Thursday, December 1, 2011

Petal on the Wind, Part Three: Every Man in This Book is a Freakin' Rapist

I, um, kind of had a complete meltdown in this section?  I apologize in advance, and really, I tried to make it as relevant as possible to the subject at hand, since it touched on a theme that is going to carry on through the remainder of . . . well, all of the books.  Because when I say "every man in this book is a rapist," I'm not talking in the Andrea Dworkin all-sex-is-rape sense.  I mean that literally every man in this book is a freakin' rapist.  

Wait, I take it back.  There is one man who is not a freakin' rapist.  But he's very much a sideline character, he only appears for one chapter, and he vanishes without a trace immediately afterwards.  I say this like he's some big mystery character, but really, he's just so inconsequential that I can't be arsed.*

So, in a nutshell, we're going to be talking about rape, a conversation that was bound to happen considering that every man in this book is a freakin' rapist.  I don't know how we avoided it this long, honestly. 

When last we left our favorite firecracker, Cathy was on the verge of her first real grown-up date with someone with whom she does not share DNA.  D'aaaaaw.   I wipe away a single sparkling tear. It's always a bittersweet day when they take their first steps out of the gene pool.

Julian shows up at chez Sheffield to pick Cathy.  He's scrubbed, shined, and has even done something about his unruly hair.  Chris, of course, glares daggers at them as they head out the door.  Geez, sublimate your creepy obsession for five minutes, man.  Chris manages not to rape anyone in this book, but he has done so in the past, so we're going to call him Established Rapist A.

Oh and by the way Cathy doesn't turn sixteen until the next chapter and Julian is twenty-something.  So there's that.   

The entire date is a set-up for Julian to pressure Cathy into going to New York with him, since he believes that Cathy is a perfect partner for him and that together, they can make it big.  Cathy likes the idea of stardom, but she does not like the idea of Julian, who is an arrogant, overbearing douchenozzle who, after dinner, attempts to rape her in his car.  He does not succeed, so he is not, technically a rapist.  Be patient.  His time will come.   

When Cathy gets home, Chris is waiting up for her to grill her on how far she let Julian get.  Even Cathy recognizes that he doesn't really care that she's only sixteen and going out with a much-older man, so much as someone's muscling in on his territory, on account of he made her his through sex in the last book.  So there's your daddy-issues and your incest-issues rolled up into one big tidy bundle.

Cathy continues to date Julian over the course of this (very short) chapter.  The dates are pretty repetitive: Julian's only interests are getting Cathy to be his partner in New York, and getting Cathy to put out.  When she won't do either, he calls her a cocktease and threatens to go back to New York and find another dance partner.  Since Cathy's plans for Revenge all hinge on becoming a ballet superstar as soon as possible, this threat has some punch.

With all this conflict puttering around in her poor tiny brain, she is unable to sleep (and basically every time Cathy wakes up in the night because she can't sleep, there's a make-out scene with someone in the works; just thought you'd like a heads-up on that).  She flits downstairs in her gossamer nightie, only to find Dr. Paul's not home yet, it's two in the morning, and it's raining.  The rainy night reminds her of the night her father never came home.   

Oh, Daddy, she thinks, I can barely remember how you looked, or how your voice sounded, and the special smell of you has faded away.  This is almost genuinely touching until you realize she's remembering her real daddy seconds before going downstairs to seduce her fake daddy.

When Paul does appear, Cathy blesses him out for making her worry, for missing dinner, for forgetting about their movie date, and for not bringing home the shampoo she asked him to pick up for her.  If these sounds creepily like complaints a wife might make . . . well, go with that instinct, folks.   He tries to apologize, but Cathy completely overreacts, saying that the next time he makes a promise, she'll assume he won't keep it so that she won't be disappointed, and oh, maybe she'd better quit school and give up her dreams of stardom and get a 60-hour-a-week job in a chicken-processing plant so she can afford to by her own shampoo because Paul has opened her eyes to the fact that there is no one she can rely upon in this world.  My hair is oily and everyone I love betrays me!

It promises no more tears--BUT IT LIES!  IT LIES!

This fucking shampoo better be a plot-point later.  I'm just saying.

I'm slightly exaggerating about dropping out of high school and getting a chicken-processing job, but she really does interpret the forgotten shampoo as a sign to never trust again.  Character-wise, this is a sign of things to come for Cathy.  For the majority of the book, she accuses her mother of being weak, simpering, codependent, always needing a man to cling to, while seeing herself as hard, ruthless, and self-reliant.  Multiple times she tells herself, and is told by other people, that she should always be able to take care of herself.  Yet one dude forgets her shampoo and she has a complete meltdown.

Paul implicitly gets that it's not the shampoo.  Cathy is overreacting to a minor betrayal because she's still angry at her mother for a major one.  Actually, I think Cathy's still angry at her mother for sleeping with her father because Cathy has a large and growing Electra complex, but that's just my interpretation.  He tells her that the only way she can be truly happy is by letting go of some of the hate she feels for her mother.  This is actually pretty reasonable, mature advice, and it would be far better received if he'd delivered it at a time when Cathy wasn't sitting on his knee in her filmy baby-doll nightie.

