Friday, 31 December 2010


It’s been a few years now, since I discovered Angela Carter. It was on a course about adaptations of novels into film. Fairly recently, Neil Jordan had released “The Company of Wolves,” from the Angela Carter short story of the same name. It’s a strange, haunting story -- a re-telling, if you like of the tale of “Little Red Riding Hood.”

Angela Carter's re-writes of traditional European folk/fairy tales bring with them dark aspects of the human psyche that would have existed in the oral tradition, but which became sanitised when written down in the 18th / 19th centuries as parables of instruction for children.

Angela Carter said of the “Bloody Chamber” collection. "My intention was not to do 'versions' or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, 'adult' fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories and to use it as the beginnings of new stories."

Helen Simpson, writing in The Guardian 24th June 2006

“Angela Carter knew from the start that she was drawn to "Gothic tales, cruel tales, tales of wonder, tales of terror, fabulous narratives that deal directly with the imagery of the unconscious". She drew a sharp distinction between what she described as "those fragments of epiphanic experience which are the type of the 20th-century story", and the "ornate, unnatural" style and symbolism of her favoured form, the tale. When, in her second collection, “The Bloody Chamber“, she continued in this Gothic mode but with narratives suggested by traditional west European fairy tales, she found she had conjured up an exotic new hybrid that would carry her voice to a wider audience than it had reached before.”

The unity of the book, and the sustaining of the literary atmosphere, is created through the varied textual forms that Angela Carter chooses to chronicle. So, for her examinations here she hand-picks legends that have the strongest roots in sensuality... so we have vampirism, werewolves, feral children, and jungle beasts beguiling and defiling a succession of young women in a series of deeply emotional narrative episodes. Angela Carter has a grasp of poetic use of language and she has deft storytelling capabilities. Needless to say, the stories featured drip with a dense, erotic atmosphere that is occasionally overwhelming... though there is also a strong underlining of horror, tension and mystery; with the reader free to read between the lines and decode the various clues that Angela Carter layers within her work.

In “The Bloody Chamber” collection, Little Red Riding Hood (The Company of Wolves) is not saved by the woodcutter, but instead tames the beast by getting naked and giving vent to her awakening sexuality. Most of the stories in the collection focus on a girl on the cusp of womanhood, who steps off the path and is rewarded with the discovery of a sexuality that is not repressively phallocentric.

“The little girl burst out laughing, she knew she was nobody’s meat.”

Little Red Riding Hood doesn’t get eaten in Angela Carter’s telling of the tale, instead, the girl fucks the wolf. She rapes the wolf. After their savage fucking Angela Carter gives us an image that moves from the erotic to the pornographic in its imagery. Can pornography be beautiful? In this passage Angela Carter shows that it can.

“She will lay his fearful head on her lap and she will pick out the lice from his pelt and perhaps she will put the lice into her mouth and eat them, as he will bid her, as she would do in a savage marriage ceremony.”

In The Tiger’s Bride, Angela Carter retells the story of “Beauty and the Beast.” This is no Disney version. There isn’t a feeling of all being well, or happy ever after in this tale. But there is a sort of contentment. The heroine, in discovering the truth about the Beast, discovers the truth about herself.

This story takes us on a beautiful, shocking and often frightening journey into realms of innocence and sensuality that few literary works can equate. Angela Carter’s writing, here merges with poetry. Her words are economic, yet still she gives us vivid pictures.

“The candles dropped hot, acrid gouts of wax on my bare shoulders.”

Here she describes the trappings of luxury, the display of rich scenery in rich language.

“The Beast wears a garment of Ottoman design, a loose, dull purple gown with gold embroidery round the neck that falls from his shoulders to conceal his feet. The feet of the chair he sits in are handsomely clawed. He hides his hands in his ample sleeves.”
This is dark, musky writing. Is it bestiality? Perhaps. Or a wish fulfilment story for Furries?

