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- In this newsletter:
- *** Living in the Wairarapa: Growing Jobs
- *** News and Current Projects
- *** Cool Things Friends Do: Tiffany Little
- *** Pirates, Vampires, and Tall Dark Strangers, pt 4
Living in the Wairarapa: Growing Jobs
This time of year is a busy time in the garden: August has been mild and sunny, and after the two week spring storm earlier this month had blown over, September continued in that vein. Everything is early this year: the kowhai trees, which usually blossom in late September and October, have been turning Featherston into a sea of bright gold since late August, and are now already beginning to fade. The ornamental cherry tree in front of my house is a sight to behold, and has been known to make neighbours stop in their tracks. Underneath, a very satisfying amount of lilac buds are swelling, nearly ready to burst.
September downunder is the equivalent of March in the Northern Hemisphere, so you'll understand how surprised I was to spot the first elder blossom opening in my garden this week! They weren't due until November. Maybe it's global warming, or perhaps just a spell of extremely mild weather.
Apart from spending a whole lot of time mucking about in the garden, I have now completed my London Art College Fantasy and Science Fiction certificate – bang on deadline, and with distinction, no less.
I have always been a bit suspicious if all those flattering things the tutor has been saying in his feedback were not simply designed to foster my obviously lacking self confidence, or perhaps a sign that my work didn't really merit the effort of making suggestions how I could improve on it – but I take it, he really meant it then. And when I look at the chunk of assignments I have produced for the course, I have to say, there is absolutely no excuse left to not get serious and send out my portfolio to some agents, or publishers who might hire me.
Pacing myself through that last lot of assignments has been taking quite a chunk out of my time for the last few months, but now I'm able to focus on paid work again, which is a relief, since I have a couple of projects waiting in the pipeline.
What else have I done this month? Not much, it seems. Watched a few old Peter O'Toole movies: the actor has recently turned eighty, and grandly announced his retirement from stage and screen. He has been quite ubiquitous for the past decade or so, playing lecherous geezers or cranky old patriarchs in a number of well-watched productions, including Stardust, Troy, and the BBC's Casanova – with David Tennant as his younger self, which makes a lot of sense: both actors are extremely good at portraying the insecurities and vulnerability of their characters, without coming across as the least bit weak or effeminate, which is a blessed relief from your standard dichotomy of male heroes as either tough, unemotional Strong Men, or whinging, supercilious Sensitive Types: The Brute, or the Eunuch.
Peter O'Toole has been nominated for an oscar eight times, and never won one: not even for Lawrence of Arabia – fifty years ago! – which is now being quoted by some as "the finest ever acting performance in film." The Academy gave him a lifetime achievement award ten years ago. He topped them, and earned himself another Best Actor nomination for Venus in 2006 (which he also didn't win). I went back to the days of his youth and beauty, though, watching How to Steal a Million – which I surely have seen before, but never enjoyed as much: it kept me giggling for two days straight! – and Murphy's War, a study in the pointlessness of war, where he gets to perform with his native Irish accent, and opposite his wife of many years, Siân Phillips.
And Bobby Dylan has made a new album! I've finally entered the age of digital music consumption by downloading Tempest, rather than waiting to have a shiny silver disc shipped to me. He has now achieved what he probably always aimed for: he sounds exactly like one of those old black men one can still spot sometimes in New York subways, singing the Blues. Between him and Peter O'Toole there is proof that even the most conspicuous excesses in alcohol or drug use need not necessarily kill one, or even considerably shorten a creative life span. Rock on, old men!
London Art College final assignment: Spring Comes to Town
News & Current Projects
The last assignment for the London Art College Science Fiction and Fantasy Art Certificate was to create a piece that would fit with one of six choices of theme: I initially went for "Toxicity", but the piece evolved, and became an "Interdimensional Portal" – or rather, cracks in the fabric of reality.
