I wanted to contribute to the chat about Miss Hall's book. I think Miss Trent was quite right when she pointed out that girly girls have always been free to frequent cinemas together, etc. as long as they remained discreet about their affections. The fourth decade of darkness response to this issue is more about asking, "why do we have to be discreet?" rather than about insisting on the "right" to feel affection for other women. A typical fourth decade mass-media event staged by "activists" interested in "lesbian rights" (my apologies for using so many bongo-isms to make this point) is what has been called a "kiss in." During this event, women stand on a street corner and kiss each other in front of television cameras. The intention is to shock a viewing public into recognizing that this behavior is normal. The attitude is, "if heterosexual people can kiss on the street corners, why can't we?" My response to this attitude is, "well, heterosexual people shouldn't be kissing on street corners either! Let's set an example for them, shall we?" Of course, in the real world, even heterosexuals knew that affection and amour is sullied when made public. It is my privilege to be discreet in public about my affections for my own lovely brunette. I do so not out of a shameful response to a "repressive culture," but because I know that being discreet and demure, being feminine and refined is superior to being crass and public. One last point, this in response to the bongo attitude that only in the late twentieth-century are girly girls free to be "themselves." Throughout the centuries, women have been intensely homo-emotional beings. I've spent the last several years reading diaries and journals of women from the 18th century through the Eclipse. Almost without exception, these diaries are filled with stories of dear girlfriends, charming school mistresses, and kind sisters-in-law. Rarely are fathers, husbands, and brothers even mentioned. Throughout history, up until the Eclipse, women understood that the center of life is the Hestia, that love and adoration and affection are central to their relationships with other women, and that men are necessary to maintain the physical realm, but, in truth, are emotionally insignificant. So, when a girly girl in this fourth decade of darkness insists that only now are girly girls beginning to "come into their own," she really is talking about homo-sexuality rather than homo-emotionality. And that woman's nature *is* emotional rather than sexual is a topic for another time!
Your Serious pette, now in need of a serious gimlet,
Well, here I am back on the Queen Mary, this time returning home to pit-America. What a lovely time I had in Yvyanne; but, you see, I am actually taking Yvyanne home with me. For no longer am I an American. I am now an Aristasian! And although the Aristasian Embassy is located near Pit-London, Aristasia itself is manifested in little dots all over Telluria, including, I am happy to say, my little spot on the globe, located in Pit- america. I have so much to tell you darlings that I hardly know where to begin. Dear barmaid, help me clear my head with a Rusty Nail, would you? It is so lovely to see you again, Sweet Ariadne. You are coming along quite nicely in your new position. I see that the Cocktail Bar management has decided on billowy milk-maidy attire for the wait staff. I heartily approve! It shows your girly figure off to the greatest advantage, dearie. But such a daring outfit surely gets some of the rougher brunettes thinking about pinching soft fleshy parts. Have you had any problems with that yet? Thank you for the drinky-poo, and now, on to details of my grand adventure. Remember Elaine, the brunette in disguise who transformed little 'ole me into a blonde? Well, she is still here, but, true to brunette style, is now helping a couple of other more, um, needy girls understand their Aristasian selves. When I boarded the Queen Mary and met Elaine's lovely eyes, she knew at once that, after my visit to the Embassy, I was far enough along that I no longer needed her complete attention. We are still quite fast friends, and I am not at all disappointed, for just seeing her give of herself to those two helpless little blondes (who by the way remind me so very much of Trudy and Rosie), makes my own sweet blonde heart swell. But more about my trip. I arrived at the Embassy all aflutter. Was my hat on straight? Did my gloves match the rest of my outfit? Was I going to be presentable to high Aristasian authorities? What if I forgot the many, many rules and requirements I had heard about? Oh, how nervous I was as I stood at the door, waiting for it to be answered by some smartly clad serving girl! And, as it came about, there was good reason for the nervous part, for Aristasians do maintain high standards in all things. But, on the other dainty little hand, Aristasians are warm and loving, ready to help a girl be real and good in any way they can. If I could describe Aristasia in only one way, it would be thus: it is an utterly feminine world in which high standards and complete love dominate every single action and event. Absolute strictness married to absolute compassion. One without the other would leave a world crumbling. Both together create the closest thing to heaven on earth one can find. And that is my honest assessment. More details later, Sweeties! But for now, I am going to take my leave of you cocktail bar pettes so that I might rejoin my lovely companions aboard the Queen Mary.
