Asni: Multimedia Art & Design
Happy Birthday, Asni.net!
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- In this newsletter:
- *** Living in the Wairarapa: Happy Birthday, Asni.net!
- *** News and Current Projects
- *** Picture Postcards from Mars
- *** Pirates, Vampires, and Tall Dark Strangers, pt 3
Living in the Wairarapa: Happy Birthday, Asni.net!
It is now ten years since I registered my domain, asni.net. To celebrate the occasion, I have moved server! Actually, that did have other reasons, but it seems an appropriate enough way to mark the milestone. Up to a month or so ago, the website has been hosted in Germany, mainly because I was too lazy to do anything about it. But as of now, I am broadcasting from New Zealand, which satisfies my sense of law and order (yes, I do have one, buried somewhere far beneath). After a few hitches, the move eventually went quite smoothly with little downtime. Even the sections which I needed to hook up to a new database were online again within a couple of days. I have to say it for the new hosting people, they did communicate, and they did make a good effort to sort things out. Fingers crossed that it stays this way!
This month has been all-out buckling down to work: apart from the hassle of moving the website, there was a stack of London Art College assignments to complete so that I won't miss my final deadline on 8 September, and there was the 2013 calendar to design and get into production. Another much procrastinated-upon project received an unexpected kick in the behind, and is now well under way. Occasionally, I've also managed to slip in a bit of paid work on my client's websites. There were books to read, seeds to sow, young sprouts to water and tend, and garden beds to dig, and the occasional trip to the library, shopping run to Masterton, or social appointment with other Wairarapa artists. I've spent a half day learning about watercolours, and I drove down to the beach for an hour or so, once. Apart from those occasions, I have barely been out of the house and garden this month, but I can't complain that I don't lead a busy life! Some of these mornings, I wake up singing. Not summertime yet, but it is now, most definitely, spring.
People around here have been fair peeing their pants about the news of James Cameron, no less, acquiring property which technically belongs to Featherston. And I found out that I've been to his new place! Remember that wedding I wrote about a few newsletters back, the one where there was some money missing from my envelope? That property. "Remarkably nice place", I remember thinking at the time. Does that make me almost famous? Or should I be offering guided tours for paparazzi? A friend suggested I should find a lawyer who can construe a case that James Cameron owes me money. Rich and famous people only exist to be leeched upon. Everyone knows that.
That gig must have been just before the sale went through: for, much to the consternation of the local populace, the Great Man has promptly shut down the wedding hall which is now on his property, and seems to pay little heed to the offended protests of those locals who apparently thought he was going hand over the cash, but continue letting everyone get wed on his patch. There is also persistent daydreaming, on Facebook and in the local papers, of Rich Movie Mogul patronizing the humble Featherston shops with his Big Money, or even possibly sending his kids to the local school. People expect, in the near future, to be able to share a casual pint of beer with the man. I wonder if any of those hobbits has read the line in that newspaper article, about the property being "15 minutes by helicopter from Wellington" – or spent some thought on the implications of such a statement.
It would be funny, if it wasn't so sad: I highly doubt James Cameron has noticed that the community of Featherston, with its idiosyncratic shops and cozy pub and humble people, even exists – or that he would consider mingling with the local populace without at *least* a body guard in attendance. And if the people around here continue to think that the Big Money from Overseas is going to unload their bounty on them and not expect that they then get to call the shots, that they'll just "fit in" and get cozy with the locals, kiwi fashion, over a pint of beer at the pub, then I think they are going to have some major waking up to do. If only all of it was as harmless as a famous movie director moving in next door, who likely does not know that the local pub exists. Me myself, I am more concerned about the people who want to start drilling for oil out at the coast beyond Castlepoint.
News & Current Projects
The 2013 calendars are now available and shipping. When I picked them up from the printers some ten days ago, it turned out there was something wrong with the colour balance, and there was a strange stripey thing across the blue sky on the front cover – so they had to run the whole batch again, to which, I am pleased to say, they agreed without a mutter. Turned out that to get rid of the stripey thing, they had to get a repair man in, who took his time to come, so I've only been able to pick them up and ship the first batch of orders (a satisfyingly large stack) this Friday (they are now as close to perfect as it gets). Many apologies for the delay, and thanks to all who have put in an early order – you people rock! It means I can pay the printers entirely out of the funds in my business account and don't have to borrow from my private resources, which makes me pretty happy. Here's to hoping they'll continue to sell just as fast for the next few months!
London Art College assignment: Social Butterfly Vehicle
The last set of assignments for my London Art College Science Fiction and Fantasy Art certificate course quite evidently came under the heading "portfolio building". I've already posted some exploding spaceships last month. The other things which evidently belong in every science fiction and fantasy artist's portfolio, are a snazzy vehicle, and some monsters involved in a "struggle for life and death". I have to say, the proportion of male people who have been viewing and commenting on my artwork on DeviantArt, has gone up exorbitantly since I posted those. Especially the exploding spaceships. What is it with boys and explosions.
