SERIES: Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife Carnivalesque and Grotesque / ‘Angels’ and ‘Monsters’ – PYGMALION’S BRIDE

‘Women were not only writing, they were conceiving fictional worlds in which patriarchal images and conventions were severely, radically revised’ (Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar) 

pygmalion


‘PYGMALION’S BRIDE’

Gilbert and Gubar argue that women must simultaneously kill the ‘aesthetic ideal through which they themselves have been “killed” into art. And… the angel’s necessary opposite and double, the “monster”’.[1] Both the ideal, classical body and its un-desirable opposite must be destroyed. This process of self-definition by the female artist, however, ‘is complicated by all those patriarchal definitions that intervene between herself and herself’ (Madwoman 812-3), that is, the self that is presented within society, and that is susceptible to patriarchal discourses, and that self which is her own. Bakhtin’s carnivalesque can be used to subvert the motions through which society complicates female self-definition as ‘the grotesque is counter-posed to the classical aesthetic of ready-made, completed being… [t]he carnivalesque body… [expresses]… ideas of simultaneous death and rebirth’.[2] The introduction of the carnivalesque disrupts that which has been socially prescribed as the appropriate and classical body.

The speaker of Duffy’s ‘Pygmalion’s Bride’, a ‘cold’ statue,[3] appears to be anything but Bakhtin’s grotesque body and, instead, emulates the image of a classical ‘angel’. As this classical figure, the speaker is alienated ‘from ordinary fleshy life… not just a memento of otherness but actually a memento mori’ (Madwoman 817). The classical ‘angel’ embodies a passive existence akin to death, and is further marginalised from life (‘flesh’) as she is, quite literally, fleshless, constructed from stone:

He kissed my stone-cool lips.

I lay still
as though I’d died.
He stayed.
He thumbed my marbled eyes
(World’s Wife 51)

To be a statue built from stone, the physical frame, or body, of the female speaker is built from the hands of another and thus implicates the processes by which a woman’s self-identity can be, and in this case, is quite literally, constructed by another. Her own self-identity is thus is displaced in that she is firstly built by another and is then subjected to a male suitor. I use to term subjected as, lying still, as if dead, the interaction between the two, the ‘I’ and the ‘he’ are anything but an equal relationship. The statue’s ‘marbled eyes’ also serve to obscure the gaze of the woman, while the male suitor is free to thumb her eyes in a rather forceful gesture that also further serves to obscure, or even completely blind the woman speaker’s gaze. The woman is not, quite literally, made to be a subjective individual, but is purely subjected to the whims of the male observer, whose gaze and movements are left unhindered. Duffy presents an image of the perfectly aesthetic ‘angel’; a woman with no individuated self-identity and no flesh, but is made of stone.

Unlike the unresponsive, ‘still’, and classical body of the ‘angel’, the carnival body is neither smooth nor physically passive. Instead, the Bakhtinian ‘grotesque image ignores the closed, smooth, and impenetrable surface of the body and retains only its excrescences… and orifices’.[4] ‘Pygmalion’s Bride’ represents the classical opposition to the grotesque:

He let his fingers sink into my flesh,
he squeezed, he pressed.
I would not bruise.
(World’s Wife 52)

Unlike the grotesque body where ‘[t]he outward and inward features are often merged into one’[5] the classical body is closed for biologically, at the very least, there is no blood.

Duffy, however, goes on to effectively kill the ‘angel’ that has been crafted by patriarchal hands, as the speaker, in order to get rid of her unwanted suitor, ‘changed tack’ and ‘grew warm, like candle wax, / kissed back’ (World’s Wife 52). The speaker is no longer passive but begins to participate in the sexual activity and, in doing so, reciprocates his actions. The statue becomes human and mouldable, ‘like candle wax’, and, most specifically, re-moulds herself and is thus ‘reborn for new, purely human relations’.[6] The Bakhtinian carnivalesque is further implicated where, for Bakhtin, ‘[t]he people’s laughter… was linked with the bodily lower stratum. Laughter degrades and materializes’ (Rabelais 688). This laughter is perhaps embodied where, no longer silent, the speaker:

began to moan,
got hot, got wild,
arched, coiled, writhed
(World’s Wife 52)

And, ‘at the climax screamed my head off’ (World’s Wife 52). Duffy forces the silent ‘angel’ out of the female figure as she becomes ‘hot’ flesh. The speaker becomes an active and vocal participant during the pair’s sexual activity, synonymous with laughter as a means of vocalising identity, and, better yet self-identity, further implicated by the relationship of sexual activity to the lower strata. The female speaker bodily participates in acts of degradation while she literally screams her humanity.