Until next time, I remain your loving Aristasian correspondent,
But back to solid morality: I can see the great misery that awaits Stephen because of solid Edwardian morality. This was the essence of my comment (or question), the one that you posted in the Cocktail Bar, to the effect that, despite the depredations of the Pit, lesbians are freer now to follow their natures, than in, say, Quirrie times, precisely because of atomization and the destruction of traditional culture. You dismissed it by more-or-less saying, "Who the Dickens would ever know two girly-girls were, in fact girly-girls unless they were necking in the back row?" And also by saying that girls of all minds commonly held hands and engaged in honest, un-self-conscious public displays of feminine affection for one another without exciting the least adverse comment. Yes, perhaps so in the anonymity of a great city. But poor Stephen does not live in a great city. She lives in the country, and may as well live in a drop of pond water on the stage of some great social microscope: nothing she does, not riding astride, nor fencing, nor hunting, nor dressing in pinstripes and neckties ... nothing is unremarked, (except to Stephen herself): all is thrown into the calculus of twittering, snide condemnation and opprobrium. Sir Philip saw it coming but was unable to tell Stephen, his own daughter. Puddle knows it because she, too, is a lesbian and has doubtless faced it herself, but she can say nothing because of her place, even though she appears to be in love with Stephen. So, as of this moment in the book, Stephen does not know what she is facing: "And Puddle was helpless. What could she do, bound as she was by the tyranny of silence? ...Outrageous, Puddle would feel it to be, that willfully selfish tyranny of silence evolved by a crafty old ostrich of a world for its own well-being and comfort. The world hid its head in the sands of convention, so that, seeing nothing, it might avoid Truth..." In other words, Stephen's "affliction" was so repugnant to Edwardian convention that it could not even be acknowledged between parents and child nor discussed in "polite" conversation (though it could no doubt be the subject of lively countryside gossip, I suppose).
Am I missing something here, Alice Lucy? Well, perhaps you will say it would be different, even in a rural setting, with girly-girls, who would, after all, outwardly appear to all observers as the perfectly feminine women which they are. Well, in any case, you anticipated some of my thinking. And, by the way, I find Miss Hall's prose to scan almost like poetry much of the time. The book is so compellingly written that anyone should be able to sympathize with Stephen and feel what she is feeling. One needn't be a man to sympathize with Jean Valjean, for example. The better the writer, the more people of any stripe will sympathize with her characters, n'est-ce pas? So I am a bit surprised to learn that some of the pettes find the book very hard to sympathize with at all -- it is so honest a book, its "cri de coeur" so unfeigned... are you sure that even pettes may not sometimes be guilty of a bit of pinkshirtism of their own? I knew Sir Philip had to die prematurely, leaving his daughter so vulnerable (I thought he would get thrown by a horse, not succumb to such a mundane and unexpected accident as a snow-laden cedar bough crushing his chest -- how very plausible, in fact -- it rings of truth) and when he did I was so unhappy for Stephen that I cried and felt I could not read any further. And having read further, enjoying the prose, I have a sick-making foreboding of very sad things to come, which I am not sure I really want to read. Alice Lucy: Pinkshirtism? Les pettes? No, I don't think so. It is a purely personal reaction. I agree that Miss Hall's work cries out for our sympathy and should get it, but a girl in the Pit fighting for her own femininity in a world that opposes it on every side with daggers and poison, may perhaps be forgiven for her imperfect sympathies in matters that touch her present dilemma so closely as to make objectivity difficult.
But this question of "solid Edwardian morality". It opens a very interesting vein. But first I must beg you not to make fun of my previous comments about necking in the back row. They were a specific answer to a specific question. You asked about the freedom of girly-girls in the pre-Eclipse world to frequent real cinemas, restaurants etc. And I gave you the answer to that question, which is, I think, the true one. And curiously, even in Stephen's case, in the much more organic, integrated, and, therefore, in some respects restricted, environment of the Edwardian English country gentry, it was more her cross-dressing than her affectionate preferences that caused the greatest of her difficulties. It was possible for two discreet ladies to live together in perfect propriety. Their affection would not have been seen in a sexual light by their neighbours, and possibly not by themselves either. And whether the love of women should really be called "sexual" (i.e. constructed on the strict model of heterosexual progenitive relations) is a question in itself. Let us leave that one for another occasion.
