her virginity – I was able to emulate the educational style of editions of Red Riding Hood such as Perrault’s and the Brothers Grimm. The key morals that I intended the piece to illustrate were the proverb stating that it is unwise to trust a wolf in sheep’s clothing and that to stray from the metaphorical path will lead to punishment. This is most like the traditional fairy tales; the most lucid of examples of this is the moral message at the end of Perrault’s tale.

Another one of my intentions with my creative piece was to remove, alter and merge various conventions that are typical throughout the classic fairy tale. This included elements such as the style, the structure, themes and other conventions that I discovered after undertaking my research into my primary and secondary texts that I personally identified, and furthered by my research into secondary material. This is an element of my companion that I will come onto in the research section.

Furthermore, I wished to show a different example of the dangers of adolescence by colluding with Perrault’s moral. The tale obviously shouts that girls must fight hard to control their desires and be aware of false prophets. The creatures seem so beautiful that she wishes to follow them and she believes that they are helping her are then revealed to be the very things that destroy her. These creatures can be interpreted as hormones that are developed within adolescence and the traditional character of the wolf that is translated as a symbol of the male gaze and male sexuality and lust – either way they are tempting Alice to follow them, and by doing so she is presented with her demise until, that is, she wakes up. It would be prudent to note at this stage that the views and morals contained within the tale are not my own, but ones that I provided to strengthen the theme of my text. A Freudian and Laconian reading of my unconscious intentions might prove different, as I have studied with the interpretations of the classic tales, but on a conscious level, the views are not ones I share.

Self-Reflective Section:

The formulation of the fairy tale came in different stages as opposed to one drafting and redrafting process. I had for some time wished to write a children’s story and had the rough idea of a creature that I would depict as evil and terrifying that would in fact be the rebuked saviour. It was after deciding to choose the creative writing option for my independent project that I realised not only did I have a basis of a story available, but that its genre and predecessors had an excess of criticism and secondary reading available to me.

When considering characters and settings I decided that I could add significantly to my story by emulating the Red Riding Hood tales whilst simultaneously enabling an effective critical reading. I therefore began note taking with spider diagrams and setting out key features of the variations of the tales and finding the parts that I would apply, change or eradicate completely. The result was five separate a3 sheets of paper that started with spider diagrams and progressed to a list of bullet points that outlined intended plot, characters and themes.

I had decided on the name of the piece to be ‘The Rankvile’ which was also to be the name of the creature that dwelled within the forest. However, as the writing of the first draft came to an end, I realised I could not introduce the name of the creature without affecting the tone I hoped to create. Consequently I progressed without adding the name in and, once the final draft was completed, I had decided not to name the creature at all to grant it additional mystery and fear. I felt that if I could create enough of a shroud of fear around the monster’s persona it would not only increase enjoyment in the reading, but act as an even greater twist when reversing the creature to being a positive character. I achieved this by the application of vivid imagery to the description of the monster and concurrently allowing a greater opportunity to describe the same features in a positive light towards the end of the story. An example of this is the way in which the natural light from outside the forest turns the creature’s ‘mouldy claws’ into ‘the most beautiful and pale skin.’ (Beatson 16).  I eventually decided to rename the story: ‘The Forest of Lyca’, as it is the forest in the tale that symbolises Alice’s journey and it is the forest that creates the real evil. The name of Lyca is a reference to the girl within the poem ‘The Little Girl Lost’ by William Blake. This poem, it could be argued, depicts a young girl’s descent into adolescence and adulthood, which is similar to my tale where Alice’s entire journey into the forest is her rite of passage and depicts her battle with adolescence and journey to adulthood. Another piece of intertextuality resides in the choice of the protagonist’s name. This is a reference to the protagonist and themes in both Alice from Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland and Angela Carter’s short story ‘Wolf Alice’.

