‘I was like a man, I suppose, wanting a lock of hair from the head of a girl he had suddenly and blindingly become enamoured of.’
-Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger, p.5.
Marriage is typically based on a mutual love and desire. However, in The Little Stranger, Waters subverts the social understanding of marriage, and instead uses marriage to satisfy a queer ulterior motive. Faraday’s sudden longing for Caroline is unsettling when contrasted to his earlier unfavourable descriptions of her appearance. He describes her as androgynous with ‘boyish shoes’ and her feminine body parts (hips and bosom) are described with negativity as ‘wide’ and ‘large’. Even after becoming engaged to Caroline, therefore supposedly feeling love and desire towards her, Faraday describes her face as masculine by using the words ‘strong’ and ‘angular’. The text says, ‘I couldn’t believe that I had ever found [her face] plain.’1 Faraday’s description of Caroline is hardly praising her beauty or expressing a profound attraction. Instead, he appears repulsed by her fleshly female form. A poetic literary technique, the blazon, dissects the female body and typically praises its
beauty. Faraday subverts the traditional blazon, which is commonly associated with Petrarchan love, and instead he describes Caroline in a basic and simplistic way. Faraday transgresses typical expectations of heterosexual relationships where desire and attraction are fundamental. His reoccurring criticism of Caroline’s appearance is implicit of no attraction, lust or desire towards her, which jars with his sudden desire to marry her. Instead, it is implied that Hundred’s Hall is the object of his desire. Caroline summarises this herself as she says, ‘Do you really [want me]’ ‘Or is it the house you want?’(p.448) The queer projection of desire onto the house transgresses typical expectations of marriage. Heterosexual love becomes spectral as desire is displaced onto a house, rather than Faraday’s own fiancé. The relationship, therefore, becomes merely functional as a way to guarantee possession of the house, and challenges social ideologies of romantic love.
Even as a small child Faraday is infatuated with Hundred’s Hall. On his first ever visit, he took an acorn out of the wall which he felt entitled to own. Faraday describes this event by saying, ‘I was like a man, I suppose, wanting a lock of hair from the head of a girl he had suddenly and blindingly become enamoured of.’(p.3) Faraday defines his feelings towards the house in relation to heterosexual desire, which transgresses the typical social ideologies of desire. Desire is displaced onto an object, rather than a person. The queer attraction to the Hall is intensified when Faraday describes the feeling of the acorn in his trouser pocket. The text says, ‘I felt the hard plaster lump in my pocket, now, with a sort of sick excitement.’(p.3) The hard lump in his pocket appears phallic, especially as he refers to a ‘sick’ excitement, immediately portraying Faraday’s perverse attraction to the house. The queer sense of desire Faraday feels towards Hundred’s becomes intensified as the novel continues, and when he sees an opportunity of gaining ownership (through marrying Caroline) he becomes obsessed with the idea. Heterosexual love and marriage become a socially acceptable way of satisfying his queer obsession of the house. Caroline becomes aware of Faraday’s ulterior motives for marriage. When Caroline calls off the engagement, Faraday asks, ‘[h]ow can you say all of these terrible things? After all I’ve done, for you, for your family?’ Caroline responds by saying, ‘You think I should repay you, by marrying you? Is that what you think marriage is- a kind of payment?’(p.448) Caroline appears to be aware of Faraday transgressing the social and cultural norms of marriage. For Faraday, marriage becomes a disguise and excuse which allows him to satisfy his queer obsession with the house.
Featured photo: Book cover of The Little Stranger, Sarah Walters. Reprint edition (May 4, 2010)
1.Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger (Virago Press: London, 2009) p.323 All further references are to this edition.
Written by Sarah Culham.
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