The starting point was a photo of a street in Dubai I found on DeviantArt, which seemed to sum up the idea of a toxic metropolis. I created a perspective sketch based on it, which I then inked, and coloured in in Illustrator. Strict geometrical perspective versus freer, more organic forms has been a bit of a theme throughout the course, so for the other plane of reality, I went for maximum contrast. The shape is based on a sketch of the old cherry tree in front of my house (before it started to blossom): I had to do a major pruning job, and wanted to portray it in its former glory before cutting off a substantial branch, so it was two flies with one stroke. I then turned the sketch into vector shapes, and used some photographs of blossoming trees to colour and texture them. Finally, I recycled the 3D model of the luna moth which I'd made for my music video for The Butterfly: might as well pull all the stops! My personal title for the piece is Spring comes to town. I am well pleased with it!
After a hiatus caused by the transfer of my website to a new server, I have now taken up my photography blog again: I won't keep up the pace of once weekly, but I undertake to post a new entry once a month, and update the photography galleries on my website at the same time. And of course there are still plenty of 2013 Middle Earth New Zealand calendars to be had!
By now, I have sprouted most of the seeds I bulk ordered early in winter, and have begun to plant out the seedlings: quite a bit of work, as it usually requires making up their beds first! I've done a bit of preparation work during the winter, but there is still a whole lot of weeding, mulching and digging to do.
I've started an ambitious landscaping project on my front lawn outside the office window: a spiral shaped raised bed to accommodate the tenderer kitchen herbs and lettuces, which will benefit from the wind shelter the house offers, and from the shade of the surrounding trees.
I am happy to report that my new fruit trees are now all sprouting leaves and blossoms! I don't expect they will fruit this year already, but it is good to know that they have taken root in their new home. They look impossibly pretty.
My mother has always been a keen lover of pot plants – she told me that she wanted to become a professional gardener, but was told at the time that this was not a job for women! Yeah right. She has never really managed to have her own garden to muck about in and plant what she likes, so I asked her to nominate a plant which I would grow on her behalf. She chose a Heckenrose – a type of pink-blossomed wild rose which is prolific in Northern Germany, and often used to make up hedges. They smell very sweet, and their fat rosehips are good for making tea, or jam. The question was, could I track one down here in New Zealand? I did, and had one shipped to me last week. It now graces the border around my back porch, replacing one of the native shrubs which had been in the process of dying. I am all for integrating New Zealand native plants into the garden, but who says one cannot mix them with imported ones? It should make for an interesting mix of textures and colour.
Cool Things Friends Do: Tiffany Little
A friend of mine posted a link to the Humans Of New York facebook page recently, and since then I have become an addict: I've been spending quite a bit of time looking at the photos, feeling very nostalgic and a little bit homesick. If ever a city qualified as a kaleidoscope of every possible form and variety of human, it would be that city. And if you ever doubted that humans are beautiful, do go have a look!
Then to top things off, another long time online acquaintance whom I had lost touch with, sent me a friend request: Tiffany Little is a young photographer and photographer's model from London. The first thing that caught my eye on her Facebook profile, was one of her photo albums, where she's posted images from a recent trip to Montréal and New York. She has a fabulous eye for the grittiness of city life, and urban and industrial architecture – and she takes those photos on her mobile phone! Proof that the quality of an image is not a function of the the equipment used.
I didn't have time to send her some interview questions, but here is a kaleidoscope of images – most of them didn't have captions, so I am not entirely sure where all of them were taken, but the ones from New York are fairly easy to identify, and the other ones are from Montréal, and I think a few from London.
Pirates, Vampires, and Tall Dark Strangers – Part 4
*** spoiler warning: plot details of M. M. Kaye: Trade Wind will be discussed in the following article ***
As spring is now no longer approaching, but well and truly here, it will soon be time to wrap up my musings on a favourite novel from my teens: M. M. Kaye's historical romance 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.