The vehicle was supposed to be one which would be occupied or driven by our own characters from a previous assignment, so for me, it was back to Social Butterflies. Social Butterflies, obviously, would travel stately in an air floating, seedpodlike, coach-type contraption drawn by a slug. Though our flirtatious Miss Farfalle, taking a peek through the purdah screen, is obviously bored with the lack of speed. Presumably she spots pesky tap dancing Michael Mite, now fly surfing through the air in an entirely provocative manner, and while she considers his behaviour and mode of transportation to be utterly vulgar, she can hardly deny that he looks as if he's having way more fun. I suppose there might be a story in there, somewhere. I sense another project in the making.
For the Monster Fight, I went back to an old sketch I had done a couple of years previously – one of the weirder things that came out of my "sketch a day for a month" exercise I've posted about here. It was a bit messy around the middle – in the sense of lacking clarity – so I reworked the shapes considerably, then took it into Illustrator, where I applied some photographic textures – a technique I have already been experimenting with when I did the illustrations for Wiechert's Der Knabe und der Wassermann, and which I fully aim to explore further. The colour scheme owes a lot to my classical education, and early exposure to Greek vases – quite appropriately, too, because those images aren't too far removed from the cartoon style – or the fantastic imagery – I was supposed to study with this course!
London Art College assignment: Monster Fight
I have been noticing that people are beginning to get very excited about the impending release of the movie version of the Hobbit. One of the tell tale signs is, that lately, I've had a few enquiries about the map of Lord of the Rings filming locations I've posted on my website, and if it is available for licensing. I have been planning for quite a while to replace it with a map of my own design, so as to not run foul of any copyright regulations: I originally found this map on the Air New Zealand website and linked to it from my photo galleries, but when they took it down, I decided to post it on my own site just because it was such a cool thing, which I felt should be available to the fan community. I have since been told that it was distributed as part of the original promotional material for the movies. So far, no one has smacked me, but better safe than sorry. Besides, a map of my own design I will be able to print and sell, or license.
The latest enquiry came last month, from a publishing company in the UK, which is planning to release a "quick guide to Tolkien". Seeing that I had already started working on my own version of the map, I thought it expedient to prioritize this project, and try my luck offering it to them ... it may not work, of course, as they were on a very tight deadline, and anyway, might not like what I have done. But it was worth taking a shot, especially given that I'd originally planned to have that map ready by the end of June, so I could sell it along with the calendars! I need to do some more fixes, and find out about the cost and logistics of getting them printed, but expect to see them up for sale sometime during the coming month. I'm also still waiting to hear back from the publishers. Wish me luck! I deserve it. :D
This winter has definitely made up for the wet and chill summer we've had – August has been largely mild and sunny, and so everything is early this year. I've even spotted the first kowhai blossoms! They are a month early, at least.
My seedling production (from all those veggie and flower seeds I ordered) is now in full swing, with every available plastic container pressed into service, and every bit of window sill space filled, and I've just started planting the first things out into the garden. This summer, I shall have tomatoes! Unless the winds kill them, or we do have a last late and unexpected return of winter. But I've come up with an ingenious individual hot house system made from plastic bottles, and by the time the seedlings have grown too large to be contained in them, it really ought to be past the danger of freak frosts. How the wind screens I've set up over the winter will fare when put to the test, will be a matter of interest, but well – one learns by trial and error, and there is always room to improve.
The other exciting question is, will my new fruit trees grow on properly? The pear has already been opening a few cautious buds, and the cherry buds are now green tipped and can't be more than a few days away from bursting, but the precious German prunes are still a bit reticent – though really, there is no indication that they won't blossom and leaf in due time, and I'm just fretting, because I like to fret. Good thing I never was tempted to have babies. Imagine me as a mother! "Mother Hen" doesn't even sum it up. At least, as far as I know, fruit trees can't exactly sustain lifelong psychological damage from being exposed to an obsessive compulsive and entirely too impatient gardener!
Picture Postcards from Mars
A few months ago, I was working on one of my London Art School assignments, and decided to put it under an alien sky – complete with what I imagined might be extraterrestrial light conditions.
Next thing I know, I find a photo of sunset on Mars on the internet. Yeah, and then some robot called Curiosity mails in some picture postcards.
Pirates, Vampires, and Tall Dark Strangers – Part 3
*** spoiler warning: plot details of M. M. Kaye: Trade Wind will be discussed in the following article ***
The middle of winter is a good time to take virtual trips to tropical islands: M. M. Kaye's historical novel Trade Wind is set in mid-19th century Zanzibar, which was at the time one of the last bastions of the African slave trade. The lurid cover illustrations, the synopses which make it out to be a tale of exotic adventure involving dashing pirates, palace intrigues, Arab princesses, ripped petticoats, stacks of cursed gold, ships sailing off into glorious sunsets, and a feisty damsel who sets out to fight slavery but winds up having to "choose her love and unravel her destiny", try to sell us this this book as "just another bodice ripper".
