Friday, October 24, 2008

od 11


Chapter 11 - Pregnancy

Many wonderful touches in the poignant scenes of pregnancy & childbirth. Tuerqui now has a daughter: Tuerquelle.

The artful whip-making, too, during pregnancy, is a detailed world all in itself: only this novel could treat of this or even dream of this in such a loving manner.

Some snippets that attracted me;

Alarmed, I placed my bowl on the floor. It was common knowledge that slaves were given drugs in their swill designed to promote docility. That much seemed acceptable – and inevitable. The idea of affecting an unborn child in the same way was another matter.

[Does the above mean that Tuerqui’s feistiness is wishful thinking on behalf of the narrator?]

Looking her in the eye, I saw that she did – indeed – have a freedom denied to the rest of us. For that I envied her. Continuing to gaze, I saw that there was a loneliness, too – denied the company of her kind. My envy was mingled with sympathy – and a strong sexual attraction – she was amongst the loveliest slaves I’d seen.
Something deeper drew me to Whipfelle, as I slowly realised during the following weeks. Having yet to frame the thought, at some level I recognised that my unborn child would have much in common with my companion. Whipfelle’s happiness reassured me. A mother needs hope for her baby.
Later, I was to discover that many pregnant bondlings comfort themselves with fantasies of escape or rescue for their unborn children. While they dream such nonsense, they pass the special spices to their wombs, ensuring that that their babies will no more desire personage than did Whipfelle. Lying to myself has never been my way, and I needed to be content that my child would share Whipfelle’s inner serenity.

Once the first whip of my pregnancy was complete, I found myself assigned to make an ante-natal one, as used by our overseers. It was a delicate instrument, designed to correct – as befitted a slave – without damaging the unborn child. It was a relief to know that, however much my faults required a chiding lash, my baby would not suffer. The result of my work pleased me – a thing of beauty, and exquisitely painful.

Regarding the coarse elided dialogue of the slave Muqui – not sure if this entirely worked. And is she the exception that proves the rule regarding slaves not speaking coarsely?

a tear in token my parting from Lady Nerys

Word docs of the actual chapters are freely available to readers of this blog.

The links to all Chapter comments by me are here:

Submitted by Pet at 7/15/2008 9:15:28 AM
On Tuerqui's feistiness (or otherwise) she does seem more feisty after (in Chapter 28) entering a phase of her life during which she's unlikely to have received drugs to promote docility. I suppose, in any case, such matters are relative, rather than absolute. In Chapter 11, Muqui and Slutte seem imperfectly docile. In Chapter 12, we come to the curious reflection that drinking slaves' milk doesn't make Berenice Blackheart at all docile.

I think that Muqui is the only slave in the entire book to be represented as talking coarsely. I suppose she is so represented to illuminate the Muqui/Slutte dispute -- and to show how snobbery and inverted snobbery may persist after enslavement. Was that a matter worthy of (brief) exploration? I'm not sure.

Thanks for revealing the typo. Strange how these escape my eye on repeated proof reading.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

'Odalisque' by PF Jeffery (DFL's comments on Chapter 34)

Chapter 34 - Trial

Schoolroom genealogy followed by the *hilarious* tale of the Pollygoggers’ jury trial, muchly goodly narrated by the author and the author’s cohorts (Tuerqui, Jennifer Petrie...) – except they are not really cohorts but I feel competing narrators within the Collective Unconscious of the novel. Tuerqui’s bashful need to keep her skirt as low as possible (while being duplicitously enticing, too?) and her expressly saying that to escape punishment is ‘good’ (when she evidently enjoys punishment?) – coupled with her father’s use of the word ‘Pah’ and his rather more repressed view of what women can view etc... makes me ponder and ponder. There is more to this novel than meets the eye. Some exemplifying passages:

She flexed her cane meaningfully, but – to my surprise – didn’t use it. In fact, I survived the entire morning, and the schoolroom lunch, without punishment. It seemed too good to be true. Mary and Phoebe hadn’t been quite so lucky

(typo: full-stop after ‘lucky’ needed).

