Wednesday, 27 October 2010

A Clutch of Words...

Pulling Back

To forget we are alive, or to remember
Our hot, fat blood and crumb-dust bone?
Giving pieces of ourselves away,
Scattering memories like tired shoes.
Needing no collars to protect our cheeks
From the solar wind.
Is it pertinent
To honor man by remembering beast,
To forget selectively, with a quickened heart?
The difficulty of a deepened life is lived
Every day we chase or flee,
With only faith that we are replenished.

Plenum of Kali

Guilty the cardinal kings, the courts, striving for pleasures
Pastimes, sports, here in the waters
The deep and the shallows, sweating the swing
In the noose, the gallows, is your child
Mine, the moderate distraction
Offered up godlike, surrounded, serene
I’ve killed all my friends
At my doctor’s suggestion, the sound or inflection, of voice,
Choice, ghosts among bodies
I’ve gutted the clock and named all
My hobbies, to weep
Or walk backwards through verse
Licking my fingers of dark red


The gun is the life, is the death, is the
Now I hope all of you have remembered your
The chamber is empty, to be filled
With the dancers.
I hope you’re all ready to be killed
With no answers.

Santa is out there, in the dark, on the
Better to cut or to bleed where you’re
Is the drip-drip-drip
On hardwood floors
Better the void
Of scoreboard whores?

The action of class, at last
The class action
Is captured in the lens of lascivious
There go the reindeer, through snow
And through folly.

The knife in your heart means I
Truly am sorry.
I beg you are mighty and loving
And kindly.
I hope you’re all ready to live
And remind me.

Please Stand By

DNA in the Cathode-Ray
Shrinking the world at large, flesh in flesh-tones
Red Menace in Colour, sitcom to SatCom
Bring me Arabic with cheddar, and wine
The hot-cold-hot of tribal altercation
Ex-Marx the spot
Where they pierced the ground
Addendum to file, My Lai, or not
White liberal nodding-guilt
Distinctions for none
Like Jack, the knife, the dirty bomb
Let’s not forget what we have, have not
The multiplex at World’s End, stones for all the family
What happened yesterday

Boy meets Girl

The hard is killing us, some say
Softer, softer, if solitary has no recompense
The laughing, not just chaos
Paper planets on a string
A music without racket, tennis without love
Aloft with caramel calculation, domination dreams
Denying the clasp, the twinge, the crossed tease
Who hangs there, needing the nimble-fingered tendrils of snowflake?
The outsider-ones have eyes of plastic fire
Can we be frozen here?

'When I have fears that I may cease to be'

‘When I have fears that I may cease to be’ by John Keats was written in 1848 and is his first attempt at a text in the style of a Shakespearean sonnet with 14 lines, the last two of which share the standard rhyming couplet. Although the sonnet form was primarily used to elevate the image of ideal romantic love, Keats uses the form here to evoke a much darker declaration that is almost a lament or perhaps the speaker’s own elegy. It is considered one of the most successful of his attempts in this style. The text is still unabashedly sweeping but it does not attempt to be anything other than a subjective look into the speaker’s mind. It is written in classical Iambic Pentameter with an everyday-speech feel to the narrator’s tale. This is a poem laced with a kind of romanticised death imagery, a theme that runs through much of Keats’ work. The speaker almost seems caught in a kind of preternatural twilight between life and death and is using this paradox to garner some insight. He says:

And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance; (lines 7-8)

The speaker’s fear of death is not simply concerned with his own mortality but also with the thought that he will miss out on a beautiful mystery that will not lose its potency after he has perished. It is akin to the seeker who fears he will die before his quest is completed. The phrase ‘magic hand of chance’ implies chaos but also the exercise of the speaker’s own free-will, and how easily that will can be taken by an indifferent world. It is difficult to deduce whether the poet sees death as merely a veil between worlds or a morbid finality. Perhaps this is a contradiction that all artists are faced with when they choose to create something.

There is genuine deep sadness in the poet’s understanding of his own predicament. He is akin to a medium who is attuned to the resonances of another world, who fears that his abilities are dwarfed by his own mortality, that he will be pulled back from a full appreciation of the imagination before his pen has gleaned his ‘teeming brain’. This suggests that within his biology are secrets that could be unlocked if only he had enough time. The issue of time is an important one because the title alone evokes a kind of race against the clock. Time is in league with death, stalking the poet and threatening to collapse his physical life and all his works. It is perhaps a darkly humorous conceit that the poet deals primarily with a timeless fabric of imageries and yet is hounded by time and enclosed within it. He says:

And when I feel, fair creature of an hour
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the fairy power
Of unreflecting love;-then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink. (lines 10-12)

Who exactly is Keats referring to? Who is the ‘fair creature of an hour’? Is it a lover, or perhaps poetry itself? The ‘relish’ that he refers to might imply a kind of self-love, an ‘unreflecting love’ that no one else can give. Is this an aspect of the poet himself, the imaginative Keats that will live on after his corporeal death? Is this the speaker staring into the reflecting pool like Narcissus, musing on his own self-image? It is important to remember that the poem is titled ‘When I have fears that I may cease to be’, in that the poem is about the fear of losing one’s own personal identity to a larger force, be it ‘Nature’ or ‘God’ or ‘Death’. It is not the cessation itself that takes primacy in the text but the genuine fear of it.

Does Keats really believe that his physical death will be the end of him, or is he playing with the hypothetical reader’s understanding of the concept of death? By animating the text with a speaking or reading voice, the reader is forced to give life to the discussion of these fears. Therefore it can be suggested that the text creates a kind of poetic time travel, plunging the reader into 1848 and all of the speaker’s worries. Is this the speaker’s last laugh perhaps, a kind of immortality that is achieved by making the reader share the same doubts and fears? The last line is telling in that there is a bitterness that can be read into it but also a sense of defeated resignation. He says: ‘Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.’ Is this Keats’ own fame that he refers to, or is it the way a loved one is viewed through the eyes of someone that cares for them?

Perhaps it is not the theme of death that is being explored, but rather the theme of psychological isolation that can be viewed as a kind of living-death, an existential anxiety that comes with being an individual. It is curious that the last line has the words ‘to nothingness do sink’, in that sinking implies depth, which in turn evokes richness and texture, not the nothingness that is overtly stated. Perhaps the nothingness is seen by the speaker as a kind of poetic clarity, a nebulous energy that can take any imaginative form, in effect a metaphysical Idealism. This is merely subjective speculation, but for Keats it would have surely been a true romantic conceit, simultaneously disturbing and comforting.

Friday, 22 October 2010

A Healing Flame: Desire and Regeneration in ‘Goblin Market’.

‘Goblin Market’ by Christina Rossetti was written in 1862 and has been the subject of numerous readings focusing on the nature of desire and its corruption of Man. Many scholars see the poem as a Christian allegory with an almost Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic, a filter through which much of the poet’s work is viewed. This essayist would argue that there is a nuanced metaphorical potency to the tale that makes it much more than a limited religious fable. The critic Jerome McGann calls Rossetti a ‘morally committed artist’ who places her characters ‘in situations where they are asked to distinguish the real from the illusory.’ There is much Christian symbolism in the text, evident to anyone who pays it a glance, but this is by no means where the true power of ‘Goblin Market’ lies.

The hypothetical reader may be inclined to speculate about an interrelationship between desire and self-abuse, a theme implied through the juxtaposition of the two main characters. Laura’s hunger for the goblin fruit, her desire for possession, to be possessed, is set beside Lizzie’s supposed self-control and moral certitude. In lines 65-71 of the poem the reader is made to see this conceit quite starkly:

“No,” said Lizzie: “No, no, no;
Their offers should charm us,
Their evil gifts would harm us.”
She thrust a dimpled finger
In each ear, shut her eyes and ran:
Curious Laura chose to linger
Wondering at each merchant man.

Perhaps this apparent simplicity is deceptive. The most engaging works of art have a multiplicity of meanings that are interconnected, bringing forth different interpretations based on the varying beliefs and associations of the hypothetical reader. Is this especially true of a poet as canny, driven and complex as Rossetti? One salient fact seems evident. The girls’ motivations in ‘Goblin Market’ are not as contradictory or obvious as they may first appear. Despite their seemingly polarised natures, they both share a dangerous, potentially redemptive desire to move beyond their own perceived limitations, a deeply human urge for communion with something greater. It is a spiritual hunger that is made emblematic through a nuanced Christian framework that invokes the Eucharist. Marylu Hill discusses this theme in an insightful essay and says this of the poem:

Desire, however, remains for both Rossetti and [Saint] Augustine something right and necessary, and its proper fulfilment will be better yet when God “awakest us to delight” in Augustine’s terms, which is sometimes also translated as “arouse us”.

It is a misplaced desire that leads Laura to briefly fall from grace, not the desire itself, and as such Rossetti is tender towards the girl, leading the reader to appreciate that there is nothing inherently immoral in her. Jerome McGann is aware that Rossetti is sympathetic to the plight of the exploited, but he posits that she ‘focuses on that material condition as a sign, or revelation, of an inward and spiritual corruption.’

Laura and Lizzie are two friends who begin to find themselves intrigued by merchant goblin men who sell their wares. What they appear to be selling is delicious fruit that the two girls are expected to crave. However, it seems that these merchant men are selling more than just fruit. They are selling the secret promise of liberation, awakening, and sated temptation. These things will ultimately come at a price greater than shiny coins, as Laura will discover as the poem progresses. The ‘liberation’ sold by the goblin men is insubstantial and illusory. The sinister fruits offer only an increased appetite that cannot be sated because they are not the true fruit that the girls seek. In lines 164-168 we see this vividly implied:

“Nay, hush, my sister:
I ate and ate my fill,
Yet my mouth waters still;
Tomorrow night I will
Buy more:”

Like Satan wearing the beguiling face of Adam, the goblin men fool innocent Laura into thinking that the beauty and promise of the fruit is a mark of its ability to provide spiritual sustenance. The reader can find echoes of this Ideal-Real conflict in the depictions of tortured femininity seen in much Pre-Raphaelite art. Jerome McGann understands that this apparent ‘power over women comes ultimately from the women’s (erroneous) belief that the goblins have something which the women need, that the women are incomplete.’ With this in mind, it is important to note that it is not just unbridled sexual desire that lies beneath the actions of the main characters but also a pseudo-awareness of the awful price of such ‘liberation’, a fear that it might birth an Eve within them, a fallen woman in the goblin eyes of society.