But on closer inspection, this seemingly trivial novel begins to reveal layers of meaning as complex and multidimensional as anything we have been taught to regard as "serious literature" – and themes and imagery which would seem to place it squarely in the tradition of female romance novel writing which has been so inspiredly analysed by the authors of The Madwoman in the Attic. "I like to write books that are like beautiful cakes with files inside – the get-out-of-jail kind of file" – that's a quote from Rebecca Wells, the author of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. But it could equally well apply to M. M. Kaye. And the fact that Trade Wind comes along not as a respectable literary work of weighty meaning, but a lighthearted, even "trashy" romance novel, would begin to seem like deliberate camouflage.
If the author was attempting to openly preach the points she instead makes subtly and between the lines, I expect hardly anyone would read her books – if she had managed to get them published in the first place! I know, because I've tried, on occasion, to make some of those same points openly, and got chased off a couple of internet forums for my inconvenient opinions – forums which were frequented by a similar demographic to what, I suppose, would constitute the main readership of M. M. Kaye's books.
In The Ordinary Princess, M. M. Kaye writes about a princess who at her christening, has been given the gift of Ordinariness by one of her fairy godmothers, so that she will be more happy: she is plain and freckled, and when her parents want to hire a dragon so that a prince can rescue and marry her, she hides away in the woods, and eventually takes on a job as a kitchen maid in another castle, where she makes friends with a man-of-all-works, who turns out to be the king of the castle – but they marry anyway.
There are echoes of this plot in Trade Wind: in her own way, the heroine, rich Boston heiress Hero Hollis, is as much an outcast as Rory Frost, the "blackguardly slave trader" (and suspected pirate) male protagonist. Hero insists on getting involved in reform projects and active benevolence, rather than enjoying the privileges of her station, and rather than "observing propriety", and playing the part of future wife and mother her relatives expect of her. She will find those constraints increasingly chafing, and come to realize that it is Rory who can – and does – offer her a way out. At a price.
If The Ordinary Princess playfully reduces fairy tale stereotypes to absurdity, Trade Wind does the same with the stereotypes of romantic fiction. It's as if the author takes all the most hackneyed story elements and asks, how can I make sense of that in terms of what real people would actually think, feel, or act like? What kind of people would my characters have to be, in order for that to make psychological sense? How would a real person react, when these things happen to them?
There are quite a number of what I take to be deliberate bows to well known romance novel plots and characters: I think nowadays, we would call this a mashup! It is extremely skillfully done: on closer inspection, the parallels seem obvious, but at no point do they seem forced, or fail to make sense for the characters in their own right.
The only plot element which I have always felt, distracts a little from the main storyline, is the hunt for Sultan Said's hidden treasure: but as it happens, the treasure hunt was there first, and the rest of the story must have grown out of and around it: Trade Wind was originally conceived as a prequel of sorts to Death in Zanzibar, where the cursed treasure left behind at Kiwulimi by the current owner's ancestor – none other than Rory Frost – is the main motivation for the murders. And admittedly, the treasure hunt is a good atmospheric lead up to the principal crisis of the main plotline, which is brought about, so we are led to believe, by the curse laid on the gold. Besides, one can't have a proper pirate story without a good old hunt for a cursed treasure!
Hero Hollis, "handsome, clever and rich", is a spoilt single child brought up by an eccentric father, who is fond of reading the classics, but not very fond of travelling: much like Emma Woodhouse. And just like Emma, Hero loves to "make herself useful", or, in Rory's opinion, to "meddle in affairs that are none of her concern": instead of trying to be a matchmaker, she actively takes part in a palace revolution. Like Emma, she is increasingly mortified by her repeated failures, which are due to her essential lack of life experience.
When Hero finds herself on Rory's ship, at the beginning of the novel, she convinces herself (against all evidence) that he must have stashed a load of slaves away somewhere, and that he has kidnapped her and is holding her for ransom, just like she's read in those novels she got out from the Woman's Lending Library: echoes of Catherine Morland investigating the laundry list at Northanger Abbey.
The general outline of the development of Hero's and Rory's relationship is in many ways reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice: just like Elisabeth and Darcy, Hero and Rory start out by having a series of intellectual arguments venting their diametrally opposed points of view – only this time it is Rory who "likes a laugh", and who challenges Hero's seriousness and pre-conceived morals. Hero is most certainly prejudiced against Rory, while he is too proud to admit, even to himself, that he finds her quite fascinating from the moment he fishes her out of the water. A mermaid, indeed! – Although the way they repeatedly profess that they find each other highly objectionable, not to mention entirely unattractive, almost gives Beatrice and Benedick a run for their money.