The heroine describes her encounter with the Beast.

“He dragged himself closer and closer to me, until I felt the harsh velvet of his head against my hand, then a tongue, abrasive as sandpaper. ‘He will lick the skin off me!’
And each stroke of his tongue ripped off skin after successive skin, all the skins of a life in the world, and left behind a nascent patina of shining hairs. My earrings turned back to water and trickled down my shoulders; I shrugged the drops off my beautiful fur.”
In Angela Carter’s Beauty and the Beast, Beauty is transformed by Beast, not the other way round.

Helen Simpson, writing in The Guardian 24th June 2006

“The unnamed first-person heroine of The Bloody Chamber's title story appears at first to be a Justine-like sacrificial virgin in a white dress, routinely destined for immolation; however, she changes during the narrative, and finishes by escaping her inheritance - female masochism as a modus vivendi (and morendi) - after a full-scale survey of its temptations. The story is set in a castle on sea-girt Mont St Michel in fin-de-siècle France, with more than a nod to De Sade's cannibal Minski and his lake-surrounded castle with its torture chamber and captive virgins.

This story is also a version of the Bluebeard fairy tale that appeared in Charles Perrault's collection, where a new bride unlocks the forbidden room in her husband's castle to find the murdered corpses of his former wives. Perrault drew the moral that female curiosity leads to retribution, though in the France of his time, where death in childbirth was commonplace and four-fifths of the resultant widowers remarried, the bloody chamber might surely have been seen as the womb. In Angela Carter's 20th-century version, the menace is located not in the perils of childbirth, but in the darker side of hetero-sexuality, in sadomasochism and the idea of fatal passion.

Nearly all her writing is strikingly full of cultural and intertextual references, but this story is extremely so. It is an artfully constructed edifice of signs and allusions and clues. The Marquis, as he is called (suggesting, of course, the Marquis de Sade), is a parodic evil aesthete and voluptuary with his monocle and beard, his gifts of marrons glacés and hothouse flowers, and his penchant for quoting the juicier bits of Baudelaire and De Sade.

On the walls of his castle hang paintings of dead women by Moreau, Ensor and Gauguin; he listens to Wagner (specifically "Liebestod" - "love-death" - in Tristan und Isolde); he smokes Romeo y Julieta cigars "fat as a baby's arm"; his library is stocked with graphically- described sadistic pornography and his dungeon chamber with mutilated corpses and itemised instruments of torture.

In this heavily perfumed story, the Marquis' smell of spiced leather, Cuir de Russie, is referred to more than half a dozen times, reverting at the end "to the elements of flayed hide and excrement of which it was composed". Descriptions of scented lilies, "cobraheaded, funereal", smelling of "pampered flesh", appear nine times, their fat stems like "dismembered arms". The words "immolation," "impalement", "martyr" and "sacrifice" occur, motif-like, at regular intervals but, abruptly - rather too abruptly for some critics - on the last two pages of this novella-length story the heroine/victim is rescued from decapitation by the sudden arrival of her pistol-toting maman, who puts a bullet through the Marquis' head. Her fate is not immutable after all; she discovers that her future looks quite different now that she has escaped from the old story and is learning to sing a new song.

This book takes us on a beautiful, shocking and often frightening journey into realms of innocence and sensuality that few literary works can equate. Angela Carter’s talent as a storyteller and as a poet must not be under estimated. But that very talent is something of a sad reminder of just what a great talent we’ve lost. Thankfully, this book should succeed in opening our eyes to her genius, since it brilliantly demonstrates her various creative skills mirrored within each of these separate stories.

Thursday, 16 December 2010


It’s been a long time since I saw a production of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. That was back sometime in the 1980’s, at the Royal Shakespeare Company, in Stratford-upon-Avon. Jonathan Pryce was Macbeth and Sinaed Cusak was his Lady. But even though it’s some 25 years since I saw the play, I hadn’t forgotten about the profound effect it had on me then, and still has now. Last night I watched the film version of Rupert Goold's production on television. If anyone missed it, you can probably watch it on BBC I Player -- but only if you live in the U.K.