Paul invites her to hear his own story of what happens when a person is consumed by revenge.  Thus begins one of the more disgusting moments in the V.C. Andrews canon.

The Sad Sad Tale of Poor Damn Julia™

Julia was Paul's childhood sweetheart, whom he married right out of high school, as this series has proven that you must always marry the first person you fall in love with, even if they are your sister.  On their wedding night, Julia took two hours to undress in the bathroom and had a complete emotional breakdown when Paul tried to initiate sex.  In the end, he rapes her--and yes, the word "rape" is used in the text.  Paul later finds out that Julia was either raped or molested as a child, an experience that left her traumatized and terrified of sex.

Time for me to baselessly speculate: this particular scene of the Honeymoon from Hell could be written off as Andrews being Andrews . . . except that the scene is almost precisely replicated in My Sweet Audrina.

Before her big break with Flowers, Andrews mentioned that she had written other novels, including one that she kept in her trunk because she did not want her family to see it, due to its shocking material.  This too-hot-for-prime-time novel has long been rumored to have actually been My Sweet Audrina (or an early version thereof).

I kind of believe this theory.  It would explain a lot of things about Audrina: why it became the only stand-alone novel of Andrews' career, why it shares a lot of thematic and stylistic notes with her other, recognized early work Gods of Green Mountain (both novels play significantly on color symbolism; both are written in a noticeably odd style, similar to one another but different from the other novels, hinting that they might have been written around the same period), why it dwells so explicitly on sex in a way that the other novels do not.  If Andrews had already decided that Audrina would never be published, she might have felt free to cannibalize elements from that novel, since no one but her would ever know the difference.

My Baseless Speculation here is that this scene may have been based on an actual event.  Not something that happened to Andrews, but perhaps to someone in her acquaintance, and perhaps in a slightly different form.  It is a very specific, disturbing image: a woman sexually assaulted as a child, too terrified to participate in her own wedding night, who is essentially raped by her own husband.    

Your Honor, I would like to enter into evidence Exhibit A, the blockquote:

"The years passed [says Paul] while she held herself aloof, cleaned my house, washed my clothes...She was so lovely, so desirable, and so near that sometimes I'd force her, even if she cried afterwards."

(Just as a note, I would like to point out that Paul's excuse for forcing sex on his wife are almost exactly the same as Cathy's reasons that Chris raped her back in the first book.  How dare she be attractive in the same room as a man if she didn't intent to put out?  I mean, God.)

After a few more rapes, Julia gave birth to a son, Scotty.  She told Paul that since she'd done her duty by giving him a child, he had to leave her alone.  By this time, Paul had a mistress anyway, so he was more than willing to stop raping his wife.  Nice of him.

Paul carried on with his affair for several years until one day his mistress became pregnant.  Paul refused to believe the baby was his because he knew his mistress kept other lovers.  Heh.  Bitches, right? Always trying to trap poor innocent men with their vaginas.  The angry mistress took her story to Julia, and Julia flew off the handle and swore to make Paul pay for being unfaithful.  Bitches, right?  Won't put out and then get all bent out of shape when you find someone who will, right?

Then, on the morning of Scotty's third birthday, Julia and Scotty disappeared.  Knowing his wife had been behaving strangely (he actually mentions they'd watch Medea the night before, which probably means that Andrews watched Medea the night before), Paul ran frantically through town, fearing the worst.  He found them in the river, floating facedown.  Scotty was dead, held down by his mother; Julia was barely alive, and the paramedics were unable to revive her.

Thus ends the Sad, Sad Tale of Poor Damn Julia™.  And wow.  I'm honestly a little floored.  Granted, you must remember that this was presented as a story illustrating to what murderous lengths one can be driven by blind revenge, even though the real lesson seems to be a cautionary tale of how an abusive husband drove his mentally unstable wife to murder and suicide.  However you slice it, that's some heavy emotional baggage to be carrying around.

But that's not the disgusting part.  The disgusting part is the lesson that Cathy takes away from this story:
"Forget Julia!" I cried, throwing my arms around his neck and snuggling closer. "Forgive yourself, and forget what happened to Julia. I remember my mother and father; they were always loving and kissing. I've known since I was a little girl that men need to be loved and touched..." I tilted my head back and smiled at him as I'd seen my mother smile at my father. "Tell me how a wife should be on her wedding night. I wouldn't want to disappoint my bridegroom."

Seriously, V.C. Andrews.  Seriously.   