The Well of Loneliness is a tragedy; and like many - perhaps most - of the literary tragedies of the pre-Eclipse world, from Oedipus to the 1960s it turns upon the clash between individual desire and social constraint; between the reality that lies in the self, and another, equally real and equally pressing, that lies outside the self. That external reality is pressing, precisely because it comes from a reality that is deep and rich and rewarding. Professor Bloom talks about the loss of understanding of the depth of these tragedies by the young people of the Pit because their real meaning no longer strikes them "Anna's son today would probably have been awarded to her in the amicable divorce arrangements of the Karenins", writes Professor Bloom. All the moral imperatives that made the traditional literature tick: "with the possible exception of Oedipus, they are all gone, and they departed in the company of modesty." Perhaps the Pit-conditioned soul is inclined to applaud this state of affairs. The banality of it is, of course obvious. But whatever it has done to literature and to our aesthetic sensibilities, surely it has improved life. Well, let us consider the position of Stephen. Would it be impossible for her to live as a girly-girl, even in her own extreme interpretation of it, pinstripes, neckties and all? By no means. There were Bohemian circles in London and Paris, and in many other places where she could have lived in complete acceptance. Her tragedy lies not in the fact that she cannot live as she chooses, but that she cannot combine living as she chooses with the only life, the only world that she finds acceptable: the solid, decent world of English better-class country life. More cosmopolitan worlds are hers for the taking, but she would scorn them. Because the good, sound life of the real world is what an essentially good, sound soul like Stephen craves and needs. It is the air she breathes, without which she would suffocate. And this, so obvious in Stephen's case, is generally true of the so-called "oppressive moralities" of the pre-Eclipse world. They compelled not so much by brute force, as because the social and spiritual benefits they offered made people want to be part of them and to enjoy their goodness. Clashes arose when that desire conflicted with some individual unconventionality, and those clashes were very painful. And they were very painful precisely because the pull of the Real World was so great, the benefits conferred by solid, decent, "conventional" society were of a nature unimaginable to the Pit-dweller, because they simply do not exist anywhere in the Pit. That is why the Pit-dweller is forced to live for sex, consumer goods and the treadmill-pursuit of "career". Nothing deeper is left to her.
And this, of course is the whole point. This is what knocks the much-boasted "improvements" of the Pit-s post-morality into a cocked hat. Every advantage the Pit could offer to Stephen was already available to Stephen before the Pit came about. If she had wanted to live in a society where "conventional morality" counted for nothing, she could easily have chosen to live in such a world. It would have been a hateful world to her, lacking in all decent, solid values - slick, cheap, decadent and worthless. But nowhere near as slick cheap decadent and worthless as the Pit. Before the Eclipse, people had a choice, which was, for a minority, a deeply painful choice, between reaping the benefits of a solid, "conventional" world, still connected, however vestigially, to the ancient Golden Order, or of escaping into a cheap, flashy, rather unsatisfying demi-monde. The Pit, it is true, has eliminated that painful choice. It has done so by turning the whole world into a cheap, flashy, unsatisfying demi-monde. No one, anywhere in the Pit can any longer find the fulfilling solidity of ordinary decent life, without which Stephen found life unworthy of living. Those ordinary, simple, wholesome satisfactions have simply been stolen from every one. They have departed in the company of modesty. There are no bitter moral conflicts in the punk-civilisation of the Fourth Decade of Darkness, any more than there is any Problem of Personal Hygiene for people living in the sewers. The whole question has simply been eradicated by amputating one half of it, and leaving us with an impoverished reality where there are no conflicts of values because there are no values. And those values are so far gone, so eerily forgotten over the short space of a few decades that almost no one remembers they ever existed. They imagine that they were simply intolerable rules and regulations imposed from without and giving nothing in return. They have no idea of the sense of solidity and belonging of the subtle thrills and frissons, the excitement and contentment, that has been lost along with these apparently arbitrary rules. They only know that life feels shallow and dingy, cheap and unsatisfying, and imagine that it was always like that.
(Wolligogs, Alice Lucy! I know this is murky, but let me try to muddle through nonetheless.) So mightn't you and your fellow Aristasians have engaged in Life Theater in any event, as it is based upon Feminine essence? The next question concerns the opportunity the Eclipse gave you to create a feminine empire. You said that the creation of such a world "suited" you. Had the Eclipse not occurred, how would girlie-girls, chapettes -- how would they have fared? What, in fact, is the history of girly-girls in historical Trentish, Kadorian and Quirrie times? Were they been free, without censure, to associate in real cinemas, restaurants, soda fountains in those historical times as they can today in Aristasia-in-Telluria, without the slightest regard to what bongos may think? What of "solid Quirrie morality?" Did historical "solid Quirrie morality" pose barriers to girly-girls associating with one another as freely as they do in Aristasia-in-Telluria today in their own self-defined world? I don't know the answers.