Like Jane and Bingley in Pride and Prejudice, Hero and Rory's unconventional relationship is contrasted with the far more conventional romance between Hero's cousin Cressida, and Rory's British navy nemesis, Dan Larrimore. The plot then drives to a crises, during which Rory reveals – in a highly inappropriate manner – that he is attracted to Hero, and at the same time unmasks the duplicity of his rival Clayton Mayo (just like Darcy unmasks Willoughby in his letter to Elisabeth, after his uncivil marriage proposal). These events bring about a complete re-evaluation of how they see each other. Eventually, Rory is able to atone, by offering Hero his house and his and his household's support, when she tries to save some starving, orphaned street children during a cholera epidemic – much like Darcy makes amends to Elisabeth, by going after Lydia and Willoughby, thereby avoiding her family's public disgrace.
Rory's character, quite obviously, owes a lot to that quintessential dashing sailor, the Count of Monte Christo: the motive of revenge, the gold treasure, even the Arab girl whom he once bought from a slaver, and who ends up being his lover. There is also a hint of Rochester, in his rash temper, his disregard for the rules, and for the consequences of his actions: like Rochester, Rory has a daughter by his mistress, and Hero, who takes a great liking to the child, ends up being, not her governess, but her nurse.
But it isn't all the Eminent Classics. Recently at the library, I stumbled quite by accident over a children's picture book by Rudyard Kipling: The Beginning of the Armadillos. I have no doubt that M. M. Kaye, who had an intimate knowledge of Kipling's work, and who has worked as a children's book illustrator and writer herself, would have been familiar with this little book, which incidentally, has got to be about the funniest children's book I have ever read, and that is saying a lot. It tells the story of Stickly-Prickly Hedgehog, who must be dropped into the water and then he will uncoil, and Slow-Solid Tortoise, who must be scooped out of his shell. Aha, I thought. So that's why Hero goes overboard at the beginning of the book. Stickly-Prickly Hedgehog must be dropped into the water. Of course. And while I wouldn't necessarily have equated Rory Frost with Slow-Solid Tortoise, he must come out of his shell, and learn to bend. Do you see?
The most obvious plotline, however, is that of those two mothers of all English language romance novels, Samuel Richardson's Pamela, and Clarissa – the latter of which, in turn, has inspired the (now better known, because famously filmed) Liaisons dangereuses by French writer Cloderlos de Laclos. All three novels revolve around the abduction, seduction, or rape of a virtuous young lady, by an amoral libertine, who subsequently falls in love with his victim, and (in the case of Pamela, who has "preserved her virtue" and not given in to his seductions) marries her, or (in the case of Clarissa, whose eponymous heroine has been raped, or Les Liaisons Dangereuses, where the virtuous lady is seduced under false pretenses) they all, both seducer and seduced, die horrible tragic deaths caused by their guilt over their lack of virtue (this includes the girl who was forcibly raped).
I say "Pamela *and* Clarissa", because M. M. Kaye takes those two plots (and the message they, between them, convey), and twists them around: Hero does get raped, by Rory (let me get that out of the way), and she gets pregnant, and looses the child, and she marries the man, for no other reason than because she wants to. She does not die a horrible tragic death – either by her own hand, or by wasting away in consumption, madness, or despair – nor is she socially ostracized, driven into prostitution or into a convent, convicted for child murder, or any of the other more or less awful consequences literature (and real existing society) generally has in store for victims of rape. In effect, she just gets on with her life, and deals with the consequences of the situation in a distinctly rational and commonsense manner – which is not something that can be said for most of the other characters in the book!
When I started writing this article, I got very hung up on that rape scene. Here I am *enjoying* to read, indeed listing among my all time favourite and most influential novels, a book where a woman gets raped, and subsequently falls in love with and marries her rapist. How very unfeminist of me! I'm not the only one whom that bothers, either: looking the book up on Amazon the other day, I found a customer review where someone was kicking and screaming about how disgustingly awful it was to write and sell and read such a book, and WHAT WAS THE AUTHOR THINKING?
That gave me pause. Usually, I find, when people react in this one-dimensional fashion to something someone has written (or painted, or filmed, or sung), it is worth investigating the possibility that the author is making a deliberate choice to be provocative, in order to point at, or tell us something. In my meticulous way, I went to the library and got out a book on the cheery topic of Rape: Sex, Violence, History. I can't say I've actually read much of it (it is a bit daunting, both in size and topic) – but one extremely interesting point emerged right at the beginning: there is no universal, generally accepted definition of what precisely it is that constitutes rape. Obviously, there are clear cut cases, but it becomes extremely fuzzy at the edges, and the concept has shifted enormously through the ages. In the end the author gave up and formulated as a working definition for her book: "rape is anything anyone, perpetrator, victim or observer, calls a rape". Not exactly what you'd call a precise legal definition!