I found difficulty in not rushing into the writing of the fairy tale, as I had so many ideas I was keen to put together. This made the planning process and note taking procedure arduous and, although making spider diagrams and lists, I eventually felt prepared to begin constructing the tale. Although I ended up with a long and well embellished story of which the word count came to just over 11,000, I was left with the challenging process of removing large amounts of it that I had, ultimately, written for my own pleasure rather than for the success of my independent project. By cutting such a majority of the fairy tale down I lost the in depth characterisation that I had managed to build and the extensive description and imagery that went into the settings and emotions. However, by keeping the tale much shorter, it made it more dramatic and I was able to capture much more the feel of a fairy tale as opposed to a short novel of children’s fantasy fiction. In hindsight this is unquestionably something I would have done differently and will learn from; the need of planning and properly formulating my ideas in a structure so that they will correlate with the themes needed to allow my piece to be subjectable and to be the critical reading I wished it to be.

A further element that I feel I could have improved on within the writing of my fairy tale is my time management. This was something that I was aware I would struggle with and therefore did attempt to work hard on. To endeavour to manage my time effectively I spent sections of selected days during the week working on it shortly after handing in my topic proposal at the end of the first semester. This was a positive step, but I feel that I may have been benefitted further from actually planning out the schedule in which I would write parts and checklists to include the themes and elements I needed. It is this type of discipline that I would apply in the future.

As an overall project I feel that it has been a success – I am satisfied with the end result. I feel that I have managed to translate the aspects of it that I aimed to. I found that the most beneficial way to check I was achieving my aims was to call on others to read it and give their overall impression. This included fellow students on my course who were able to give a critical opinion from a literary theory perspective, members of family that work within publishing and friends and family who were able to bring a fresh and more basic opinion. I asked these readers to email me their thoughts on the piece, their personal opinion on its deeper meanings and how it made them feel whilst they read it and after. I received similar, encouraging feedback from all groups, which stated that they felt it was extremely dark, had a childlike feel to it but that they were unsure at times if it was suitable for children and surmised that it would down to parental decision. This was exactly the type of feedback that I had been hoping for, as this was precisely the opinion of the Brothers Grimm after their revised edition of ‘Little Red Cap’ was made more appropriate for children, despite its sinister themes. This is illustrated in their introduction:

Therefore we have taken care to leave out of this new edition expressions which were not suitable for children. Yet there may be objections. One or another parent may find material embarrassing or offensive, so that they would not be comfortable putting the book into the hands of children. In such well founded individual cases, the parents have an easy choice to make. (Shavit 327)

All of the readers that I had give feedback also noted that the story sharing similarities with the Red Riding Hood tales and other early fairy tales, notably as a rite of passage tale with strong moral undertones. One fellow student even asked me if I had read Angela Carter, as the graphic style reminded of them of her work.

I have found the project to therefore be a general success and, despite the aforementioned elements of production management that I would change, I feel very satisfied with its outcome.

Research and Analysis Section:

In preparation and throughout my composition of the fairy tale I undertook thorough and vast amounts of research for secondary material and critical work concerning the fairy tale genre. It is no surprise therefore, that the beginning stages of my research were dedicated to understanding the genre and its conventions and structure.

One of the quintessential theorists concerning this is Vladimir Propp who listed thirty-one functions and a ‘Dramatis Personae’ of characters. Studying this I was able to understand the structure of the folk tale as expressed by Propp and was therefore able to select the parts that I wished to use for my own fairy tale. The functions and characters set out by Propp served a beneficial role, as I was able to play around with them and work them into the twists of my fairy tale whilst keeping to their specifications.

Propp’s ‘Dramatis Personae’ lists the characters that he identified in the material he studied. ‘Our working material consists of 100 tales. The rest is reference material, of great interest to the investigator.’ (Propp 386) From studying the collection of tales he surmised that he could condense the characters into seven broad figures with qualities that each of the ones he had encountered would embody.

