As a long-time film-buff, I would be fascinated (if she is not too sleepy from all her travels) to hear more about Miss Barabra's trip to the Cinema during her recent visit to the Aristasian Embassy. Who were the actresses? Were they wonderful? Might those of us who are more homebound enjoy similar fare, in so far as she knows?
And I would simply love to enlighten the list-mistress who voiced some confusion as to the ways and means of Tellurian reproduction, but I'm afraid such things are a complete mystery to me, too. My mummy, I have discovered, is a lady of many mysteries. So I'm afraid I can be of little help on that point.
I remain as always, your
I too was at that showing of Olivia, and it was wonderful, but I'll let Miss Barbara tell you about it. It was screened at the Odeon, Park Place, which is sort-of part of the Embassy. We aren't film buffs really, but we do see the latest up-to-date films pretty much as soon as they come out. So this week we saw Three Coins in a Fountain, a delightful story about three Culverian girls in Rome, and all in colour, too, though some pettes think colour can be a bit de trop.
But we'd just love for you dear pettes at home to join in.
I know you pettes are sitting on pins and needles waiting for more news from my trip to the Aristasian Embassy. I am sorry about taking such long breaks in between reports, but I am quite taken by the bridge championships and shuffleboard tournaments here on the ship. You might think these pleasures are only for older girls, but when blondes and brunettes are about, well, any activity makes a mighty nice excuse for flirting! Actually, just one look at the voluptuous bridge players (blondes and brunettes pairing up for doubles bridge is de rigeur, for how unfair it would be to match two blondes against two brunettes) and the gorgeous shuffleboard players, and you would scoff no more!
Enough excuses. I've told you about my nervous entrance into the Embassy and my delightful time as maid, but I don't think I've told you about the exciting evening at the cinema. We saw a delightful film called Olivia, an elegant story of two girls in love. Luckily we arrived in time for the film, though the news clips were already playing when we entered the picture palace. We weren't too late though, and thank goodness for that, for if we had been we certainly would have received the business end of the paddle resting on the usherette's table. I paid the usherette for my ticket as well as for my date's ticket (I was brunettey Miss Barbara) and I bought us both Choc-ices (yum!). Then she, the usherette that is, seated all of the girls in the right seats (blonde/brunette/blonde/brunette...you didn't think it would be any other way did you?). My date was breathtakingly beautiful, as were all of the girls at the film. In Aristasia, girls really know how to dress for the moving pictures! Minks, gloves, hats, and spectacular sequined evening gowns are not at all out of place; in fact, such attire is what made the evening the glamourous ocassion it was. We watched some newsreel footage of something I can't even remember (must have been about war or some other boring little event) and then a lovely newsclip about Miss Grace Kelly arriving for the first time at Monaco. She looked as Graceful as always. The film was excellent, as I have already reported, and though my date and I walked unscathed through Bottle Alley, and arrived at the Club safely, we noticed that another couple took their own precious time joining us for a little spot of the jolly stuff after cinema. If you girls don't know about the mysterious alluring qualities of Bottle Alley, well, you'll just have to visit the Embassy, the Cinema, and the Club to find out for yourselves!
Must run now, dears. Another round of shuffleboard is beginning.
Until next time, I am,
Your very own
I must say I am enchanted by Miss Barbara's transformation. This is a possiblity I simply hadn't considered before, and it prompts the following question:
Is Blondeness inherited? My Mummy was a Blonde - very blonde, and her Mummy before her was quite startlingly Blonde, oh, yes indeed. Sometimes I think I turned out Brunette just so things would get done occasionally and, oh, I don't know, the whole household wouldn't fall to the Tellurian hordes in the absence of protection. I'm a good Brunette, I like being a Brunette - I mean, really, what could be nicer than seeing all those happy, innocent Blonde faces, trustingly turned towards one in sheer delight, and knowing that one was responsible for it all? Nonetheless, every Spring, when the weather turns warm, I find myself doing the Blondest things.