In her well-known children's book, The Ordinary Princess, M. M. Kaye playfully reduces fairy tale stereotypes to absurdity. Trade Wind does the same with the stereotypes of romantic fiction. These days, I think we might call this a mashup! There are quite a number of what I take to be deliberate bows to well known romance novel plots and characters: Hero Hollis, "handsome, clever and rich", echoes Jane Austen's Emma, with a hint of Catherine Morland in her naivete and readiness to be taken in. Rory's character owes quite a bit to the Count of Monte Christo, with just a dash of Rochester. The general outline of their relationship seems to be modeled on Pride and Prejudice, and there are obvious allusions to Samuel Richardson's Pamela, and Clarissa.
Rory's and Hero's interactions hover somewhere between Shakespeare's Beatrice and Benedick, from Much Ado About Nothing, and Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in The African Queen. Given his blond hair, light-coloured blue eyes, narrow face, tall wiry body, and propensity to wear flamboyant Arab style clothes, it is hard not to picture Rory Frost with the face of Peter O'Toole, more or less – Lawrence of Arabia hit the cinemas in 1962, and Trade Wind was first published in 1963. As for Hero's looks, one needs to remember that M. M. Kaye was also an accomplished painter, rooted deeply in the British painting tradition dating from the Pre-Raffaelites: look up mermaid on Wikipedia, and you'll find a well known painting by William Waterhouse, depicting a young mermaid combing out her long chestnut tresses.
Locked rooms, doors open and closed, and keys, are recurrent motives throughout the novel. Hero detests being locked in or confined. The reason she goes overboard on her voyage out, 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. She is intensely curious and likes to be physically active: She insists on her morning rides, even when there is no one to chaperon her, and even while the Gulf pirates are invading the island. This gives Rory the opportunity to approach and talk to her, and later, to abduct her. A back door in the consulate garden, in combination with her discovery that an Arab woman's street dress, which veils her head to toe and covers her face, is the perfect disguise, enables her to walk out in the streets of Zanzibar town on secret missions of her own: to pay visits to Rory's house, and to take an active part in a palace revolt.
The progress of the plot is mapped out by occasions when Hero, and later Rory, are locked in somewhere. Rory locks Hero into the cabin on the Virago, twice, in order to prevent her from witnessing his clandestine activities. Later, after staging her abduction, he locks her into his cabin's privy: the smallest and most humiliating space Hero is ever confined to. That should be an indication of how we are supposed to regard her rape! 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 yet another inopportune and "improper" action of compassion and humanity.
After he has abducted and raped Hero, Rory is gradually confined to more and more narrow and unpleasant spaces. At first he hides in a private room in the Sultan's palace, enjoying all the comforts of luxury except freedom to go where he pleases. Then he spends several weeks confined to a country house in a remote part of the island, doomed to inactivity and cut off from any news of the outside world. When he learns that the cholera epidemic which has been devastating the African continent, has taken hold on Zanzibar, he gives himself up to the law in order to enable his household and crew to leave the island (a futile gesture, as it turns out, since his little daughter Amrah is already ill and the Virago never sails) – and is imprisoned in Zanzibar fort, where he is completely dependant on a sadistic jail keeper to provide him with his basic needs, such as food and water – and where he eventually finds himself abandoned in his cell while everyone else has died of the cholera, or run away.
One of the first visual impressions of Rory Frost 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. A door standing ajar tempts Hero to sneak into the garden of Kivulimi, the "House of Shade", where she has another crucial encounter with Rory Frost. After her abduction, she declines to lock herself into her room, even though Rory has left her the key. Later, the key falls to the floor and Rory changes his mind and takes it back, carries her through the door and kicks it shut behind them.
When he has calmed down after the panic attack he suffers in his prison cell, Rory discovers that the door, which he has been battering himself against, has been left unlocked, and he could have walked out at any time. Hero, when she hears that the fort has been abandoned by the guards, discovers that she cannot bear the thought of Rory Frost dying in a locked cell, and tricks the door guard at the consulate, who is under strict orders to not let her out, in order to go down to the fort. She must have missed Rory by moments. It is on the way back that she picks up a bunch of starved orphan children whose parents have died of the cholera. When she arrives back at the consulate and her uncle and Clayton order her to put the starving babies and toddlers back in the street where she found them, because for all their selfrighteous judgement of people like Rory Frost, they themselves cannot be bothered to let go of a fraction of their own privilege, comfort and safety for the sake of others, once again Rory suddenly stands in the open door, and takes Hero and the children with him to his house.