Perhaps, I dared hope, the Duck’s Ford ruby had finished with me. A worse possibility remained as a worry – that it had reached through the dream world to ensnare Tuerquelle or Lady Isobel. Was such a thing possible? Briefly, I wondered whether to ask Miss Miles – who seemed to know something of cursed stones – but decided not chance my luck by doing so.

“About half an hour – plenty long enough for them to prepare. Prepare their case – pah! Prepare for the slave trimmer’s knife, more like!”

Such thoughts brought me to my responsibility for the arrest, trial and punishment of Daniel and Carp-Eye. Thoroughly regretting the business now, it was far too late for me to prevent it. Lisa-Louise was right – my revenge was the work of a slave wrenched from her mistress’ authority and consequently gone mad. The dominance that the elfin girl had exerted upon me was to be thanked for the clarity with which I could now view matters.

A nice simile:

as soft as scrumper’s shit

And a premonition of ‘zero tolerance’: seems to me that I have been too lax, far too lax. That being so, for today at least, I will not ignore the slightest error. Every mistake will mean a spanking or the cane...

Elfin Lisa-Louise remains inscrutable and seems to be role-playing role-playing...?

Word docs of the actual chapters are freely available to readers of this blog.

The links to all Chapter comments by me are HERE

Monday, October 13, 2008

By A Whisker

Written today and first published here

Amid the noise of winds meeting, the woman awaited the man’s arrival – certain now that there would be a world for more than just winds to meet. The world had just been saved by the merest whisker, with many previously having predicted the end of life as they knew it.

She imagined a dark theatre in the old days where the audiences could only be assumed to be sitting in their seats by the many red spots provided by the ends of their lit cigarettes – a changing pattern as one spot went out and another lit. This had been the world experienced for an imagined eternity and, as she now watched a landscape exhumed by a genuine sunrise slowly taking mountainous shape beyond the sea, she expected to fall into her lover’s arms as he arrived simultaneously with the ever-spreading light. Not that there had been a shortage of sunrises in the recent past, merely a surplus of disbelief in them.

He believed he was the carrier of the single whisker that had saved the world. It nestled among the many other whiskers upon his face, some off-stage or aside from identity or expression. These he had allowed to grow without shaving, he claimed, as an example of uncharacteristic behaviour. She did not argue; she did not counter-claim that he had not been able to shave in the dark. Neither of them would claim he had created the beard (or left the shaving undone) for the sake of the world’s saving whisker.

The important question today was: which whisker? She vowed to tease it out with her loving fingers. But first a kiss of reunion – and she felt the unfamiliar whiskers scratch her own soft cheeks: a deep kiss that the global perils had long delayed. Other men and women were surely meeting in a similar manner all over the world – since belief was now strangely bringing sunrises to horizons on latitudes that were not due to have one at all, even to horizons still smeared with sunsets that seemed to have endured, on and off, for an eternity. Some sunsets, indeed, had even ‘acted’ as sunrises – but darkening ever overtook them eventually. But, now, there arrived sunrises galore – for real.

Following the kiss, she looked with a smile into the man’s eyes and said: “I must now find the whisker that has saved the world.”

Instinctively, she knew that the act of locating the whisker, isolating it, preserving it as, at best, a valuable palliative religious relic or, at worst, a curative panacea for future world crises, would become the crystallisation of belief required retrospectively to fulfil the good work it was now believed to have accomplished already.

He nodded. As owner of the face that needed searching, there was no way he would be able to find this ‘needle in a haystack’ – and a mirror would only risk confusing matters by inverting the chronology of retrospective effects. This woman whom he remembered loving an eternity ago was the only way the whisker could be found. Until then, there was a chance that the world might slip back into a single sunset continuously forming fitful failed attempts to be a sunrise.

“Ah, here it is!” she cried with a flash of triumph. “A whisker that grows back into the skin – making a tiny loop of hair...”

“Like half a zero?” he suggested, forgetting that, by moving his jaw to speak in this way, he risked the woman losing the whisker.

“Or like an eight,” she said. “All other numbers have tails or spokes. Only a zero and an eight have no loose ends.”