Certainly, I have led a rather isolated existence, here in the heart
of Tellurian Gotham, and in the savage wilds to the North before that,
but I don't like to think that I've developed a dual personality or
anything. Are there any Brunettes in Aristasia who might explain things for me?
Thank-you very sweetly,
But we see your point. Suppose you only had one mummie as Tellurians do (I can't quite see how it would work, but then Tellurian biology never was my strong point), would you inherit her sex?
The answer, as far as I understand it, is that Aristasians-in-Telluria mostly have more than one personality each, and that some are blonde and some brunette. So probably you, Ramona, are brunette, but inside you, waiting to pop out is an Elenha (say) who is blonde. This is what happened to Miss Barbara. And what better time than spring for blossoming out into a blonde?
I couldn't see anyone. Mercy me, girls, I thought at first someone might then spring out at me, but the night was undisturbed. The moon rode in the cold evening sky, and a nippy breeze whistled around my ankles. I was just about to shut the door when I noticed a glint of light from near my feet. I tell you, girls, as I picked up that bottle, my heart raced and I darted out into the drive to try and spot my mysterious caller. But not a movement disturbed the evening except the rattling of the twigs on the trees. So, quick as I could, I slipped back inside and shut the door.
Needless to say, Miss Vernon (to whom I have told everything) was intrigued as much as I, and we searched the bottle for any hints about its origins. It was a small, crystal bottle with a carved stopper. As we opened it, the scent of flowers just wafted out and seduced our very senses with its rich, joyous scent. But there were no markings or trademarks at all anywhere on the bottle, no card nor wrapping left with it, and I am still puzzled!
Miss Vernon and I spent the rest of the evening puzzling over the mystery, but all I can tell you, pettes, is that as soon as I now anything, I'll let you know as well.
Oh yes - and we have been quite enchanted by the tales of Miss Miranda - how I would have loved to see her in her maid's outfit!
And please, Ariadne, if you require any assistance donning those stays under your
delightful outfit, do call me.
Adieu for now
What struck me most, however, was the extreme cruelty of the
But it was precisely Stephen's "affectionate preferences" that alienated "normals", not her cross-dressing. After all, Lady Anna, Stephen's own mother, did not cut her off until she learned of Stephen's carnal love for Angela Crossby; only then did she exile Stephen from Morton. And Stephen herself, whose dressing habits were well-known to Martin going back twenty years (and which Martin accepted), is extremely reluctant to tell Martin the "truth" about herself and her affectionate preferences, because she is afraid of his censure and alienation (though Martin had, in fact, divined the truth and had not censured Stephen at all) .
And Lady Massey, having accepted Stephen's dress and appearance, having despite this grown exceedingly fond of Stephen and Mary, having found it presented no particular impediment to entertaining her and Mary rather often, and having invited them to spend Christmas with her and her daughter in Cheshire, abruptly canceled the invitation and broke off the friendship entirely the moment she got wind of the carnal relations between Stephen and Mary, all the while saying how fond she was of them both. "A woman of my position with all eyes upon her has to be extra careful," she says.
So it was Stephen's affectionate preferences that made her a monster in the eyes of the "normals" and which so repelled them, and not only them; sometimes even Stephen herself saw herself as a monster, a "thing," an aberration of nature.
And in Paris Stephen met a whole colony of expatriate lesbians -- all exiled from their highly racinated, respectable hearths, villages and homelands, all unable to exist except in the relative anonymity of a great city, (or in the uncensuring demi-monde you referred to) and all exiled not for their habits of dress or of hair style, but because of their carnal love for other women. Not Jamie, not Barbara, nor Wanda or Pat could exist anywhere near their birthplaces once those loves became known, not because they could not combine living as they chose with the only life they found acceptable, but because they were driven out by their own families and neighbors. In short, they were never given the opportunity to combine anything at all.
You say it is difficult for a Pit-dweller to understand the all-enfolding nature of pre-Eclipse cultures, the almost primal sense of belonging such cultures fostered. That may very well be. Such cultures sound very warm and accepting and homely and nurturing. But from Miss Hall's description it wasn't so at all if one didn't conform. If one didn't conform it was pure living hell. Unless one was perceived as eccentric rather than deviant, in which case one was accepted almost as fully as "whole normals." What distinguished eccentricity, then, from deviance? It had to center around sexual behavior and sexual preferences, I should think.