Next on the shelf, I found a book called Promiscuities, which I took out for the sole reason that I confused the author, Naomi Wolf, with Naomi Klein, of No Logo (READ IT, if you haven't already) – a confusion I only discovered just now as I put the links in, so this is a bit embarrassing, but I would read absolutely any book on any topic if it was written by Naomi Klein, so why not extend that to all the writing Naomis. Besides, Naomi Wolf is quite famous in her own right, so I might end up reading more of her books. It was a pretty interesting read anyway, and comes out of the same intellectual corner. It is an account of the author's teenage years in San Francisco, and in particular, her and her teenage friend's "coming of age" exploration of their sexuality – how that worked for young women in a society where "anything goes" was the only rule, and where there were no clear guidelines or rituals or boundaries available to guide them through this sometimes painful and often scary process. Putting this book next to M. M. Kaye's writings, I was astounded: They are both telling so precisely the self same story.
This is a tricky topic to write upon. I hope what I say will not offend anyone who has experienced a rape. I do, fortunately for me, not write from that knowledge. I am sure this topic will be making some of my readers uncomfortable. I am sorry if that is the case, but I do not apologize. For I agree with Naomi Wolf and M. M. Kaye, that something which is such a crucial part of nearly every woman's life experience – the "initiation into womanhood", with all that entails – ought to be something we are able to talk and write about. There are, after all, oodles and oodles of poems, novels, dramas, detailing the ins and outs of male sexual experience. So why can't we. Because it makes us sluts, to write about having sex, or even possibly admit that we, shock horror, are perfectly capable of seeking it out and enjoying it?
What I remember from my own teenage years, is a massive hysteria about the danger of us young girls being sexually abused or otherwise preyed upon by Big Bad Men, which was drilled into us on various occasions at school, among friends and their parents, or at home, and which stood in no proportion to the actual likelihood of such a thing occurring – or the gravity of the incidents that did, on occasion, occur. Not that the risk wasn't real, certainly not in a big city like Berlin: but among all the dire warnings how we should at all costs avoid putting ourselves into such a situation ("Don't walk the streets alone at night." "Don't stay out too late." "Be home at a certain time." "Don't move about on your own." "Don't walk through the park." "Don't go out and get drunk with your friends, you can't trust them." "Don't ever trust strangers, especially strangers who are being friendly." "Don't trust men with dark skin." You get the drift. This, while statistics have shown time and again that the most dangerous place for a young girl to be tends to be her own family and circle of acquaintances, relatives, teachers, guardians, etc.) – the one thing we were never told, as far as I can remember, was how we should deal with the situation, should it actually occur.
Being preyed upon in one way or another on a fairly regular basis is, I think, part of the everyday experience of just about any girl between the ages of say 11 (if not younger), and sometime around one's early to mid twenties (after which there is a noticeable drop in frequency). Maybe there are forms of society, or parts of the world, where that isn't the case, but anywhere I have lived between those ages, that was certainly the case. Be they stalkers, peeping toms, grabbers, fondlers, exhibitionists, whistlers, stupid-jokers, chatter-uppers, serial-charmers, or people who misuse their position of trust and authority. They aren't all of them men, either.
And the fact that this is so, continues to be used and abused in the effort to restrict girl's and women's liberty of movement, either by direct prohibition, or by striking the fear into the girl so she will be too scared to venture out on her own. It is not the potential predators who are to be kept off the streets at night. It is the girls, who had better be good girls and stay at home, or else anything that happens to them is pretty much their own fault. That's the attitude toward rape and sexual abuse crime which one reads in the newspaper most every day. How many times have I been told, by how many people, that I shouldn't be walking out in the evening or after dark, as I have always been fond of doing? Travel on my own? Well, so far I have managed to not get raped, is all I can say to that. I do hope it stays that way. I don't think I will give up going outside after dark.
On the other side of the spectrum, if one listens to some of the ahem, feminist discourse about rape (I'm glad I managed to get that word "discourse" in), one might gain the impression that sex (or at least, sex with men), for women, is generally, if not always, a horrible and perfectly undesirable experience. This seems to stand in stark contrast to the insistence, in our culture, that a healthy happy liberated female ought to be able to have sex all the time, with anyone she wants to. No wonder people are getting a bit confused.
I have come across the occasional radical feminist who seriously believes that women cannot, under any circumstances, enjoy the kind of oldfashioned sex with men which potentially leads to babies. I am glad – and from reading Naomi Wolf, I begin to believe I am quite fortunate – to be able to affirm from my own personal experience, that it is perfectly possible for some women to perfectly enjoy, indeed even crave, that experience, with the right kind of guy. So call me a slut. Judging from M. M. Kaye's writings, it strikes me that she probably also belonged to that club, and was very fortunate in her choice of a husband. And that has got absolutely nothing to do with pornography: she resolutely closes the bedroom door behind her protagonists, and leaves the reader to fill in the gaps according to their own personal preferences. A wise choice: just as monsters are always scarier when one does not see them, sex in books is always much better when it is largely left to the imagination. At least, so I find. Hmm. Maybe that says something about my imagination. Well. Lucky me.