[1] Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, ‘The Madwoman in the Attic’, in Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd edition, ed. by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), p.812

[2]Andrew Robinson, ‘In Theory Bakhtin: Carnival against Capital, Carnival against Power’, in Ceasefire, Friday, September 9, 2011, <http://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/in-theory-bakhtin-2/> [accessed on 29/3/12]

[3] Carol Ann Duffy, ‘Pygmalion’s Bride’, in The World’s Wife (Basingstoke and Oxford: Picador, 1999), p.51

[4] Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Helene Iswolsky (USA: Indiana University Press, 1984), pp.317-8

[5] Ibid, p.318

[6] Mikhail Bakhtin, ‘Rabelais and His World’, in Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd edition, ed. by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), p.687

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SERIES: Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife: Carnivalesque and Grotesque / ‘Angels’ and ‘Monsters’

‘Women were not only writing, they were conceiving fictional worlds in which patriarchal images and conventions were severely, radically revised’ (Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar) 

worlds-wife


INTRODUCTION

Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar conceptualise the female figure, represented in literature as ‘angel’ and ‘monster’. The ‘woman writer must examine, assimilate, and transcend the extreme images of “angel” and “monster” which male authors have generated for her’.[1]

The ‘angel’ and ‘monster’ serve to either subvert or obvert Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of grotesque realism; the ‘bodily element’[2] of carnival. Carnival, as ‘temporary liberation from… established order’ (Rabelais 686), signifies the suspension of hierarchy through ‘numerous parodies… humiliations, profanations, comic crowning and uncrownings’ (Rabelais 687).

Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife becomes that which Bakhtin observes in Renaissance folk culture: a ‘feast of becoming, change, and renewal’ (Rabelais 686). The Bakhtinian grotesque, with ‘images of the human body with its food, drink, defecation, and sexual life’ (Rabelais 687), is particularly significant in Duffy’s poetry and these images of consumption, bodily processes and sexuality are subject to carnivalesque ‘[e]xaggeration, hyperbolism, [and] excessiveness’.[3] As both a process of renewal and ‘a form of transgression’,[4] the carnival body provides Duffy’s female speakers with the opportunity to reclaim their bodies by re-defining the images of ‘angel’ and ‘monster’.

‘The grotesque body… becomes a body of resistance and subversion… [and]… offer[s] new avenues for identity making’[5]. The grotesque body provides a platform in which to subvert and revise the images of ‘angel’ and ‘monster’ and this process can be identified in Duffy’s poetry as she reclaims and re-defines the female body and, therefore, female identity.

****

[1] Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, ‘The Madwoman in the Attic’, in Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd edition, ed. by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), p.812

[2] Mikhail Bakhtin, ‘Rabelais and His World’, in Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd edition, ed. by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), p.687

[3] Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Helene Iswolsky (USA: Indiana University Press, 1984), p.302

[4] Paul Allen Miller, ‘The Otherness of History in Rabelais’ Carnival and Juvenal’s Satire, or why Bakhtin got it Right the First Time’, in Carnivalizing Difference: Bakhtin and the Other, ed. by Peter I. Barta, Paul Allen Miller, Charles Platter and David Shepherd (London and New York: Routledge, 2001), p.149

[5] Cristie March, ‘Bella and the Beast (And a few dragons too): Alasdair Gray and the Social Resistance of the Grotesque’, in Critique, 43:4 (Jan 2002) 323-346 (323-4)

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‘The Pomegranates of Kandahar’, by Sarah Maguire

A short close reading of Sarah Maguire’s phenomenal and beautiful poem.

pok3

‘[S]mall shards of sweetness’.[1] Sarah Maguire’s ‘The Pomegranates of Kandahar’ is a long oxymoron that is wholly apparent in this single line. The ‘shards’, that which is broken, and jagged, and can inflict damage upon those who come into contact with it, is juxtaposed with the sensual receipt of the cloyingly ‘sweet’ taste. The poem is a conflicted battle between sharp and sweet; and the conflict that is battled out between the words of the poem reflects the battle that has been inflicted upon the location of the title; Kandahar.