She was almost talking to herself, trying to blot out that she had now lost the whisker. She did not want to blame the man she loved for risking the world’s return to darkness. The nail-scissors she possessed would have to wait. The man and woman returned to kissing, until one felt the other leave, amid the noise of wind.

Elsewhere, millions of other women sought the single whisker on their loving partners’ faces. Careful Dalilas and passive Samsons in methodically staged operations upon disbelief.. The noise of wind was sporadic as were the sprays of red spots upon the various blankets of night after some scissors slipped and gouged cheeks – and, in my case, stabbed an eye almost as far as the brain.

The noise of wind or applause.

'Odalisque' by PF Jeffery (DFL's comments on Chapter 31)

Chapter 31 – Lessons

Lessons in and out of the schoolroom. Lessons for the characters in the plot, lessons for the plot-masters and -mistresses themselves and lessons for the readers. One wonders sometimes who are the puppets and who the puppeteers in this highly complex interaction of narration and narration-receipt (complex without being difficult even to the least experienced of readers, I guess).

The reader follows the quick-fire pecking-order of other interactions -- father and daughter, mother and daughter at a distance of separation, slave and person, person and person, slave and slave, teacher and student, time and punishment, female and male, Goddess and Goddess icon, jewel thief and ‘loose cannon’, love and submission.

Some passages in this chapter:

It was in line with her insistence that it was my inner being that enslaved me, rather than the presence or absence of a harness.

Lisa-Louise’s voice sank too low for me to catch the words, Barguin giggled. Dedicating the image to Our Lady of the Lamp as I worked, absorbed me into prayer. Naturally, the first requests I had for she embodied in the new image concerned Tuerquelle. Feeling the goodness of the goddess surround me, I felt that my alarm for my daughter’s safety was ill-founded – the alarm echoed by the menacing dreams of the night before.

(I didn’t fully follow the sense of the bit I’ve put in bold).

“Father,” I began, “you remember mother’s jewel boxes? You were kind enough to send them to me.”
“Of course I remember them, girl. It was only yesterday. I know you’re just a female, without a man’s capacity for abstract thought, but there’s no need to ask quite such stupid questions.”

My return to Surrey was an increasingly urgent issue. The images of Tuerquelle and my mistress called me – neither of them long absent from my thoughts. The ache where my daughter should have been had not lessened, and was not likely to ameliorate until our reunion. At the same time, all but demonic figures rendered staying in Lundin intolerable – my father, Miss Miles, the as yet vague outline of a future husband.

Wasn’t ‘Fetcha’ (mentioned in this chapter) called ‘Fech’ before?

Word docs of the actual chapters are freely available to readers of this blog.

The links to all Chapter comments by me are HERE

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Cool Sunlight

Written today and first published here

It was the name of a product of two numbers. He peered closely at the packaging: COOL SUNLIGHT: he carefully unwrapped it. Beneath the inner layer of tissue there were a six and a seven made, judging by the smell, from coal-tar soap. He opened the next package of ‘Cool Sunlight’ and it contained two different numbers. Other identical packages had different and duplicate numbers inside them. The previous evening, he had tried using an eight in the bathroom sink, whipping up a rich face-lather that rather belied the otherwise less than promising unproductiveness of the hard soap from which the eight was manufactured.

The outer packaging was well-designed: a low sun on a lemon-tinged horizon with picture-book beams radiating geometrically from it. An inspiration of dawn in a brisk climate. Or sunset, depending on one’s mood. As an Advertising Executive of several years’ experience, he could not help trying to fathom reconciliation between the package and its contents, but he had not yet been able to mind-read the creative juices lying behind the concept.

His personal assistant sat in the desk opposite. She did not want her presence there to make things more contrived than they already were. She knew, however, she was only allowed the position in the office so as to be a gender stereotype and his sounding-board. Otherwise, his thought-process would have remained simply that – a thought-process privy only to the thought-processor.

“It’s a clever idea, do you think?” she said, meaningfully confusing a question with a statement.

“Yes, but I can’t for the life of me get why it is so clever!” His voice was pitched at such a register one could only guess he thought he was talking to himself.

“Hmmm.” She took up one of the packages for herself.