But, back to Hero Hollis and her initiation into womanhood: on casual perusal, it might seem like she is subject to one of those tacky bodice ripping clichés where a crinoline wearing, sexually repressed heroine is supposedly blown away, against her will, by the self assured manhood of the hunky rake who imposes himself on her. But M. M. Kaye is far too intelligent and conscious a writer, to serve us up with any such nonsense: although she certainly alludes to the convention, she once again twists it around her own way.
Hero does not in the least enjoy getting raped. She wakes up the next morning "bruised and aching, and exhausted with shock". She gets up and gulps two glasses of wine on an empty stomach, but has no appetite to eat, and spends the day in a haze, unable to string a coherent thought together. She is profoundly and coldly angry when she faces Rory, who has already begun to regret his action, and, in what has got to be some peculiar mixture of emotional idiocy and foolhardy bravery, comes to her room to "talk it over". She only wishes to go home as soon as possible, but is reasonable enough to know that trying to get away on her own is only going to make her situation worse. Rory leaves her the key to her room, so she has the option to lock herself in and not come out again until such time, but she prefers to spend the day outside in what are after all conspicuously beautiful surroundings, the lush tropical garden of Kiwulimi, and the beach beyond.
By evening, when Rory practically forces her to keep him company at dinner in the moonlit garden and make smalltalk, in a strangely twisted and perverted parody of a staple romantic situation, she has resolved that, knowing what she now knows about men, she will "never again give any man the opportunity, let alone the right, to touch her". She has always been averse to being physically touched – a fact Rory has noticed: after all, he has had quite a few occasions to touch her when he was pumping the water out of her, tending to her bruised eye, cutting off her salt-tangled hair, while she was on his ship. We also know that he has had his own thoughts on that – on one occasion, having sipped too much brandy for too long, he discusses Hero with the sultan, who knows of her because of her persistent applications to do something about the appalling sanitation in Zanzibar town. (The sultan's comment is, by the by, that "her relatives should get her a sensible husband. A strong man who would beat her when she behaves foolishly". O-kaaay.)
Hero hardly eats anything, but she gets very drunk – something Rory observes with a degree of concern. When he points out that he might be tempted to take advantage of it, she tells him that she is not afraid, because "he can do nothing to her that he hasn't already done". At which Rory laughs, and tells her that if she sees it that way, he is certainly not going to spoil her fun. And this is where things begin to slip and slide, and become thoroughly ambiguous. Is Hero just being her usual very naive? Or is she applying the oldest party trick in the world, get drunk and relinquish responsibility for what happens afterwards? Is her natural curiosity tickled – of which, as has been established, she has quite a lot? The author lets us wonder.
There has always been ambiguity in Hero's actions toward Rory: as if, while her conscious mind rejects him completely, subconsciously, she not only feels attracted to him, but trusts him implicitly. He's the guy who once pulled her out of the heaving waves onto firm ship boards, and who let her sleep in his bunk bed with his shirt on for a week. She may tell herself that she loathes and despises him because of his actions and lifestyle, but it is clearly not a case of physical revulsion – nor of a complete stranger imposing himself on her.
In any case, the result is that they spend a second night together, which, as it later turns out, they both retain extremely fond memories of. Does this classify as a second rape? That would depend on one's definition of rape, I suppose. She doesn't exactly give her consent, but she also offers no resistance. She may simply be too drunk to do so. But there apparently is no violence or coercion involved on his part. And he is himself in the process of discovering just how deep his feelings for Hero go.
However that may be, after much mystified pondering how this could possibly be intended, or justified (according to the Feminist Discourse, I mean – the Laws of Romance Novels probably wouldn't have the slightest problem with it), I have come to the conclusion that it is the beginning of Rory trying to make amends to Hero. If the parallel with the plot of Pride and Prejudice holds, then the first night would be the offensive marriage proposal, and the second night Darcy's letter to Elisabeth, in which he explains himself more fully.
The kindest thing Rory can do at this stage, is to make sure that Hero does not go home thinking that the whole thing needs to be painful, brutal and humiliating, and that she never wants to be touched by a man again. So he pulls the weight of his considerable experience and skill (we must infer, from Hero's sketchy recollections of "a man's hands – thin and brown and very sure", and that's as explicit a detail as we ever learn) to ensure that it becomes a pleasurable experience for her, as well as himself. It is probably not politically correct. But I am prepared to accept it as an act of genuine tenderness and feeling for Hero, rather than pure selfishness. What we see, is the effects it has on their relationship – and judging from that, it must have been truly epic.
