The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Lesbian

A bit of a TV mop-up, this post because good golly and gosh there’s so much excellent drama on, I can hardly keep up. Let’s begin with the preposterous Gentleman Jack. I nearly turned this off half-way through the first episode because of its very preposterousness – social attitudes being much too modern for the Regency setting – but something kept me watching and I’m glad I did. Half Fleabag, half Tipping the Velvet, our protagonist knows exactly what she wants and goes all out to get it: ‘I fully intend to live with someone I love,’ she declares and sets her life on a headlong and dangerous path which may end in death and which has already caused great heartache. As The Well of Loneliness shows, betrayal is double when you cannot come out as gay and your lover not only abandons you but abandons their true nature to marry one of the opposite sex. The period is Jane Austen but this could hardly be less Austinian; it’s Moll Flanders with a title, some land with coal under it and an appetite for women. It’s a highly enjoyable romp which may yet end in tragedy.

By contrast the manners of Summer of Rockets were completely true to the period, showing the excessive politeness and reserve of the English upper-classes through the eyes of a Russian emigre aspiring to join them. It’s the ‘fifties with the Cold War as a backdrop and to test his loyalty Petrukin is recruited to spy on his new friends. It turns out that they are conspiring to stage what is essentially a fascist coup to preserve the Empire and presumably all who sail in her; Timothy Spall is excellent as the corrupt aristocrat at the heart of this conspiracy but the real star is Keeley Hawes, an MP’s wife confined to staging parties but finally waking up to what her husband is really up to and becoming, you might say, politically engaged. It’s also the last year that debutantes are presented to the Queen and we see Petrukin’s daughter resisting this absurdity and walking out of a ceremony where all the befrocked and begloved debs have to curtsey to a cake (a cake!) big enough to feed all Marie Antionette’s unfortunate contemporaries.

I haven’t begun to do that justice so go and watch while it’s still on iplayer. But sadly over on Netflix the first episode of Black Mirror proved a real let-down. I had high hopes of this as I’ve enjoyed nearly all the rest (I wasn’t a fan of Bandersnatch but only because I don’t like multiple-choice viewing). But Striking Vipers seemed not only unoriginal but horribly slow. Yes, it had an all-black cast so kudos for that (if we still need to give these things kudos) but otherwise it took ages to get anywhere and seemed basically a rehash of San Junipero. Not good. Still I will watch the rest and give it the benefit of the doubt, as Nicholas Parsons so often does with his contestants. Here‘s a review by someone who’s watched the whole series.

And that’s us up to date.

Kirk out

The Wall of Loneliness: Radcliffe Hall, ISIS and The Handmaid’s Tale

I’ve been thinking a lot about societies lately; how they can restrict us and how hard it is to do without them.  A society is like an impossible partner: you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them.  And two recent dramas which explore this theme are surprisingly similar, though one deals with ISIS in Syria and the other with a fundamentalist Christian dystopia in America.

These are so similar that at times ‘The State’ seems like a fantasy and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ like the reality: both are repressive totalitarian regimes in which women have to cover themselves when they go out or risk brutal punishments.  Beatings and executions are common, though in Gilead they go for hanging rather than beheading; and both feature stonings and chopping off hands, though Gilead being wealthier does at least anaesthatise its victims first.  In both societies women are reduced to chattels, kept only to serve or to procreate.

The difference is that, astonishing as it seems, the women in Syria have actually gone there voluntarily.  The series features two groups, one of men and one of women, and follows their diverse experiences as the men are trained in fierce combat and the women kept indoors to cook and clean.  As in Saudi Arabia they are not allowed out without a male guardian and have to obtain permission before doing anything beyond their normal duties.  It’s all the more chilling for being real; yet ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ is not less chilling for being fiction, because it’s plausible.  You can imagine a combination of circumstances in which it could happen.

Which brings me to Radcliffe Hall’s famous novel on lesbianism, ‘The Well of Loneliness.’  This is equally gripping especially if like me you remember a time when gays and lesbians had to hide for fear of internment or worse (it wasn’t all that long since Oscar Wilde had walked the treadmill at Reading Gaol.)  It was written in 1928 and immediately banned because it contained the line ‘and that night they were not divided,’ making it clear that the two women had shared a bed.  They manage to make a life together in France but in the end their isolation from home, family and society at large makes their situation intolerable, and the ending is heartbreaking.

Kirk out