Friday, 28 October 2011


I love the Victorians. Those generations of restrained, repressed men and women, that have provided writers and thinkers with such a wealth of material. I don’t supposed the Victorians recognised that they were repressed; we just see it now with the clarity of hindsight. I guess we are the backlash to the Victorians’ discourse of silence, with our counsellors and therapists. And if we can’t afford those, our friends are usually willing listeners.

Soames Forsyte doesn’t want to talk to anyone. He doesn’t even want to talk to Irene, his beautiful wife. He just wants to consummate their marriage; he wants his conjugal rights, that are his by law. He wants her not to shudder when he touches her. It’s not too much to ask, is it?

Through Soames’ character, John Galsworthy gives us the central theme of his Victorian novel, THE FORSYTE SAGA. The theme is ownership; particularly ownership of property. Property is everything and anything touched with the Forsyte name, therefore Irene is property. Soames embraces the creed, body and soul. If the theme is ownership, it is Soames’ and Irene’s relationship that drives the plot of the novel.

The family saga opens at a gathering of the Forsytes, in 1886. They are celebrating June Forsyte’s engagement to Philip Bosinney, a flamboyant architect. One by one, Galsworthy introduces us to the central characters.

Galsworthy published the first book; THE MAN OF PROPERTY, in 1906. Galsworthy would have been aware of the laws and the mood of that time; he was writing about his contemporaries. This is an erotic novel; not in the sense of where erotica takes us today -- the sex, here, is in the sub-text. It’s hinted at and explored through the characters’ relationships, the constraints of Victorian times and the constraints members of the family, place upon themselves.

I think that this shows how forward thinking and brave Galsworthy was in publishing his book. Freud had only published THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS, in 1899. The FORSYTE SAGA, was published just seven years later. I don’t know whether Galsworthy would have been aware of Freud’s theories, he would certainly been aware of the stringent laws constraining women -- I don’t think it matters whether the reader is aware either of Freud, or the legal position of women in Victorian England; the story of this up-tight family is so cleverly woven by Galsworthy, that the novel is pure pleasure to read. As is always the case with great fiction, the reader keeps turning the pages. What happens next? We want to know.

Soames has pursued the beautifully, enigmatic Irene, with the relentlessness of a stalker, for two years. Finally, she capitulates and agrees to marry him. Irene was young, only nineteen years old, when Soames finally wore her down. She was na├»ve; ignorant of the physical relations of a man and wife. Within a week of married life, she knew she had made a big mistake. We join Galsworthy’s novel at the point where Irene is asking for separate rooms.

"The fact that Irene never agreed to a union with Soames seems
inconceivable to contemporary readers as her reluctance is obvious from the beginning. Scholars have tried to explain in various ways Irene’s acceptance of Soames fifth time he proposes, but none of their explanations is ultimately convincing. Irene herself when asked responds only with a “strange silence”. (Linda Strahan).

The mysterious Irene haunts the pages. She is both charismatic and enigmatic. We never know what she is thinking; we only ever see her through the eyes of other characters. She is always placed in situations where her alluring beauty can be displayed. Galsworthy arranges her as if she is continually posing for a photograph. She is seated like a goddess, in a green woodland setting. She is stylishly arranged at the piano. In both Old Jolyon and Young Jolyon’s thoughts, Irene is Venus.

Galsworthy introduces us to Irene in a passage that is pure poetry.

“ A tall woman with a beautiful figure, which some member of the family had once compared to a heathen goddess…Her hands, gloved in French Grey, were crossed one over the other, her grave, charming face held to one side, and the eyes of all men near were fastened on it. Her figure swayed, so balanced that the very air seemed to set it moving. There was warmth, but little colour, in her cheeks; her large, dark eyes were soft. But it was at her lips - asking a question, giving an answer, with that shadowy smile - that men looked; they were sensitive lips, sensuous and sweet, and through them seemed to come warmth and perfume like the warmth and perfume of a flower.”

Irene is hypnotic; desirable. She has an ethereal, sublime, other worldly beauty, that is all her own.

I don’t know whom I would cast as Irene, in a new adaptation. Gina Mckee in the ITV version didn’t cut it for me. Nyree Dawn Porter was convincing, in the much earlier BBC adaptation. There certainly aren’t any actresses around today that have Irene’s class. Anyway they’re all far too skinny. Their sweet little faces have been cosmetically modified to all look the same.

Soames Forsyte is a funny little man. Funny in the peculiar sense -- definitely not ha ha! You don’t get a laugh, or a joke, from Soames. He’s cold; indifferent to the feelings of others. He doesn’t care about the effect he has on other people. I’m trying to think of a counterpart to Soames, for today’s world.