What devastates Hero is not so much what Rory did to her, but what he told her about her fiancé, and the realization that he has, once again, told her the truth: that Clayton is just as morally depraved as she has always taken Rory to be. That he has in fact been Rory's trading partner, has dealt in slaves, and was the instigator of that fateful transaction with the smuggled rifles she witnessed while on Rory's ship, which triggered the ill-fated palace revolution and led to the death of a few hundred people. And that she may yet be forced into a marriage with him in order to avoid scandal, should it turn out that she has become pregnant by Rory.
Rory's knowledge of Clayton's character and activities, and that Hero is walking blindfold into a marriage with a man whom she, according to her own stated opinions, cannot possibly approve of or respect, has been weighting on him for some time: he likes her enough to make this a matter of concern to him. He has been gradually disclosing bits and pieces of information concerning the transaction with the rifles during several of their previous encounters: something he would have had absolutely no reason to do, and which might well put him at some risk, except that perhaps he hoped she would start asking questions of her own account, and discover the truth for herself.
Rory's abduction and rape of Hero is, ostensibly at least, an act of retribution for Clayton doing the same to Zorah, Rory's mistress, on the assumption that she – being a "kept woman", not to mention a "nigger" – wouldn't particularly mind. Zorah has died as a consequence of this, and Rory, on learning of it, goes into emotional meltdown: a combination of rage against the arrogance of white people on Zanzibar, who think they are entitled to treat the "natives" like a lesser kind of human, and jealousy on behalf of Hero, who must now at all costs be prevented from marrying this man.
And here is the rub: There are two rapes in Trade Wind, yet every review or customer opinion I have read, only ever gets hung up on the one – even though the consequences for Zorah, and for Amrah, her child, are much more severe than they are for Hero. Similarly, in the storyline, Clayton gets off scot-free (apart from Hero breaking off their engagement, which can't have been too much of a punishment, though he does lose out on marrying her fortune), while Rory faces execution without a trial. People find excuses for what Clayton has done. He "couldn't have known that Zorah was not just another prostitute". In fact, apart from Rory, Hero is the only person who concedes that what happened to Zorah has equal, if not greater weight than what happened to herself, and that the Arab slave girl was just as worthy a human being as she is.
Rory's conviction, officially, is not on account of Hero's abduction and rape, but on account of collaborating with the Gulf pirates who raid Zanzibar on a regular basis and have just come for their annual visit, and on account of inciting them to riots, during which two people have died. What the British consul does not know, is that Rory is acting on a secret Machiavellian mission for Sultan Majid, with the objective of getting rid of the pirate raids on a more long term basis. After Rory learns of Zorah's death, he does ask, specifically, that any white men on Zanzibar be given a particularly hard time by the raiders. But two people have also died as a consequence of Clayton's actions: Zorah, and later Amrah, who falls ill when her mother is no longer there to look after her. Yet at no point does any of the persons in authority who know about this, think fit to take Clayton to task for it. As denunciations of white supremacist attitudes and double standards go, I think this one is pretty harsh.
It isn't Hero who regards her abduction and rape as an unforgivable crime – it is the men in the white community, in particular Clayton, and Dan Larrimore. Because the definition of rape, traditionally, is not about what a woman might suffer. It is about infringement of male property rights. Be it the virginity of a daughter, who will lose value in the marriage market, or the child bearing potential of a wife, who might be landed with a baby not her husband's. And that perception of rape lingers. "Has someone called a doctor?" asks Atticus Finch, in To Kill a Mockingbird, when Mayella Ewell's father and the sheriff of Maycomb county testify in the case of her supposed rape. No they haven't. It didn't occur to them that it was relevant, beat up as she obviously was. They needed to catch the supposed perpetrator, and punish him. Not look after his supposed victim. Her wellbeing, or otherwise, was quite beside the point.
Hero, too, has internalized that attitude: hence her remark that Rory "can't do anything to her that he hasn't already done". Rory is the one who points out to her that this is terribly naive. To that way of thinking, there can't be such a thing as a second rape: once is enough, for the woman to become, henceforth, "fallen", and therefore unrapeable. The very reason why Clayton thinks Zorah will not mind if he spends a few nights with her. What he does not realize is that Zorah is devoted to Rory, and has been brought up to regard herself as his sole and exclusive property, and as her main purpose in life, to give him sons. She dies trying to get rid of the baby she is convinced she has conceived by Clayton. Because she cannot bear the thought of dishonouring Rory in that way. She does not understand that Rory would never have seen it that way.
