The Velvet Chamber
An Anthology of Revisioned Myth and Fairy Tale

Explore the dark side of the female psyche --A CALL FOR WRITERS supports The Velvet Chamber

Monday, October 25, 2010

601 Bourbon Street

Streetcar under (de)construction

Esteemed members of the academy, why would Blanche let Stanley finger fuck her in the kitchen in the middle of the day? I asked for brains. We know she's sexy. We know she's damaged. We know that story. We know how it ends. There is no surprise, no third act twist. Isn't there any way to maintain her integrity, and have her survive? At the rate she's going, in the narrative you're proposing, she'll still end up in handcuffs at the end of the day. The white coats will be triumphant. In the immortal words of someone, this isn't going to end well. And isn't that the point of all this?

I think instead she meets a tall dark stranger at 601 Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. She's out for the evening, wearing mama's pearls and kid boots that button at the ankle. Fall is sweeping into the Quarter, so she's wrapped in a white silk shawl which flutters about her face, reminds her of the moth she dreams about every night. And about how she's really only comfortable at night; candlelight or streetlight. Moonlight. But she's also thinking about Belle Reve, papa's laugh in particular, and now the rustle of leaves from the Garden District. They could be ghosts. The moon is almost full. She's amazed at her audacity. Stanley and Stella admonished her about wandering the French Quarter alone. But if she doesn't get out she will certainly go mad.

Last week they tried to set her up with Mitch, one of Stanley's poker buddies, but he was just as stupid. Stella whispered that he'd tried to kill himself last year by jumping off a bridge, but only broke his leg. Blanche laughed, and treated him kindly, even lets him win a few hands, but would not kiss him goodnight. She may not be the brightest, most stable creature in the starry firmament, but is she also not that desperate. She can wait and find someone who loves her. She needs a man of substance, educated and urbane. A man able to appreciate the finer things in life, like her--- like her mind. That's the kind of man she needs or she needs no man at all.

She is drawn into a club by the sound of a saxophone. At the bar, she says, “Whiskey with water, and a twist, if you please.” The bartender leans in, leers, “I like a lady who knows what she wants.” She replies, “How lovely for you. You must tell me all about it. But not now. Just the drink.” He sniffs, insulted. Blanche swivels around on the bar stool, and sees him. Adjacent to her. He's sipping sherry. Insouciant. A bit of a moustache. He sees her, and smiles.

Time seems to stop.

Viven Leigh as Blanche DuBois

Friday, October 22, 2010

some notes on female ghosts

The White Lady.  A legend found around the world. Often a harbinger of death.  These are tragic women who have suffered a trauma in life. She might be a banshee and a bitch, but she is also fragile.  If you see her, if you are inclined to believe in such things, she's on a rural highway late at night, mostly in the summer, dressed in Victorian garb: the diaphanous dress, the veil, the gloves, the pearls.  Is she a ruin or is she a menace? 


Victorian Ghosts in the Noontide: Women Writers and the Supernatural (review). Victorian Studies - Volume 42, Number 4, Summer 1999/2000, pp. 677-679. Indiana University Press

 In the Preface to Victorian Ghost Stories by Noted Women Writers (1988), Richard Dalby asserts that women have produced more than half of the best British ghost stories. His claim remains uncontested, and in Victorian Ghosts in the Noontide, Vanessa D. Dickerson seeks to explain the attraction that writing about the supernatural held for Victorian women. She posits that, although the wanderer in Matthew Arnold's "Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse" (1855) exemplified a pervasive Victorian condition of haunted "in-betweenness" (9), women were singularly situated in a spectral indeterminacy.



Thursday, October 21, 2010

What a bitch

"Symbols and narratives of feminine power are secrets kept hidden not only from men but from women as well.  The literary critic rarely encounters feminine archetypes in their purely feminist form in women's texts,  because gender norms are often unconsciously internalized by women authors.  Many feminist critics would agree with Jung that patterns found in myths and fables reflect the psychological development of an individual.  In the quest, the male hero journeys from the familiar to the unfamiliar. First he encounters his shadow, then digs deeper and confronts his anima [the dragon, the monster, Moby Dick] wrestles it, contains it and returns reborn. In the female quest, however, women who venture outside the norm become social outcasts.  Strong autonomous women are often under suspicion of being witches."

--- Annis Pratt, Feminist Archetypal Theory


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Good Dream

In that small two room apartment we could smell every inch of each other's bodies; Stella's unborn child, Stanley's breathing, the things they whispered to each other at night. I thought they were both gone for the day. I thought I had the apartment to myself. I poured a whiskey and opened the windows, musicians played on the street below. I ran myself a bath. I lit a cigarette. I took off my clothes.

It was a Saturday afternoon. I might've been dancing. I might've been touching myself. I am a woman after all, and it was hard to get him out of my head. Even though he hated me. Once when we were alone, he said, “You'd be attractive if you washed your face.” So I was naked when he walked through the door.

“You're supposed to be out,” I said, but I didn't make a move to cover myself. I might've been wearing mama's pearls, I might've been wearing white kid boots, lace gloves, diamond earrings. I might've been wearing stockings. I knew I looked good in that light, late afternoon, almost golden. I avoided the morning light, most unforgiving.

"You're supposed to be out," I repeated, the ice melting in my drink, a fly buzzing against the screen window.

I suddenly remembered the moth that followed me up the stairs my first night here, three months ago. It was a sign, an omen. I didn't see it then, but it became very clear to me as I stood naked in the kitchen, Stanley barely three feet from me. I saw the dark hair that covered his arms and his hands, a pelt.