I feel I'm taking a long time to dissect this scene, y'all, but it's an idea that's going to crop up consistently in the books to come: the idea that men like, implode or herniate or go temporarily insane if they don't have regular access to a vagina.   The poor dears just can't help themselves.  Men have needs!  Needs that must be met!  Needs that you, as a woman, must fulfill!  If you don't, you have only yourself to blame if he rapes you or ends up fucking your skank cousin (My Sweet Audrina) and/or ho-bag** sister (the Casteel and Landry Sagas).  Even the incest hook upon which this entire saga hangs is based on the idea that Chris has needs, therefore it was not entirely his fault that he raped Cathy, since after all she was going around being all pretty and shit.***

Which, y'know, it's V.C. Andrews, and if anyone's taking their model of male/female relationships from V.C. Andrews, they probably have way more issues than this.  But the level of victim-blaming and romanticizing of rape, in this scene and throughout most of these novels, is just . . . weird, possibly because Andrews, in her heavy-handing galumphing way, has absolutely no ability to keep anything in the subtext. She just flat-out says that men need sex, rape is excusable if your rapist really loves you, and women who deny men sex get whatever's coming to them.

Anyways, back to the narrative:

After Cathy comes out with this, Paul tells her to get her ass to bed--as you do when you've just confessed a dark and painful incident from your past to someone as a moral lesson and their sole response is MAKE OUT WITH ME PLZ.  When Cathy continues attempting to make out with him, Paul literally picks her up, carries her upstairs, dumps her on her bed, and slams the door behind him as he leaves.  Good for you, Paul.

Cathy lies awake in bed, scheming about how to seduce Paul and ruin her mother's life, pretty much simultaneously.  This passage is awesome and bears reproducing in its entirety:

I knew I was evil, just like the grandmother had said from the beginning, born to be bad. I'd been punished before I'd even done anything evil, so why not let the punishment fit the crime that was to be?


There was no reason why I should be haunted and ruined just because once upon a miserable time, I had turned for refuge into the arms of my brother.

Honey, I read that section. You didn't "turn to him for refuge"; dude raped you.


I'd go to the man who needed me the most. If that was evil, to give what his words denied and his eyes pleaded for, then let me be evil!

DAT EXCLAMATION POINT. Also this is less than three pages after the big self-reliance speech, so make of that what you will.

[Paul] wouldn't turn away and put me off, for I'd make it impossible. He wouldn't want to hurt me. He'd take me and then he'd think to himself he had to, and then he wouldn't feel guilty, not guilty at all.

The guilt would be all mine. And Chris would hate me and turn, as he had to, to someone else.

Wouldn't it be easier to . . . I don't know, set your brother up on a blind date or something?  There are more women in the world than you, you know.

Except, of course, Cathy doesn't know.  In Andrewsland, there really are no other women but Cathy.  And Cathy is a fucking sociopath. 

I promised you we'd get to the Worst Pillow Talk in Recorded History and the adventures of Carrie in the boarding school from hell in this section, but what with all the rape analysis, we were running kind of long.  Those sections are already written, and I'll post them sometime this weekend.  Meanwhile, I think I need to get a hot shower and a mug of cocoa and a teddy bear and a bottle of scotch and several years of intense Frommian therapy to deal with this.

 *For the curious: it's Carrie's would-be boyfriend Alex far away in the third act.

**In Andrewsland, if you're not the heroine, you're a ho-bag. 

***My husband remarked that he didn't know whether this logic was more insulting to men or to women.  I pointed out that while it was probably more insulting to men to be viewed as slavering horndogs, it also gets them off the hook by making women responsible for their own rape, since plainly, we should know this about men and respond accordingly.  Shut him right up, it did.


  1. Out of all the things that bother me about Andrews (and there's a lot, yet I keep reading, God forgive me) the how Julia died bit always bugged me the most, and I think it was because she mentioned the use of birth control pills some 20 years before they came on the market. Silly nitpicking little detail, but damn, it bugs me every time I reread this book.

  2. @Bekki: I just checked the book, and by gum, you're right. Granted, the book never tells just how long Paul and Julia were married; he marries her while he's still in college, and he implies he has his own practice by the time she kills their son. But . . . the Pill wasn't widely available until 1961, the year this book takes place, so unless the Sad Sad Tale of Poor Damn Julia took place mere moments before the kids arrived . . . nah, Andrews just got her dates wrong.

  3. DAT RAPE CULTURE. Ffff- oh, jeez, that just pisses me off mightily. As you've already gone into the crazy fucked-up-ness far more eloquently than I could, I will just say: That "no more tears" joke? Laughed my ass off.

  4. I have an urge to vomit and another urge to play mystery date. Fun times for all!

  5. What I most want to know is... what happened to the pregnant mistress? I guess she just found some other dud to be her babydaddy?

  6. Just found your blog, and have been reading the whole thing through.

    I think I love you.

  7. Tried to post before, maybe comment is still in moderation, but anywho....

    I think I love you. These are amazing.

  8. MacStabby and/or anon: thanks! I love you too, in a completely platonic and non-incesty way!

  9. i love your blog! it makes me laugh my ass off. please keep writing!