Hero, and no one else, ought to have been the one who has the right to accuse or forgive Rory – and she, who has spent the first half of the book vowing to catch him at his slave trading activities and make sure he is driven off the island, now refuses to accuse him: after she confirms that what he has told her about Clayton is true, and because she considers that stringing him up without a trial is illegal, no matter what he has done. Instead, she claims that she was not abducted but rescued (mark the choice of word!) from a mob, and she refuses to collaborate in tracking down Rory's whereabouts. In a previous newsletter, I have written about Writing Strong Women. Now here is an instance of a female character who, in a genuinely womanlike situation, displays a strength and moral courage which are absolutely staggering. And no handcuffs, revolvers, high heels or rubber skinsuits involved.
Hero realizes full well that once again, Rory has given her information which she needs, and taught her something she desperately needed to know: a knowledge which "polite society" was doing its darnedest to keep from her. And that by giving her this information, he has wanted to prevent something much worse: That she binds herself legally and for life to a man whom she will not possibly be able to respect, once she finds out his true character. A man who is interested not at all in her as a person, in her idealism and desire to do good in the world, but only in her fortune and social position, and who will tie her up in his conventional expectations of how she ought to behave, to the point where she will feel like a "mere automaton", and as if she was already dead.
Even though the author creates all these extenuating circumstances, and even though Hero herself decides to protect rather than persecute him, still Rory – the perpetrator, for once, not the victim of rape – has to pay the price. He forfeits the freedom to do his own thing which he has so far enjoyed on Zanzibar, and becomes a runaway from the law, and eventually, a prisoner waiting for his turn at the hangman's rope. In the end, although he escapes formal punishment, he does have to leave Zanzibar and will never be allowed to return. He loses Amrah, and will doubtless feel to the end of his life that her death from illness could have been prevented, had he been there to look after her.
Interestingly, part of the punishment the author metes out to Rory, is to make him experience a slice of what Hero's life – or any woman's of her time and social position – would have been like: he hides away in an isolated country house in a remote part of the island, where he is cut off from any news, and finds himself, for weeks on end, doomed to inactivity. First, he finds this quite restful – and it forces him to take a good look at himself, and his actions and motivations. But soon, the forced inactivity and lack of news from the outside world begin to chafe, especially when he learns that the cholera epidemic which has been devastating much of the African continent, has gained a foothold on Zanzibar.
He also realizes that he has, after all, a conscience: He has begun to see the injustice and brutality of his vindictive action almost immediately, and while "anything that turned out to be so surprisingly enjoyable cannot be a matter for regret", he does suffer pangs on Hero's account, as well as that of his crew and household – particularly old Batty and little Amrah – who are all suffering the consequences. When he hears that Batty and Amrah are held under house arrest, and that the cholera epidemic has already reached Zanzibar town, he gives himself up to the law in order to ensure that they, and the rest of his crew, can get out of Zanzibar quick. He also is anxious to know Hero safe: but he finds that he has absolutely no power to do anything about it, for not only do the British consul and Dan Larrimore not believe his statement that the recent cholera outbreaks in the town are the first signs of an epidemic, they completely mistake his motives and laugh in his face, when he offers the Hollis ladies room on his ship.
Rory then serves a spell in hell when he is imprisoned in the fort, where he first finds himself at the complete mercy of the sadistic jail keeper, and eventually realizes that he has been abandoned in his cell, with no one to tend to his needs for water and food, while everyone else has died or run away. He hits rock bottom when, half crazed from thirst, he flies into a panic of complete helplessness, staring a slow and painful death in the face. Only then is he allowed to realize that the jail door, which he has been battering himself against, has been left unlocked, and he could have walked out at any time.
Locked rooms, doors open and closed, and keys, are recurrent motives throughout the book. Hero detests being locked in or confined. The reason she goes overboard, is because she cannot stand staying in her narrow cabin during a storm, and realizes too late the suicidal folly of going on deck in this kind of weather. One of the first visual impressions of Rory we (and Hero) get, is "He stood in the open doorway with the sun shining down on his blond head" and then he breaks into a roar of laughter.
The progress of the plot is mapped out by episodes when Hero, and later Rory, are locked in somewhere. He locks her into the cabin on the Virago, twice, in order to prevent her from witnessing his activities. The smallest and most humiliating space she is ever confined to, is when Rory takes her to Kiwulimi after staging her abduction, and she is locked into his cabin's privy. That should be an indication of how we are supposed to regard her rape! Even though she has the key to her room, Hero does not choose to lock herself in at Kiwulimi, and an interchange about who gets to hold on to the key, precedes the second night they spend together.
Later, during the cholera epidemic, it is Hero's family who literally lock her into the home, and even threaten to confine her to her room, in order to prevent her from getting involved in any more inopportune actions of compassion and humanity. And again it is Rory who, having walked out of his no longer locked prison cell, stands in the open door, and offers her and the starved orphan children she has picked up in the streets, asylum at his own house, and every kind of support.
*** to be continued ***
Arohanui, from Asni