“I know what you are thinking,” he said. “It’s a gimmick so impenetrable, it’s tempting customers simply by appealing to their sense of life’s intrinsic mystery.”

“Not sure.” She adjusted the decorum of her skirt as she swung the chair round further into the window’s natural light. “I can just make out other smaller numbers on the big number. But they are so lightly indented, they would vanish after the first wash, no doubt...”

“It’s a bit like the whole concept of us discussing such a concept in the first place!” He smiled as he said this. She was a dish. He knew, however, that sounding-boards, like washboards, were not meant to be sexy, but simply practical in the skiffle noises made by them or the creamy suds generated to help shed light upon darkness.

“This product,” she said, “may be an allegory for a new purity that only mathematics can provide. A new dawn. Or a new end of day promising a new dawn of clean beginnings. A cool concept that is only cool by keeping its intentions to itself. An Adam and Eve binary system.”

She was aware that she was speaking his own words, to allow him to think of them in the first place. He, in turn, counted on her ability to feed his originality. Advertising was never straightforward. Customers were different from each other. No sales campaign would ever be wide enough. The secret was to create a combination of high and low common denominators in an attempt to optimise reactions to them as an overall pattern of desires and resistances rather than specifically targetting any one of them.

He turned away, knowing when he looked back, she would be gone, fearful of his intentions. She had done her job. Yet why had she not mentioned the fresh black marks on his face or was it an overnight growth of uncharacteristic whiskers stitched into his jowls and chin rather than having ends to cut?

Packaging, it seemed, had become the wherewithal. The product itself need not move sweetly along with the grain of the concept as long as the packaging of the product created the concept it was meant to perpetuate. She had not known he wanted to be told what he didn’t want to be told.

He swivelled his chair and idly watched the sweaty bankers outside the window in the new dawn of a new day slump in near-drunken figures-of-eight towards their exchanges. Each with a five o’clock shadow. They’d no doubt left their wives squatting beside newer more rocky banks to rub their husbands’ skid-marked smalls on washboards by the sluggish suds of sewage.

EDIT (13 Oct 08): Sequel: BY A WHISKER: HERE

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

'Odalisque' by PF Jeffery (DFL's comments on Chapter 28)

Chapter 28 - Palace

Some goodly Shakespearean-like comedy, especially knowing Tuerqui’s previous plying of the flies - for example:

“My colleague and I,” Dashing Daniel said, rather overdoing the refinement, “are the Duke Daniel and Lord Smith, Marquis of the Great Smitherlands. We are western nobles – and the two boldest pollygoggers who ever ventured into Surrey – our exploits are legendary. We have here Princess Margaret, daughter of this august house, newly returned from captivity. Hurry, now – her highness grows cold and damp as you indulge us with your idle words.”
At the end of this speech, the mule brayed loudly as though to endorse the pollygogger’s claim. The guardsman shifted uncertainly, spraying rainwater almost like a shaking dog. His eyes were averted from me. Presumably, he felt that if I were Lady Margaret he should not gaze upon me clad in nothing more than slave harness.

This speaks, too, of increasing Shakespearean-like intrigue as Tuerqui is returned to her father with the repercussions of this pollygoggic ‘comedy’ still relevant. Her now returned status is also enticingly well-handled, i.e a mixture of mistressship and slavedom:

There was an audible gasp from the assembled slaves as I stood ready with the whip. Perhaps, focusing upon me more closely, they now recognised the fine workmanship of my slavewear. Possibly it was seeing me harnessed as a bondling, but overflowing with power. My feeling is that, paradoxically, the slavewear combined with my stance of authority made me seem doubly the mistress.

But now there is what seems to be a significant turning-point:

For the second time, glancing out at the parade ground, I saw the elfin girl. The rain was falling heavily with splashes like dancing fairies, their motion reflecting the girl’s. She was clearly very wet, short hair now plastered to her head, a close-fitting helmet. Almost immediately, she vanished into the shadows of a colonnade – again, I doubted the reality of the vision.