So, yes Macbeth still effects me, and infects me. I turned off the T.V. last night feeling just a little grubby, as if I had been a party to something indecent, sacrilegious, obscene, as if I, like the characters had blood on my hands. Yes, there's something about the Scottish play that I find really gripping and horrible, but fascinating at the same time.

Rupert Goold's production of “Macbeth” was filmed on location at Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire, and is set in an undefined and ominous country. The hauntingly atmospheric film offers a very 21st century allegory of war and the quest for power; it’s a dramatic and enthralling recreation of Shakespeare's claustrophobic and bloody tragedy.

Goold brings the action forward and the setting is a never identified central European country where things are on the verge of collapse. The production was filmed in the environs of the underground tunnels and rooms beneath Welbeck Abbey which gives the whole thing an air of intensity and unpredictability.

Patrick Stewart aka Jean Luc Godard, takes the lead role.

Adam Sweeting writes at “The Arts Desk”:

“Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth prepare for regicide.
Via the Chichester Festival and acclaimed runs on Broadway and in the West End, director Rupert Goold's Macbeth has made a sizzling transition to television. Set in an anarchic, war-torn Scotland and suffused with imagery of murder, torture and Stalin-style purges, it placed Patrick Stewart's thunderous central performance in a spinning black hole of evil, into which he is remorselessly sucked as the action develops.

We see Macbeth steadily torn apart by a maelstrom of ambition, conscience and destiny, the latter revealed in regular bulletins from the flesh-crawlingly sinister Three Witches. Nonetheless, even as torrents of spurting blood began to surge through the action like a Tsunami, Stewart never quite lets us lose sight of the brave and honourable qualities that once seemed to mark out Macbeth as a true leader, rather than a natural born killer.”

The play’s supernatural overtones make it particularly well suited to drawing out interiorised themes of damnation and delusion. Apart from some battle scenes and crumbly newsreel footage of Soviet armies marching through Red Square, the action is mostly located in a network of claustrophobic white-tiled bunkers and tunnels, which could have been an abattoir or a Victorian lunatic asylum. The scene is set with a maimed and bloody soldier being wheeled past on a gurney, just able to gasp out news from the battlefield, as the witches materialise as nurses in a hospital for combat casualties. However, rather than acting as angels of mercy, they briskly euthanise the wounded man and then rip out his heart for their ghastly black-magic rituals. The "hubble, bubble" scene was delivered as a mutated rap, with an electronic soundtrack and jerky, processed video.”

Eric Denby’s essay: “A Freudian Perspective on Lady Macbeth,” informs us;

“Three hundred years prior to Sigmund Freud, William Shakespeare wrote Macbeth , a tragic tale of where one’s unchecked and unadulterated desires can lead to. Lady Macbeth acts as a sophisticated Freudian id to Macbeth’s ego, taking action to reach her aims, with no understanding of the true ramifications of her immorality.

The concept of being the queen, and the immediate pleasure associated with it, turns Lady Macbeth into an uninhibited id, seeking only to achieve the crown with little care for the consequences. To accomplish this, she has to prepare herself; she needs to be strong, wilful, and manipulative, so that she can incite Macbeth into killing King Duncan. Lady Macbeth first appears in the play after receiving a letter from her husband detailing the witch's prophesies. There is little doubt in Lady Macbeth's mind that her husband will be King:

“Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shall be / What thought art promised” She is keenly aware of Macbeth's weaknesses, that he is;

“too full o' th' milk of human kindness”,

and though he doesn't lack the ambition, he lacks;

“the illness should attend it”.

Macbeth possesses courage, compassion, loyalty to the crown, and other traits that are not befitting a man that must take matters into his own hands. Lady Macbeth must, in essence, become the man of action. To do so she calls upon evil spirits to aid her:

“Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty.”

