Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Surrender, part 17

The story goes on.

Sarah was right, he did reach far into my soul. It was like he spoke to some of those childhood dreams I had. But still he was different, he was a man and he was real. I was a princess and wanted a prince but this man was real, not a prince. Still there was something of me that longed for him to take command, to take away all that independence I had, to break through.

But I was someone. I had accomplished something. I was my own. I didn't want to be just another of those who longed for a strong man to be in charge. It was so stupid, so childish. Being independent was good, it was not wrong, could never be wrong.

His behaviour tapped into thousands of years of history, of patriarchal oppression, and nothing would make me think that women really wanted that. There was a reality behind this, husbands had really whipped their wives when they didn't behave and I would never want that world to come back.

But I had let him cane me. I had let him order me and I did my best to obey him. Was it because I was a woman and he was a man? Or was it because I was that kind of woman and he that kind of man? I didn't think I was that but what had happened lately had forced me to reconsider. Did I really have a part of me, deep down, that wanted someone else in charge? Was it a romantic dream of being controlled and swept off my feet? Or was it just that I was a child at heart and he represented a grown up, a mentor, someone who was allowed to decide for me?

I couldn't tell and however much I thought about it I didn't come closer to an answer. I knew only that I was a thinking person and that when I let him rule me it was I who let him. It was my decision and it would always be.

A little calmer at that thought I walked home, sensing that I was still not ready to turn back. I still wanted to walk further on the path he had taken me. I wanted to be his.

He trained me and I let myself be trained. He had me kneel and show how obedient I could be. He had me make his tea and open his wine bottles. He told me what to wear and I complied.

In a way I liked it. It made me feel cared for, seen and loved. Still I was concerned about what this was doing to me, with my independence. I loved him, didn't want to lose him. I played it as a game, like something we did. I let him be the patriarch and I the obedient woman.

On the other hand I knew what a fool I was. I knew he meant it for real. He had punished me for walking out on him. Those cane strokes had been for real and my obedience was for real. He was for real. I wondered if my reasoning, my rationalising it as a game was my defence against the reality of it. I loved him and I had to bow to him to be with him. He wanted to command me and perhaps I wanted it too.

For a period he was away quite a lot and I was left on my own, with my worries and thoughts. I spoke to Sarah about my emotions but I was no wiser.

I missed him badly and the longer I had to be without him the more my heart was hurting and the more I was prepared to do anything for him. I even dreamt of kneeling before him, offering myself to him.

Something happened one week at the end of the summer, when he had been away for five days. I sat at the library doing research. I was researching women's conditions in ancient Egypt when I looked up and saw my books spread out in front of me. My eyes swept over the pages and suddenly I saw one word that seemed to be in every title in every book. The word was 'slavery.'

I was reading about slave contracts in ancient Egypt, how women signed contracts for permanent or temporary slavery. I searched for evidence about the social and economic conditions that forced them into that situation.

What struck me was how this theme of slavery had run through my research for years, how preoccupied I had been with slavery and slaves and especially female slavery.

On the one hand it is an interesting area, a valid subject to research. And useful for the research community in widening the horizon of knowledge. There was absolutely nothing strange with my choice of subject.

On the other hand I knew well in my heart that people often chose subject for some personal reason. I had joked about that male colleague who was preoccupied with the weaponry of the Scythians and that female researcher who often wrote about Roman footwear.

They had been example, I thought, of how researchers allow their personal interest to decide their academic topics. I had been blind to myself.

I sat there in the library with my heart beating. Why was I interested in slavery? I had to admit that I had always felt a kind of thrill at the thought of slavery, a kind of appalled fascination at the idea of people being property, things you can buy and sell. And female slavery appeared to me to be the utmost expression of a pattern in society where men ruled and women bowed their heads to those men.

I had often wondered what it was like being a slave. I had shuddered and been both appalled and fascinated thinking about what you had to go through as a slave, being sold, perhaps in a public sale and being taken from your home as loot.

My mind had shunned away from the thought of what happened to these girls in the homes of their owners, what men would do when given possession of women who had no right to refuse them.

I knew what happened. I had even written an article about it. I was no fool. I knew how both men and women used and abused slaves. But it was as if my own imagination didn't want to deal with that part. I had kept a professional distance to it.