The characters within my tale of the ‘The Forest of Lyca’ certainly display qualities and characteristics that conform to those guidelines stated by Propp, although due to my aim of the tale incorporating a mixture of traditional and modern there are some deviations. For example, my tale contains Propp’s character types of the Hero (Alice) and the Villain, of which there are more than one. However my tale merges many of Propp’s character types. For example the roles of the Donor, the False Hero, the Princess, Dispatcher and Helper are blurred and merged to almost a point beyond recognition. This was my attempt to challenge some of the traditional conventions whilst still maintaining some. This is something I also applied to my working of the functions stated by Propp.

The beginning of my tale assents with the first seven stages of Propp’s functions. The ‘absention’ (Propp 386) occurs firstly, as the reader is introduced to Alice having left her home and is embarking on her journey to and through the forest. Secondly the ‘interdiction’ (Propp 386) is addressed as the warning Alice receives is stated to the reader as she recalls it. I had already touched upon the second function with the description of the creature and the tragedy of the missing children. This serves as a warning to the reader, as they are encouraged to understand that there must be already be a warning and ban from entering the forest. This ban and warning is of course broken as Alice enters the forest to retrieve the cure for her mother. This serves as the third function: the ‘violation’ (Propp 286) and is followed a short while after by Alice’s departure from the path, the warning that is stated as part of the second function. The fourth function is the ‘reconnaissance’ (Propp 286), which appears to be addressed as Alice begins to hear what she assumes to be the creature that she also assumes to be hunting her. However, as we discover, the creature is not the real villain and as Alice flees from its noise she falls at the feet of one of the enchanted animals that dwell within the wood. It is this then that serves the purpose of the fourth function and simultaneously fulfils the requirements of the fifth, sixth and seventh functions in one motion. By meeting one of the enchanted animals, the real villains, and by trusting it, Alice falls prey to the ‘reconnaissance’, ‘delivery’, Propp’s fifth function, the ‘trickery’ and the ‘complicity’ (Propp 386). The villain attempts to find something out about the hero, obtains it, attempts to deceive the hero and finally succeeds as ‘the victim submits to deception and thereby unwittingly helps the enemy.’ (Propp 386).

It is from this stage that my tale begins to divert from Propp’s formula. The decision to deviate from the formula was mainly because I wished to introduce the elements that would conflict with the quintessential conventions that I had indentified with the genre from my secondary reading. As mentioned, I wished for my fairy tale to emulate both the traditional versions and the editions such as ‘The Company of Wolves’ by Angela Carter.

After analysing the traditional conventions and structure of the classic fairy tale, I began to analyse the variations of the Red Riding Hood story and read critical work surrounding it to further my understanding of its themes and conventions. An element of this that I was most interested to explore was that of the degree of explicit and adult themes that resonate throughout so many of the traditional fairy tales. For the sake of this companion, I will limit my investigation into these themes in only the most prominent versions of Little Red Riding Hood.

The earliest recording of this iconic tale is ‘The Story of Grandmother’ whose specific origin is unknown. The story is one fraught with taboo throughout with references to murder, cannibalism and bestiality. After the wolf kills and stores away the remains of the little girl’s grandmother, references are made to the little girl consuming them shortly before giving the wolf some sort of ‘medieval striptease’ (Burns, 32) and being lured into bed with him. One has to speculate at the purpose of the gruesome undertones within this story. When reading and analysing this tale it is important to realise that it was not solely written for children, or indeed intended for them at all. Secondly, to provide distraction and entertainment, tales necessitated higher degrees of melodrama within them, as Tatar so candidly states: ‘Is it surprising that, in a an age without radios, television, and other electronic wonders, they favored fast-paced narratives with heavy doses of burlesque comedy, melodramatic action, scatological humour, and free-wheeling violence?’ (Tatar 3)