The second time Hero finds herself locked into the cabin on the Virago, at the beginning of the book, she finds a pair of scissors and cuts a gash into the thick fabric which is covering the portholes: and so catches her first glimpse of Zanzibar, and of Kivulimi, Rory's country house, with its secluded private beach and lush tropical garden. Hero will see this house and garden three more times, and all three occasions will be crucial to her and Rory's developing relationship. The place functions almost as a symbol for their mutual attraction, and for the intimacy they eventually find.
I wonder if anyone has ever written a study about the significance of houses in novels by women authors. Elisabeth Bennet's story is a progress through a series of houses: Longbourn, Netherfield Park, Rosings, Pemberley – all marking stages in her relationship with Darcy. Charlotte Brontë's houses are almost like characters in their own right: young Jane Eyre just barely survives Gateshead and Lowood, and comes to love Thornfield Hall as her first proper home before she ever even meets its master, although after her exile at Moor House, she and Rochester come to live at Ferndean, a more modest, but also more intimate home than Thornfield Hall had been. Wuthering Heights could be summed up as a confrontation between two very different houses, the title-giving cottage on the moor, and Thrushcross Grange, the grand home down below.
The symbolic meanings attached to "garden" are even more complex and ancient. The biblical Garden of Eden is only one incarnation of this symbolic locus of lush abundance, private seclusion, and refreshment for the spirit and the body. The word for the Islamic concept of paradise, Jannah, means simply "garden". The word "paradise" itself is derived from an Old Persian word denoting a space enclosed by a wall. The geometric design of the Persian Charbagh, which represents Earthly Paradise (aka Eden), has spread as far as the Mughal gardens of India, and the gardens of the Alhambra in Spain. Echoes of it can also be found in medieval Christian garden layouts, particularly the cloistered gardens attached to cathedrals and monasteries.
In Christian culture, the garden is most often a place of austere spiritual contemplation. Garden work was an important part of medieval monastic life, both for reasons of self-sufficiency and for spiritual growth: much as it still is today, for those of us seeking alternative lifestyles. The Virgin Mary is often depicted inside an enclosed garden: the walled-in garden with its sealed door is sometimes explicitly compared to her virginal womb. The biblical Garden of Eden was a place of innocence: the Fall was brought about by a gaining of knowledge and experience, in particular sexual experience. Perhaps it is some deep trait in Western, Christian culture, that it values innocence more than experience: Jesus Christ is most often depicted either as an innocent baby, or as the innocent victim nailed to the cross, atoning for the sins of the rest of us.
In Islamic, as well as Persian and Indian culture, the concept of "garden" tends to focus more on sensual enjoyment, though the spiritual aspect is by no means excluded: the two things just aren't seen as mutually exclusive, unlike Christian culture with its focus on denial of sensual pleasures. In a geographical area which is dominated by deserts and hot climate, the water and shade offered by a garden aren't just aesthetic, they are actually necessary for physical well-being, even for survival. The "House of Shade", Kivulimi, is not a place of darkness and evil: it is a place of pleasant, refreshing coolness.