Was I that easy to analyse? Was I just a naïve girl who wanted a man to rule her and who had let that desire decide her career? Did I want to be one of those girls who were sold at a Roman slave markets? Did I want to be ruled?

The day after he was back and he immediately put me to the test. He told me, already over the phone that we were going to a party, a gathering of people he met for his work. It was an informal party but one he needed and wanted to go to, to be able to rub shoulders with the right people.

I was to come with him, as his partner. He wanted to show me off, as he put it. I was both flattered and dead scared. He had told me to bring my black dress and I was concerned. He seriously wanted me to wear a minuscule, black and very tight dress to a party where people would be in black tie.

'It is a very nice cocktail dress,' he said when I told him how I felt about it.

There was no discussion about it. I had to wear it and I was aware that obeying him meant to accept such things as donning clothes I found too revealing.

'Can I at least take my black ballerinas?'

'Yes, you do that, that will be quirky, I like that.'

'Thank you,' I said a little puzzled by his comment.

'But I get to choose the knickers.'

'You get to choose everything. I asked you if I was allowed to take the ballerinas.'

He beamed at me and I was a little bewildered. Was this a game or was it for real?

He went away and came back with the tiniest knickers he could find. They were black string knickers that was nothing more than a small triangle covering the sex only.

'Strip naked before you put the clothes on.'

I blushed as I took my clothes off and put on the tiny knickers.


'No bra. You should go like this, knickers only.'

I gave him a glance and reached quickly for the dress and pulled it over my head.

The black dress was very clinging, it hugged my body and I felt naked in it. There was a point in wearing string knickers to such a dress, one that was so tight against your body.

It had spaghetti straps and left my shoulders and upper part of my bosom bare. I had not much of a cleavage and he had chosen a dress that was revealing but not demanding a big bosom. Had it not been me showing off my body in it, I thought it was a quite elegant dress.

In addition it was very short, it fell only to half my thighs and it was the kind of dress in which you would be concerned about picking something up from the floor lest your knickers were shown, or in my case my buttocks.


Meta said...

"But I was someone. I had accomplished something. I was my own. I didn't want to be just another of those who longed for a strong man to be in charge. It was so stupid, so childish. Being independent was good, it was not wrong, could never be wrong.

"His behaviour tapped into thousands of years of history, of patriarchal oppression, and nothing would make me think that women really wanted that. There was a reality behind this, husbands had really whipped their wives when they didn't behave and I would never want that world to come back."

Wow. Yes. I've struggled with that exact thing.

TFP said...


I check every day....today was not disappointing. More please...

Thank you,

Anonymous said...

Dear Janice
I love this story. For me, the pace is perfect and the longer format has given you room to gradually reveal the heroine’s soul as the veneer of convention is painstakingly peeled away. And Sarah (her alter ego?) is an inspired creation: I don’t think I’ve enjoyed anything in your writing more than the passages of dialogue between her and your central character.
Hugs and thanks,

Manorlord said...

Janice, I only now realized the parallel -- not close, but noticeable -- between your writing and your beloved Jane Austen. The interior dialogues, the discussion between friends, remind me of Emma.

I am also pondering the similarity and the difference between the narrator and the author. Both had "strange imaginations" from their early years. Both have deep qualms about the (apparent)(?) contradiction between their identities as strong, intelligent, self-actualized women, and their dark desire to be mastered and "trained," and their fascination with surrender even -- or especially -- to an arrogant bastard.

If Jane Austen had secret fantasies of slavery (and perhaps she did! Much of her correspondence was burned...) she might have written such a story. The man could be D'Arcy or Knightley, without the inhibitions ...



Janice said...

Dear Meta, it is such a contradiction. I know I should just relax and see the fun in it but I can't help wondering, how come I am fascinated by something that is bad?

Dear TFP, thank you...smiles.

Dear Michael, I am chuffed you like the dialogues. I really love writing them and I fancied having a friend that is much more open and relaxed about those things than our heroine is.

Dear Wystan, I can't take it as anything but a compliment to be mentioned in the same context as Jane Austen. She was a much cleverer woman than me, though. She had such humour, taking the mickey out of her society in such a brilliant way. Not sure, though, that she desired to be mastered. She seemed to have been a very pragmatic woman...and wise.



Mina said...

Janice, a nice episode. I enjoyed how she questioned herself and realised some things about herself and her own true nature.

That struggle and desire to submit but be strong and independant as well, it is as fascinating.