Perrault’s tale eradicates the striptease contained within its predecessor in ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ but its contents are still rich in violence, with undertones of rape. After the evidence of irresponsible bad parenting: her mother sending her off alone through the woods and the statement of that ‘The poor child, who did not know that it was dangerous to stop and talk to wolves’ (Perrault 12), the girl succumbs to temptation and picks flowers and chasing butterflies whilst the wolf proceeds to murder her grandmother. Little Red Riding Hood arrives, eventually, at her grandmother’s house and fooled effortlessly by the wolf into believing that he is in fact her grandmother she obeys him without question to remove her clothes and climb into bed with the wolf. After some elementary discoveries by Red Riding Hood that her grandmother seemed slightly different, the wolf swallows her whole. It would be my suggestion that the cruel and sadistic application of taboo exists within this Perrault tale to serve an even greater purpose than when used in the earlier, original tales. The moral following the girl’s demise advises girls to learn from Red Riding Hood’s example and beware of wolves of all kinds. The intention of the tale appears to be one of moral purposes, to keep children on the Christian path. Despite this there is certainly an air of sadism within the text from the author. As Burns describes, Perrault ‘is amusing himself vicariously with the thought of seduction while warning little girls who are innocent and pretty to be careful.’ (Burns 31)

Tatar suggests: ‘Sex and violence: these are the major thematic concerns of in the Grimms’ collection, at least in their unedited form.’ (Tatar 369). ‘Little Red Cap’ is no exception and takes a different approach to the tale than Perrault with different intentions behind it. Despite the wolf having his metaphorical ‘way’ with Little Red Cap and her grandmother, he is discovered by a huntsman travelling through the forest who cuts him open, rescues the two females and (with the help of Little Red Cap) fills his stomach with stones before sewing him back up and allowing him to wake up and disembowel himself. As in Perrault’s version, there is strong evidence to support the devouring of Little Red Cap and her grandmother as a symbol of the text being a rape narrative. Susan Brownmiller suggests the swallowing of both Little Red Cap and her grandmother who are completely docile and defenceless ‘is a parable of rape’ (Brownmiller 343) and elaborates that the tale encourages girls to ‘stick close to the path, better not be adventurous. If you are lucky, a good friendly male may be able to save you from certain disaster.’ (Brownmiller 344). But the difference with the application of taboo within the Grimm’s tale is in the difference of their intentions. It is to serve a more educational purpose than Perrault’s moral tale – simply to teach children to obey their elders, and that if they do, no harm will come to them. ‘Unlike Perrault, who has written a moral story about innocence and its frailty in the face of raw violence, the Grimms’ tale has its roots in the necessity for obedience’ (Burns 33).

It is clear from my research into the adult themes within these traditional tales, that they are rife with them, and the authors unafraid of using graphic and grim elements to translate their intentions. I would argue, that the reason taboo is so heavily featured within the tales, is for the specific intention of the author; whether for education, entertainment, sadistic satisfaction or to impress moral guidelines.

Not only were almost all traditional fairy tales written by men, but the female characters represented within them tend to be ones of a far less than flattering quality. It is from my research that I have learnt that the majority of female figures presented throughout fairy tales were essentially portrayed to be to be the domestic female, without independence that conformed to patriarchy. It is Marcia Lieberman and her article on the acculturation of women in fairy tales that influenced this stage of my research principally. Lieberman states that ‘among other things, these tales present a picture of sexual roles, behavior, and psychology,’ (Lieberman 384) and it is clear to see truth in her statement. Consistently, the traditional fairy tales present women to only be positive characters if they conform to social roles and display the characteristics that, presumably, were desirable in the time that they were written in. The heroines are portrayed as mild tempered and passive beings who require nothing but their beauty and desirable temperament to be rewarded with or saved by a prince or courageous male, and are helpless without him.

‘Most of the heroines … are entirely passive, submissive, and helpless. This is most obviously true of Sleeping Beauty, who lies asleep, waiting for a brave prince to awaken and save her. (She is like the Snow-White of “Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs,” who lies in a death-like sleep, her beauty being visible through her glass coffin, until a prince comes along and falls in love with her.)’ (Lieberman 388)

As illustrated here by Lieberman, the heroines sole purpose is to remain docile and beautiful, to not upset the status quo and to await the arrival of their prince and, or, future husband.

