November 7, 2012

I’m So Over 19th Century Virgins

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Blech! I can’t take anymore of this “sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of” though in this case the “little girls” are full grown women.

Case in point, I’m trying to finish Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (as God as my witness, I will!) and come upon this little scene. Cosette, a young lady, daughter of sometimes prostitute Fantine and adopted daughter of Jean Valjean, wakes in the morning. All in white and in a white room. Hugo then says,

One may, in a case of exigency, introduce the reader into a nuptial chamber, not into a virginal chamber. Verse would hardly venture it, prose must not.

It is the interior of a flower that is not yet unfolded, it is whiteness in the dark, it is the private cell of a closed lily, which must not be gazed upon by man so long as the sun has not gazed upon it. Woman in the bud is sacred. That innocent bud which opens, that adorable half-nudity which is afraid of itself, that white foot which takes refuge in a slipper, that throat which veils itself before a mirror as though a mirror were an eye, that chemise which makes haste to rise up and conceal the shoulder for a creaking bit of furniture or a passing vehicle, those cords tied, those clasps fastened, those laces drawn, those tremors, those shivers of cold and modesty, that exquisite affright in every movement, that almost winged uneasiness where there is no cause for alarm, the successive phases of dressing, as charming as the clouds of dawn,-- it is not fitting that all this should be narrated, and it is too much to have even called attention to it.

First he says, we can’t discuss the virginal chamber and then goes on to describe buds, and half-nudity, and shivers of  modesty. Come on, Hugo, you don’t fool me. You’re talking about sex. I’ve noticed that 19th century dude-writers are obsessed with virgins. Alexandre Dumas, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and Victor Dumas. They can’t write about a virgin without waxing poetic about her milky white skin (no dark virgins, obvs), her lowered eyelashes, her shy gaze. Blah, blah, blah. And they’re all so good! So good and stupid! (Ugly virgins are old spinsters, like Marian Halcombe. They can be intelligent.) Let’s have a scheming virgin, boys!

Give me a Scarlett O’Hara, a Becky Sharpe. Even poor Fantine was more interesting than her kid.

I need a break from 19th century lit.

19 comments :

  1. I'm glad you also mentioned Dickens. I'm feeling the same way as you about Lucie Manette. Actually finding her very similar to Cosette.

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    1. I almost left him out, then I remembered Little Dorrit.

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  2. That's not my favorite time period to read about so I get what you're saying.

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  3. Wow, I can see why that book is so long now.

    Hmmm, there has to be a virgin who's not an idiot SOMEWHERES in 19th-century lit. Right?

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    1. I don't know, they all seem pretty fluffy headed.

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    2. Jane Eyre wasn't a total idiot... yes she fell in love witha weird guy and kinda took all his mean jokes but when the second wife came out... well, she was right out of there and then she almost marries a celibate guy but decides that she wants a bit of bow-chica-wow-wow, so then she goes back to blind Rochester only now he's blind so she has the power in rhetoric relationship but she's rich now and... and... well yes, she's kinda a bit of an idiot too. *backs away awkwardly*

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  4. Quite possibly the most interesting post I have read today!

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  5. That quote is... well, it's not made the book any more appealing. Good point about Becky, she is better.

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    1. She is! And yeah, Hugo tends to wander off into other things in this book.

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  6. Have you ever tried reading Roxana by Daniel Defoe? That'll give you a bit of a giggle.

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    1. No but I did read Moll Flanders. That was something different!

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  7. Oh, I know what you mean. I just finished a Georgette Heyer book and I enjoyed it (of course), but the pains people went through to make clear that one character in particular was "untouched" was ridiculous.

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    1. They were slightly obsessed in that era!

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  8. I love this post! :-) I agree ... what is it with 19th century dude writers and their obsessions with virgins? They want sex and virgins at the same time. There's nothing new under the sun when it comes to double standards and hypocrisy. :-P

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    1. It seems that they were never happy when it came to woman. How confusing for them!

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  9. Uh-oh! I am about to start this one!

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  10. LOL, you are getting a hefty dose of 19th centuriness. Bless your heart.

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