When I was a girl in those historical times, such questions were too "grown up" for me. So I must ask an expert, a scholar of those times, and I can think of no more well-versed a scholar as you, Alice Lucy. Were the real magazines of those historical times, "Women's Own," for example, directed at girly-girls? Or to what you would now call hets? (that is, to ordinary, "solid", racinated, competent, heterosexual housewives, like my own mummie?) I remember Mummie's buying Women's Day every month at the A&P food store -- as far as I can remember, Women's Day was directed to a heterosexual female housewifely readership, and though it often displayed photos not unlike the one on your site of the pettes in the coffee shop, such photos were always within the context of a sort-of-an "extracurricular" women's only affair -- extracurricular to the heterosexual family, that is -- very Hestia-oriented, but a Hestia that clearly included males. Any number of the articles dealt with women's problems with their husbands (or with their husbands female secretaries, for example) or with their male and female children. Gosh, Alice Lucy, can you get an idea of what I am trying to say? I guess I am trying to say that Life Theater and an independent (or secessionist) society of like-minded girly-girls does not seem necessarily dependent upon the Eclipse for their existence, but may have come to be just the same (or may always have existed, for all I know) had the Eclipse never occurred, just like ordinators and medical advances would have developed more or less along the same paths as, in fact, they have in the Pit.
Would Aristasia-in-Telluria have come about without the Eclipse? I think not. Not, at any rate, in quite the form it has come about now. Secession is a terrible step. I don't want to be seceded. Nor does any of us. Of course it has its compensations. People sometimes say how much nicer and friendlier every one was during the war, how there was a spirit of co-operation and common purpose. But one wouldn't want a war just for that. When you ask whether girly-girls were free to associate in real Telluria in restaurants, cinemas etc., I am not sure of the nature of the question. Women have always been free to dine and attended entertainments together. Unless they wore labels saying "girly-girl" or started necking in the back row, how would the issue ever arise? Kissing and hand-holding between girls has always been acceptable. Any stigma attaching to such behaviour is post-Eclipse. In Pit-england, girls who hold hands or kiss in Pit-school playgrounds may be taunted as "lesbians" - an idea that never occurred to earlier generations of schoolchildren - and such shows of affection are, consequently much less frequent and much more guarded than they used to be). Did historical "solid Quirrie morality" pose barriers to girly-girls associating with one another as freely as they do in Aristasia-in-Telluria today in their own self-defined world? A thing to bear in mind here is that the Pit tends to represent the morality of other times (a tautology - for the Pit, "morality", in the sense of a cohesive, unanimously accepted code of social decency, is by definition "of other times") in terms of compulsion and confrontation. Occasionally it was, but the vast majority of conformity was conditioned by the fact that people wanted to be part of society. That the order of things conferred solid benefits - not merely or mostly material ones, but primarily benefits of status and value. Benefits which are scarcely understood in the Pit because they hardly exist any longer. A whole dimension of satisfaction has been stripped from the life of the Pit-dweller. Of course some girls could totally define their own reality as we do if they were prepared to forgo all the benefits of the social order. I do not think I should have been. In the Pit the question does not arise. There are no benefits to forgo. There are "peer pressures" as the ghastly jargon has it and most people are weak enough to succumb to them, but of the positive benefits of a whole society in which meaning and value inhere in the acts and institutions of daily life, scarcely a vestige is left. Thus the "rules" and "conformities" of a real world seem incomprehensible to an atomised rabble that can no longer understand what purpose they served or what most people received in return for obeying them.
The world of might-have-been, as C.S. Lewis once said, is forever closed to us, so it is hard to say precisely what we (the Aristasians) would have done, or if we would have existed. I like to think we might have explored some of the avenues we have explored, no doubt in very different ways. However, any Tellurian world must include men. There may be groups of all-women (and all-men) within it. There always have been, but they are peripheral (though not necessarily unimportant). I cannot see that the Pit has changed that for any one except us; and it has changed it for us because there is no longer a world to be peripheral to. It is a pretty rough way to gain one's total independence, and I for one would be much happier with a more modified independence and a real Tellurian world about me. But that option is not open to me or to any one. My guess is that Aristasia in Telluria would have come about even without the eclipse, but that it would have been less complete, more playful and its relation to the surrounding world much more ambiguous. I think we have gained some benefits - as Aristasians - from the Eclipse. Good heavens! It would be terrible if there were no accidental good results whatever from all that hideousness! Yet all this is hypothetical. We are who we are and cannot be other. The world is fallen into the Pit and we are seceded. Whether for better or worse, who can say. The choice was not ours.
Lovingly and Tenderly,
Some one has described Aristasia as "one long conversation". Well, Aphrodite is rather like that. If you want to catch up on the conversation so far, the Archive is the place to do it.
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