The idea of the heroine’s need for a male character to save and marry her, and one could suggest, for her to serve, is prominent throughout the majority of the fairy tales. In variations of Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and, most importantly, Red Riding Hood, the heroines are weak without redeeming male characters. It could be suggested that Red Riding Hood is portrayed as completely reliant on men. Within ‘Little Red Cap’ by the Brothers Grimm, the girl is not only fooled and controlled by the wolf who, I would suggest, represents masculine lust and sexuality, but requires the rescue from the huntsman. It is interesting to note here that further interpretations state that the action the huntsman performed could be read as antagonistic towards both sexes as opposed to solely women. The action of cutting the wolf’s stomach open could be viewed as a caesarean section response to the wolf’s metaphorical pregnancy. This could be viewed as women punishing men as Fromm describes:

‘How, then, is the wolf made ridiculous? By showing that he attempted to play the role of the pregnant woman, having living things in his belly. Little-Red-Cap puts stones, a symbol of sterility, into his belly, and the wolf collapses and dies. His deed … is punished according to his crime: he is killed by the stones, the symbol of sterility, which mock his usurpation of the pregnant women’s role.’ (Fromm 241)

The theme of the female characters total passivity and reliance on male figures to save them is something that – like the majority of the conventions of the classic fairy tale in ‘The Forest of Lyca’ – I have deviated from at points whilst maintaining similarities. Alice is, undoubtedly, an archetype of the female characters within the traditional fairy tales. She is helpless, at the mercy of others and is constant need of being rescued. She displays certain traits of resilience, level-minded and logical thinking that the traditional heroines do not, which was my attempt to make her character a slightly more complex and memorable one so as the reader may feel more empathetic with her. Nevertheless, ultimately her beauty, submissiveness and rapidity to succumb to the beautiful creatures’ temptation results in her embodiment of the traits that are quintessential to the heroine of the traditional fairy tales. Conversely, there are no explicit references to the chauvinistic rescue from a hero, prince or huntsman. Alice is repeatedly saved, or at the least the reader believes she is saved, by the very things that intend to hurt her. This is another convention that I have decided to warp to make the piece more critically engaging to consider when comparing it to the traditional fairy tales. However, despite there being no explicitly male character who comes to Alice’s rescue, the animals who supposedly save her are implied to be men; the centaur for example is a male and there is a stag as opposed to a deer. They are also the combined character of the wolf, embodying male sexuality, and intend to eat Alice which, if we agree with Brownmiller’s view above, is a threat upon her virginity. The centaur, for example, echoes the line from ‘The Story of Grandmother’ of “You won’t be needing them anymore.” (Beatson 15) when instructing Alice to leave her red cloak outside which, as mentioned, can be read to symbolise her virginity.

As mentioned, the typical heroines are portrayed as passive and domestic. Furthermore those that are not and are instead ambitious, independent and powerful, are portrayed as evil or inhuman. The queens without kings are usually evil; the cunning stepmothers are wicked, and even the fairy godmother in Cinderella who demonstrates power and independence for good is not human: ‘Women who are powerful and good are never human … those women who are human, and who have the power or seek it, are nearly always portrayed as repulsive … and are generally shown as active, ambitious, strong-willed and most often, ugly.’ (Lieberman 197)

The concept of beauty is an important one when considering the patriarchal role of women within the classic fairy tale. It is evident throughout the study of the majority of the tales that to be a beautiful girl is to be a decent person and, above all else, to be rewarded. As part of a family ‘the prettiest is invariably singled out and destined for reward’ (Lieberman 385) and it is clear that beauty is rewarded and ugliness punished. In variations of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, it is the beautiful character that is ultimately the one who has the happiest ending. ‘Beautiful girls are never ignored; they may be oppressed at first by wicked figures, as the jealous Queen persecutes Snow-White, but ultimately they are chosen for reward.’ (Lieberman 385). To be beautiful grants the ultimate reward: a prince to marry or a happy marriage where they will fulfil a domestic role successfully. One can therefore make the conclusion that fairy tales were encouraging girls to think only of their looks, ‘and the focus on beauty as a girl’s most valuable asset, perhaps their only valuable asset.’ (Lieberman 385).