Delores Rosenblum says this in her poignant essay: ‘The woman vampirized by art, in life more dead than alive, in art endowed with ghostly life, suggests the kind of depersonalisation that woman-as-model experiences. The watcher commemorates her symbolic death.’ This kind of sentiment might seem insightful but irretrievably bleak if taken out of context. Earlier in the essay she says: ‘By stylising certain literary and scriptural conventions, and by exaggerating the renunciatory pose, Rossetti expresses at once her extreme alienation and her self-possession.’ In this way the artist can use an aesthetic of negation to preserve a secret of personal integrity, as a rebuttal to an enforced identity of degradation.

Jerome McGann says this of the goblin paradigm: ‘Indeed, they do not merely fail in their promises, they punish the women who accept these promises as true.’ This betrayal does not make the women passive victims because their strength, like Rossetti’s, is something that can exist beyond that paradigm. They may be forced to live in a corrupt goblin world but they do not have to see through corrupted eyes, nor feel it through a goblin heart. This then puts their souls, in a Christian sense, beyond the reach of spiritual perversion. The power of the merchants’ seduction is incomplete and therefore ultimately an illusion.

The poem uses a sexualised imagery of food to underscore the eroticisation of addictions and self-abuse that is hoped for by the goblin men, and Laura’s almost unknowing complicity in these transgressions. In lines 126-128 we see the following:

She clipped a precious golden lock,
She dropped a tear more rare than pearl,
Then sucked their fruit globes fair or red:
Sweeter than honey from the rock.

Although the merchants seek to foster an insatiable hunger for their fruits and hence their ideology, the text presents an ambiguous depiction of this appetite as simultaneously creative and destructive, forcing the characters into new areas while also endangering them. Taking a Christian perspective this idea seems to gravitate towards an inversion; Lizzie acts as a Eucharistic agent for Laura, taking the poisonous essence of the goblin fruit and transmuting it through love and self-sacrifice into an antidote, creating a regenerative communion where the erotic and the spiritual co-exist, feeding and expanding each other. In effect they collapse the authority of the goblin paradigm, as can be seen in lines 521-523:

She fell at last;
Pleasure past and anguish past,
Is it death or is it life?

As McGann clearly states: ‘The definitive sign of their dialectical relationship appears in the simple fact that Laura is not finally victimised.’ Laura consumes and imbibes her sister, now offered up Christ-like and self-conscious, so that an incorruptible spiritual beauty can spring from the corruption. This is a subtle and profound transformation; humble, devoted and unwavering, unlike the sinister glamour and bombast of the perverse goblin men. McGann goes on to say this:

Lizzie’s behaviour is also a stylistic metaphor standing for Rossetti’s poetry, whose correct beauty judges, particularly through its modest address, all that is pretentious and illusory. The fruits, the language, the behaviour of the goblin merchants are all metaphors for what John Keats had earlier called ‘careless hectors in proud, bad verse’.

This suggests that ‘Goblin Market’ is not just a Christian allegory, although it powerfully employs such a framework. More accurately it is a critique of the poetic literary impulse itself, exploring the relationship it has to the psychological-symbolic power of the human soul and its capacity for simultaneous regeneration, innocence and self-awareness.


Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble (London: Routledge, 1990)

Derrida, Jacques, Of Grammatology (John Hopkins UP, Baltimore, 1997)

Gilmour, Robin, The Victorian Period: The Intellectual and Cultural Context of
Literature 1830-1890 (New York: Longman Publishing, 1993)

Hill, Marylu, ‘Eat Me, Drink Me, Love Me: Eucharist and the Erotic Body in Christina
Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’’, Victorian Poetry 43 no.4 455-472, 2005)

Leighton & Reynolds, Victorian Women Poets: An Anthology (Oxford: Blackwell
Publishers, 1995)

McGann, Jerome, ‘Christina Rossetti’s Poems’, and Rosenblum, Delores, ‘Christina
Rossetti’s Religious Poetry’ in Victorian Women Poets: A Critical Reader, ed. Angela Leighton (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996)

Rossetti, Christina, ‘Goblin Market’, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000)

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

What is a poem?

To begin with an official interpretation seems like a solid base with which to explore the question. The Oxford Dictionary of Current English defines a poem in this way:

Poem / n. metrical composition, usually concerned with feeling or imaginative description; elevated composition in verse or prose; something with poetic qualities.

This is a fairly broad if impersonal description of what constitutes a poem. It can be argued that poetry has existed as long as language, whether we are discussing the spoken or the written word. If language is a means of communicating thoughts through sound or a visual medium then it follows that poetry is an extension of this basic function. We write and speak so that we are understood by ourselves and others. Language is the primary means through which human culture defines and engages with its multiplicity of identities. We use it to create the idea of a Self that is separate from the world in which it is created. The development of language triggers a process of individuation in which greater subtleties of experience can be defined and shared with others, or simply understood by those having the experience.

Poetry seems to be an elevated form of language that is given focus by virtue of what it claims to be. If something is separated from common language and is ordered into some semblance of metrical rhythm, does it then constitute a poem? A conventional poem is usually composed of metrical feet, a unit of stresses in syllables that can be falling in nature, called trochaic, or rising in nature, called iambic. Prose can also be considered poetry if it bears the mark of careful intention. Is it true to say that poetry concerns itself with an appreciation of beauty? Perhaps it is not always the full-bodied Beauty of the Romantic poets; indeed, much modern poetry is edgy, dark and offensive to many people. Even the more restrained poems of today and yesterday are often filled with subversive allusions and little digs at conventional wisdom. Is it going too far to say that poetry can act not only as a mirror of human consciousness but also as an agent of social change? There are many poets who were and are unashamedly political in their work, often creating a parallel tract to official history. Is this part of the identity of the poem, to recover buried subjective truths and social values? It is inarguable that the poem owes its life to human voice, whether it is the spoken voice or the silent reading voice of the mind.

It can be argued that the poem, like all prose, is dead. It is fixed, inflexible, an artifact or perhaps a fetish. It is concerned with subjectivity but the poem itself is objective, a thing with no individual life. It is the creative, combining faculty of the human mind that animates the poem, breathing life and rhythm into something inert. The implication of this argument is that human consciousness is the active spirit of all poetry. The poem itself is merely a pattern, a guideline or form through which the imagination is able to view itself.

This essay will now look at a poem called ‘The Sick Rose’ by William Blake. Although ‘The Tyger’ and ‘London’ are considered by scholars to be some of his best work, for this essayist ‘The Sick Rose’ is concise and possesses a terrible power and immediacy. I will transcribe the poem in full:

O Rose, thou art sick.
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

Is there one definite meaning to this poem that Blake himself understood fully or is there a nexus of interconnected meanings, some of which were partially obscured even from Blake? Is the poet an architect or simply a medium? Perhaps he is both, transcribing and also shaping the immaterial. Is this a poem about the futility of ideal romantic Love, or is it a meditation on the nature of Evil? Is it somehow both, or neither? The poem suggests the substitution of one love for another – crimson joy becoming a ‘dark secret love’. Or is the poem talking about the ghost of entropy, the inescapable fact of decay and death. These many meanings are not separate from the mind of Blake or any other reader of the poem. It is the human voice, silent or spoken, that gives the poem its power. It is this same voice that can deny the inert language its power.

Next let us look briefly at a poem called ‘Daffodils’ by William Wordsworth. It is an unashamedly romantic and upbeat work. The poem is composed of four verses each with six lines. I will transcribe the last verse here:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Wordsworth captures the appreciation of simplicity that poetry can often give us, taking comfort in something like nature without sentimentalizing it. The key line in this verse is ‘They flash upon that inward eye’. Poetry is usually concerned with how the interiority of people engages with the exterior world, how the subjective imagination sets up a feedback loop with everything that is deemed objective, and how the two influence each other to create the subtleties of the human spirit.

The last poem this essay will look at is one of my own. It is titled ‘Hush’:

The sun-rain-sun of a difficult season
Grey luminosity of the King’s Cross
Sanguinary mornings, bloodless
Slow faces in books and newspapers
The silent hum after the echo of the closing notes
Day as the overture of Night
The breeding ground of afternoon
Black silk curtains reading over shoulders
Stealing watches off slender wrists
The office ceiling lined with carpet
Butterflies pressed between every brick and stone
Amidst the noise silence is screaming
The city hides its excitement
Poets and killers bleed between the lines

When composing this poem I did not want to be overly abstract or grandiose, rather I wanted to capture a specific mood I felt during very early mornings in London, a sense that the city was suspended between life and death, an odd liminal mood that seemed almost tangible. Whether the poem can be considered a success to that end is debatable, but it still follows that I am both the creator of the poem and also a reader of it, and as such there are resonances that remain beyond my grasp. Is it this kind of compressed metaphorical potency of all poems that invests them with such wonder and appeal? Perhaps it is akin to the human soul speaking to itself.

Into the Underworld: Sex, Power and Feminism in the fairytales of Angela Carter


This essay utilises a theoretical feminist approach to explore the depictions of gender, sex, power and feminism in the fairytales of Angela Carter, arguing that her work promotes a non-evasive ethic that tackles issues of denial and repression. The first chapter tackles the tensions between gender identities and sexuality, arguing that Carter’s work tests the limits of such representational boundaries. The second chapter argues that a greater comprehension of a female subject’s darker sexual aspects can potentially liberate her from patriarchal scripting, that facing the ‘shadow’ is a crucial step towards insight and self-governance. The third chapter argues that an awareness of binary systems and the transgression of such polarities constitutes a non-oppositional ‘underworld’ perspective. Overall, the nature of interrogating and potentially breaching intellectual absolutes and limitations will hopefully be of interest in a feminist context.


The writings of Angela Carter can be perceived as having many facets, edges and secret spaces. They have often rightly been figured as paths for tackling the issue of sexuality and the recognition of gender as a performance-based activity. Her work partially attempts to unveil the social constructs of masculinity and femininity, and the sexual currencies and taboos attached to them. Many critics have entered the labyrinthine debate concerning the writings of Angela Carter and the positive or negative influences her work has had on feminist discourse.

This essay of three chapters will take a feminist theoretical approach in exploring the fairytales of Angela Carter, with a general focus on The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, comparing and contrasting various feminist explorations of the material. The first chapter will argue that there are similarities and differences between our conceptions of sexuality and gender, and that a radical deconstruction of gender-types and a re-imagining of female heterosexuality is promoted in Carter’s tales. The second chapter will explore the ‘darker’ side of heterosexuality and the power-relations between men and women, arguing that Carter’s tales explore how the female subject might collude with the patriarchal scripting of her sexuality and identity, and that an awareness of how this occurs can be potentially liberating for the female subject. The third chapter will argue that a non-evasive ethic is evident in Carter’s tales, and that her writings consistently tackle taboo subjects of repression and denial, suggesting a non-oppositional ‘underworld’ perspective that favours the transgression of binary systems.