While the poem’s title locates the activity of the poem within a definitive geographic zone, the verse itself shares nothing so specific. As such, I find myself recalling the epitaph of Atiq Rahimi’s The Patience Stone, which locates the narrative of the novella to be ‘[s]omewhere in Afghanistan or elsewhere’.[2] In this case, even the use of ‘somewhere’ fails to specifically localise the events of the text; but this appeal to non-specificity is the intention. The thematic subject of exploration in both The Patience Stone and ‘The Pomegranates of Kandahar’ is not contained to one specific space but spreads out to other towns and cities, and to other countries. The essence and the meaning of ‘The Pomegranates of Kandahar’ can be taken and used to interpret the ways in which warfare and violence plays out in other parts of Afghanistan, and even further afield.

The subject of violence, the jagged shards that are implicated with the ‘heft of ordnance’ that weighs down on the poem from the very first line, is one that, throughout the poem, is always present, but also, in part, obscured, as images of ‘joyful fruit’ and ‘barefoot children’ take centre stage. The imagery that permeates the poem also locates the pomegranate as a clear metaphor for not merely the landmines themselves, but the effects that these brutal objects have. The poem is structured in such a way that the two objects become increasingly more difficult to separate, until the landmine becomes an image that, while wholly powerful and damaging, is also indoctrinated into normalcy; it is no less fantastical or ‘out there’ than a piece of fruit, in fact, I get the impression that the fruit is more precious and less available.

The first stanza introduces the ordnance, and its appearance as the first image we are given means that its presence is retained, in some part as we are next introduced to the ‘[r]ed balls’… the pomegranates. The next stanza follows as such:

A mirrored shawl
splits
and dozens tumble down –

The solitary appearance of the word ‘splits’, which is visually and verbally accentuated by its drastically contrasting short and singular length, slices between the lines and emphasises the action. The disruption that this split causes, not merely to the fabric, but also to the reflective surface of the mirror, which further emphasises the role that duality plays in this poem, results in the loss of the divide that had separated the pomegranates and ordnance from one another in the previous stanzas. Instead, they are now one and the same as they tumble down together.

The previous concealment and separation of the ordnance from the scene of the marketplace is disrupted. The generally positive list of ‘poppies’, ‘rouged lips’, and ‘[p]roud hearts’ which, when standing alone in a single stanza, seem innocent enough, is disrupted by the presence of an overlaying sentence which reads, not as a list of positive images, but of ‘Proud hearts / built of rubble’. The line break is also a stanza break, and its apparent effect of disassociation actually, ironically, forces the images of the pomegranate and the ordnance even closer together as that which was initially associated with the positive ‘jewels’ of the pomegranate, the ‘[p]roud hearts’, becomes a living emblem that is grown out of the aftermath of violence; the ‘rubble’. What follows the image of ‘rubble’ is no longer images of ‘joyful fruit’, but images that suggest a build-up of violence; to ‘prise’ and ‘thrust’ and ‘twist’ with a ‘knife’, which ‘cleaves open’ the fruit in a deluge of negative and forceful language to reveal at the centre of the pomegranate ‘small shards of sweetness’:

till a city explodes in your mouth
Harvest of goodness,
harvest of blood

The ‘sweetness’ and the ‘goodness’ of the fruit becomes overpowered and sandwiched between the violent images of explosions and blood. The ‘city’, although the title implies that it is Kandahar, could also just as easily be ‘somewhere… elsewhere’. The ‘city explodes’; it explodes literally as the ordnance detonates, it explodes metaphorically, as violence and damage ensues, and it explodes as the pomegranates are sent ‘careering through the marketplace’… and suddenly those earlier images of the ‘joyful fruit’ are not so innocent, as the ‘shawl splits’ and tears, damaged, and the ‘shouts of barefoot children’ ensue, for a shout can be as negative and scared as it can be an expression of excitement and joy… and those images of the ‘[r]ed balls’; ‘jewels of garnet, jewels of ruby’ and ‘the deep red of poppies’ become haunted by that which might not be so much a ‘[h]arvest of goodness’, but a ‘harvest of blood’.