After studying this concept from Lieberman’s article and other secondary critical material, I began to consider how I wished this to affect my own fairy tale. I considered that within the classic editions of Red Riding Hood it could be construed that the heroine is punished for her beauty but, unlike the previous characters mentioned, not rewarded afterwards. In Charles Perrault’s version, I would argue that the girl’s beauty is not the only reason for her burden and punishment, but that it is her lack of awareness of it that brings her to an ending that is far from ‘happily ever after’. Maria Tatar confirms this when she describes the Grimm and Perrault’s intention to make ‘the heroine responsible for the violence to which she is subjected. By speaking to strangers (as Perrault tells it) or by disobeying her mother and straying from the path (as the Grimms tell it), Red Riding Hood courts her own downfall.’ (Tatar 6) Perrault’s version is followed by the moral epilogue, warning girls to beware of men who covet their appearance. It is this idea that I have decided to apply to my tale. I vividly describe Alice’s blossoming femininity and beauty and it is this that the reader is led to believe makes her such a target, from the creature that senses her stage of puberty to the constant convert and extrovert references to attacks upon her virginity. However, to keep the tale on the borderline appropriateness for children, Alice finds that it was all a dream, and that her childhood innocence has been prolonged as she looks at the untarnished red cloak upon her door, which can be read in this case as a metaphor for the unbroken hymen.

However, an element that I have partly shared and partly reversed, depending on the view, is the one that beautiful characters are good and the ugly ones are bad. The creatures in the forest are beautiful and elegant and therefore Alice feels compelled to trust them against the horrifically ugly creature that she thinks means her harm. However, once out of the light that the forest (and in reality, adolescence) casts, she realises the once beautiful creatures are ugly, and therefore the evil and the once feared creature is in fact beautifully pure and consequently good. One could argue that I have gone against the convention and presented the beautiful creatures as evil and vice versa, but it is the former interpretation I had envisaged.

From studying the theoretical material surrounding the negative portrayal of women it is necessary to consider the historical and social contexts of the time of the recording of the fairy tales. I have previously discussed that the tales contain extremely negative portrayals of women, however, that is speaking from a present day viewpoint. A feminist reading of the fairy tales is, in comparison with their origins, startling recent in history. The historical and social context of the tales’ time of assembly is one of patriarchy and where women held a far more prominent role in the domestic side of life than the vocational, and although perhaps some of the depiction is slightly one-sided and extreme, it is important to consider the differences in society. Jack Zipes comments on the relevance of the attitudes towards women present within the Grimms’ tales:

What became apparent […] was that the Grimms’ tales, though ingenious and perhaps socially relevant in their own times, contained sexist and racist attitudes and served a socialization process which placed great emphasis on passivity, industry, and self-sacrifice for girls and activity, competition, and accumulation of wealth for boys. (Zipes 1979 3)

Secondly, the education of women was considerably different and exceptionally limited in the time that the tales were written. In the time that Charles Perrault was writing his tales, the 17th century, the level of education offered to men was severely different to that of women. The tales were of course written exclusively by men, and read more dominantly by men. Even at the time of the publication of the Grimms’ tales, they were still releasing stories that were appropriate to their audience. ‘Wilhelm consistently tried to meet audience expectations. And the reading audience of Germany was largely bourgeois, growing in power and becoming more Biedermeier or Victorian in its morals and ethics.’ (Zipes 1979 8) I would argue that this does more to explain than excuse the portrayal of women, as the overwhelming material I have read supporting this interpretation has led me to believe that that despite these factors, the representation is still decisively negative and derogatory.