Gender and Sex – noticing the tensions

Carter’s interest in the complexities of sex and power, coupled with her provocative rhetoric, appears to make many critics uncomfortable. To this essayist it is Carter’s fairytale-themed writings, especially The Bloody Chamber, that seems to attract the most interesting criticisms. Patricia Dunker is suspicious of the fairytale itself and expresses a belief that using such a hetero-sexist paradigm somehow entraps the author. Dunker claims that ‘Carter envisages women’s sensuality simply as a response to male arousal. She has no conception of women’s sexuality as autonomous desire’. Here we might argue that for a heterosexual woman, especially one interested in penetrative sex, might not her sexuality be in some way connected to male arousal, especially if she is considering sleeping with him? This is not to belittle Dunker’s unease at some of the more disturbing elements in The Bloody Chamber, but, as Linden Peach perceptively suggests, the tales are:

not only explorations of women’s sexuality but of the ways in which men have sought to control that sexuality, of how both men and women need to reconfigure their sexualities, and of the commodification of women as ‘flesh’.

The aspects of Carter’s writing that explore this gender-as-performance scenario have many antecedents. The psychoanalytic theories of Jacques Lancan proposed a realm of decentred and fictional human identities, both masculine and feminine, none of which are ‘real’ or ‘natural’. It is a lens through which Carter’s work is at least partially illuminated. This unveiling of the socially-constructed fictions of gender is a process that has found much currency in feminist theory and is largely associated with the work of Judith Butler and Luce Irigaray.

Both women were influenced by Lacanian psychoanalytical theories. Irigaray’s work predates Butler’s and concentrates on the masquerades of various feminine identities that are products of masculine scripts and roles. It is the acting out of these roles by the female subject that garners most of Irigaray’s attention. She comments broadly: ‘I think the masquerade has to be understood as what women do in order to recuperate some element of desire, to participate in man’s desire, but at the price of renouncing their own’. It is this quality, I would suggest, that Patricia Dunker senses in The Bloody Chamber; if not a possible acquiescence then at least a disturbing interest in male scripting of female desire.

The character of Beauty has such an interest in ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’, possibly the least radical of Carter’s Beauty and the Beast interpretations. Beauty’s time with the Beast makes her strangely aware that she ‘was learning, at the end of her adolescence, how to be a spoiled child and that pearly skin of hers was plumping out, a little, with high living and compliments’. Later we are informed that her face ‘was acquiring, instead of beauty, a lacquer of the invincible prettiness that characterises certain pampered, exquisite, expensive cats’.

To elude or subvert this male scripting of the female subject Luce Irigaray proposes a stratagem of resistance that she terms ‘playing with mimesis’. This is a strategy of employing parody and excess in mimicking patriarchy-defined feminine identities and thus exposing them as artificial and inauthentic. In this way, she argues, the female subject avoids the essentialist trap of trying to access some authentic femininity that might exist beyond this social construction of gender. We can see this blurring of gender identities in many of Carter’s texts, most dramatically in The Passion of New Eve. In this decentred, postmodern novel the transsexual Evelyn/Eve character comments on the strangeness of being surgically transformed into a ‘masturbatory fantasy’ and she tells us: ‘the cock in my head, still, twitched at the sight of myself’. During her sexual ‘relationship’ with the sadistic Zero she notes her own mimesis: ‘I was tense and preoccupied; although I was a woman, I was now also passing for a woman, but, then, many women born spend their whole lives in just such imitations’.

In the work of Angela Carter as a ‘problematic’ feminist there can be seen this desire to avoid a hard-line acceptance of idealism or essentialism, anything that suggests a natural or transcendent gendered-self, because these ideas have helped promote the ascendancy of patriarchy and have impaired general critical-thinking. We can see how, if the woman is indeed vampirised through this erroneous belief in her natural passivity, an absurd ‘ideal femininity’, a resistance to these false truths might promote a genuine empowering of the female subject, and a recognition that a female subject independent of patriarchal scripting exists in the first place.

But in Carter’s work there does seem to be this complex fascination with the patriarchal scripting of female desire that Patricia Dunker alludes to. As Paulina Palmer and other critics have argued, Irigaray’s view of mimesis is not without its problems. Palmer comments in an essay: ‘How can we differentiate a woman who is passively enacting a male-defined image of femininity from one who is subversively ‘playing with mimesis’?’ This tricky question of credibility can be levelled at Angela Carter herself, as well as the female characters that populate her fiction. This kind of mimesis has been criticised by writers like Palmer, Robert Clark and Patricia Dunker for its ‘lack’ of overt political resistance, because the female subject must necessarily use this strategy in an abstract world of ideas, surfaces and images. It is a criticism that is often levelled at Carter’s earlier work, including Shadow Dance and The Magic Toyshop.

The latter novel, one soaked with fairytale imagery, begins with Melanie standing in front of a mirror and exploring her teenage sexuality, dragging her hair ‘sluttishly across her face’. Like Dunker, Palmer suggests that the women in Carter’s early texts submit to what Irigaray calls ‘the dominant economy of desire’. Palmer goes on to say that Carter ‘represents woman as puppet, performing scripts assigned to her by a male-supremacist culture’. It is a problem that Palmer believes inherent in Carter’s writing up until Nights at the Circus, where a more heroic playing with mimesis comes to the fore and Palmer states that the character of Fevvers ‘engages in an exuberant version of it’.

Yet, there is an implication in Palmer’s essay that Carter’s earlier work embodies a lack of some kind – that this mimesis is an insubstantial shadow-play and that Carter falls short of her original intentions, perhaps due to her gothic fascination with phallocentric ideologies. But as Elisabeth Mahoney suggests, ‘Representational limits are what Angela Carter’s fictions consistently test, especially those associated with questions of sexual difference and identity’. Perhaps the reason that Carter so excels at this kind of shadow-play is because she is acutely interested in the nature of story-telling and her works are often tales about stories.

In The Bloody Chamber the reader gains access to a collection of lenses that are not just rewritten fairytales but are multidimensional stories about fairytales, in which the nature of power-relations, sexual desire and transformation are all keenly explored. This is perhaps the greatest strength of the book for those that care to see; that it deconstructs and reconstructs ideas concerning narratives and human identity, and presents depictions of a certain ‘conscious artifice’ through which these ideas can be laterally viewed. Although The Bloody Chamber is largely concerned with the seductions and controls of heterosexuality there are many tales in the book that are equally concerned with the performance aspects of both masculinity and femininity, and Carter gleefully celebrates the significance of the meta-gendered or transgendered subject. As the heroine of ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ explains in Carter’s strangest version of the Beauty and the Beast tale:

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 from my beautiful fur.

When read against ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’, where Beauty and the Beast stroll through a garden in a drift of petals like a ‘normal’ romantic couple, we can see the genuine radicality that is suffused in ‘The Tiger’s Bride’. Not only does the heroine discover her own innate animalism, an equal to the male Beast, but the accoutrements of her fictional femininity reveal themselves to be water, a mere glamour that she happily shrugs off.

Despite the importance of such gender deconstructions, we must not forget the physical realities of life that Carter herself was so obviously interested in. To put it somewhat crudely; if a heterosexual woman intends to fuck a man she desires, doesn’t she need his erect phallus to complete her experience? Doesn’t the man need her wet vagina to similarly complete his experience? I only use such language to make a point, as it were, one that is sensible and valid. However, this mechanical need for male and female genitalia during heterosexual encounters does not mean that there should be a fixed social identity for either women or men. In The Bloody Chamber, though it is strange and disquieting, Carter explores a host of reciprocal roles that attempt to move beyond scripted notions of gender identity. Yes, women and men often enjoy fucking each other, but that is a much-desired physical act and not a constraining and limited social fiction. Sarah Gamble implies this, despite having reservations with Carter’s work, when she argues:

It is not until the stories in The Bloody Chamber that Carter, if not deconstructing ‘the’ couple as such, certainly begins to renegotiate the terms on which they meet through her speculation that a sincere exchange of affection between the sexes is possible.

Masculinity and femininity, in this sense, is up for grabs, but the fact of sex is not. The mythologies surrounding sex are definitely ripe for reinvention, and in The Bloody Chamber as elsewhere there are characters that face their darkest conceptions about what constitutes ‘the other’ and are somehow both masculine and feminine as a result. Or as the French theorist Julia Kristeva argues in Strangers to Ourselves:

By recognising our uncanny strangeness we shall neither suffer from it nor enjoy it from the outside. The foreigner is within me, hence we are all foreigners. If I am a foreigner, then there are no foreigners’.

This is an argument that is deeply resonant with ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ as well as the tale of ‘Wolf-Alice’, where the protagonist tends to the Duke who is locked in a painful liminal zone between identities. He seems both self and other, male and female at this stage:

an aborted transformation, an incomplete mystery, now he lies writhing on his black bed in the room like a Mycenaean tomb, howls like a wolf with his foot in a trap or a woman in labour, and bleeds.

Angela Carter seems deeply interested in possibilities of transformation and indiscreet states of being in The Bloody Chamber. Could it be her skill and acuity as a teller of tales that accounts for ‘problematic’ aspects that critics like Clark, Dunker and Palmer have noticed in her work; the fact that there are fractures and contradictions in her writings? It seems Carter herself would have balked at clean-cut easy answers to such questions, since desire and power often possesses a transgressive quality. As Elaine Jordan argues in her essay ‘The Dangerous Edge’, the ‘abyss between desire and its satisfactions, and between the thinkable and the thing thought of, is crucial to the persistence of desire and thought’.

Angela Carter takes naked pleasure in exploring the limits of mimesis, desire and decentred identity in many of her stories. In the title-story of the Black Venus collection Carter attempts to flesh out the character of Jeanne Duval, the mistress of the iconic poet Charles Baudelaire. Jeanne attempts to move beyond her prescribed role as mystical muse; a gendered ‘vase of darkness’ filled with ‘black light’. Carter discusses the tensions that move between Baudelaire and Duval; the mingling and oppositions of their voices. It is a subtle, intelligent tale. I would suggest that Carter’s writings attempt to liberate sexuality and consciousness, through ethical transgressions that recognise the indeterminacy of meaning and identity.

Initiation Rites – facing your demons

The Bloody Chamber can be seen as a primarily heterosexual initiation ritual, a process that ushers the female subject into the House of Rational Magic that constitutes adult creativity and sexuality. If we figure patriarchy as a social shamanism of an external and limiting kind, one composed of power-relations masquerading as natural truth, then perhaps Carter is proposing an initiation into a certain internal shamanism; a form of magic that does not align itself with the myths of nature or essence.