Indian miniature paintings often show gardens containing pairs of lovers (such as Krishna and Radha), or a lover – usually a woman – pining in the absence of their beloved. The Islamic paradise comes complete with houris, beautiful maidens who will be companions to the departed souls of the righteous – just as the Islamic paradise also comes with food, drink, and sweet perfumes. "A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a garden locked, a fountain sealed" it says in the Song of Solomon, and "Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits." "I come into my garden, my sister, my bride: I gather my myrrh with my spice. I eat my honeycomb with my honey, I drink my wine with my milk." This explicitly erotic biblical text has always given Christian exegetes headaches: it has been variously declared as an allegory of the union of Christ and the Church, or the longing of the soul for union with Christ: the 16th century Spanish mystic and saint Teresa of Ávila wrote a set of meditations on the Song of Songs. In baroque Spanish literature, it is sometimes impossible to tell if a text is religious or erotic – until you know that it belongs to a motet sung in the church service! The equation of erotic longing, and desire for union with God is also an important feature of Sufi poetry.
The enclosed garden, or locus amoenus, is also a staple of secular European literature: from medieval chivalric romances, and folk tales of times spent in Faerye, or of evil sorcerers who abduct and imprison innocent maidens in their magic castle and garden, until Sir Gawain or Ivan Czarevitch or Hanuman come to rescue them, all the way to The Secret Garden, or indeed Lady Chatterleys Lover. It is a hidden, private place, a fairy realm, a place that stands outside of and temporarily lifts the constraints of the "real world", and suspends common morality. Kivulimi falls squarely into that tradition: it is here that Hero and Rory, who have no socially acceptable common ground, can finally connect.
If we thought the fact that Hero first glimpses Kivulimi through a gash in a piece of matting covering a porthole was somewhat accidental, then the author drives the significance of that metaphor home later on: Sailing up the coast for a picnic with family and friends, Hero falls into a daydream and relives the night she first saw the house. In the dream, she tries desperately to tear a hole into the matting, in order to see who it is who is carrying dead bodies up the beach. Later, of course, she finds out that it was Clayton who was behind the whole arms transaction. The ability to see clearly, in particular with regard to the men in her life, is thus linked to her "loss of innocence" – and her loss of virginity.
Waking up, she finds herself looking at the actual beach and house she remembers seeing that night. She goes to investigate, finds the garden door ajar, and "suddenly she was no longer Hero Hollis, but Eve or Pandora or Bluebeard's wife". She steps over the threshold and enters the garden, ostensibly in the hope of finding some incriminating evidence of Rory's slave trading activities: but she is soon seduced by the tranquil, sweet-smelling beauty of the lush overgrown spot. The many roses put her in mind of a former admirer who once nicknamed her "The Sleeping Beauty", and explained that he felt that "she was sound asleep behind her hedge of prickles, and that any Prince who had the idea of waking her up was going to have to take a goddamed hatchet to hack his way through".
Hero's petticoat catches in a bush of roses. When she bends down to free herself, she notices Rory observing her from the shadows, and now we are into Red Riding Hood territory. She freezes in terror, just as if he were the Big Bad Wolf – which is, of course, exactly what he turns out to be, if we believe those who see the fairy tale as a metaphor for a rape. Straightening up, she "hears the lace of her pettycoat rip", and a little later, Rory "steps lightly over the intervening roses" and catches her wrist. The whole passage is a little masterpiece of writing which is completely erotically suggestive (and deftly foreshadows the subsequent scenes of Hero's abduction) without anything in particular happening – they barely even touch – simply by the use of images and associations. But from that point onward, there can be no doubt, even in an inexperienced 14 year old reader's mind, where this romance is headed, and between whom the sparks are flying.
The only explicit indication we get is that at one point, "a flicker of something very like admiration" shows on Rory's face, and he finds himself "thinking illogically and with a curious sense of surprise that he had not remembered that her eyes were grey or that they had small green flecks in them, and that he would not forget it again." – Like Mr. Darcy, Rory notices Hero's fine eyes, but the observation is also a pun on the expression "there is no green in his/her eye", used at other points in the narrative to denote that someone is not naive or easily taken in. Hero is both, and it is at this point that Rory, who has on another occasion rather high-handedly told her off for her "love of meddling" without bothering to explain the context, comes to realize that much of what exasperates him about Hero is simply due to her youth and lack of experience – and he proceeds to enlighten her on some of the wider issues connected with the palace rebellion she has been supporting. Although she meets his revelations with shock and disbelief, she later confirms the truth of them, and the knowledge will eventually enable her to make better informed decisions in order to reach her own goals.