It is absolutely essential for her to be barren of female qualities – no compassion, no kindness, and no pity. She needs to attain a level of intense cruelty, eliminating all traces of womanhood, especially since Macbeth has some of those traits already.”

Kate Fleetwood plays Lady Macbeth with a psychopathic intensity. Without her Macbeth’s actions would have remained as an unfulfilled dream. She is the motivating force behind the tragic drama. It is through her that the seed germinates into a monster.

Macbeth contains some of Shakespeare’s most vivid female characters. Lady Macbeth and the three witches are extremely wicked, but they are also stronger and more imposing than the men around them. It is the sinister witches that cast the mood for the entire play.

Shakespeare has the witches speak in language of contradiction. Their famous line;

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair,” is a prominent example, but there are many others, such as their characterization of Banquo as;

“lesser than Macbeth, and greater”.

Such speech adds to the play’s sense of moral confusion by implying that nothing is quite what it seems. Interestingly, Macbeth’s first line in the play is;

“So foul and fair a day I have not seen”. This line echoes the witches’ words and establishes a connection between them and Macbeth. It also suggests that Macbeth is the focus of the drama’s moral confusion.

Adam Sweeting again;

“This production has suggestions of Hitler in his bunker, surrounded by trembling sycophants. But it is in his heart-of-darkness relationship with Lady Macbeth (Kate Fleetwood), her raven-black hair and harshly lit facial features these are elemental signs which emphasise her implacable willpower and ambition on Macbeth's behalf. However, while it is her tragedy to be devoured by the guilt which drives her to suicide, Macbeth finally appears liberated by the chance to revert to his warrior self and fight to the death.

Duncan is given the first word in this television version acclaimed production of Macbeth, not – as is more conventional – the witches.

We are given martial music, archive footage of Katyusha rockets and T-34 tanks, a close up of a clutching hand and then;

"What bloody man is that?"

as the king advances down the corridor of a chaotic front-line clearing station towards the stretchered figure of the Sergeant, that helpfully, garrulous casualty who brings us up to date with Macbeth's valour. And, if, on seeing this production of Shakespeare’s play you grumble at this point about Goold's peremptory excision of the supernatural in favour of applied historical concept, you probably won’t be grumbling for long.”

Friday, 10 December 2010


It’s a strange little fetish. At least I find it so. When I first heard about it, I giggled. How could dressing up as a pony be erotic? Yet for the men and women involved, it is all consuming; a raison d’etre. And to the uninitiated I think that all fetishes are strange when they are confronted with what turns some folk on.

From Wiki.

“Animal role-play may be either a non-sexual or an erotic sexual role-play (when it may also be called pet-play, pony-play, ponyism, kitten-play, or pup-play). In its erotic sexual role-play form, one or more of the participants takes on the role of a real or imaginary animal in character, including appropriate mannerisms and behaviour, and sometimes a partner will act as another animal, or, in a sexual context, may take the role of rider, trainer, or caretaker (or even breeding partner).

The principal theme of animal role-play is usually the voluntary transformation of a human being to animal status, and focus on the altered mind-space created. The most common examples are probably canids (pup, dog, wolf), felines (cat, kitten, lion) or equines (pony, horse). Animal role-play is also used in a BDSM context, where a person may be humiliated by being treated as an animal.

The origins of animal role-play and pet-play are probably various and diverse, again depending upon the participants involved. However, its origins are certainly influenced by costuming, fiction, myth and legend, role-play and psychodrama in their various aspects. The first commercial manifestation of this fetish was created by Simon Benson the founder of the website.