Now none of this should be construed as support of the Pit and its
apparent tolerance of every conceivable permutation of sexual behavior.
That is not my argument at all. I am only trying to understand the
benignity of a culture that could be so cruel to some of its members. You
say that a real girl in the Pit is "fighting for her own femininity in a
world that opposes it on every side with daggers and poison." That phrase
may as well have been taken from Miss Hall's description of Stephen's
struggle within her own culture.
You have now read it all, and what you have read does not really affect the substance of my remarks. When I spoke of Stephen's cross-dressing being the main problem in her earlier years, I was not trying to suggest that quasi-marital relations between girls were tolerated in the Tellurian, patriarchal real world, or that cross dressing was regarded in isolation. If it was the main problem it was only because it was obvious. If carnal relations began to be whispered about. they would be seen (as they were) as even more serious a matter.
What I was saying was that affection between girls, devotion between girls, love - even exclusive love - between girls were all acceptable. But what are called "sexual relations" between girls broke a tabu; a magical, almost mystical tabu. Because marriage was still regarded as a sacred ritual and the regard for the central act that allowed the propagation of the race and the continuance of human life - surrounded as it was with social and ritual considerations, and not atomised off as an individual act of personal enjoyment - was looked upon in a light which, even a mere half-century ago, was perhaps still nearer to tribal consciousness than to the completely laicised and banalised attitude of the closing decades of the century.
Now we are dealing with very hard questions, in which we, as girly-girls have a personal stake. After reading True and False Bohemians, I think you are coming to understand that there are many deep questions that cannot be answered by simple slogans about "good" and "bad", "tolerance" and "intolerance". There is much more to them than that, and if we are to find any way forward, we must consider them and weigh them very carefully, and be prepared to say and think things that are very strange to the simplified, sloganised world of the Pit.
To the Pit it is more than simple: "Lesbianism" is a "sexuality". "Sexuality" is a sub-set of "lifestyle". It has no ritual, moral or tribal dimensions. It is simply a way of "expressing oneself" and every one is entitled to "express herself" in any way she chooses. Since nothing any one does has any deeper ramifications than personal pleasure or discomfort, since society has been completely demystified and demythologised, really nothing is at stake. And since nothing is at stake, the rejection of Stephen and her kind can be nothing but blind prejudice and wilful cruelty, even though it comes from people who are not otherwise cruel.
Now, before we go further, let me state my own feelings. I have the fullest sympathy with Stephen. I want to see her settle down with her Mary, and find it heart-rending to see her give her up to a man. When I speak of "Stephen and her kind", I am speaking of my kind, or at least something close akin to my kind.
But I feel compelled to ask the question - without simply taking easy recourse in the simple certitudes of the post-60s world - were those who rejected Stephen, including Stephen herself, simply wrong-headed, ignorant and prejudiced? Or was there something in what they felt and believed? If we say the latter, we do not necessarily have to hold that they were simply right and there is no other way. We do not have to believe that "girls like us" must be forever outcast from every kind of decent society. But we shall have to ask some more serious and searching questions than any one has been accustomed to ask in the last 20 years, at least.
So why did these people, mostly not malicious, and in many cases, essentially kindly and well-intentioned, think it necessary to reject Stephen. Ultimately it is because they feel something very profound is at stake; because they feel that if certain fundamental Laws of Life are abrogated, the very foundations of civilisation may begin to crumble. Of course the rationalist of the period of the book's appearance would scoff at this notion and think of the conventional view as an outmoded - almost mediaeval superstition.