After writing a fairy tale with many of the elements that the traditional tales contain, several facets about them have become clear to me and raised certain thoughts. Firstly, the degrees of the themes that lie within the pages of the tales are more sinister and twisted than I had realised at the beginning of this project. I realise that the reasons behind the application of them from my study of the tales and critical material are down to their intentions, both conscious and unconscious, but it still surprised me to see the extent of them. Similarly to this, the other elements discussed within this companion have been enlightening to me in regards to the medium of the fairy tale. But after writing my own and attempting to emulate these qualities, whilst adapting some, and changing many, I have discovered that to attempt to recreate them with similar intentions would be near impossible within today’s society. Angela Carter succeeds admirably in completely modernising them, with an explicit feminist twist upon them and making them so vivid. However, to attempt to write a contemporary fairy tale with the themes that the classic tales embody, and direct them towards children no matter what the intention, would not be accepted. Not only is equality between the two genders more level than it ever has been, but many forms of socialisation and imposing roles upon children at a young age is rapidly being discouraged. I for one do not believe that adults would permit a story written in the modern day to be read to children if it contained such conventions. Correspondingly, children now are more intuitive and discerning than ever before and I do not think that many of the extreme themes directed over their heads to their parents or into their subconscious would be missed. This is mirrored at the end of ‘The Little Girl and the Wolf’ by James Thurber:

‘for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge. So the little girl took an automatic out her basket and shot the wolf dead. Moral: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.’ (Thurber 17)

Primary Texts:

  • Anon. “The Story of Grandmother” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (1999). 10-11.
  • Brothers Grimm. “Cinderella” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (1999). 117-122.
  • Brothers Grimm. “Little Red Riding Cap” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (1999). 13-16.
  • Brothers Grimm. “Snow White” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (1999). 83-89.
  • Carter, Angela. “The Company of Wolves” The Bloody Chamber. London: Vintage (2006). 129-139.
  • Carter, Angela. “The Erl-King” The Bloody Chamber. London: Vintage (2006). 96-104.
  • Carter, Angela. “The Snow Child” The Bloody Chamber. London: Vintage (2006). 105-106.
  • Perrault, Charles. “Little Red Riding Hood” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (1999). 11-13.
  • Tatar, Maria. Ed. The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (2003).

Secondary Texts:

