OT: Willis (Arabel, All My darling Daughters)

Ven ven at vvcrane.fsnet.co.uk
Sat Jun 23 22:54:14 EDT 2001

> I hate to be blatantly obvious with my attempts to derive symbolism, but, at 
> least in my copy of Fire Watch, the blurb (isn't blurb a great word?) 
> basically declares that the story is an allusion to Elizabeth Barrett 
> Browning, and ends with "But she left her sisters _Arabel_ and Henrietta 
> behind." (Emphasis my own).  Zibet is obviously (given the intro) derived 
> from Elizabeth, and takes on the Barrett Browning character.  Henra is 
> Henrietta, one of the two sisters.  Octavia could be the servant Octavius, 
> from the beginning quote, trying to stand up for Elizabeth at the end. 

Octavius was Elizabeth's brother iirc. The story seems to me to 
derive more from the reading of Barrett Browning's life in the play 
and film "The Barretts of Wimpole St", which hints at the possibility 
of sexual abuse, than known biographical fact. Although it is known 
that Barrett was overprotective of his children, to the point of 
making their lives a misery with his restrictions on their lives, what 
else went on in the house is  not known. What is happening in the 
beginning quote is that Elizabeth has eloped with Browning, and 
after a hasty marriage ceremony they have fled to Italy. Her 
enraged father wants to take it out on the dog, as a stand in in for 
his errant daughter but Elizabeth anticipated this and took both the 
spaniel, Flush and her faithful maid with her. Willis is making us 
look at the brothers and, particularly, the sisters left behind. 

> leaves Brown and Arabel.  One would think Brown is Browning (from the name) 
> but he seems to be more of a symbolic Barrett -- with Daughter Ann, etc.  
> Arabel seems to be a name thrown in.  She doesn't seem to be in any way 
> related to Arabel Barrett, except for when she agrees to sleep with the 
> admin, who may be her father, although that doesn't seem to fit completely 
> correctly.

I had forgotten about the Barrett Browning allusions
in the story so I "had " to go and read it again and found myself 
regretting it. I wrote earlier that I thought Willis had taken this too 
far, what I meant specifically is the way that all the male students 
get involved with the abomination, I just don't buy that.
It seems to me to be saying that this is an experience which would 
appeal to any man, that's not something I want to believe at any 
rate, definitely Andrea Dworkin territory.

My copy of the story is in Ellen Datlow's Alien Sex anthology. 
There's an afterword by Willis where she expands on the Barrett 
Browning connection.  She says that Robert Browning wrote to 
Elizabeth that she was in "the veriest slavery" and that although 
EBB wrote back that her father was upright and honourable she 
fled the house telling no one, not even her sisters, because 
"whoever helps me will suffer through ,me" and taking the dog 
Flush with her because she did not dare leave him behind.

"Any reader has the right to say of any text: "But I didn't think it was that good."

Samuel R Delany
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