The Bloody Chamber does not offer the advice ‘just lie down and take it’ to the heterosexual female. Instead it offers the female subject an opportunity to create a synthetic or individualistic identity based on fragments and associations of whatever she deems appropriate, that she can then use in her relationship with men and with herself. Female sexuality is not naturally passive. Nor is it conversely aggressive like the fanged rose in ‘The Erl-King’, a motif that returns in ‘The Lady of the House of Love’ when the female vampire informs us of ‘the dark, fanged rose I plucked from between my thighs’. It can be a sexuality that is decentred and thus potentially liberated, as in ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ or ‘Wolf-Alice’; or perhaps an identity that has its centre, if anywhere, in the infinite canvas of fiction.

I would suggest that Carter is interested in enlivening and recuperating the fairytale genre – and the feminine myth – as much as she attempts to deconstruct and demystify it. This is evident from the sheer pleasure she takes in sensuous descriptions of the gothic, the occasional complicity of her heroines, and the allusive dreamlike quality of her prose. She recognises voices from the past and marginal themes, and rather than confining or prescribing female identity she utilises fairytale tropes in order to shape new and inclusive identities.

This pleasure that she takes is nakedly erotic as well as intellectual; it is akin to what the Greeks called Eros. David Punter argues that channelling sexuality into conventional white-washed forms ‘is repressive and, in the end, highly dangerous, [in] that it is a denial of Eros and that Eros so slighted returns in the form of threat and violence’. Or we might argue that if we repress Eros it can return as Thanatos – the death instinct, with all its polymorphous qualities. As the researcher James Hillman eloquently argues in his perceptive book The Dream and the Underworld:

If we follow this notion of Eros, then it is the brother of death and not the principle that will save us from it. There would be a closer bond between what goes on in dreams and a love that fulfils itself in darkness, in the intangible bodies of psychic images. Thus there is a downward love, and not only an Eros stretching itself towards the horizon of others.

Carter attempts to fearlessly explore these themes in The Bloody Chamber, with close attention paid to the interiority of the female subject.

In Lucie Armitt’s evocative essay ‘The Fragile frames of The Bloody Chamber’ she references the critics Elaine Jordan and Merja Makinen, and says of them, ‘They acknowledge the role these tales fulfil as textual explorations of the genuine complexities that confront even the most assertive of heterosexual women under patriarchy’. I would suggest this is the power that Carter sensed in being able to take hold of the narratives that govern women’s lives and their interactions with men, especially men they desire. If during this process of self-reinvention a female desires to flirt with patriarchal myths this does not mean that she is passive, rather it suggests agency – a desired sophistication in understanding the tropes of those myths.

I would suggest it is fruitful to acknowledge our shadows; it affords us our sanity. Aidan Day comments on this in his perceptive book Angela Carter – The Rational Glass. He argues that a ‘rational and ethical self is central to Carter’s programme in The Bloody Chamber collection, and it cannot sustain itself by evasion and repression’. This non-evasive ethic is something that Carter seems to promote at all times, even when such an agency might appear on the surface latent or collusive with the patriarchy it attempts to subvert. Lucie Armitt suggests this when she comments at the end of her essay: ‘Taking a leaf out of her own protagonist’s book, Carter flirts with textual danger on her own untamed terms, refusing to give us clearly defined answers’.

In The Bloody Chamber the female subject encounters all the alluring and horrid phallocentric myths that constitute patriarchal social shamanism, and the reader is geared with some insight as to why these myths were perhaps so alluring even when they clearly restrained and limited her. We can see this vividly expressed in the title story, in part a reworking of Charles Perrault’s version of the Bluebeard tale. During a contentious scene in Carter’s version the young heroine notices her attractions to the Marquis that she has recently wed. After leading her to his garish mirrored bedroom he strips her naked without any tenderness, approaching his ‘familiar treat with a weary appetite’, and she notes:

He in his London tailoring; she, bare as a lamb chop. Most pornographic of all confrontations. And, as at the opera, when I had first seen my flesh in his eyes, I was aghast to feel myself stirring. […] And I began to shudder, like a racehorse before a race, yet also with a kind of fear, for I felt both a strange, impersonal arousal at the thought of love and at the same time a repugnance I could not stifle for his white, heavy flesh

She notices her arousal and that it is impersonal, fulfilling some interior mythical dimension, rather than a simply passive response to the Sadeian unpleasantness of the Marquis. She does not evade herself and is perhaps rewarded with insight. Here we might argue that the heroine intuits that her husband is merely a vehicle, one that excites a dark interconnection of signs and motifs within her own psyche. As she informs us earlier in the tale when she is given a ‘cruel necklace’ by the Marquis: ‘And, for the first time in my innocent and confined life, I sensed in myself a potentiality for corruption that took my breath away. The next day we were married’.

This seems to be a very important though misunderstood key in unlocking Carter’s work and the power it possesses. To be a genuine female subject, where genuine is synonymous with self-made and active, one must understand the horrors and allures of feminine identities created by patriarchal coercion. One must understand the allure of passivity, or sado-masochism, or the possible masculine architect of such ‘feminine’ images. One must also comprehend that such a melancholy femininity cannot exist without its demonic counterpart; the very phallic masculinity that appears so powerful and controlling. Both are fictions that live primarily within, and only through this binary can they exist unnoticed. If women sometimes collude with patriarchal scripting of female desire, then men do it also with a counterpart scripting of male desire – in these instances both sexes are flirting with a polarised phallocentric mythology. Since they are internal polarities, unveiling the actions of one must necessarily destabilise the actions of the other. As Marianne informs her barbarian lover Jewel in Carter’s post-apocalyptic novel Heroes and Villains, ‘You, you’re nothing but the furious invention of my virgin nights.’

The Bloody Chamber is largely concerned with exposing the supposedly ‘natural’ wisdom and codes of canonical fairytales as false, as mediated social constructions with purpose, whether that purpose is sinisterly conscious or blithely unconscious. Without this exposure heterosexual women and men might be liable to feel corrupted, coded in ways they do not fully understand, entrapped by their dark psychic content, by their sexual fantasies, by their own will-to-power. The interlocking nature of The Bloody Chamber can help to off-set this entrapment by bringing us face to face with some of the reasons why it occurs and how we might unknowingly collude with our own psychic slavery. Lucie Armitt utilises Julia Kristeva’s conceptions of the abject when she suggests that abjection is ‘a particularly useful concept to apply to any metaphoric narrative, and especially to a mode of writing which, like these tales, prides itself on the interrogation of apparently impenetrable limits’.

The interlinked frames in The Bloody Chamber, as well as the repetition of motifs and the reoccurrence of character-types, is a beautiful method that Carter uses to signify the relationship between ideas of the self and the other, between violence and desire, or freedom and control. Perception is a shifting, indeterminate process. Therefore, can the female subject ever really be contained within patriarchy, or within the interconnected lenses of the book itself? The logic of the book is not phallic or linear, and while its goals include self-knowledge and the ability to reason it is not the reason of an apollonian day-world sort. It is a reflexive non-linear reason that holds the tales together, a tissue of poetic associations that could be described as a gyroscope of shifting lenses. Or as Armitt elaborates:

In other words, images, symbols and motifs from one story turn up in another in a way that reiterates and reworks the concerns of a previous vignette. As a whole, this multiplicity of interconnecting frames is, like the contents of the coffin, only precariously encased within the larger frame of the whole.

It is this arrangement that allows us to see themes deconstructed, decentred and revivified in ways that are disturbing and perhaps useful.

One of the key themes in The Bloody Chamber concerns the female subject courageously confronting the horror of the ‘rape-scenario’ that is perhaps implicit in fairytales and patriarchal masculine-feminine discourse. Sarah Gamble reiterates Margaret Atwood’s essay ‘Running with Tigers’ when she suggests that The Bloody Chamber is ‘best understood as a kind of fictional companion volume to The Sadeian Woman, for it constitutes an exploration of the same predator/prey equation that preoccupies the de Sade study’. It is the little-girl-in-peril motif, the ‘heterosexual fucking as rape’ implications, that Angela Carter finds so interestingly abhorrent.

Perhaps it is the presence of these themes that so disquiet critics like Dunker, Clark and Palmer. These unquestioned violent motifs serve to terrify both female and male subjects into intellectual passivity, Carter would claim, and create the monolithic fiction of the masculine as an almost supernaturally-sexualised predator. Discussions concerning the actual fragility of the male phallus and problems of impotency only serve to furnish us with intellectual insight, but to undercut the power of such a pathological myth we must return to the canvas of stories, for it is there that the myth gains or loses its power to entrance. By demystifying the Marquis or the Wolf in fictional terms Carter is thus able to destabilise their power-centre at the source, so to speak. To put it another way, if we fear or detest certain stories then we must question them and re-imagine them at ‘ground zero’, at the level of storytelling itself. We must return to old texts and read them with contextual differences, and create new texts that borrow whatever is needed from the old myths to provide elucidation.

This is what Carter is doing, I feel, she is borrowing as much from patriarchy as she needs to make her ideas intelligible and engaging. To expose Bluebeard or the Wolf, Carter must first have them present in some identifiable form. It is the same with apparently passive female characters. These images dwell within the psyche, nurtured or questioned by our imaginations. This does not necessarily mean that Carter is re-inscribing female disempowerment or adding to the phallocentric mythology, even if she senses in herself a gothic attraction and interest in such ideas. Is it unacceptable to be attracted to Bluebeard or the Wolf, or to the fiction of the passive feminine? Is it unacceptable to explore this attraction, its reasons and limits, through fiction? I would suggest that it is not, especially when the manifesto is one of general emancipation.

Underworld Perspectives – reinventing the Self

There is wisdom contained in much of Carter’s prose, concerning self-responsibility and the acknowledgement of our shadows, but in The Bloody Chamber it is constellated into this very unique hall of mirrors or Chinese boxes arrangement. Thus it takes on the quality of an initiation rite, or a descent into an underworld of images where egoist consciousness is not always in control. It is a willing oblation, akin to the tarot card called ‘The Hanged Man’; a willingness to experience a measure of melancholy and uncleanliness as a toll for entering the netherworld and gaining valuable insight. We could draw parallels with the Greek myth of Charon, the ferryman who must be paid with silver for safe passage across the River Styx. Simple ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ idiom is not enough to successfully traverse this realm of the dead. In fact, those initiated into the place below the world must attempt to unite or transgress binary systems, to perceive the artificiality and co-dependence of opposites.

Perhaps for Carter, since we are all male or female impersonators, it makes selfhood a unique and vibrant thing if we can achieve some kind of synthesis or androgyny at the level of storytelling, if we can face our shadows, for it is this level of perception from which our mythologies and social interrelationships must arise. In Margaret Atwood’s essay on Carter’s work, ‘Running with Tigers’, she comments insightfully:

What Carter seems to be doing in The Bloody Chamber – among other things – is looking for ways in which the tiger and the lamb, or the tiger and lamb parts of the psyche, can reach some sort of accommodation.