Like much of erotic play and role-play, animal role-play in an erotic or relational context is entirely defined by the people involved and by their mood and interests at the time of play. It ranges from the simple imitation of a vocal whinnying of a horse to the barking, panting or playful nudging of a puppy, or playful behaviour of a kitten, to crawling around on all fours and being fed, or petted, by hand. (In the latter instance, its motives may be similar to those of age play, i.e. taking on a role that one feels spiritually appropriate or which allows for nurturing, and a change from usual roles in everyday life). To the greater extremes of dressing up as a pony in modified horse tack, masks, prosthetics and temporary bondage based body modification (such as binding the forearms to the upper arms and/or the calves to the thighs).

Public participation in human animal role-play is varied. A couple could inconspicuously role-play a silly but loving pet play scene in public, but it would look like one partner is merely stroking the other's neck innocently to the casual observer. In the case of many convention-going furries and some BDSM fetishists, one partner may wear a dog collar with a leash attached.

The reasons for playing such a character or animal can vary as much as the actual physical manifestations and intensity of the play. Some people enjoy being able to "cut loose" into a different, or more dynamic personality (e.g., Were-creatures or Catgirls; see other variations). In some cases, pet play is seen as a loving, quiet cuddling time where there is no need for verbalizations and the simple act of stroking, rubbing and holding the other partner is satisfying or reassuring in and of itself for those involved. For others, there may be a spiritual side to it. Some feel closer to their animal totem, while others may identify with something akin to a deeper side or part of their own psyche (see: Therianthropy). For still others, there is the experience of power exchange set up in a context or structure which they can accept. Clearly, again, it depends on the people involved and what they bring to it or take from it.

Pony-play is sometimes referred to as "The Aristotelian Perversion," in reference to legend that Aristotle had a penchant for being ridden like a horse. Ponies (people involved in pony-play) generally divide themselves to three groups although some will participate in two or perhaps all three:

Cart ponies: ponies who pull a sulky with their owner.

Riding ponies: ponies who are ridden, either on all fours or on two legs, with the "rider" on the shoulders of the "pony" (also known as Shoulder riding). Note that a human back is generally not strong enough to take the weight of another adult without risk of injury, so four-legged "riding" is generally symbolic, with the "rider" taking most of their weight on their own legs.

Show ponies: ponies who show off their dressage skills and often wear elaborate harnesses, plumes and so on.

It should be pointed out that each type of play can focus on a certain "strength" of an animal character. Pony play often involves the practice and training that a horse owner or trainer would put their horse through to learn how to walk, canter, etc., as modified for human limbs. Puppy play often can involve BDSM related discipline. Cow Play often involves fantasies of lactation and impregnation. The usual limits of safe, sane and consensual apply to role-play as much as any other activity between humans who accept and respect their partner's interests and limits. For most, this does not include bestiality.

One group, the LA Ponies and Critters Club, takes the community idea of BDSM animal role-play further by staging a mock foxhunt in local forested areas. These events bring together pony-players, puppy-players and their respective humans for a cooperative, community bonding activity. One of the canine players volunteers to be the “fox” and marks a trail in the forest. The other puppy-players form the pack of “hounds” that search out the fox and bark/howl to bring the pony-players and their “riders” to capture the “fox”.”

From Pony play 101.

“Trigger, The Human Equine is an interesting character. His dream is to live 24/7/365 as a horse and it looks as though that dream is coming true. To each his own. I do enjoy being human most of the time. It makes those trips into pony head space so much more special for me. Nothing is more boring to me than being hitched to a post and left to wait while my trainer is working with another pony. I don't resent it and I'm not jealous of the attention at all, it's just not very entertaining unless someone is grooming me, petting me, feeding me a treat or otherwise giving me something to focus on. I'm most likely to misbehave when I'm bored. Ponies are high-maintenance creatures! I can't imagine living 24/7 as a pony, but that's me.

Check out Equus Eroticus for further information and events.

I shall be cross posting this to Frequently Felt

Friday, 3 December 2010


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.