Which view was right would have been hard to decide for certain, because it had never been put to the test. We are now in a better position to judge. It has now been put to the test. We have seen all sexual and moral tabus and mores set aside. And we have seen civilisation crumble into a ghastly mockery in which old ladies of ninety walk the streets in tee-shirts with advertising slogans scrawled across them. To say that this is cause and effect would perhaps be too bold, but that the ending of sexual morality and the degeneration of western civilisation into an impoverished, worthless clown-culture are closely related phenomena can hardly be denied by any intelligent person. In other words, the mocking rationalists were wrong, and the stern conventionalists, whether right or wrong in their specific prohibitions were by no means the benighted fools the contemporary "intellectual" imagined them to be. She, in her instinctual, unrationalistic way, knew something they didn't.
Now, you write:
And in Paris Stephen met a whole colony of expatriate lesbians -- all exiled from their highly racinated, respectable hearths, villages and homelands, all unable to exist except in the relative anonymity of a great city, (or in the uncensuring demi-monde you referred to) and all exiled not for their habits of dress or of hair style, but because of their carnal love for other women. Not Jamie, not Barbara, nor Wanda or Pat could exist anywhere near their birthplaces once those loves became known, not because they could not combine living as they chose with the only life they found acceptable, but because they were driven out by their own families and neighbors. In short, they were never given the opportunity to combine anything at all.But with respect, you miss my point. This is precisely what I meant when I said that Stephen's problem was not that she could not live as she chose but that she could not combine living as she chose with living in the decent, conventional world she loved. She was free to live in Paris according to her own inclinations without social ostracism. She was free to live in the English countryside according to her own inclinations if she was prepared to be a social outcast. She could not combine those inclinations with being an accepted member of the English landed gentry.
In other words the society that bongo-feminists would call oppressive, hidebound and dreadful was precisely the society she wanted to live in and no other. She could have chosen to live in a world much more like the value-free pseudotopia of the late 20th century just by remaining in Paris. But that was not an acceptable solution (although, as you say, it seems to be the unacceptable solution she finally has to settle for) precisely because she wanted to live in a decent, racinated "reactionary" world, and not in something resembling - even remotely - the atomised, deracinated, culturally orphaned world of the Decades of Darkness.
And of course the much-touted lie that the Pit gives greater "freedom of choice" is automatically nailed at this point. Stephen had two alternatives: a racinated world in which she must suppress her feelings or a culturally orphaned one in which she need not. In the Pit there is no alternative. Every one, lesbian or heterosexual, is forced to live in the culturally orphaned world - and a world far more impoverished and valueless than the most decadent Bohemia Shephen could have found.
When Radclyffe Hall wrote The Well of Loneliness it was certainly, among other things, a plea for greater tolerance and acceptance of "girls like us". It was a plea made precisely because she believed that the racinated world she lived in was a good world, a world worth living in. She did not want us to be forced out of it into Bohemia. If she had thought for a moment that the answer to her plea would be the destruction of the whole social order she held dear and the turning of the culture that had nurtured her into a hideous, clownish parody she would certainly have been horrified, and like Stephen, would no doubt have felt it better to step aside and make no plea at all than to lend her weight to the destruction of culture.
So the question that must occur to "girls like us" is: would it be possible to have a decent, racinated world which nevertheless tolerated and even welcomed us? The answer must, of course, be hypothetical, but I believe such a world is possible. I think if we showed ourselves to be decent, not promiscuous, charming, feminine and unthreatening to family life, it would by no means be impossible for us to be fully accepted by a real world. After all, the kind of girly-girl who comes to this site is a good deal more decent than many post-Eclipse heterosexuals.
However, as I say, this is all entirely hypothetical. It does not relate to the world that surrounds us at present: a world that is actively hostile to decency of every sort, and accepts us, at least through its corrupt mass-media, precisely because it sees us (wrongly) as helping to undermine family life and destroy civilised values.
The situation we find ourselves in at present is that if there is to be a decent, wholesome, racinated world at all, we must build it. No one else is going to. Insofar as there is a legitimate society left in existence, we are it. So the question really is whether there can be a decent wholesome world other than one populated exclusively by girly-girls.
And the answer, at present at least, seems to be no.
