Male and Female Sexuality in Gardam's Crusoe's Daughter

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

Polly, whom we discover from the comments of others, was a beautiful (if often oddly dressed) young girl, receives most of her ideas about love and sexuality from written texts -- including the pornographic Fanny Hill, which she had her maid take as a sort of interesting instruction manual. As she admits, she never has much luck with real men, all of whom turned out to be "cautious, inadequate, shadowy, grasping, dull" [212]. For example, her relationship, like her physical contacts, with the young poet Paul Treece, who dies in the Great War, has none of the intensity of Aunt Frances and Mrs. Woods. During one potentially romantic walk, Polly realizes her "self-sufficient," slightly "dotty" young man "wasn't the least bit interested in me . . . . He just liked being watched. That was it. He liked a girl looking at him and feeling, 'I am waking in the meadows with a poet'" [103]. Suddenly, however, he begins to talk of nature like a poet and takes her hand. "The talk was sure enough but the hand-holding wasn't very expert and I knew he hadn't done a lot of it before. His fingers were very nice and his hands thin but somehow it was all very disappointing. I had expecting that holding a man's hand would be rather better" [103]. In fact, as Polly confides in Robinson Crusoe during her dying reverie, "the men one meets are a matter of luck. I was properly kissed once. On Darlington Station. I can remember that" [221]. Who kissed Polly on Darlington Station and in what circumstances?

Mary, her other aunt, later tells her that "all men are weak. Pocock -- your father. Not of course your grandfather Younghusband, but he was one apart. Women are the strong ones, Polly, but we are not allowed to show it. We have to await men's pleasures. We can never ask them. If we do there is a fiasco. Like Frances -- " [121-122]. As Polly explains to Theo Zeit, another potential lover, her aunts "missed out on marriage and the praying got -- oh, too important. They both went mad a bit I think. It's more difficult you see. Women's bodies are so difficult and so disgusting, though they're supposed to be so fragrant and beautiful and delicate. We have to try so much harder than men." Polly embarrasses Theo with her characteristic directness, and she believes that "by talking about my body I'd stopped the only real conversation I'd ever had in my life" [134]. As it turns out, the conversation keeps going when Polly mentions someone who understood. Who was that other person, and would you have drawn this same conclusion?

Despite Polly's views of her aunts, she seems to have very similar views of men, for as she confesses to Robinson Crusoe in her dying reverie, "You have been my only love," to which he responds, "That was your misfortune. Your heart was never thoroughly in it, Pol. Loving real men. You were after the moon." She in turn answers: "One ought to be after the moon. And what do you know? My heart was in nothing else but love for years and years, Like a dumpling in broth" [221]. Is Crusoe's Daughter, then, a sad book or a happy one? In other words, do you find it a vision of a life without real love and experience, or one of unusual but beautiful equivalences to them? Ought one, then, "to be after the moon" ?

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