*

If you want to read the poem in its entirety then it can be found at the following:-

–          http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoem.do?poemId=12214

–          Sarah Maguire, ‘The Pomegranates of Kandahar’, in The Pomegranates of Kandahar (London: Chatto and Windus, 2007), pp.42-3


[1] Sarah Maguire, ‘The Pomegranates of Kandahar’, in The Pomegranates of Kandahar (London: Chatto and Windus, 2007), pp.42-3

[2] Atiq Rahimi, The Patience Stone, trans. Polly McLean (London: Vintage Books, 2011)

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Books I Read in 2013

  • The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
  • The Wandering Falcon, Jamil Ahmad
  • Brick Lane, Monica Ali
  • Crash, J. G. Ballard
  • A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters, Julian Barnes
  • Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
  • Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament, S. G. Browne
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  • Through The Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, Lewis Carroll
  • Afternoon Raag, Amit Chaudhuri
  • City of Lost Souls, Cassandra Clare
  • Clockwork Princess, Cassandra Clare
  • The Bane Chronicles: What Really Happened in Peru, Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan
  • Struck by Lightning, Chris Colfer
  • Generation X, Douglas Coupland
  • Girlfriend in a Coma, Douglas Coupland
  • The Passage, Justin Cronin
  • The Twelve, Justin Cronin
  • Arlington Park, Rachel Cusk
  • House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski
  • White Noise, Don Dellilo
  • Clear Light of Day, Anita Desai
  • Do Androids Ddream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
  • A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
  • Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens
  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Clouds Beneath the Sun, Mackenzie Ford
  • The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
  • Gone, Michael Grant
  • The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Moshin Hamid
  • And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini
  • Atomised, Michel Houellebecq
  • Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  • Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Heat and Dust, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
  • The Sewing Circles of Herat: A Memoir of Afghanistan, Christina Lamb
  • Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet
  • Life of Pi, Yann Martel
  • A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin
  • Martha Peake, Patrick McGrath
  • A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
  • Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
  • Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
  • Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver
  • Hana, Lauren Oliver
  • Pandemonium, Lauren Oliver
  • Requiem, Lauren Oliver
  • The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon
  • The Silver Linings Playbook, Matthew Quick
  • Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
  • Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
  • Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare
  • Antony and Cleopatra, William Shakespeare
  • A Winter’s Tale, William Shakespeare
  • Coriolanus, William Shakespeare
  • Henry IV, Part 1, William Shakespeare
  • Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare
  • Measure for Measure, William Shakespeare
  • Richard II, William Shakespeare
  • The Tragedy of King Lear, William Shakespeare
  • Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare
  • White Teeth, Zadie Smith
  • Scent of Magic, Maria V. Snyder
  • Touch of Power, Maria V. Snyder
  • The End of Mr Y, Scarlett Thomas
  • The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells
  • A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams
  • Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson
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‘Oh Lord, we’ve got zombies.’

The exclamation made in the title of this piece belongs to HISHE’s (How It Should Have Ended) sketch of World War Z (2013), and it addresses quite nicely the sudden influx of the ‘zombie’ into popular culture; in film, books, video games to name but a few. A quick search on ‘Ngram Viewer’ reveals the steady incline of the term zombie in books alone, but you hardly need me to tell you that zombies are appearing on the screens and pages at an incredibly fast pace. The zombie is not the living dead, but, perhaps more aptly, the animated dead; they’re not sexual or social beings (as the vampire has increasingly become)… they are not the living dead; they are not social characters, but a good old zombie apocalypse sure as hell tells us a lot about what it means to be human (or at least what scares the human).

ngram zombie

Simon Pegg protests that ‘ZOMBIES DON’T RUN!’[1] and the appearance of his character of Shaun (from Shaun of the Dead) in HISHE’s sketch, ushering Gerry Lane and his family onto the helicopter as ‘non-essential personnel’[2] before standing amongst a host of other ‘zombie fighting heroes’ certainly embeds and compounds his criticism into the context of the film World War Z, whose zombies do, of course, run (inhumanly fast). Pegg argues that ‘[t]he speedy zombie seems implausible’ on account that ‘[d]eath is a disability, not a superpower’.[3] Pegg reads zombies as analogous to the fear we have of our own deaths; ‘[z]ombies are our destiny writ large. Slow and steady in their approach… the zombie relentlessly closes in, unstoppable’.[4] In World War Z, the figure of the zombie, quite literally, avoids those already dying from a fatal illness; their fate is sealed, the zombie/virus desires a healthy host in which to infect in order that the virus can survive for longer. Either way, the human is consigned to death, and in the latter instance, it demonstrates the colonisation of the human by the virus. So, yes, the figure of the zombie in World War Z does, for the human, represent an inescapable fateful death, but it is also a colonising force; the virus has a survival instinct, and the humans fight them by injecting themselves with that which would bring them closer to death, deconstructing (or perhaps accepting) the fate that Pegg suggests the zombie symbolizes.