If we are familiarised with gender and power relationships when we are children, often through fairytales, then those stories are loaded with significance and potential in terms of our maturation, and are just as powerful when we return to them again as socially-constructed adults. Angela Carter’s writing is filled with fairytale tropes that have a liberating potential, even if this potential is sometimes latent or ‘lacking’, as critics like Patricia Dunker and Robert Clark have maintained.

In an underworld scenario the uncertain persona, or mask of ego, must eventually comprehend why certain things are simultaneously seductive and controlling to the psyche, as Atwood suggests. The persona can then return to the over-world with a liberating insight. James Hillman encapsulates this kind of decentred, non-oppositional perception, and sees it as a way towards healing or re-imagining the self. He argues insightfully:

If we do speak in terms of opposites, then there is only one absolute material opponent to any position in life, and that is its death. If we deliteralize that statement, we are saying that ‘death’ is the way through the opposites, that is, it is the self-regulation of any position by psyche, by non-literal, metaphorical perception. In this sense, conjunction and the identity of opposites mean the simultaneous perception by the perspectives of life and death, the natural and the psychic. […] We see the hidden connection between what had hitherto been oppositions.

This salient connection to the underworld and its gothic, willing-sacrifice resonances should be brought into relief here. As Lucie Armitt highlights:

It is perhaps this masochistic dynamic that takes us to the world of the Gothic, a form less easily encompassed by formulaic convention, for although it flirts with the fairy-tale genre’s own spatial trappings, it usually transcends their protective bounds.

In this odd realm Angela Carter gives form to the tensions of the remade identities of self, versus the patriarchal identities of wounded-self that are usually offered for women to act out like eidolons, phantom images of the underworld. Carter comes down firmly on the side of the remade self because it is, in this context, a consciousness that has traversed the underworld successfully. It understands the ways it colludes with or subverts the roles and relationships thrust upon it by phallocentric mystification, and it crucially acknowledges such a patriarchy as a constellation of illusions.

The young heroine realises this during her final confrontation with the wolf in ‘The Company of Wolves’. As Carter describes: ‘she knew she was nobody’s meat. She laughed at him full in the face, she ripped off his shirt for him and flung it into the fire, in the fiery wake of her own discarded clothing’. I would suggest this scene is not a rape, or an acquiescing to male desire on the part of the female subject. It is a unification of opposites and a sexual initiation that recognises ‘the other’ as part of the self in the dream of consciousness, resulting in the young heroine sleeping soundly ‘between the paws of the tender wolf’.

The form of the fairytale in the way Angela Carter utilises it lends itself to this exploration of blurred and overlapping identities. This is especially true of The Bloody Chamber, due to its ‘initiation’ quality and its underworld aesthetic. But once a subject has traversed the underworld and has found insight, what then becomes of her when she returns to the over-world? Carter attempts to explore these important questions in Nights at the Circus and Wise Children, published towards the end of her career, and we might argue that a certain cynicism with her own proclivities meant that such questions were never too far from her awareness.

Perhaps we might figure this idea in another way; as the limits and dissatisfactions of an underworld transgression, or of an indeterminate ‘postmodern’ sensibility. At the end of The Magic Toyshop we could argue that Melanie and Finn are left feeling strangely bereft without a governing patriarch, facing each other ‘in a wild surmise’. This does not mean that such a patriarch is needed, only that Carter is perceptive enough to sense the feeling of ambiguity or loss that might remain once a system is overthrown or seen through, despite its controlling or monstrous qualities.

Perhaps we might briefly discuss Mikhail Bakhtin’s concepts of the carnivalesque, and its limits in figuring the underworld. Once the world has been turned topsy-turvy by transgression into the carnivalesque, we might return to find that the controlling paradigm remains much the same as when we left it. How do we then apply the insights gained during our time in such a realm? In connection to this we might also argue that the Feast of Fools was an authorised Dionysian revelry, a way of relieving social tensions, and is perhaps more closely aligned to the controlling paradigm than it might appear at first glance. Is the concept of the underworld as figured by James Hillman simply a version of Bakhtin’s carnivalesque? Is it a masculine sleight-of-hand that ultimately denies the female subject, as intelligently discussed by Jane Miller in her book Seductions: Studies in Reading and Culture, and can it be explained away as patriarchy sanctioning occasional transgressions to defuse political discontent and to edify its power-base?

While Miller’s arguments have a strong political resonance, I would suggest that Hillman’s concept of non-oppositional perception is something far greater than what she is referencing. Elisabeth Mahoney makes a highly interesting point that might be useful here. She notes how feminine sexuality is dominantly coded as a lack of something, and that psychoanalytic theories ‘posit feminine desire as enigmatic; purely relational (for Freud through penis envy; for Lacan through the lack of the phallus, the universal signifier)’ and she goes on to argue:

Such models suggest that women are unable to articulate their own desires and remain trapped as objects of masculine desire, as the ‘other’ of the male gaze. Such influential psychoanalytic perspectives on feminine desire have prompted feminist theorists and cultural practitioners to rethink, if not altogether repudiate, these paradigms.

Therefore, in defence of the underworld perspective as an internal strategy to evade repression and denial of our darker aspects, we might consider that many scholars, including James Hillman and Julia Kristeva, believe the intellectual transgression of all absolutes is a profound and necessary tool in negotiating more inclusive concepts of sexuality and identity. I suspect it is a far more dangerous and transformative perception than Bahktin’s concept of the carnivelesque, or Bruno Bettelheim’s view of fairytales as deep unchanging archetypes that are purely positive and safe. This concept of the underworld implied by scholars like Hillman and Kristeva is always interrelated with our perceptions, both past and present, and like fairytales themselves it contains both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ polarities. It is the non-oppositional perspective from which we might perceive, rather than an unchanging aspect of a text or ourselves – and it does not play safe.


If we were to connect all the instances of resistance, subversion and transgression created by women throughout history, both in art and politics, might this interconnection form a counter-argument or a parallel tract to official history that is both reflexive and aggressive – an underworld of suppressed or denied experience? Perhaps through economic and cultural dominance the voices of patriarchy are heard loudest but they are not the only voices, nor have they ever been singular. The term ‘patriarchy’ itself is mutable, as is ‘feminism’.
We might consider that a heterosexual perspective is not the only one that can be used to analyse Carter’s work, or fairytales in general. Perhaps an application of queer-theory might garner some useful insights in this regard – the complexities of same-sex relationships as figured in fantastic literature, or simply a queer reading of Carter’s texts with regards to sexuality, identity and power.

There have always been other voices and other interpretive strategies, and like all things they rely on interrelationships for their meanings. Meanings change, and I would suggest that this is the power of an underworld perspective – a politicised and open-minded stewardship of ourselves, in all its multiplicity. I would argue that if the language for describing something changes, so too is the thing described also changed. Within that paradox lies an immense source of creative power because, as self-conscious beings gifted or cursed with the capacity for language, we must necessarily discuss ourselves into existence both externally and internally.


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Thursday, 14 October 2010

Childhood Disclosure – The longings, ideals and possibilities of magic in youth and children’s literature

Children seem to know about consciousness, regardless of how we as adults come to define that mysterious process. Children seem to know about magic, too. Is it a stretch to say that all perception in youth is inherently magical? Perhaps it is not that children or the adults who write stories for them long to be ensconced in the impossible or ideal – a magical world disclosed to them in which they can revel eternally – but that they might have a way into magic and back again; or, more suitably, an open path between them.

This article posits that many children already sense a certain truth about life, that it has powerful magical/mystical aspects to it – and that such children often turn to stories for full disclosure of that fact. This writer would also add that the adults writing or reading such stories are doing this too.

In Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, Wendy and the other Darling children are awed by the imaginal power of Neverland, but eventually come to miss the real world and their parents. In The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett it is clear that the protagonist Mary Lennox does not wish to live in the magical garden, rather she wishes to have free passage between the nurturing garden and the world outside. This potent desire for a two-way relationship between materiality and spirituality, or real and magical, is perhaps a facet of all human experience, children and adults alike.

There is a duality imagined today between the ‘real world’ and the otherworld of faeries, ghosts and dreams. However, it must be pointed out that the two are not natural oppositions and that they seem to co-create each other on an unconscious or ‘magical’ level. Rationality and irrationality combine through interpretation to produce human experience.

In Peter Pan there is a longing by the Darling children for the impossibility of Neverland. It is a place that is born from fantasies and desires; stories the children have read or been told – all of which are stories authored by adults, interestingly. Barrie figures this impossibility as a realm that exists beyond a veil on the edges of our perception. It is the apparent repository of the children’s unconscious sexual, physical and psychic impulses. The writer Peter Hunt quotes critic Margery Fisher in his work, and she notes the story’s ‘curiously twisted, self-conscious, indulgent humour’. Perhaps Neverland is Barrie’s repository also, or, moreover, the repository where the adult fantasy of childhood disclosure of magic is stored. The language that Barrie uses suggests an authenticity to the place, a parallel dimension of fantasy that exists alongside the world of the real. It is an idea especially evident in Mrs Darling’s dream:

"While she slept she had a dream. She dreamt that the Neverland had come too near and that a strange boy had broken through from it. [...] But in her dream he had rent the film that obscures the Neverland, and she saw Wendy and John and Michael peeping through the gap. "

It is this concept of the fairytale having a reality all its own that is so powerful. The faerie-realm can be figured as an actual place, traversable through imagined fractures or gaps, and if an elemental being like Peter Pan, or Dickon from Burnett’s novel, is sufficiently powerful he can perhaps ‘rent the film’ that divides this world from his. I would suggest that children (and intuitive adults) want disclosure of this mysterious realm, for it to be acknowledged and discussed openly. If they cannot find it in the hardened world-view of the adults around them then they will recreate it in play, imagination, movies and books. Above all I would suggest this longing for disclosure of the magical world is not just about acknowledgment or playful debate – it is about access.

In The Secret Garden, Mary Lennox finds a key and literally breaks into an enclosed space where she is not supposed to go. It can be read as a pseudo-sexual act, fostered by her insolence and a desire for mystery. It is not a truly magical garden until she acquires the nurturing help of Dickon, a Yorkshire boy with a preternatural connection to nature and its creatures. In a sense he is a cipher more than a character, representing an erotic communion between human and nature. Peter Pan may have stitched his clothes from leaves and is affiliated with faeries, but one can easily see the elemental similarities between him and Dickon. Both characters can play the pipes, but while Dickon is more of a happy nature sprite, Pan is a denizen of a darker psychological underworld.