In The Madwoman in the Attic, the authors devote a whole section to what they call "Milton's bogey" – the way 19th century female authors have grappled with, and responded to the story of Eve, and Milton's retelling of it in Paradise Lost. Milton represents Eve as akin to Sin (also a female character), and her desire for self-knowledge, culminating in her disobedience of the injunction not to eat the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge, as similar to Lucifer's revolt against God's authority.
The Sinful Woman – whether she be seduced no-longer-virgin, adulteress, mistress, or prostitute – who suffers and dies as a result of her transgression, is a recurring theme in 19th century literature. Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Gretchen. Anna Karenina. Madame Bovary. La Dame aux Camelias. Carmen. Nastassya Filippovna. The latter two are killed by the men who profess to love them. And since the narrative focuses on the passion and jealousy of the male protagonist, rather than the feelings and motivations of the woman, we as readers are invited to agree that their fate was fully deserved, that they have "brought it upon themselves". Apparently the simple fact that these women are extraordinarily attractive to men, is a crime which merits capital punishment.
All the above novels belong to the canon of "great literature", are taught in schools and held up as examples in universities, are published and re-published in collections of "classics", have PhDs and monographs written about them, and keep appearing on must-read lists. And all the above novels are written by men. Female authors are a little less heavy handed on their sinful sisters: Lydia Bennet lands herself with an unreliable, deceitful and spendthrift husband, but that is the extent of it. The blame for Rochester's attempted bigamy is put squarely on his shoulders, rather than on Jane's attractions and female wiles. George Eliot's Hetty Sorrel, however, does kill her baby and dies in prison.
If women in literature aren't Whores, they are generally Saints. It is perhaps telling that, putting together a list of famous literary Whores, I instantly came up with seven without much thinking. But the only Saint I can think of, offhand, is Sonya from Crime and Punishment: and she is a very atypical example, because she actually works as a prostitute in order to support her impoverished family. Besides, her goodness is an active one: she convinces Raskolnikov to confess his crime, and follows him to Siberia, where she looks after him while he serves his sentence, until he is ready to truly repent. In that regard, she is more like one of Dostoyevsky's male saintly characters, Alyosha Karamasov, or Prince Lev Myshkin. She is not defined by the things she does *not* do: i.e. get involved in any of the activities which would make her a Whore. The trouble with the rest of the saintly women in literature is that they are so defined: which generally makes them sublimely unmemorable characters.
Hero Hollis, however, does not fit into the scheme of Saint or Whore: she is simply a Woman. No one in their right mind would call a character with such lofty ideals and moral convictions, backed up by strength of character and courage, as well as genuine human kindness, a Whore. Yet by the end of the book she is pregnant with an illegitimate child, cast off by her family, living in the house of a man she isn't married to (even though, admittedly, chaperoned), and tormented by an overwhelming physical attraction to this man, whom no one considers "suitable" for her – not even herself, or indeed he himself!
And Hero does get battered: her rape and her unwanted and socially damning pregnancy are only one out of three violent and traumatic experiences she has during the course of the novel. First of all, she goes overboard ship and nearly drowns in a storm-tossed ocean, and in the course of being hauled on board the Virago, gets battered in ways which strongly resemble the injuries a victim of violent rape or domestic violence might have incurred: she has a black eye and a split lip, her face is swollen up and discoloured with bruises, her hair hopelessly tangled, and her dress in shreds. To Rory's mocking eye, she looks like "a disorderly doxie from Billingsgate". When she arrives with her family, she finds that the mere fact of having spent ten days on Rorys' ship leads even her own relatives to assume that she has "lost her virtue". She doesn't even need to get raped, to suffer all the same consequences!
