Activity Being Avoided: it’s a holiday, so I’m free from obligations… right?
Music In My Head: Neutral Milk Hotel has been in my head for almost a month now. It usually alternates between April 8, Naomi and Two-Headed Boy. Sometimes it decides that 3:30 a.m. is the time for Pree-Sisters Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye. I used to think Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb was going to send me off the deep end, but this is taking it to a whole new level.
Tea Being Drunk: No tea. Hot chocolate mixed with a cup of coffee and a lot of sugar.
Book Being Read: Today, being a holiday in Canada, is the day to finish off the last few pages of some four books. I picked up a copy of Marni Woodrow’s Heyday last night, and will likely start that today.
The Writer left her ivory tower last night. She travelled two cities to the east, got a little lost in the back alleys, found her destination, and spent a couple of hours with other humans. On the way home, she ran into an old friend and spent an hour holding down a small piece of Bloor Street pavement while catching up on the last twenty years. Despite having established that she is Way Too Old to do that sort of thing on a work night, she is in rather a good mood today.
An update on the book: I totally lied about the cover. A friend, deftly avoiding the phrase “strap on a pair”, suggested that the cover I had designed was very philosophical and something more visceral might be in order. This is the now the cover:
I read from Periodical Insanity last night. If you want to read Krafft-Ebing’s original case study, it’s Case 161 on this pdf.
Here’s the excerpt I read last night:
Catharine is a 16-year-old girl whose governess has just been dismissed by Catharine’s mother. Catharine is doing her best to get Gretchen back.
October 23, 1872
depression and irritability (seven weeks)
Catharine decided that tears, that feminine weapon which is effective against all ages, social classes and sexes, were an excellent place to begin. Planning, of course, would be difficult: her knowledge of extreme melancholia and its ensuing madness was limited, and her experience negligible. Proper women retreated into solitude for such dire states, and there were only proper women in the house–hence Gretchen’s dismissal.
Catharine was adept at reading her mother’s face. From the doorway of the morning sitting room, she saw the cold stoniness.
“Dry your face, Catharine. There’s no need to wallow.”
Catharine dabbed the embroidered handkerchief against her eyes. The corner of the handkerchief, with Gretchen’s monogram in pink and blue, dangled just below her wrist.
Feigning obedience, she perched on a chair beside Frau W. and watched her mother’s face as she explained the purposes of various ledgers and lists. Her mother’s eyes, Catharine noticed, did not contain the dark flecks that Gretchen’s did. The blue of the irises was not at all vivid. Her thin mouth was so pale it was almost grey. There was an unpleasant angularity to her jaw. Beneath her cap, there were no stray tendrils, not a wisp to hint at the existence of, say, luxurious golden waves which might be let down at night for Catharine to comb and plait. Catharine wondered what a man, namely her father, could see in her mother. Perhaps it was the woman’s business acuity.
“Catharine. Are you paying attention?”
“Yes, Mutti.” She sighed deeply. “I am listening.”
Her mother glared ferociously at the single tear coursing her daughter’s cheek. “You shall be running the household soon enough. You need to take some of the responsibility from my shoulders.”
Catharine slumped against the back of the chair, as if felled by an unseen weight.
That was just the beginning. She would take more time to devise the next stage, the one beyond tears and sighs and general malaise. That was what the nights would now be for.
October 29, 1872
The lethargy and melancholy were not difficult to fake. Catharine often found herself deep in morose contemplation of the pattern on the seat cushion or some such thing, and would frown in her surprise. The occasional outburst of vituperative hissing seemed to drain her of any energy she had managed to regain over the course of the night. Were she to follow the outburst with a vale of tears, she would find herself in need of a lie-down.
The maids took to cleaning her bedchamber first thing in the morning, as it was never guaranteed that she would spend more than an hour outside of it.
November 7, 1872
The doctor, supervised by the scornful Frau W. and a nervous Herr W, gave Catharine a double dose of cure-all, to be administered three times daily. A constitutional stroll was also recommended, and a diet including plenty of red meat.
“A waste of money,” Frau W. informed her husband once the doctor had left the room. “The girl is just sulking because she is being forced to behave like a lady.”
Herr W. directed his comments to the floor. “Better safe than sorry. We would not be very good parents if we allowed our daughter to perish from some tropical disease.”
“And where would she have contracted a tropical disease? You spoil her.” She clicked her tongue at him, and then turned on Catharine. “Get off the bed. You heard Herr Doktor: you need to go for a walk. Now.”
Herr W. looked out the window at the end of the hallway and said he guessed that the rain would come any minute.
Catharine briefly laid her head back against her pillow and swallowed the faintly bitter anise taste of the pills. Gretchen, she thought, this had better bring you back.
With a sigh, she hoisted herself from the bed.
November 18, 1872
The intimacy of the doctor’s visits became the highlight of the week. Food lost its appeal; books, were they able to break through the thickening fog, merely added to the heaviness in her brain. In a foetal position on the hearth carpet, Catharine tried to strategise the next bout of ingenious revenge, but instead she found herself constantly returning to memories of Gretchen: the timbre of her voice, her soft hair, her warm scent.
One evening, the cook waddled up the stairs to bring Catharine a well-fortified hot toddy.
“Shhh, kleine Mädchen,” she murmured, pulling Catharine up from the floor and gathering her against her lumpy, fusty-smelling chest. “Time will heal the wounds.”
Catharine drew comfort from this, circling her hands into loose fists around her ears and letting the cook rock her back and forth. Though it wasn’t Gretchen, it was enough to keep her going, to get her through the long night. The next day, when Frau W. handed her a cut glass vase for an arrangement of dried blue kornblume, Catharine let it slide from her feeble grasp and shatter on the floor. Taking a step backwards, she looked at the mess, and then let loose a howl that made her mother’s spine shiver.
November 27th, 1872
maniacal outbreak, lasting two days; thereafter, melancholic
Catharine was beginning to realise that her efforts were futile. While Herr W. could possibly have been swayed, it was Frau W. who had dismissed Gretchen, and Catharine knew her mother was the only one who could bring the governess back. Catharine decided, one dark morning around 4:00, that she would have to try something more drastic to make it clear she wasn’t willing to live without Gretchen. She cast about, trying to determine the best course of action.
There was no option other than all-out chaos and mayhem. She lay back down in her bed to rest until the sun came up. (There was no use beginning the chaos and mayhem immediately, as her bedroom was too far away from her mother’s: no one important would hear her. She would conserve her meager energy.)
When she could hear the maids in the hallways and she thought her parents were likely to be awake, it was time to begin. The chambermaid came in to build up the fire, and she brought with her a large jug of hot water which she set down beside the washbasin. When the fire was burning well, she turned away to prepare Catharine’s clothing for the day.
Catharine smiled inwardly at her own flair for drama: with a maniacal scream, she threw the water onto the fire, filling the room with smoky steam, and then hurled the jug at the mirror over the washbasin. The crash was cathartic; she cast about for more things to throw.
Except for the few hours during which she collapsed into fatigued unconsciousness, she managed to keep it up for almost two days. Frau W. initially tried to end the rage by means of a willow switch, but the bloody scratches she received to her face soon ended that. She locked Catharine’s bedroom door from the outside and left her daughter to her own devices.
Finally, Catharine capitulated to silent, lonely misery. Once, she believed she heard heavy footsteps–like those of a man–stop in the hallway just outside her door, but after a brief pause the footsteps continued down the stairs until Catharine could no longer hear them.
She was coming to a disheartening realisation. Gretchen, she thought, must have been kilometres and kilometres away to not have instinctively heard Catharine calling out to her.