I can’t.

Soames is the worst kind of creep. You see him today, reconstructed in photo fits for CRIMEWATCH; he is usually wanted for sex crimes. Galsworthy describes Soames’ movements as “mouse like.” Soames doesn’t walk; he “mouses.”

Soames, is the character whose head we get into the most, and Galsworthy allows Soames' own narrow thoughts to speak for him. Soames’ only passions in life are the Forsyte name, his art collection and his beautiful wife Irene. All of these things Soames owns.

Irene is a wife and therefore a possession, both in the eyes of the law at that time, and by Soames.

"Irene’s unhappy marriage to Soames Forsyte has become a metaphor for the plight of women in nineteenth century England before the passage of the Woman’s Property Act (1881) and the agitation for further reforms." (Linda Strahan)

Irene is repelled by Soames.

Much has been made of the rape scene, both in the ITV 2002 adaptation of the novel and in the 1967 BBC adaptation. I can only imagine how it would be written today, writers scrabbling around for lurid metaphors, to convey the repulsiveness and violence of Soames’ violation of Irene. It would go on for pages. Galsworthy simply says;

“The morning after a certain night on which Soames at last asserted his rights and acted like a man, he breakfasted alone.”

There is no contrition; no regret. Soames has decided that his act will be a step towards reconciliation for him and the wife that he owns. Irene’s smothered sobs haunt him throughout the day. He simply reads the newspaper; he hears again and again the "sounds of her broken heart." Soames keeps himself busy. Even in the final pages of the book, Soames is still justifying himself. It wouldn’t have happened if Irene had been a good wife.

Damian Lewis played the part of Soames in the ITV version of Galsworthy’s book. Eric Porter, in the BBC much earlier version. I think both actors captured the essence of Soames.

“Funnily, Lewis does very little indeed. One scene has him manipulating events to his way of thinking without actually saying a word.
But there is a smouldering power to him and you correctly fear for anyone who tries to confront him.” (from the web).

And of Eric Porter’s performance;

“Among the most famous scenes were one in which the hapless Irene, unloved by her cold and possessive husband Soames, was brutally raped by him as their marriage fell apart. The scene was rendered even more convincing by bloodstains on Irene's dress (Eric Porter had inadvertently cut his hand on her brooch when tearing off her bodice).” (Wiki)

Read THE FORSYTE SAGA as a Victorian soap. Read it as a false construct of the bliss of the family; the spoken lies, the unspoken truths. Read it and analyse it, if that’s what you want to do; or read it as a great story -- but, oh, please do read it.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Men -- Beware The Wife of Bath!

She’s the archetypal Dominatrix, and she was created over seven hundred years ago in the fourteenth century by Geoffrey Chaucer. She’s the “Wife of Bath,” and she knew a thing or two about making men behave themselves.

Usually, I look to the Greek myths, when I’m searching around for an archetype. Certainly, the myths have their share of strong women, women who really were downright superior to men. The terrifying Medusa, who could turn men, and anyone else for that matter, into stone. Athene threw her weight about a bit and Circe simply turned men into swine -- while Medea took revenge to its absolute bloody limit, by killing the kids.

The Bible too, has its share of strong women, some of them quite terrifying. Delilah, Esther, Jezebel. And the quietly strong ones, Ruth and Mary.

But as far as I can see, there is no woman before Alyson, the Wife of Bath, who made training the men in her life into an art form.

In his incredible essay on “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale,” which you can read here, Ian Mackean demonstrates how Alyson has achieved her aims. She is duplicitous, greedy, sexual, yes, she loves sex, but above anything else, she loves to be in charge. She is moody and she has a temper, but she’s smart, sharp and funny too. The tale that she tells ends up being a lot shorter than her prologue; it is in her prologue that we learn about Alyson as a fully rounded, three dimensional character.

I think that Chaucer was the first writer to do this, to create characters as real people. By the end of Alyson’s tyrannical diatribe, where she challenges men in general, and God and the Bible in particular, well, we could argue with her, or cheer her on.

The Wife’s appearance is startling. In his introduction to the Wife’s prologue, James Winny tells us;
“In her brazen red stockings, her vast hat and wimple, she conforms with the standards of medieval life; noisy, assertive and robust. Her ruddy complexion, her deafness and her widely spaced teeth give her an emphatic personality such as few of the pilgrims can rival…she bursts upon the pilgrimage with the unexpectedness of a bomb, to introduce herself and a group of three connected tales.”

