Friday, October 17, 2008

Lost Girls: Once upon a time, there was a little girl called Wendy Darling

When we meet Wendy Darling in the first volume of Lost Girls, this middle-aged woman is sexually repressed, frustrated and silent. Unlike Alice’s aristocratic sexual bohemianism, and Dorothy’s earthy blue-collar openness, Wendy is the epitome of middle-class repression and denial. However, whiles her equally unsatisfied husband Harold may affectionately refer to her as “old girl” as they arrive at the Himmelgarten Hotel, their bedroom tells a different story. A queasy art-nouveau parody of writhing bodies and breast-shaped drawers, with an erotic collection lurking in the room, acting as a substitute for the more usual Gideon’s Bible, their sleeping quarters are jam-packed with the reminders of the elephant in the room. While her husband furtively indulges in Beardsley’s depiction of the orgy in Venus and Tannhauser (more on this in a later post), Wendy is compelled to follow the handsome young bellboy into the gardens of the hotel. Hands pressed to her lips, she watches him undress, before disgusted with herself, she flees back to her hotel room. This is just the first of many acts of voyeurism and exhibitionism that Wendy will enact, enjoy and recall. Furthermore, the parodic reproduction of Venus and Tannhauser read secretly by Harold will come to mirror the sexual games of Alice, Dorothy and Wendy that are to follow. However, where as in the original Wagner opera of Tannhauser, the protagonist’s carnal devotion to Venus and the opening orgy is the point of sin from which the hero must attempt to redeem himself, it is only through sex, play, fantasy and storytelling that the characters in Lost Girls are redeemed.

Back in the hotel room, Wendy and Harold share a mundane, domestic conversation, but the shadows cast by their forms against the walls of their hotel room betray their latent desires. As they search the hotel room for Harold’s misplaced business papers, their silhouettes conspire, often improbably, to reflect the couple engaged in foreplay. As the shadow-Harold appears to enter his wife from behind, real-Harold benignly discusses work prospects;

“Of course, for me it’s the challenge that’s the thing: doing something you haven’t tried before. Realizing your opportunity and seizing the moment…”

For a moment, the grouping of text in one isolated speech bubble allows the reader to pretend that shadow and reality are finally aligning; that Harold and Wendy may one day find themselves sexually compatible…until Harold finishes with “Just imagine promotion, sales division manager…”, neatly placed in a separate frame. Eventually, sadly, gently, truth and fantasy marry up as Wendy rests her head on her husband’s shoulder, in both shadow and full-colour form.

That night, Wendy is tormented by the sounds of Alice and Dorothy enjoying uninhibited pleasure as she takes a bath in the hotel. Harold, meanwhile, dreams of orgies composed of the sounds he hears from next door and Venus and Tannhauser. Although both craving the same thing, they cannot bear to ask it of each other. While there may be tenderness and companionship in this marriage, there’s a helluva lot of sexual repression and dissatisfaction.

Wendy’s compulsion to watch the bellboy undress and her voyeuristic eavesdropping on Alice and Dorothy undermines her carefully composed image of the pure, “good” woman. But why is Wendy plagued with such guilt about her sexual desires and what stops her from sharing these with her husband? When Wendy is discovered spying on Dorothy and Alice, bent over eachother’s bodies like playing cards (check the Caroll ref) by the pool, she is brought to tears. As Alice berates her for being nothing more than “a common peeping Tom”, Wendy stammers her confession:

“I-I came to listen. I didn’t know you’d be…I overheard what you said at breakfast…a-and last night about dream worlds. When you were young… You see that’s my story. I’ve never told anyone else about it.”

Witnessing, watching their explicitly female sexuality returns Wendy to the turning point in her sexuality, her first voyeuristic experience, and gives her the courage and starting point from which to address her own sexual development. Perhaps most uncomfortably for readers, and as it turns out, the censors, this means retreating to fantasy worlds and returning to childhood.

When Alice invites Wendy to join her and Dorothy, she rediscovers these lost girls, and in unlocking Wendy, opens the entire book:

“Now then…Mrs. Potter, I am Lady Fairchild. My companion is Miss Gale. Fate, seemingly has brought us to the Himmelgarten for a reason. Therefore, I propose we devote this afternoon to storytelling. Just the three of us. Together.”

(more on Wendy to follow over the coming weeks)


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