“If you were a gentleman,” I finally said, “you'd walk back out the door and give me five minutes to get decent.”

“Blanche,” he replied, “you couldn't do that in five years, never mind five minutes.”

“You want a whiskey,” I asked.

“Sure baby.”

“Come and sit down,” I said, pulling out a chair, “you're making me nervous, standing in the doorway like that.”

“No,” he replied, “I like it here.”

“Aren't you going to tell me to get dressed?”

“You are dressed, Blanche, you're dressed as I always pictured you.”

My heart twisted, ripped right in half. But I didn't stop. I don't remember trying. I brought him the whiskey, and he put his fingers up inside of me, said,

“Is this what happens in the stories you teach, weren't you a teacher, Blanche? Didn't you instruct young minds, high school, was it? I was never much good in school myself, got into fights, pissed on the bathroom walls, chased girls, but you--- you taught literature, isn't that right,” his voice was gentle, teasing, “is this what happens in those stories, Blanche,” now he was whispering, tickling my ear, “a crazy woman dances naked around her sister's kitchen, drinking whiskey at three in the afternoon," he pulled me closer, I opened my legs wider, "looking for love," he continued, "but only finding heartbreak. Isn't that who you are Blanche, isn't that your character? Is that what you teach, or is that what you are? Tell the truth, Blanche, teach me something, do you like being fucked in your sister's kitchen?”

Then he brought his hand, the one that had been inside me, up to his mouth, and sucked on his fingers one by one. He took the whiskey from me, drank it down, walked into the bedroom, and closed the door. I stripped off my jewelry, unhooked my stockings, and went into the bathroom. I lowered myself into the cool water, closed my eyes, and dreamt I was back at Belle Reve.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The dangerous woman with her dangerous body

Beatified in 1909, and canonized in 1929, Joan of Arc, one of our favorite witches, was burned at the stake in the 15th century.  This set the stage or should I say lit the flames for thousands of other women burned for similar crimes in the 16th and 17th century; consorting with the devil, talking to him, making love to him, and generally being his bitch.  What myth or trope fed this fire?  That's easy: the dangerous woman with her dangerous body, her lustrous hair, her gleaming eyes, her sexuality, her wisdom and her knowledge.  Questioned and tortured by sexually frustrated monks, these women never stood a chance.  What about an alternative to this all too familiar narrative:  Danger+Female Sexuality = Death.  What about Danger+Female Sexuality=Transcendence?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Belle Reve

Deconstructing Stella

I don't know how this woman could be my sister. I tell her, I'm to going to run your bath, but it's an excuse to get away from her. Dear God in heaven it's like she's still a debutante. She's fanning a big white moth from her face, and drinking Stanley's whiskey. She's wearing a white silk dress, matching gloves and hat, still holding tight to mama's embroidered satchel. When I close the door, and turn on the faucet, it occurs to me to just drown myself before this goes any further. I run the water a little hot out of spite. I see the look she gave him. But I'm having a baby so I have to be careful. She's not the woman she used to be, but even so, still dangerous. I splash cold water on my face.

She walks unsteadily into the bathroom, and the moth follows her. Baby, she whimpers, why do you have bugs in your house? I reach out my hand, crush it in my palm, now we don't, I say. She's close to me now and she smells like a whorehouse; beyond cheap perfume and sweat, beyond desperation. It's sour and clings to her like dust. Help unzip me, she says. I take hold of the zipper but the dress tears at the shoulder, the lace practically dissolving. Careful, she says, unfazed, it's my last good dress. Steam rises up from the water, and I turn off the tap. I leave without saying another word.

Stanley is gone, the whiskey bottle is empty. I'm alone in the kitchen. I'm so glad I got away. I'm so glad I escaped the ghosts of that house, and the nightmare of those summer nights underneath the magnolias. Mama was always up in her room, sequestered and protected by the servants, doing God knows what. And on Saturdays, young men in linen trousers lined up to drink papa's bourbon, and get close to Blanche; flowers in her hair, eyes unfocused, why yes I'd like another drink you silly goose.

Later, I'd watch her slink off towards the barn with Philip or James or the captain's son. She'd return just as the sun was coming up. I'd ask, do you know what you're doing. It's not as if she was stupid. When I got older, I just wanted to get as far away as possible. I knew it was a dying world. By then Blanche was married to a man who would soon die of mysterious complications. Mama couldn't see me off because she had a sick headache. After all, I was just Stella, not brilliant, not beautiful, not even interesting enough to be missed. I got a a job as a waitress in the French Quarter, met Stanley one night in July. I don't need the past or the future.

She is shocked by New Orleans because it is dirty, chaotic, but it is also alive. Belle Reve is dead. I don't know if she'll be able to tell the difference. I can't bring myself to care anymore. The bathroom door opens and she makes her entrance wearing only a thin ivory chemise. Her breasts seem weighted. Careful Blanche, I say, Stanley will be back at any minute. She ignores this. Sits down at the kitchen table, says, there's no point in having servants in a two room apartment. I put my hand over hers, I know Blanche.

I still would like to kill her. When you are so thoroughly engaged in destruction, you shouldn't fall apart when your work is done. I could respect her if she brought her own whiskey and said, I'm a dumb stupid whore, and I've lost everything that ever belonged to us, and now I have nothing. Instead, she walks around as if she is hallucinating. As if she is still the mythical beauty of Belle Reve, instead of a moth trapped in the bright light of a single light bulb. She puts her head down on the table. I run my fingers through her hair. I can't help it, I still love her. Just then, Stanley opens the door, puts the bottle down on the table, asks, do we have any ice?