Alyson, the Wife of Bath, is de rigueur for the fourteenth century. These days, she would be dressed in black leather, cracking a whip and wearing killer heels. She’d probably be wearing sharply spiked spurs and have a pair of handcuffs jangling from her studded leather belt, which she wears cinched in tight at the waist.

She should have a government health warning tattooed on her wide forehead.

“Warning to men. Consort with the Wife of Bath at your own risk!

Friday, 14 October 2011


Aileen Carol Wuornos (29th February 1956 – 9th October 2002) was an American serial killer who killed seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990, claiming they raped or attempted to rape her while she was working as a prostitute. She was convicted and sentenced to death for six of the murders and executed by lethal injection on 9th October 2002.

Aileen had an awful start in life. Right from her childhood, she was abandoned and abused. She was born as Aileen Carol Pittman in Rochester, Michigan, on 29th February 1956. Her mother, Diane Wuornos, was 15 years old when she married Aileen's father, Leo Dale Pittman on 3 June 1954.

Less than two years later, and two months before Aileen was born, Diane filed for divorce. Aileen had an older brother named Keith, who was born in February 1955. Aileen never met her father, because he was in prison for the rape and the attempted murder of an eight-year-old boy when she was born. Leo Pittman was considered to be a schizophrenic, who was convicted of sex crimes against children, He was constantly in and out of prison, and hanged himself in prison in 1969. In January 1960, when Aileen was almost 4 years old, Diane abandoned her children, leaving them with their maternal grandparents, Lauri and Britta Wuornos, who legally adopted Keith and Aileen on 18th March 1960.

At age 12, Aileen engaged in sexual activities in school in exchange for cigarettes, drugs, and food. She also engaged in sexual activities with her brother. Aileen claimed that she was sexually assaulted and beaten as a child by her grandfather. Aileen's grandfather was an alcoholic. Before beating her, he would force her to strip out of her clothes. 

In 1970, at age 14, she became pregnant, having been raped by a friend of her grandfather. Aileen gave birth at a home for unmarried mothers, and the child was placed for adoption. A few months after her baby was born, Aileen dropped out of school when her grandmother died of liver failure. Aileen and her brother became wards of the court. When she was 15, her grandfather threw her out of the house; and she began supporting herself as a prostitute and living in the woods near her old home.

On 27 May 1974, when she was 18, Aileen was arrested in Jefferson County, Colorado, for driving under the influence disorderly conduct, and firing a .22-caliber pistol from a moving vehicle. She was later charged with failure to appear.

In 1976, Wuornos hitchhiked to Florida, where she met 69-year-old yacht club president Lewis Gratz Fell. They married that same year, and the announcement of their marriage was printed in the society pages of the local newspaper. However, Aileen continually involved herself in confrontations at their local bar and eventually went to jail for assault. She also hit Fell with his own cane, leading him to get a restraining order against her. She returned to Michigan, where, on 14 July 1976, she was arrested in Antrim County, Michigan, and charged with assault and disturbing the peace for throwing a cue ball at a bartender's head. On July 17, her brother Keith died of esophageal cancer and Aileen received $10,000 from his life insurance. Aileen and Lewis Fell annulled their marriage nine weeks later. On 20 May 1981, Aileen was arrested in Edgewater, Florida, for the armed robbery of a convenience store. She only got $35 and two packs of cigarettes. She was sentenced to prison on 4 May 1982, and released on 30 June 1983. On 1 May 1984, she was arrested for attempting to pass forged checks at a bank in Key West. On 30th November 1985, she was named as a suspect in the theft of a revolver and ammunition in Pasco County.

On 4th January 1986, she was arrested in Miami and charged with  resisting arrest, and obstruction by false information for providing identification with her aunt's name. Miami police officers found a .38-caliber revolver and a box of ammunition in the stolen car. On 2nd June 1986, Volusia County, Florida deputy sheriffs detained her for questioning after a male companion accused her of pulling a gun, in his car, and demanding $200. She was found to be carrying spare ammunition, and a .22 pistol was discovered under the passenger seat she had occupied.

Around this time, Aileen met Tyria Moore, a hotel maid, at a Daytona gay bar. They moved in together, and Aileen supported them with her prostitution earnings. On 4 July 1987,Daytona Beach police detained Aileen and Tyria at a bar for questioning regarding an incident in which they were accused of assault and battery with a beer bottle. On 12 March 1988, Aileen accused a Daytona Beach bus driver of assault. She claimed that he pushed her off the bus following a confrontation. Tyria Moore was listed as a witness to the incident.

