The Sadeian Woman – Angela Carter
April 8, 2010 § 19 Comments
The entire title of this book reads The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History. Interestingly enough, though, my library has it recorded as The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography. Taking into account that Carter is quite the feminist, put both titles together and you know you have one potentially bombastic book.
To put it simply, Angela Carter deconstructed a couple of Marquis de Sade’s influential works: Justine, or The Misfortunes of Virtue, and Juliette, or The Prosperities of Vice. Barring the fact that Sade lent his name to the word ‘sadist’, I know nothing else of this man, much less his work. So I was not sure if I would at all be able to understand or appreciate what Carter was setting out to achieve in this book.
What I got, was four pages worth of quotes from the book followed by my thoughts on them, in my notebook.
Pornography is not an easy subject, not for me at least. And to read a whole book, though short it might have been, about pornographic literature by Sade (which I’m sure is obvious is not very flattering, considering how ‘sadist’ it is) really felt quite heavy for me. It was definitely very interesting to read about what those two novels were about, and what might have been the underlying concepts behind those stories. And the language was anything but clean, because seriously, how does one write about pornographic literature if one is to censure words like prick and clitoris and arse and buggering and f*ck?
To be very very honest, it was not an easy read for me. The language was not a problem, but it was the ideas Carter presented to me, and perhaps also because the very subject of pornography is still something I’m not quite so comfortable with. Given that there were so many things that could turn the book sour for me, I just couldn’t stop reading it. I would read a couple of pages, then turn back and re-read a paragraph or two, copy something down and jot down my spontaneous response to what I just read. Then I’d continue for a while more, and suddenly something else would pop up, grabbing my attention, and out comes my notebook again.
Sometimes the things Carter talked about were things we already know; they’re so obvious that we completely miss them. And the way Carter wrote about these things just made me think, how exactly could I have missed them?
I cannot say I loved this book, because the truth is that it was difficult for me. But really, though, this book has potentially changed the way I look at women, at our relationship to men, our relationship to ourselves.
In common speech, a ‘bad boy’ may be a thief, or a drunkard, or a liar, and not necessarily just a womaniser. But a ‘bad girl’ always contains the meaning of a sexually active girl.
The victim is always morally superior to the master; that is the victim’s ambivalent triumph. […] Virtue is thrust upon us. If that is nothing, in itself, to be proud of, at least it is nothing of which to be ashamed.
And, because she is beautiful, she arouses concupiscence. Therefore she knows in her heart she must be bad. If she is bad, then it is right that she should be punished. She is always ready for more suffering. She is always ready for more suffering because she is always ready to please.
Beauty, youth and innocence in a woman give them an artificial ascendency over a world that allots them love and admiration to precisely the extent a beautiful, young and innocent woman is deprived of the ability to act in the world.
* Note: Claire at Paperback Reader is hosting the Angela Carter Month. I have her to thank for giving me the final push to pick up a book by Carter, especially because I’ve been interested in reading Carter since I’ve read some very good reviews of her fiction works at Another Cookie Crumbles.