However, in both cases it is the transgression of reality into fantasy, or vice versa, that is so tantalising – the twilight where both worlds can be imagined to co-exist. Imagination seems to be the key here, something that is at once universal and disturbingly personal – always in a state of transformative instability. As Jacqueline Rose has observed when discussing Freud’s ideas about the unconscious, ‘For Freud, neither childhood nor meaning can be pinned down – they shift, and our own identity with them.’ Perhaps a more comprehensive understanding of this paradox is akin to the space between the real and ideal (between materiality and magic); the two-way path between worlds that Mary Lennox so desperately desires in Burnett’s novel. Again, the driving force seems to be about access to such potency.

In J. M. Barrie’s tale Pan himself is depicted as something between real and ideal, between the possible and impossible. It is because of this quality that he is so desirable to the reader and to Barrie himself; desirable in the sense that he is a character in which we can deeply invest an adult fantasy of childhood enchantment. It is suggested that Pan once had a physical birth, a mother and father, but he has long since become legend; more an elemental faerie than a physical child. He is an attractive boundary figure. He can fly, he has superhuman agility, he can be incredibly charming, but he is also forgetful, emotionally fragile, and is capable of being quite brutal. In this sense Pan is a hybrid being, a mediator between earth and heaven, or more succinctly, between the possible reality and the impossible ideal. Is this why Wendy Darling, her siblings, and Barrie himself, are so attracted to him?

The same can be said of Dickon in The Secret Garden; an idyllic figure that acts as a mediator between Mother Earth and the world of Man. Mary Lennox is powerfully attracted to him, drawn to his ‘wick’ or life-force because he has a flavour of the impossible about him. Here we see the eroticism of their relationship quite clearly:

"They put their eager young noses close to the earth sniffed its warmed springtime breathing; they dug and pulled and laughed low with rapture until Mistress Mary’s hair was as tumbled as Dickon’s and her cheeks were almost as poppy red as his."

Mary’s erotic but virginal love of Dickon must in some oblique way be tied to Burnett’s symbolic love of him, as she is ostensibly the author of Mary’s desires. As Jacqueline Rose argues in the introduction to her seminal book:

"The child is rendered innocent of all the contradictions which flaw our interactions with the world. [...] Children’s fiction emerges, therefore, out of a conception of both the child and the world as knowable in a direct and immediate way"

Perhaps this helps to explain what Karin Lesnik-Oberstein calls the ‘Psychopathology Of Everyday Children’s Literature Criticism’; a pseudo-conscious longing by adults, to create, or perceive, or possess an ideal child, a child that is somehow transcendent because it is sealed off from imagined discursive abuses. Is there a parallel here to our longing for direct engagement with the world of magic? Do mediator-characters like Pan and Dickon help make the world of magic feel more real to us? There is another layer of significance to this question of the desire for magic and a disclosure of such realities. In Peter Pan Wendy desires a kiss from Pan, but it is an erotic attraction that does not contain a normative sexuality. Wendy is at times both flirtatious and maternal towards Pan. Thus, in a sense Pan is both Wendy’s potential lover and her beautiful son, making her somewhat analogous to the mythical goddesses of the ancient world – such as Isis – who often gave birth to the sun god and then took him as a lover, thereby creating him in the union that resulted.

Although Mary Lennox is figured in Burnett’s novel as the Virgin in a wild Eden, we can see quite starkly Wendy’s similarity to a goddess in 'The Little House' chapter of Barrie’s tale. Pan and the boys build a construct around the sleeping Wendy after an arrow has pierced her breast, in order to bring her back, reborn anew. This passage has the quality of a religious ritual, the interment of some holy icon:

‘No, no,’ Peter said, ‘you must not touch her. It would not be sufficiently respectful.’
‘That,’ said Slightly, ‘is what I was thinking.’
‘But if she lies there,’ Tootles said, ‘she will die.’
‘Aye, she will die,’ Slightly admitted, ‘but there is no way out.’
‘Yes there is,’ cried Peter. ‘Let us build a little house around her.’

If Wendy is figured as a kind of goddess, a virgin queen of heaven, then Pan is certainly her king. In simple patriarchal terms J. M. Barrie is the author and father of the tale, and therefore Pan is the symbolic son; an imagined aspect of the author that is eternally a faerie-child. But perhaps Pan and Wendy are Barrie’s parents also; mytho-poetic impulses living in his imagination and nurturing or distorting his creative vision.

Peter Hunt quotes a highly interesting observation made by Christine Wilkie, a critic of Burnett’s novel, who says, ‘We might be forgiven for overlooking indicators of erotic Dionysianism in The Secret Garden because they have been shrouded in Christian Mysticism.’ For those made anxious by this indeterminacy of meaning, it is important to note that the ideal child found in such material is often figured as either the Virgin Mother or the Son of God – Christianised versions of the apollonian sun gods and goddesses – presenting us images that we perhaps foolishly perceive as universal, pure and unproblematic. But as Julia Kristeva and many other critics have implied, rationality was not always figured in masculine patriarchal terms; the Sun was once androgynous, and the underworld of the psyche was not always a supposedly feminine, irrational and horrifying place. Dionysian creativity, older than the Christian light that came later, did not imagine such strict oppositions. Its rites glorified the idea that it was innovative and could not be easily contained. Like the darker aspects of Barrie’s Pan, Dionysus was wild, frenetic, paradoxical and dangerous.

The rise of monotheism, and the scorn subsequently attached to pantheistic thinking, has theoretically placed the centre of meaning-production outside of individual and social lives – ideas concerning life and language placed largely in the hands of an imagined Judaeo-Christian God, like the sun gods of old. This God is no longer part of an interdependent pantheon; rather he is patriarchal, singular, real and identifiable, much like the comforting mythical child that Karin Lesnik-Oberstein discusses. If both are real and unproblematic then both can be served adequately, without anxiety. If both ideas are accepted as absolute truths, then anything different becomes something unreal – a fallacy or a horror.

To this writer at least, such tensions are at the heart of our views about enchantment, magic and the disclosure/access of such realms.

However, fantastical literature has always contained the potential of politicising the inner world, creating a reform or at least a deeper appreciation of the faerie-land realm of psychological archetypes and multiple impulses. None of these archetype-impulses are fixed or stable but are dependent upon changeable interrelationships of perception for their symbolic meanings.

Perhaps what we sense here is akin to Dionysus, a wild pagan divinity that revelled in fragmentation, mutation and rebirth, always pushing against the limits of its form; something older than our unproblematic image of a clean Christian spirituality. If this is the case then J. M. Barrie’s Pan contains Dionysus within him, as does Burnett’s Dickon to an extent. Perhaps children’s literature contains such longing for the disclosure of magic because we all have irrepressible Dionysian paradox within us, adults and children alike. Are we all acutely intimate with the myriad impossible – whether we dare recognise this or not?


Aries, Philippe, Centuries of Childhood, trans. R. Baldrick (London: Jonathan Cape,

Barrie, J.M., Peter Pan (1911; London: Puffin, 2002)

Bettelheim, B., The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales
(London: Thames and Hudson, 1976)

Burnett, Frances Hodgson, The Secret Garden (1911; London: Puffin, 1994)

Hillman, James, The Dream and the Underworld (New York: Harper Perennial, 1979)

Hunt, Peter, An Introduction to Children’s Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press,

Hunt, Peter, Children’s Literature (London: Blackwell, 2001)

Kristeva, Julia, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1982)

Lesnik-Oberstein, Karin, ‘The Psychopathology Of Everyday Children’s Literature
Criticism’, Cultural Critique, 45, Spring 2000, (2000), 222-42.

Lundin, Anne, Constructing the cannon of children’s literature (New York: Routledge,

Reynolds, Kimberley, Children’s Literature in the 1890s and the 1990s (Plymouth:
Northcote House, 1994)

Reynolds, Kimberley, Radical Children’s Literature: Future Visions and Aesthetic
Transformations in Juvenile Fiction (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)

Rose, Jacqueline, The Case of ‘Peter Pan’; or, The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction
(London: Macmillan, 1984)

ed. Rowe, Donnelle, Culturing the Child 1690-1914: Essays in memory of Mitzi Myers
(Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2005)

Discussing the Illuminati Agenda - Part 3

In this video I continue discussing my own personal take on the Illuminati agenda. You needn't agree with everything in this video, but I hope it makes you think.

Friday, 1 October 2010

LITTLE, by Raj Sisodia

The M25 seemed faceless, cars passing them in the night like lighted shells, silver needles of rain spiking the tarmac with a hiss. Daddy was up front. She was in the back seat, tracing her fingers across the lovely red hoodie he had stolen for her back in Manchester. It made her feel all grown-up, and she smiled to herself. She tried to think about the girl that had owned it previously.
“Do you think she’ll miss it?”
Daddy didn’t respond at first, but then she saw him shrug. “Probably owned lots of clothes. Most kids do.”
She nodded. That was true enough.
Daddy turned up the radio slightly. It was a station playing old jazz, music that was all riffs and mistakes and passion. She had recently been trying to teach Daddy about jazz. He glanced at her in the rear-view mirror. “Who is this again?”
“Thelonius Monk,” she told him.
She caught a rare smile on his face, there and then gone. “I love what he does here,” he muttered. “I remember you played me this song once. I didn’t like it so much then, didn’t get it.”
“You get it now?” she asked.
“No, but I love it.”
She laughed and felt warm in her belly. There was a comfortable silence for a while.
Eventually Daddy said, “So tell me about the wolf again.” It was one of his favourite subjects. She liked watching Daddy’s mind moving, all the planes and curves of his perception. He had such an abiding patience, but he was curious too – like she was.
She liked teaching Daddy.
“The wolf is chaos,” she told him, “with claws and teeth; the terrible joy that they all secretly desire. You think?”
He glanced at her in the rear-view again. “I think.”
She wondered if Daddy was ever awed by his strange little girl, or scared, enough to make him want to run away forever. She hoped not. She would miss him.

The Bed & Breakfast was a renovated Georgian house. The young man at the reception smiled at them both. She shook the rain from her hood. Daddy was all method; cheerful exhaustion at how they’d been driving all night, how much he was looking forward to seeing his wife the next afternoon. She was impressed.
“Daddy’s a musician,” she informed the clerk, and the pride in her voice wasn’t faked.
He held up his black guitar-case. “Thank you, no autographs.”
The young man laughed. Daddy signed some stuff, gave some money and they retreated upstairs.
Their room had pale blue walls and an en-suite bathroom. Daddy dumped his guitar-case and their bag on the bed. She went over to the television, switched it on and began skipping through the channels. She wrinkled her nose and touched it to the screen. Static tickled her face.
She turned and watched Daddy sit on the bed, remove his silver tin and begin rolling a joint. They had earned it. It was nice to be out of the car for a while. “Little,” he asked her, “do you want me to run you a shower?”
Little was Daddy’s name for her. “Maybe a bit later. I want some of what you’re making.”
They shared the joint, passing it between them, inhaling the spicy smoke, listening to the faint sounds of the motorway.
“Do you ever think you’d run away?” she asked him. It was a bold question. They never really talked about it. Maybe she was tired.
He peered uncomfortably at her. “No…why would I want to?”
She shrugged, pulled off the red hoodie and held it in her hands. She pressed it to her face and smelled the fabric. Daddy watched her, taking a long drag on the joint.
“This girl smells of boredom, and anger.” She rubbed the fabric against her cheek. “Thank you for giving me this. I’ll treasure it more than she did.”
He nodded, exhaled a thin stream of smoke and handed her the joint. He opened their bag and began laying the knives onto the bed.