Perhaps, then, it is not so much the physical death which we should be concerned with in World War Z. The acceptance of an inevitable physical death perhaps serves to further deconstruct (at the end of the film) what we are confronted with (at the beginning of the film); not the living dead, but the animated dead. In World War Z ‘the person does not even die before turning into what is now being described as a zombie’, but instead inhabits an ‘interstitial state of being between life and death’, or ‘bare life’.[5] Jon Stratton suggests that zombies ‘express our anxieties over the relationship between bare life and the modern state’[6] which I take to be that of simulacrum. Jean Baudrillard states that ‘the characteristic hysteria of our time [is] the hysteria of production and reproduction of the real. The other production, that of goods and commodities… no longer makes any sense of its own’.[7] The idea that zombies/ bare life is not so much an analogy for the fear of our own death, but the fear of our loss of the self in the flux of a commercially based simulacrum is something that was addressed in a lecture I attended a few months ago, by Matthew Charles (Westminster University). Charles suggested that the influx of apocalypse narratives was due to it being easier to accept the end of the world, as opposed to the end of commodity; there is a dependency on capitalist society. To demonstrate this, Charles casts the character of Neville in I am Legend (2007) as, not the last man, but the last capitalist, as he drives his car (as a commercial symbol) through the lonely streets.[8] To inject yourself with a deadly virus, as Gerry Lane does in World War Z, is to accept the end of the world (as we know it)… to dispense with the simulacrum.

And this is where the film begins, as the audience is confronted with this commercially orientated simulacrum, the animated dead, in the opening credits of World War Z.

The title ‘WORLD WAR Z’[9] appears, fragmented, over the top of the images in the opening credits, before eventually forming a readable title. It splices and angles clips, having a direct, physical impact on the societal scenes that the clips depict, and further affects these snippets of society by blurring the image on the screen in fragmented sections. This affect both serves to show how our image of society is filtered, cut and, edited… a simulacrum, as well as super-imposing the title that signifies the ‘zombie’ onto this simulated society. What is even more chilling is the fact that we digest these images, fragmented by the title, without realising that is being super-imposed over these images, until we see the bigger picture. The entire edited sequence figuratively, and literally cuts the viewer off from the bigger picture, the destination of a commercially orientated life. This life is constructed from talk shows, and the stock exchange, is a bare-life; we are already essentially inhabiting the destination that the film, through the actual zombie, metaphorically suggests.

Commercial life is a distraction… a simulacrum: images of festivals, and work, talk shows, and applauding audiences, are edited to appear besides images and discussion of unexplained health crisis’s and CO2 emissions. The world is edited and viewed just as it is literally displayed on the screen. At one point a distinctive voice states that ‘all this talk about the doomsday is a hoax’;[10] the doomsday is fake and, by extension zombies are fake, but so is the film, which, itself, is a commercial construction. We watch the film and ingest the edited images on the screen, and the music (Muse, ‘Isolated System’), and the credited actors; the whole system is a commodity that can be bought and sold. The film implies that, actually, the doomsday is not a hoax, it’s happening right now; it’s simply disguised by the very thing that it is: a simulacrum. As a man upon the screen directs his camera phone directly at the screen, straight as us, the audience, we realise that to say that there are no zombies in the title sequence of World War Z would be a lie; we are the zombies.

A disclaimer: this is a brief, microscopic analysis in view of (the opening of) the film, World War Z. It is not written about the novel and does not have any intentional/ direct bearing on the book.


[1] Simon Pegg, ‘The Dead and the Quick’, Guardian, 4th November, 2008 <http://www.theguardian.com/media/2008/nov/04/television-simon-pegg-dead-set> [accessed 13/12/13] (para 2 of 12)

[2] HISHEdotcom, ‘How World War Z Should Have Ended’, 29th October, 2013 <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow2Uh51IMh4> [accessed 13/12/13]

[3] Pegg (para 3 of 12)

[4] Ibid (para 4 of 12)

[5] Jon Stratton, ‘Zombie trouble: Zombie texts, bare life and displaced people’, in European Journal of Cultural Studies, 14 (2011), 265-281 (p.267)

[6] Ibid (p.277)

[7] Baurillard, Jean, ‘Simulacra and Simulations’, in Literary Theory: An Anthology, ed. by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, 2ndedn (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), pp.365-77 (P.374)

[8] Matthew Charles, ‘“Not Even the  Dead Will Be Safe”: The Catastrophic Function in Contemporary Culture’, 16th October, 2013, Lancaster University

[9] Marc Forster (dir.), World War Z (Skydance Productions, 2013)

[10] Ibid

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An apology and an explanation

I made a terrible mistake and decided to start this blog just before I started NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Any time that I could have spent writing pieces for this blog was re-designated to writing my novel to try and hit the ominous 50k target.

