Saturday, 16 June 2007


I have been reading this wonderful post and the comments today and wanted to write something on female wantonness, deviance and monstrousness, even witchery. When I set up this blog, that feeling of personal monstrousity, in some form, of feeling like something or someone that is occasionally treated as monstrous, dangerous or a heretic was a key factor.

One of my big literary interests is female monstrousity. I covered it in my dissertation on Coleridge and Shelley, and have a big interest in 1890s writing on decadence and degeneration, and the literature surrounding these ideas. I wrote an essay on the decapitation of female monsters in 'Dracula' and the poetry of Arthur Symons, wrote about the 'dangerous' highly sexed woman, but also the 'love that dare not speak its name', and the literature that to some degree eroticises and even celebrates 'feminised' men. It's not easy to uncover very much of Symons's work online.

In these texts, societal degeneration or subversion of the Natural Order is symbolically brought about by women, usually in some mythological form - essentially all born of Lililth, not Eve. I remember reading Bram Dijukstra's Idols of Perversity for the first time and uncovering all these symbolic depictions of female deviance. Yet it's possible to trace the association of Adam's first wife and female licentiousness back in all kinds of contexts. In the Christian Middle Ages, it was believed that wet dreams were caused by female succubi (or lilim). Much more so than Eve, the depiction of Lilith tends to be the only real symbol for female sexuality, or at least the model on which sexual, deviant women are based in western art and literature. When she's mentioned at all. She's usually depicted as a redhead, and red hair thus becomes symbolic in women of temptation, rebellion, deviance, disobedience. When Eve has given in to temptation and is unceremoniously thrown out of the garden of Eden, her blonde hair is often depicted in Renaissance paintings, such as the work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or St Paul's Cathedral, as turning to a shock of red.

Personally, I suppose I don't mind identifying as A Lilith. I've always rather liked that Alexa Wilding, Rossetti's redheaded muse, was so often depicted as 'perverse'. I've never minded being a redhead for this reason or resisted the stereotype that female redheads have a tendency to be highly sexed or deviant, even though the cultural history behind the persecution of redheaded women is misogynist (I find it interesting that green is said to temper red, and that I took on the screename 'verte' some time ago, again associated again with the idea of female perversity in that same cultural period (la fee verte).

Belief in redheads as witches stems, I think, from Germanic culture, where redheads were uniformly stripped and searched for 'marks of the devil'. Particularly freckles. And redheads know a lot about freckles. The folklaws surrounding the deviant redhead - considering only 4% of people are natural redheads - are endless.

I've always enjoyed cultural depictions of Lilith, or lilim. Last night, pacing around the flat because I couldn't sleep, I came across my copy of Dracula, and again found myself identifying far more with wanton, syphillitic Lucy Westenra than tempted-but-ultimately-virtuous Mina Murray. In a way, both embrace certain elements of the beginnings of female emancipation in the novel, but the results are quite different. Lucy ends up with a stake through her heart, pumped full with the blood of three men, decapitated, monstrous. Mina experiences sexual temptation, but is ultimately valued by her male companions, in part because of her abstinence.

So, yes, I am not ashamed of being a wanton redhead, sexually deviant, a genetic mutation (and yeah, no-one else in my family in memory has had red hair), something monstrous.

People will scapegoat all kinds of crap to forbid people from being part of communities, for being 'abnormal' or deviant in some way. And really, those reasons are as much of a nonsense as proclaiming that redheads are witches, to be burnt at the stake.


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