So I have taken to thinking out loud. One can tell when I am thinking -- which is really a pretty rare thing -- by the parentheses around my words. (A rusty nail Miss Barbara wants. Let's see, where's the Scotch and the Drambuie, and an old-fashioned glass and some ice? I hope she doesn't mind if it's stirred...) Here you are, Miss. That's one-and-six, please. Oh, thank you, Miss, you are very kind, Miss.
(Billowy milk-maidy attire! ... Golliwogs! What will they dream up next for us poor working girls? Correct for a nice, spacious dairy perhaps, but in the Cocktail Bar? Here is a picture of me early this afternoon in the Imperial Dairy, pail and three-legged stool in hand, begging Bossie, the Alderney, to let me milk her so the pettes could all have fresh milk and cream for their Creme de Cacao and Irish coffee. I am explaining to Bossie that the Cocktail Bar opens in just four hours' time, so won't she please let me fill up my pail!)
(Such attire is a bit hard to control behind a busy bar, you know.
Hadn't the Management decreed no crinoline? I mean, how can a girl turn
around without knocking over dozens of glasses each time? I shouldn't
wonder if the manageress has never been behind the bar to have a
look for herself! But the dress was there just the same, in blue silk and
with lacy frills on the apron, all laid out for me on my narrow bed in
Elektraspace House when I got back from the dairy, with all the petticoats
on hangars in my small little wardrobe -- took up all the space, too. So I
tried on the whole ensemble, and La! it is rather pleasingly
low-cut and well-fitted in the bodice, so it does show me off to no
little advantage. I think a girl might come to like it. Not very
riskay, to be sure, but, then, to look at the silver lining, I think
those rougher brunettes like the challenge of darting their
inquisitive hands up under sixteen yards of fabric in five separate layers
to reach those tender, fleshy parts Miss Barbara just mentioned. Well, a
firm, skillful pinch never hurt blonde, so if it ever should happen,
I'll do my best not to squeal or take any notice at all. I'll just, um,
turn the other cheek. >Tee-hee< But imagine Miss Barbara's asking me,
right here in the bar, whether I've been pinched! Well, she'll just
have to ask one of those rougher brunettes, now, won't she? Now that Miss
Barbara's a blonde, too, she might get her answer from them directly -- but
not in words.)
Just a few more days and I will be back in Kadorian Gotham, where I will chat the nights away with my sweet friends, Trudy and Rosie. Listen pettes, I have big plans for when I return involving the World's Fair. But I want to surprise those two blondes, so mum's the word!
I left you girls last describing how I felt when I arrived at the Aristasian Embassy front door. Well, after I first stepped on to Aristasian soil, I was given a long interview with the Mistress of the House. She put me at my ease, telling me all I might expect and all that would be expected of me. A girl, especially a blonde, always likes to know just what is expected of her. That way, she feels nice and safe and all cozy-like. Don't you sweetums agree? Then something so exciting happened that you'd never guess it in a million years. The maid who was supposed to serve the Mistress throughout the afternoon did not arrive, so guess who got to be maid? Little 'ole me! And there were some bongos who came for business reasons and I had to greet them at the door and take their coats and show them into the drawing room and serve them tea. How nervous I was! So much so that when they knocked at the door, as I was applying my lipstick, I crumbled the one tube I had brought with me! (But never fear, pettes, I managed to have nicely lipsticked lips the entire stay nevertheless). I must say that I was a fine maid, even with just a few minutes of training. For, to be a good maid, one requires a maid's spirit more than a maid's training, if that makes any sense. Well, now I feel like a little girl showing off in her party frock, and it is a bit naughty of me to brag like this, but I just have to tell you girls that the bongos called the Mistress of the House later that day and asked her where she got her "new girl," because she was just sooooo subservient. Imagine my delight when I heard that! Blonde me. I was so happy on that first day of my visit, and on every day, as you sweet pettes will discover in time.
But now, I am off to visit kind Elaine, who has stolen a few minutes this
afternoon to relax over a cup of tea with yours truly. Until next time,
Oh yes. It's not all fiction, you know darlings. You didn't think it was, did you?
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.