Daddy was downstairs now. She stood alone in the en-suite bathroom, peering at herself in the mirror. She pulled up her vest and inspected herself, sighing at how girlish she was. Not even a hint of breasts. She puffed out her belly and held it. She looked like a swollen doll.
She thought of the fire-times, dark times, and remembered holding a newborn to her chest. As close as she would ever get.
She heard Daddy unlock the door to the room. She quickly pulled her vest back down. He came and stood in the bathroom doorway. The bloodied knife was still clutched in his fist. He smiled warmly at her. He’d managed to get some under his chin, a scarlet streak. She pulled a towel off the rail and tossed it to him, making a gesture at her neck. He began wiping absently and turned away. Through the doorway she saw him perch on the end of the bed.
“Only one guest,” he said. “Saw it in the logbook but had to be sure.”
She went into the room and lay down behind him, curling her arms around his waist. Three of the knives still glinted cleanly on the sheets.
“Where’s the other one?” she asked.
“I left it in her heart.”
She sat up and looked at him. He stared at her like he was concentrating.
“The guest was a woman?”
He nodded. “I told her I was the wolf.”
She grinned and saw a sheepish smile touch his face. She stood up on the bed and kissed the top of his head. “Another girlfriend,” she muttered. “Another claw-mark for the bedpost.”
He squirmed, “Little, don’t…”
“Don’t be that way.” His voice had sadness in it now.
She felt a bit bad for mocking him.
“Anyway,” he said, “the clerk is still at reception. Go have some fun, I’ll wash up.”
She stepped off the bed and went to the door, glancing back at him. “Run me that shower then, please.”

It had been hot and fat and wet, his blood, first in her hands, then in her mouth. She squatted in the corner behind the reception, the lower half of her face slick with red. Her heart was a fist opening and closing rapidly in her chest. She could still taste his life on her tongue. She could feel it inside her, alive, like millions of tiny stars. She was breathing so fast.
She grabbed the corner of the reception desk and hauled herself upright, propping against the counter. The clerk lay broken and vivid at her feet.
She didn’t need knives.
She and Daddy were alone in the building now. She stumbled around the clerk and back into the hallway, bolting the front doors and switching off the reception lights. In the darkness she turned and staggered towards the stairs. She thought her heart might burst inside her chest. She was grinning so wide that her mouth might split. She nearly tripped at the first step. She should have asked the clerk if he had any children.

The shower was suitably cold and she let it cascade her with a thousand needle-points of water. The blood was only a reddish swirl at the bottom of the cubicle, sucking itself away. She bowed her head and pressed a hand to her belly, trying to imagine a new life growing there. The icy spray massaged the back of her neck.
Daddy had left her his grey woollen jumper on the handrail. She dried herself off with a towel and then pulled the jumper over her head. It reached halfway down her thighs. She liked wearing Daddy’s big, comforting clothes; a way to keep him close.
He had just finished rolling another joint for them when she returned.
“Good timing,” he said and handed her the finished product like a prize. She took it and snatched his chrome lighter from the sheets.
The smoke tasted sweet in her lungs now, instead of spicy. They sat side by side on the bed, while a newscaster murmured from the television set.
“We should stay in London for a while,” she told Daddy. “Watch the news, how they report this. All the salt and the sweat. At least it’ll give us something to do.”
“They always get it wrong,” he murmured, a note of distain in his voice.
“Don’t hate them. We have our fun. They’re just scared, that’s all.”
Daddy grimaced, and suddenly she felt sad for him. “I can’t ever remember being scared,” he said. “All I remember is you.”
She wondered if there was resentment in his words. “I’m really scared myself sometimes. Scared you’ll just disappear one day.”
Daddy didn’t like that she was mentioning this again. “I don’t know what else I can say to you, Little, except that I won’t leave you. I enjoy this too much.”
She grinned and nuzzled him, and waited for sleep to come. It was the most comforting thing he could have said.

The morning light was grey and refreshing. It had stopped raining but the roads hadn’t dried yet. They were driving again, passing through East London as people of all varieties began to throng the streets. The Bed & Breakfast was far behind them. She was sitting up front with Daddy this time. His black guitar-case lay across the back seat. She pulled the red hood over her head. “This city is beautiful,” she muttered.
“I like Manchester better, it felt darker.”
She chided him with a smile. “You don’t know this city yet. It’s as dark as they come.”
He nodded and kept his eyes on the road.
“Tell me about the woman last night,” she asked him.
She could sense his unease. “What do you want to know?”
“Do you love them as much as me?”
Daddy frowned. “I don’t love them. I just use them.”
“You know what I mean. Enjoy them. More than me.” She knew Daddy was curious about the life that was lost to him. He hated it, but he was curious. “Well, do you?”
“No, not more. Just different.”
She smiled and nodded. “Good. Different doesn’t frighten me as much.” And then coldly she added, “I would’ve eaten her.”
He glanced at her as if deciding something. Then he said, “I know what you want, Little. You want another child.”
Daddy looked concerned now. “It’ll be so strange, not just the two of us anymore.”
Perhaps he was afraid that he wouldn’t mean as much to her. Poor, sweet man. She wanted to pepper the top of his head with kisses. “You’ll still be everything to me.”
“I know,” he murmured.
“A new life, Daddy. Imagine that? The streets are always full of babies. We can take one. I’ll just take one.”
“Soon,” she said. “Today.”

Daddy was hungry by midday. They parked the car on the edge of a housing-estate in Mile End, and walked for about ten minutes to a café on the high road. Daddy managed to smoke two cigarettes along the way.
He ordered himself a sweet black coffee and a full English breakfast. She ordered a Coke because she loved the shiny red cans, and thought it would match her new hoodie. She liked watching Daddy eat, but she couldn’t remember the last time she had actually finished a food-meal. She could keep down small amounts, otherwise she ended up wretching.
When the food came Daddy tucked right in. She sat in silence, smiling, content.
Near the end of Daddy’s meal an old fat woman in a floral-print dress gave him a lingering glance. The woman was working on her second plate of pie and mash, but paused to look Daddy up and down. The hag was probably getting moist at the thought of having him. Little imagined blinding her with hot black coffee. The shrieking and melting, like the horrible witch in the Wizard of Oz.
Little smiled and took a sip of her Coke. It was very fizzy.

For an hour or so they wandered the high road. People blustered and swore at the cold and talked on mobile phones. Daddy smoked. Little window-shopped. She saw sweaters and scarves and pretty gloves in those windows. They were all wonderful, and she wanted none of them. She took notice whenever a mother and child passed by. Her step slowed whenever she caught sight of a push-chair. Or a pram.
She thought about all the mother & child fairytales she had read. Mary and Jesus. Demeter and Persephone. Isis and Horus. In those stories the child was always a reborn version of its parents.
She glanced at Daddy peering into a jeweller’s window. Perhaps there was some truth to those stories. There were definitely secret patterns stitched into the world, patterns that most of the daytime people couldn’t see.
She was proof of that.
Wistfully she touched a hand to her belly again. “Daddy,” she said.
“I get so angry sometimes.”
He turned away from the jeweller’s window and peered down at her. He kneeled and gave her a peck on each cheek. “You’re a very special girl.”
He took her hand and they continued to stroll down the busy high road.
“I still think about the other times, the fire-times, before I came to you. Before I found my lovely Daddy.”
“You don’t talk about the fire-times much anymore,” he said.
She didn’t know what to say, all of a sudden. It seemed like such a long time ago, but when she looked into a mirror and saw her girl-face, she imagined it must have been only yesterday.
“It feels like a dream to me now. It used to feel so real.”
In the fire-times, Little was sure that she had stolen a baby from its crib and set a farmhouse ablaze. She remembered blood on her hands, the baby whimpering. A man and woman lying broken and messy on the hallway floor. Flames that were orange and yellow and red.
Daddy looked down at her again, still holding her hand. “Little, I think the fire-times were real. I think, in a way, you were born from it. That was the night my Little was truly born.”
“Feels like a long time ago,” she said.
“Maybe it was. But you came to me. You chose me, and I love you. Especially when you challenge me.”
She couldn’t help it. She stopped there in the street and hugged him fiercely.

She and Daddy would often go to the cinema together. They loved to watch all the huge moving images. Sometimes they even bought popcorn just for fun. There was a kind of magic in those images, even Daddy agreed. Something about being able to frame an event, to see it outside itself, like a ghost in the world.
This time the story was full of action and orchestra. Daddy sat wide-eyed like a boy and drank in the exploding police cars, the collapsing bridges and breathless chases. She enjoyed it too, but it was a movie for Daddy really. He loved the violence, the thunder.
She saw a half-smile touch his lips when a pretty secretary was knifed to death in a dark hallway by the hooded terrorist. Little had already guessed that the terrorist was actually the Detective’s son. Daddy gripped her hand and actually grinned.
“I love this thing,” he whispered.
Little couldn’t help but laugh. It was a joy to see him excited and happy. She loved sitting there in the dark with him, watching people’s dreams.

After the movie Daddy bought himself another sweet black coffee and sipped it as they walked back towards the car. It wasn’t dark yet but it was getting very cold. Daddy only had a t-shirt beneath his leather jacket. He looked grateful for the hot drink in his hands.
She didn’t feel the cold anymore. She’d forgotten what it must be like, but she loved how it gave everything an icy, unnatural sheen. She liked it best when it was so cold that she could see the breath in front of people’s faces, like dancing spirits.
In the car Daddy started the engine and turned on the heater. He offered her some of his coffee, and she took it just to try. She’d only tried coffee once before. She had the tiniest sip, tasted it for a moment and then swallowed. It tasted quite nice really, rich and mysterious, like it had secrets in it. Sort of like blood, but thinner and much less potent. She handed it back to him.
“I see why you like it,” she said. “It tastes like it’s smiling. A terrible smile.”
“I love your words, Little.”
She closed her eyes and imagined holding a tiny life in her arms. “I want to go driving,” she said. “It’s time.”