  •  Bettelheim, Bruno. ““Hansel and Gretel”” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (1999). 269-280.
  • Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. London: Penguin Group, 1991.
  • Blake, William. “The Little Girl Lost” Romanticism an Anthology. Ed. Duncan Wu. Malden: Blackwell Publishing (2006) 193-194
  • Bottigheimer, Ruth B. “Tale Spinners: Submerged Voices in Grimms’ Fairy Tales.” New German Critique. 27. Duke University Press (1982) 141-150. Web. 16th October 2011.
  • Brothers Grimm. “The Juniper Tree” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999. 190-197.
  • Brothers Grimm. “Hansel and Gretel” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (1999). 184-190
  • Brownmiller, Susan. Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. New York: Bantam (1976) 343-344
  • Burns, Lee. “Red Riding Hood” Children’s Literature 1.1 (1972): 30-36. Web. 10th Apr. 2012.
  • Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland. London: Fabbri Publishing Ltd (1992).
  • Carter, Angela. “Afterword” Fireworks: Nine Stories in Various Disguises Cambridge: Harper & Rowe (1974). 133.
  • Carter, Angela. Ed. The Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales. London: Virago Press Ltd (1993).
  • Carter, Angela. Ed. The Virago Book of Fairy Tales. London: Virago Press Ltd (1991).
  • Carter, Angela. “The Werewolf” The Bloody Chamber. London: Vintage (2006). 140-149
  • Carter, Angela. “Wolf Alice” The Bloody Chamber. London: Vintage (2006). 140-149
  • Calvino, Italo. “The False Grandmother” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (1999). 17-19.
  • Colopy, Cheryl. “Sir Degaré: A Fairy Tale Oedipus.” Pacific Coast Philology 17.1/2. Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association (1982): 31-39. Web. 16th October 2011.
  • Dahl, Roald. Boy: Tales of Childhood. London: Penguin Books Ltd (1986).
  • Dahl, Roald. “Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (1999). 21-22.
  • Fromm, Erich. The Forgotten Language: An Introduction to the Understanding of Dreams, Fairy Tales and Myths. New York: Rinehart (1951). 241.
  •  Gilbert, Sandra M, Susan Gubar. “Snow White and Her Wicked Stepmother” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (1999). 291-297.
  • Koepke, Wulf. “[Untitled].” South Central Review 5.4. The Johns Hopkins University Press on behalf of the South Central Modern Language Association (1988). 109-110. Web. 13th October 2011.
  • Lieberman, Marcia R. “”Some Day My Prince Will Come”: Female Acculturation through the Fairy Tale.” College English 34.3 (1972). 383-395. Web. 28th March 2012.
  •  Linkin, Harriet Kramer. “Review: Telling Tales about Angela Carter.” Contemporary Literature 44.2 University of Wisconsin Press (2003) 340-344. Web. 16th October 2011.
  • Mi, Chiang. “Goldflower and the Bear” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (1999). 19-21.
  • Propp, Vladimir. “Folklore and Literature” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (1999). 378-387.
  • Shavit, Zohar. “The Concept of Childhood and Children’s Folktales: Test Case-‘Little Red Hood.’ The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (1999). 317-332.
  • Smith, Lindsay. “[Untitled].” Nineteenth-Century Literature 54.2. University of California Press (1999): 255-260. Web. 16th October 2011.
  • Tatar, Maria. “Sex and Violence: The Hard Core of Fairy Tales.” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (1999). 364-373.
  • Tatar, Maria. The Hard Facts of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.
  • Thurber, James. “The Little Girl and the Wolf”. The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (1999). 16-17.
  •  Wardetzky, Kristin. “The Structure and Interpretation of Fairy Tales Composed by Children.” The Journal of American Folklore 103.408. American Folklore Society (1990). 157-176. Web. 16th October 2011.
  • Warner, Marina. “The Old Wives’ Tale” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (1999). 309-317.
  • Zipes, Jack. “A Second Gaze at Little Red Riding Hood’s Trials and Tribulations.” The Lion and the Unicorn 7. (1983). 78-109. Web. 20th January 2012.
  • Zipes, Jack. “Breaking the Disney Spell” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (1999). 332-352.
  • Zipes, Jack. “Spreading Myths about Fairy Tales: A Critical Commentary on Robert Bly’s Iron John.” New German Critique.55. Duke University Press (1992). 3-19. Web. 16th October 2011.
  • Zipes, Jack. “Towards a Social History of the Literary Fairy Tale for Children.” Children’s Literature Assoction Quarterly 7.2 (1982). 23-26. Web. 2nd April 2012.
  • Zipes, Jack. “Who’s Afraid of the Brothers Grimm?: Socialization and Politization through Fairy Tales.” The Lion and the Unicorn 3.2 (1979). 4-41. Web. 21st January 2012.
  • Front Cover Image Selected From: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/03/21/the_dark_forest_of_childhood/

So, in regard to a post of mine a while ago, I was going to post up a couple of bits and bobs that I had been working upon for my final year, the piece de resistance being my dissertation topic of a warped and sexualised re-imagination of Little Red Riding Hood. I have, however, encountered a little snag.

The thing is finished, bound and handed in (huzah with bells on!) but it totals around 12,000+ words if you include the rationale that goes with it. Now, I would just post the ‘fairy tale’ but I think it is lost without its explanatory friend. I’m relatively pleased with it, left it till the last minute as always, but think it’s interesting enough.

I guess what I’m babbling about is I need your guidance. What do you think? Is this something that you’d be interested to read (as many of you expressed a month or so ago) despite its length? If so, I shall post away (it even has a rather spiffing illustration.)

Let me know what you think wordpressians, much appreciated.

 

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