Female hysteria was a once-common medical diagnosis, made exclusively in women, which is today no longer recognized by modern medical authorities as a medical disorder. Its diagnosis and treatment were routine for many hundreds of years in Western Europe. Hysteria was widely discussed in the medical literature of the Victorian era. Women considered to be suffering from it exhibited a wide array of symptoms including faintness, nervousness, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and "a tendency to cause trouble".
Since ancient times women considered to be suffering from hysteria would sometimes undergo "pelvic massage" — manual stimulation of the genitals by the doctor until the patient experienced "hysterical paroxysm" (orgasm).

Water massages as a treatment for hysteria c. 1860.

The history of the notion of hysteria can be traced to ancient times; in ancient Greece it was described in the gynaecological treatises of the Hippocratic corpus, which date from the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. Plato's dialogue Timaeus tells of the uterus wandering throughout a woman’s body, strangling the victim as it reaches the chest and causing disease. This theory is the source of the name, which stems from the Greek cognate of uterus, hysteria (ὑστέρα).

It was thought to be caused by sexual deprivation in particularly passionate women: hysteria was noted quite often in virgins, nuns, widows and, occasionally, married women. The prescription in medieval and renaissance medicine was intercourse if married, marriage if single, or vaginal massage (pelvic massage) by a midwife as a last recourse.

Advertisement from 1910.

A physician in 1859 claimed that a quarter of all women suffered from hysteria. One physician catalogued 75 pages of possible symptoms of hysteria and called the list incomplete; almost any ailment could fit the diagnosis. Physicians thought that the stresses associated with modern life caused civilized women to be both more susceptible to nervous disorders and to develop faulty reproductive tracts. In America, such disorders in women reaffirmed that the United States was on par with Europe; one American physician expressed pleasure that the country was ”catching up” to Europe in the prevalence of hysteria.

Rachel P. Maines has observed that such cases were quite profitable for physicians, since the patients were at no risk of death, but needed constant treatment. The only problem was that physicians did not enjoy the tedious task of vaginal massage (generally referred to as 'pelvic massage'): The technique was difficult for a physician to master and could take hours to achieve "hysterical paroxysm." Referral to midwives, which had been common practice, meant a loss of business for the physician.

A 1918 Sears, Roebuck and Co. ad with several models of vibrators.

A solution was the invention of massage devices, which shortened treatment from hours to minutes, removing the need for midwives and increasing a physician’s treatment capacity. Already at the turn of the century, hydrotherapy devices were available at Bath, and by the mid-19th century, they were popular at many high-profile bathing resorts across Europe and in America. By 1870, a clockwork-driven vibrator was available for physicians. In 1873, the first electromechanical vibrator was used at an asylum in France for the treatment of hysteria.

While physicians of the period acknowledged that the disorder stemmed from sexual dissatisfaction, they seemed unaware of or unwilling to admit the sexual purposes of the devices used to treat it. In fact, the introduction of the speculum was far more controversial than that of the vibrator.

By the turn of the century, the spread of home electricity brought the vibrator to the consumer market. The appeal of cheaper treatment in the privacy of one’s own home understandably made the vibrator a popular early home appliance. In fact, the electric home vibrator was on the market before many other home appliance ’essentials’: nine years before the electric vacuum cleaner and 10 years before the electric iron. A page from a Sears catalog of home electrical appliances from 1918 includes a portable vibrator with attachments, billed as ”Very useful and satisfactory for home service.”
Other cures for female hysteria included bed rest, bland food, seclusion, refraining from mentally taxing tasks (for example, reading) and sensory deprivation.

Over the course of the early 20th century, the number of diagnoses of female hysteria sharply declined, and today it is no longer a recognized illness. Many reasons are behind its decline: many medical authors claim that the decline is due to laypeople gaining a greater understanding of the psychology behind conversion disorders such as hysteria, and it therefore no longer gets the desired response from society.

Thanks to Jan Vander Laenen for telling me about the uterus/hysteria connection.

I shall be posting this on Frequently Felt.