She sat alone in the car, parked behind a Mercedes with a pink baby-seat in the back. She had caught a glimpse of that vivid pink and knew this was the house. She’d known instinctively that a child waited for her somewhere inside, like their hearts were already beating in rhythm.
Daddy had gone in first.
She had to stop herself from squirming in the seat. Her smile was starting to hurt. Eventually she couldn’t wait any longer and got out of the car, glancing up at the big semi-detatched house. Night had taken the sky. She hurried to the front door and knocked. She tugged at the hem of her red hoodie while she waited.
Eventually Daddy quietly opened the door and pressed a finger to his lips. She was inside in an instant. He closed the door behind her. The hallway lights were on. She didn’t see a knife in Daddy’s hand, but there was a jagged ribbon of blood arcing up the wall. She could smell it. She noticed a few flecks of it on his t-shirt.
“You were right,” he said. He pointed up the stairs. “Second door on the right.”
She couldn’t conceal her excitement. She felt like jumping up and down.
Daddy glanced into the next room. “The wife is still breathing. I want to go howl at the moon.” He glanced at her, as if for permission.
“I’ll be upstairs.”
She climbed the staircase, feeling like a fairytale princess. The baby’s room was white and pale blue, with splashes of colour from stuffed toys dotted around. The crib was dressed with a golden sun, a silver moon, and dozens of tiny stars. She lunged forward and peered into the crib. The baby was awake, blinking and staring at her.
“Oh, beautiful, beautiful baby…”
Her hands were trembling slightly as she picked it up. She thought horribly that it might start to cry, that it would somehow sense the wrongness in her and be disgusted. But it only looked at her and made baby sounds. She remembered the fire-times, when she had first held a newborn in her arms. She rembered the house burning behind her, the car outside, and the man with the shotgun. Terror was in his eyes. He knew what she’d done. She remembered the gunshot seemed to last forever. She felt the baby come apart in her arms. The force tore her ribs open and hurled her to the ground.
Fire and blood. She had woken up with a hole in her heart.
She blinked the images away and held this new baby to her chest. She sent it the deepest tenderness she could muster. She tried to feel its tiny heart beating. It was not afraid of her. She loved it already.

In the car she held it close. It was sleeping now. She could feel its soft breath. As Daddy drove he glanced at the baby in her arms. She didn’t care where they were going.
“That woman begged for her child’s life,” Daddy said plainly, almost sadly. “Not for her own. I could feel her love. She kept saying ‘my baby, my baby, please don’t hurt my Emma…’ But I told her it wasn’t hers anymore.”
Little looked down at the thing she was holding. “A girl,” she whispered. “Emma.”
She hadn’t expected a girl.
“What do we do with it?” Daddy asked.
She chuckled. “We take care of it, silly. We love it, with all our hearts.”
“I know, Little. I’m teasing you.”
She grinned at him. “Tease all you want. I’m going to have a big smile on my face all night.”
Daddy gave her a po-faced wink that thrilled her. She closed her eyes and whispered into the baby’s ear, “I’ve missed you.”

They stopped at a petrol station becuase Little realised that Emma would need baby food and nappies and wet-wipes. The child was their responsibility now, and they should start as they meant to go on.
“Maybe I should hold her when we go in there,” said Daddy.
He didn’t argue. They got out of the car and she waited while Daddy filled the tank. She whispered kind words to the life in her arms.
Little enjoyed the unearthly fluorescent glow of petrol stations at night. She had been in so many of them. She liked to imagine that one day astronauts would discover petrol stations on the dark side of the moon. The attendant was a tall Indian man with very dark eyes. His gaze followed them around the store, moving from Daddy to her to the baby. The man definitely looked troubled by something. Little felt her grip on Emma tighten. Sometimes she and Daddy would encounter individuals who seemed to sense a strangeness about them. Normally these people couldn’t quite put their finger on it, but occasionally there were individuals who seemed to sense far more.
The man behind the glass counter peered at her and nodded respectfully, but his eyes were on fire. She hoped Daddy didn’t notice, because Daddy was more cruel than she was. There were no nappies in the store, and she suddenly wanted to get out of there, but Daddy was already approaching the counter.
“Hey,” said Daddy to the man, “You got any wet-wipes, or baby food? We’ve been driving for a while.”
“Sorry, no.” The man glanced at Little holding the baby in her arms.
Daddy shrugged amicably. “Ok then, can I get fifteen quid on number three and a pack of twenty Marlboros?”
The tall Indian started ringing up their order. He looked angry, not afraid. If Emma hadn’t been there, Little might have considered frightening him a bit. Or even let Daddy take it further. She didn’t like it when people thought they were better than her. She knew the man was thinking it. She approached the counter, next to Daddy, rocking the baby gently.
“Hello,” she said.
The man didn’t respond, but then Daddy glanced at her. A vague smile appeared on Daddy’s lips. “She’s talking to you, mate,” he said, without looking at the man.
“Hello,” the Indian said immediately.
“What’s your name?” Little asked him.
“That’s a lovely name. My name’s Little. you see things? Things that most people don’t see?”
His eyes flitted from her to Daddy and back again. “I...I don’t know what it is you mean, young lady.” He handed Daddy his change and tried a disarming smile.
Little said, “I think you know exactly what I mean.”
Now the man looked frightened, and his quickening anger seemed to retreat like it had never been there at all. “S-Sometimes I can see,” he stammered. “But I’m nothing, nothing really.”
She glanced at Daddy and felt his intrigue and rage both at once. “What do you see here, Jarresh?” she asked.
He took a long time before responding. “I see darkness,” he said tentatively. “Darkness”
She felt Daddy’s presence soften unexpectedly. He looked almost flattered at what the Indian had said.
Little decided then that Jarresh was quite sweet.
“Have a nice night,” she said. “And thank you for talking to me.”
Daddy winked at the man. They turned away and walked out of the petrol station. Little could feel the Indian’s relief like a powerful wave that carried them back to their car. She was still holding Emma very close.

They were on the move again, and Little couldn’t help but think about Jarresh. She didn’t want people to hate her. She didn’t hate them. Sometimes she hurt them, or drank from them, but she never hated them. She liked people. People were beautiful. But the man in the petrol station had reminded her just how different she was.
Daddy looked at her as he drove. “You ok, my lovely?”
“Yeah. We didn’t get any food for Emma.”
“She’ll be all right till tomorrow morning. Then we’ll stop at a supermarket and get everything we need.”
“Ok. Thank you, Daddy.”
“Don’t worry about the petrol station guy. I bet he doesn’t see half as much as he thinks he does.”
Little stroked Emma’s tiny cheek. “He thought I was a monster.”
Daddy frowned. “We could go back.”
“No, it’s ok.”
There was silence in the car for a while. Little didn’t want to think about people hating what she was. She had Emma now. She would never let anything take her away. She should be happy.
“Where do you think we should sleep tonight?” asked Daddy. “Another Bed & Breakfast?”
She shook her head. “No. I want to take Emma somewhere special. I want to make her an official part of our family.”
It wasn’t difficult to detect the mixed emotions in Daddy’s face. “Family,” he said, frowning like the word was alien to him.

It was a church in Whitechapel. Daddy was very good at getting into places where he wasn’t supposed to go. She waited in the shadow of the building, holding the baby, hoping she was concealed from the few cars passing out on the road. Daddy unbolted the big wooden doors from the inside and ushered them in.
She and Daddy had broken into churches many times before, usually just to wander around in them or to sleep somewhere different. They would always leave the place more or less how they’d found it. Daddy certainly wasn’t religious, and neither was she, but both of them enjoyed being in such potent places.
Places that the daytime people believed were very special.
Daddy peered around in the darkness, staring up at the stained-glass windows backlit by the street lamps from outside. He moved around the church, lighting the candles that he came upon. Within a minute the space was washed in a faint candlelight that was dim enough to be undetectable from the street. She grinned. She felt like the whole church belonged not to God, but to the three of them.
“Should we say a prayer or something?” asked Daddy.
She wanted to laugh. “No, no prayers. We don’t need them.” She glanced up at an image of the Virgin Mother. The Madonna’s eyes had mercy and tenderness in them.
Little took Emma over to the baptismal font. The baby was awake now. It blinked and stared at her. It smiled when she smiled. Daddy stood away to one side. She could sense his unease about Emma. He didn’t love the child yet. But he would, in time.
She dabbed a drop of water from the font onto Emma’s forehead. The baby gurgled like it was amused.
“Emma, there was a whole other life that you were going to lead, with a different family. But that wasn’t your destiny. I’m different to most mummies, but I promise you I will love you more than anyone could ever love you. And if I have to, I’ll give my life to protect you.”
She thought of the fire-times yet again, holding a newborn to her chest – the burning house, the gunshot, the hole that was left in her heart.
She remembered lying dead in a thin lake of her own blood, her chest open and steaming in the cold night air, her broken ribs jutting at the stars.
She remembered waking up.
“Daddy will love you too,” she told Emma. Daddy stared at the floor, unable to look at either of them.
She took the baby to the altar and sat down, rocking it gently and patting its back. When she looked at Daddy she saw he was still standing in the same place, still peering at the stone floor.
“Do you have something to say, Dad?” She was surprised at the anger in her tone.
He seemed to think about how to respond, but he didn’t look at her. “I don’t know how I feel about this. I don’t want you to be mad at me.”
“Can’t you just be happy for me?”
Daddy looked genuinely hurt now. “I am. Of course I am, but...I love you, and I want to be honest with you. That’s all.”
She cradled the child. She didn’t like being mad at Daddy, but she couldn’t help it. She felt aggression welling in her throat even as she tried to speak. “Well, thank you for your honesty, Daddy.”
There was that heaviness that sometimes came between them. It was all the more frightening because it was so rare. She’d only had Emma for a few hours and already the child was unsettling things. She held it close and listened to its baby sounds.
Eventually Daddy came and sat beside her on the altar. She knew he wanted to break the tension, and she loved him for it.
“She hasn’t cried yet,” he said.
“You’re right.”
“Babies cry all the time, don’t they? So, she must really like you.”
“I hope so,” said Little. “I love her.”
He nodded and frowned, peering into Emma’s wide eyes. “Such a fragile thing.”
The two of them sat in the faint candlelight of the church, staring down at the young life in Little’s arms.
“Tell you what,” Daddy said quietly, “I’m going to go grab my guitar.”
He was only gone a few minutes, and she sat with the baby in silence. The faint sound of cars out on the road kept them company. When he returned he sat back down beside her and began unlocking his case.
“Maybe we should write her a song. We’ll call it ‘Emma’s Song’, but you’ll have to help me with the lyrics.”
Little smiled at him. “Ok.”
For the next hour or so Daddy worked on chords and melodies, making mistakes and false starts, while Little rocked the child and thought of special words to say. Even though Daddy was a wolf, and unsettled by the strange new child, Little was certain that their music was drawing down tiny pieces of magic from the night itself.