This is pre-figured in the author’s own comments on my Chapter 27 comments:
“I am delighted that you were especially struck by the passage about the elfin girl. This is the first introduction to someone who will become an important character. Revealing that much falls short, I think, of a spoiler – but I’d better not say more of her at this stage.”
I hesitate, too, to ‘spoil’. I only say this is Lisa-Louise – and I am struck dumb by the enormous power of her substantial (yet still incomplete) introduction in Chapter 28 and the mixed intrigue of emotions involved.

I think this should be ‘breach’:
this constituted a breech of military discipline

Too much dialogue in this chapter for my taste. But that is no criticism as many people enjoy dialogue. Still uncertain about some of the elided coarseness of some of the dialogue for some readers, however.

Word docs of the actual chapters are freely available to readers of this blog.

The links to all Chapter comments by me are: HERE

Sunday, October 05, 2008

'Odalisque' by PF Jeffery (DFL's comments on Chapter 27)

Chapter 27 – River

The Chapter as River? Lundin? (Peter Ackroyd?) One questions even the obvious while the narrative implicates an Alternate World with which the mischievous footnotes are in conspiracy;

Cigarette: A paper tube filled with dried weed. One end was ignited, and smoke inhaled from the other. This practice, known as smoking, was much in vogue during the Old Time, but has ever been banned in genuinely civilised communities. Lundin was the chief centre of smoking at this time and remained so until the city was placed under imperial control. Lady Jane Daventry, visiting Lundin in YD 730, described it as a great smoke hole. It has been suggested that smoking had a narcotic effect.

Tuerqui plies a pair of Pollygoggers’ flies, e.g.:

The business had proved less unpleasant than I’d expected. Although I took no pleasure in him as such, there was an unanticipated element of arousal in contemplating my revenge – the link between sex and power, most certainly. There may even have been a slight disappointment that he’d lasted no longer, but if so, it was my fault – with my skills, he could have continued for half an hour, had I so chosen. It felt good in itself to be that much in control – our battle raging on the field of my choice.

A telling passage, this, as are these two:

In Drizzlemoon, the goddess had – in truth – delivered me to my mistress and Tuerquelle. This time, I sensed, it would be a matter of delivering myself. My deliverance would require the goddess’ aid, but it would be my doing.

In personage, those I had considered my friends – one way or another – had turned out not to be. Jenna was the supreme example. As a slave, my ownership of nothing ensured that friendships were genuine.

A long passage worth dwelling on:

Long before noon, and making good speed, we passed the first ruinous shanties of outer Lundin. The squalid region seemed not to have changed since I’d last seen it. Rats scuttled through rubbish heaps, sometimes pursued by lean dogs. Ragged children pelted one another with filth – Carp-eye levelled a small crossbow in their direction.
“The first one to mess me boat – or the tow line slaves – is dead,” he called – his voice matter-of-fact, rather than angry.
The urchins seemed to believe him, within moments they were gone. A cart drawn by trimmed he-slaves brought a fresh load of rubbish. Circling gulls descended as its contents were tipped. Human scavengers appeared – it was impossible to tell whence they came.
As ever, a fog bank enfolded the West Minester marshes. With the gloom closing upon me, I shuddered – in spite of the company of my fellow slaves, this place remained frightening. Glancing nervously at the wraiths of swirling mist, I saw the vague outline of something bulky. It occurred to me that it might be the rock on which Jenna had initiated our first game of mistress and slave.

There is, as above, much of the inscrutable about this chapter for me. In a good way. As if working hard for the riparian rights tantalisingly held out by the author’s ‘truth’ in the fiction.

Like this passage, too, that, so far, remains unresolved:

A strange elfin girl, probably in her late teens, regarded us with an enigmatic expression. Her light brown hair was cut short and stood in a series of spikes. She was wrapped in a long dark cloak. In a blink, the apparition had gone, and I was left uncertain as to her objective reality.

I don’t know, but ‘discern’ for me is a question of sight not hearing:

The amplification was barely sufficient for me to discern his words.

Should it be ‘borne’ not ‘born’:

The hostility I’d born her not long before evaporated without trace.


Word docs of the actual chapters are freely available to readers of this blog.

The links to all Chapter comments by me are here: HERE