Later in the book, she is attacked and nearly beaten to death by a mob, when she tries to rescue some orphan children and the locals misinterpret her intent. This experience, we learn, will give her recurring nightmares for the rest of her life, and it is also the cause for her miscarriage – a painful and emotionally disturbing experience if ever there was one. In comparison, her actual rape does not leave her anywhere near as physically battered: though that does not count the emotional bruises.
But Hero survives: She systematically survives everything women are taught to be afraid of – rape, unwanted pregnancy, miscarriage, walking the streets of Zanzibar town on her own, hanging out with social outcasts and dark skinned people, and loving the "wrong man" – as well as a few things which most women never put themselves in the way of: such as going overboard in a storm, or being beaten up by a hostile mob.
Hero grows and matures in the course of the novel, but she does not change in essentials: in the end, she is just as full of idealism and energetic benevolence as she was at the beginning of he book. But she has learned that mere benevolence sometimes does more harm than good: if it is not paired with practical considerations and a sound knowledge of all the ramifications of the problem, as well as the culture and mindset of the people she proposes to help. She desists from her efforts at meddling with Zanzibar's politics, and instead concentrates on using the nursing skills she has been trained in: not because she is a woman and nursing is more appropriate for women than politics, but because nursing is something she knows, and Zanzibar's politics is not something she understands, or could be expected to understand.
Instead of dwelling on abstract theories, and looking for problems that need fixing among "unenlightened heathens", Hero learns to apply her energies to the things that need doing in her immediate environment: when she hears that Amrah, a child she knows and cares for, is ill, she offers to nurse her. When she finds a half starved baby in a gutter, she picks it up and looks after it. And in Rory she finds someone who is not only willing to completely support her, but whose unsentimental practicality and knowledge of the world are precisely what she needs to accomplish her goals: just as he needs her ideals and her conscience, to give some aim to his rather aimless life.
What is to be valued more, innocence or experience? M. M. Kaye's answer to that old question is unequivocal: Hero is a Fallen Woman who finds that her Fall – the loss of innocence, the gaining of experience and self-knowledge, the discovery that she has a body as well as a mind – not only makes her a fuller, more likeable, and ultimately happier person, it also enables her to act more efficiently in the world. It gains her the profound respect of those people in her social circle who do not barricade themselves behind conventional morality. And rather than being driven out of the Garden, with Rory she quite literally finds it.
Both Hero and Rory are people who refuse to play the part society expects of them – and neither of them cares to, or indeed knows how to play by the accepted rules of courtship. 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. Her doting, widowed father treated her more as a son than a daughter. She knows how to shoot and ride, likes to be physically active, prides herself on her unemotional rationality and direct outspokenness, and finds flirting vulgar. Other characters variously describe her as "the tall woman who walks like a man", or "looking like a ship's boy in skirts" – although there is nothing unfeminine about her face and figure, which are generally acknowledged as being of a classical, if somewhat cool, beauty.
Her views on men and marriage are largely formed by her rather priggish former governess: Although Hero is never quite sure about her feelings for Clayton Mayo, resents his demonstrative possessiveness, and dislikes being touched by him, she deems him suitable as a husband because she "feels very strongly that marriage is not an estate to be entered into on the basis of mere pleasure in another's company, and that one should look for more than that." More than that is: "She already knew Mr. Mayo to be serious-minded and eager to do good, because they had enjoyed many talks together and found themselves to be in complete agreement on a wide variety of subjects." Besides, he is very handsome, in a fashionable, "Byronic" sort of way – though I suspect Hero would never admit that this might influence her!
The feelings Rory Frost evokes in her, are not in Hero's book. While she is on his ship, after he rescues her from drowning, he treats her with a casual, mocking friendliness which must have been a stark contrast to the deferential gallantries she is used to hearing from men of her own social circle. They "talk together" quite at length, and on topics of considerable variety and depth, but while Rory seems to rather enjoy pulling her leg, and challenging her view of the world and her pre-conceived morals, she finds him infuriating: they certainly don't "find themselves in agreement" on practically any subject at all!
*** to be continued ***
Arohanui, from Asni