Apologies for my long absence.

But, I am glad to say, November is over, I have a shiny (digital) ‘Winner’ badge and I wrote 50,121 words in 28 days. It was an incredible (and incredibly stressful) experience; God knows how I managed to juggle it with my degree and work all at the same time, but I am very glad that I did. I’ve got the beginnings of a story that I’m very proud of having written and I can’t wait to finish it. It was a great personal challenge that I am very happy to have accomplished.

Now that I’ve said my piece, the world of academic writing beckons forth once more, and you guys can expect something from me very soon.

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‘Down the Rabbit-Hole’: Part Three

Part Three: Conquering the ‘Nightmare’/ Claiming the Crown

To grow up, the girls must overcome the ‘nightmare’ represented by the tyrannical, false Queen: the instigator of chaos and/or violence. Sally Adair Rigsbee writes that ‘[b]elieving in the reality of the fantasy realm represents a necessary openness to the deeper levels of the psyche that fosters the growth… of the self’.[1] Alice’s and Lucy’s openness to the world around them gives them an imaginative, fantastical space in which they are able to mature by engaging in a conflict that represents a negative part of their psyche. Jacques Lacan explores the significance of the ‘mirror stage as an identification’;[2] a process that establishes the relationship between ‘the organism and its reality’.[3] Narnia and Wonderland, as dreamscape, are this mirror; a place in which the child can openly explore her own identity and create out of it, not simply the ‘I’, but the emotionally mature ‘I’.

In Wonderland the Queen’s sentiment attitude for not getting what she wants (in a trivial matter) is that ‘she’d have everybody executed’ (105) while the White Witch of Narnia turns her subjects into stone if they are disobedient (where disobedience is actually moral and kind acts). Both Queens are powerful, with either the authority, or the magic, to essentially end the life of their subjects for either trivial or immoral reasons. The two heroines’ must develop an ‘I’ that is neither trivial, nor immoral; but composes a responsible, serious, and good-natured adult, removed from this ‘nightmare’ vision. This transition is signified by the crowning of Alice and Lucy; their growth given both emotional and political weight.

In Looking-Glass, upon wearing the crown, Alice decides that ‘it’ll never do for you to be lolling about on the grass like that! Queens have to be dignified, you know.’ (297). She separates herself entirely from the first image we have of Alice in Wonderland, where she ‘was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank’ (11). In conjunction with one another, these moments imply that Alice has become tired of her childhood and has decided to ‘grow up’. Lucy is similarly crowned ‘and her own people called her Queen Lucy the Valiant’ (184). At this stage, there is a significant difference in the ending of Alice’s and Lucy’s journey. Alice crowns herself and shakes the Red Queen with the threat that ‘I’ll shake you into a kitten’ (318) to which she then awakens to discover that ‘it really was a kitten, after all’ (322). In the final pages of Looking-Glass Alice continually refers to her adventure as a ‘dream’; Alice’s journey has been, for the most part an isolated and selfish one… she crowns herself. Her conviction that her experiences are a dream at the stories end suggests that she is perhaps not so imaginatively powerful after all; she certainly doesn’t mature to the same degree as Lucy, who is crowned and loved by ‘her own people’, serving as a ruler, and literally aging. Upon her return, the talk is not of dreams, but a conviction of truth, that they ‘know’ (189) of Narnia and will return. And herein lies the crux of the matter: they go to Narnia; Lucy shares her experiences with her siblings, inviting them into her fantastical world. Alice’s is a selfish dream/story, while Lucy’s is readily available to all children.


[1] Rigsbee, 8:1, 10-11 (10)

[2] Jacques Lacan, ‘The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience’, in Literary Theory: An Anthology, ed. by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, 2nd edn (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), pp.441-446 (p.442)

[3] Ibid, p.443

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