Kitty III

I'm on page 206.

At first I thought that Kitty seemed more or less free from the misogyny that permeates Sorrell and Son. In that book, the hero recoils in distate from the predatory women who want to exercise their wiles on him – throughout the book female sexuality is represented as loathesome (though the pretty young thing who eventually marries Son is OK – she's boyish and non-clingy, and doesn't wear make-up). In this book, sex between young Alex and Kitty on their honeymoon is presented as a good thing; they're very well-mannered about it. He is sensitive, and always asks, "May I?"

But now the villainess of this book is becoming more extreme. The cold and steely mother is using foul means to try and end her son's marriage and keep him for herself.When she goes spying on Kitty (the wife) she gives full rein to the filthy mind of the puritan, seeing grossness in utterly innocent behaviour. Poor old Alex, the hero, has had a bad time in France. Just when he'd received a disturbing letter from his mother, attributing vile behaviour to his wife, a shell came down near him, and his legs were crushed beneath a falling wall. He' s amnesiac, dozy and paralysed in the lower regions. There are hints that he won't be enjoying conjugal rights any more.

When he's brought back to England, Mother kidnaps him and locks him up where his wife can't reach him. He's what she wanted now, immobile and inert. She's bribed the male nurse not to post his desperate letters to Kitty…

That's as far as I've got.

From my thesis point of view, it's interesting because Alex the soldier is so inert. Afraid and vulnerable before he's wounded, totally helpless afterwards, he's less a character than the property for which two strong women fight.

His shell-shock is of the pathetic-decorative sort. He's amnesiac and a bit infantile. Nothing obscene, or really disturbing.

 I bet Kitty gets him walking on those paralysed legs before the end…

3 Comments

  1. Posted May 16, 2006 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    I bet Kitty gets him walking on those paralysed legs before the end…

    I bet she does too. He probably wouldn’t dare not walk. It’s interesting that it’s the mother that’s the villain of the piece, and that the war is almost being used as a useful way of infantilising the hero. From what you’re saying, he doesn’t seem particularly proactive.

    Compare and contrast with Dorothy L Sayers’ portrayals of shell shock in the Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, and others.

  2. Jessica
    Posted May 17, 2006 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Actually, if his shell shock is ‘infantile’, The Return of the Soldier may be a better comparison. The portrayal of shell shock as regressive/childish (as opposed to unreliable, uncontrolled and potentially violent) in popular literature isn’t that common as far as I am aware, although amnesia is. It would be interesting to hear of other examples.

  3. Posted May 17, 2006 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    Another example of infantilisation that immediately comes to mind is Kipling’s story “Fairy-Kist”. One thing I like about this story is that the well-meaning group who want to help the victim manage to find out the cause of his delusions, but don’t cure him of them. He carries on in his rather infantile way as before (obsessed with planting wild flowers) and completely happy in his delusion.


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