Between December 1989 and September 1990, the bodies of several men were found murdered along the highways of northern and central Florida, including Richard Mallory, Dick Humphreys, Troy Burress, David Spears, Walter Gino Antonio, Peter Siems, and Charles Carskaddon. Items belonging to Mallory and Antonio were pawned near Daytona Beach and the alias names used were traced to Aileen through thumbprints left on the pawn shop cards. Aileen confessed to the murder of all six men, claiming that she was picked up by the men when she was working as a highway prostitute, and shot them in self defence after they attempted to sexually assault her. She was convicted of the murder of Richard Mallory after a jury trial in Volusia County and was sentenced to death. While on death row, it was discovered that Mallory had previously served time for Attempted Rape. Aileen pleaded no contest to the murders of the other 5 men and was sentenced to death in each case.

Within two weeks of her arrest, Aileen and her attorney had sold movie rights to her story. Investigators in her case did likewise. The case resulted in several books and movies, and even one opera on the life of "America's first female serial killer.

She has been heralded in tabloid headlines and on television talk shows as Americas first female serial killer. In fact, Aileen Wuornos was neither the first nor the worst, although she did display a curiously masculine tendency to prey on strangers of the opposite sex. Suspected of at least seven murders, sentenced to die in four of the six cases she confessed to police, she still maintained that some, or all of her admitted killings were performed in self-defence, resisting violent assaults by men whom she solicited while working as a prostitute. Ironically, information uncovered by investigative journalists in November 1992 suggests that in one case, at least, her story may well be true.

Aileen’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied in 1996. In 2001, she announced that she would not issue any further appeals against her death sentence. She petitioned the Florida Supreme Court for the right to fire her legal counsel and stop all appeals, saying,

"I killed those men, robbed them as cold as ice. And I'd do it again, too. There's no chance in keeping me alive or anything, because I'd kill again. I have hate crawling through my system...I am so sick of hearing this 'she's crazy' stuff. I've been evaluated so many times. I'm competent, sane, and I'm trying to tell the truth. I'm one who seriously hates human life and would kill again." 

Florida Governor Jeb Bush instructed three psychiatrists to give Aileen a 15-minute interview. The test for competency requires the psychiatrist to be convinced that the condemned person understands that she will die and for which crime she is being executed. All three judged her mentally fit to be executed.

In a final interview Aileen said;
"You sabotaged my ass, society, and the cops, and the system. Her final words in the on-camera interview were "Thanks a lot, society, for railroading my ass."

Nick Broomfield, who directed a film about Aileen’s life; later met Dawn Botkins, a childhood friend of Aileen, who told him, "She's sorry, Nick. She didn't give you the finger. She gave the media the finger, and then the attorneys the finger. And she knew if she said much more, it could make a difference on her execution tomorrow, so she just decided not to. 

Aileen, was brought into the death chamber on October 9, 2002. She had declined a last meal and instead was given a cup of coffee.

After her execution, Wuornos' body was cremated. Her ashes were taken by Dawn Botkins to her native Michigan and spread beneath a tree. She requested that Natalie Merchant's song "Carnival" be played at her funeral. Natalie Merchant commented on this when asked why her song was played during the credits of the documentary Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer:

“When director Nick Broomfield sent a working edit of the film, I was so disturbed by the subject matter that I couldn't even watch it. Aileen Wuornos led a tortured, torturing life that is beyond my worst nightmares. It wasn't until I was told that Aileen spent many hours listening to my album Tigerlily while on death row and requested "Carnival" be played at her funeral that I gave permission for the use of the song. It's very odd to think of the places my music can go once it leaves my hands. If it gave her some solace, I have to be grateful.”

Nick Broomfield later stated:

“I think this anger developed inside her. And she was working as a prostitute. I think she had a lot of awful encounters on the roads. And I think this anger just spilled out from inside her. And finally exploded. Into incredible violence. That was her way of surviving. I think Aileen really believed that she had killed in self-defence. I think someone who's deeply psychotic can't really tell the difference between something that is life threatening and something that is a minor disagreement. Her psychosis could kick in if you said something that she didn't agree with. She would get into a screaming black temper about it. And I think that's what had caused these things to happen. And at the same time, when she wasn't in those extreme moods, there was an incredible humanity to her.”

From Wiki.

Friday, 7 October 2011


It is an incredibly erotic piece of literature. And it is in the Bible. It is “the Song of Solomon”. It is described as a poem and takes the form of a dialogue; of two lovers caressing each other with words. Each delights in the body of the other, and each delights in what they would like to do with the other.

I think that “The Song of Songs” (also known as the Song of Solomon) deserves its place as one of the greatest pieces of erotic literature ever written. Consisting of intense expressions of physical love, this classic poem describes the voluptuous beauty of lovers longing for one another. With a uniquely feminine perspective, its language is seductive and intimate, conveying an immediate, sensuous, and intoxicating desire.

The woman begins her description of her lover, by talking about his kiss. She actively explores his mouth, lingering with her tongue inside him. She compares his kisses to strong, heady wine.

“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.”

His name is compared to a precious ointment; it has “savour” “therefore do the virgins love thee.” He is desirable to other women; “we will remember thy love more than wine.”

She tells the reader about her lover’s cheeks; “comely with rows of jewels”.

Again, she compares him to precious ointments. Myrrh and Spikenard. Interestingly, Spikenard is an essential oil used to soothe away emotional distress. At another point in the poem she says that “she is sick with love.” I am sure that we can all relate to that sick, sinking feeling; wondering if the beloved has been faithful, after what may have been a long separation.

She tells us that he shall;” lie all night betwixt my breasts.” He will cover her, as they lie sated from their lovemaking.

She sits down “under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.”

Not only is there erotic talk about physical appearances, but there is also talk about what will happen when the two of them are together alone. She is at one point looking for him and when she finds him, she says that she held him and had him follow her and would not let him go;

"...until I had brought him into my mother's house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me"

Put in modern day terms, it seems that she has seduced him in her mothers bedroom, but it isn't until the next line that you know that the two have had sex:

" the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please…”

At this point, the reader can conclude that the two did enjoy each other sexually, and that he is now peacefully sleeping. Of course what exactly happened in the room is not going to be said, since this is coming from out the Bible, but the reader knows that the two have had sex, since she states clearly that she will not let him leave.

Another point in which she talks about doing sexual things with her lover (although not as graphic) is when she talks about going into a garden where all kinds of fruits are ripe and ready to be picked. She says,

"whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth: there will I give thee my loves”. Here you can see her again seducing him, and promising him sex if he would follow her. 

She tells him;

“I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate.”

She wants him, and entices him to experience her, in the fullest sense of the word.

The first time that the male talks about his lover he describes her physical attributes. He describes her breasts;

"Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins"

They are young, virginal breasts, erect and not yet prone to sagging.

When he talks about his lovers thighs, he not only praises them, he describes what the very most upper part of his lovers thighs look like, to him

"the joints of thy thighs are like jewels"

He lingers lovingly on the words, which describe a part of the body that is right next to the genitalia. He is talking about real intimacy. He knows her taste and her smell. The reader knows that he is speaking from experience; the writer is intent on exciting and arousing.

He too, talks about precious ointments; she is more desirable than any of them.

“How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! How much better is thy love than wine! And the smell of thine ointments than all spices!
They lips O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue: and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.”

Today, the ascription of authorship to Solomon is not accepted by most scholars.

“The common consensus today is that the Song of Solomon is an anthology of lyric love songs. (The exact number of these songs, which vary in length between a simple line and an extended paragraph, is also highly debated since it is very difficult to determine when one song ends and the next begins). These works are characterized by great emotion, poetic finesse, and bold and vivid imagery. Several poems include descriptive praises of the physical features of both the male and female protagonists in the Songs; but the descriptions, though sensual, are never vulgar or coarse.

The literary genre of love poetry has its antecedents both in Mesopotamian and Egyptian literature and several literary traits and imagery are shared by all three. The book may actually contain several songs whose origins are rooted in wedding ceremonies, as has been shown by comparison with marriage customs prevalent among Arab peasants in Syria and Palestine.

The songs express the longing and yearning of the lovers for one another and joy in final consummation, conveyed by expressive monologues and dialogues. Dream songs are also part and parcel of this lyric collection The flora and fauna of Israel, are vividly employed within the songs, whose geographical background and similes encompass Gilead, Heshbon, Lebanon, Hermon, Carmel, Tirzah, Sharon, Jerusalem and En Gedi. These multiple songs from different places, times and authors all form one grand paean to nature and natural love.

The scroll is read in the synagogue during the holiday of Passover, reflecting the season of spring.”

Twenty first century linguistic work, including re-examining the dating of early Hebrew poetry, according to evidence of dialectic variation, has been applied to the Song by a number of scholars from different traditions. Noegel and Rendsburg, for example, conclude as follows.
“The Song of Songs was written circa 900 BC, in the northern dialect of ancient Hebrew, by an author of unsurpassed literary ability, adept at the techniques of alliteration and polyprosopon, able to create the most sensual and erotic poetry of his day.” WIKI

I had to look up polyprosopon! It means a “transference of speakers”.

For my Biblical quotes, I have used the King James’ translation of the Bible; A.D.1611