Moore’s cosmic hymn to sexuality
Lost girls is very much more than a work of pornography. In fact, whatever Alan Moore might say, I doubt that it really can be called anything other than highly sexualised art. The reader is more likely to be aroused by the amazingly beautiful art work by Melinda Gebbie than by any of the remarkably varied range of sex acts that Moore puts his characters through. Rather let us think of it as a joyous celebration of sexuality in all it forms, but most especially in the form of woman’s love for woman.
What I want to talk about is some of the philosophical and literary ramifications of Moore’s work. Let me recap briefly. Lady Alice Fairchild (equals Alice as in Alice in Wonderland), Dorothy Gale (as in Oz) and Wendy Potter (as in Peter Pan) meet in a German hotel in 1914. They very quickly form a loving threesome, narrating stories of their sexual pasts while loving one another in the present. And then the cheerful abandon of their sexual freedom is met with the anything but cheerful abandon of that terrible emanation from the shadow part of the unconscious mind that led to the First World War.
Though all three women are important and a case can be made (and will be made below) for Wendy having a uniquely important part in the narrative, it is clear that the whole book rotates around Alice. She is the first character we see, and she is almost entirely the only one of the women we see from the inside. Moreover, in all of their adventures she is the instigator. Indeed she almost rapes Wendy, making her realise that her nature lies above and beyond middle-class morality.
As the dominant character, it seems reasonable to assume that the book is, by and large, about her, and so in this essay I will look at her position in Lost Girls and how it fits very naturally into a number of existing philosophical frameworks. Doing so leads on to further questions about Moore’s oeuvre as a whole, as well as to the discovery that beyond the Lost Girls we think we read, there is another Lost Girls carefully hidden from us.
The Nietzschian Alice
Of the three protagonists of Lost Girls, Alice Fairchild is by far the most complex, in many ways. Dorothy is a simple object of female sexuality, and that is about as complex as one can get in describing her. Wendy is more interesting, but she basically represents sexuality that has been hidden and denied, only to break out with astonishing force when it meets the right environment. So, one might almost portray them as female versions of Rousseau’s ideal man and civilised man.
Alice, however, is different, not only in that her history is much more complex, and grim, than either of theirs, but also in that she is always present as a controlling intelligence, with ironical comment at the ready, no matter how passionate the context. It is not for nothing that it is made clear that she is a writer, and that in the discussion of the notorious White Book, while Dorothy, Wendy and others are happy merely to look upon its contents, she analyses and anatomises them. So, Dorothy and Wendy, Rousseau’s types, are things as they are, representatives of the basic will that underpins all, differing, but both unable to choose what they are. Alice, on the other hand, is the Schopenhauerian representation or idea: in her young womanhood, when she was Mrs Redman’s plaything, she was mere raw female sexuality to be used by others, but with her great rebellion that destroyed Mrs Redman and doomed Alice herself to years of abuse and horror, she reclaimed herself and, very illuminatingly, her mind, and could then proceed to live in a world of her own choosing and creation.
We can see this very clearly if we look at the use Moore has made of Alice’s literary parallel. In the cases of Dorothy and Oz and Wendy and Peter Pan, his parallels are fairly straightforward, if wildly inventive. However, in the case of Alice he has been highly selective in which of the literary material he has drawn on and this, I think, tells us something interesting about Alice Fairchild.
The thing is this: virtually all of the references to Carroll’s Alice in Lost Girls are to Alice through the looking-glass. The most important Alice in Wonderland references are:
- The fact that Alice’s initial seducer is clearly the White Rabbit, and she feels herself falling down a hole.
- The full-page image of Alice’s first orgy with Mrs Redman, which is a clear reference to the mad tea party.
- Alice’s final cry, which brings the whole edifice of Mrs Redman’s hidden life crashing to the ground, of ‘You’re nothing but a pack of cards.’
Otherwise nearly everything is through the looking-glass: the red and white queens, the railway journey, the red king whose magnificent sleeping is at the root of the whole artifice of Mrs Redman’s extraordinarily exuberant world of mid-Victorian lesbianism, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, etc. Why is this?
Consider the two Alice books. Alice in Wonderland has the free-flowing structureless, logical illogic of a dream. While groundbreaking at the time of its first publication, we are now so used to dreams, through psychoanalysis, through surrealism, that we can see it for what it is. It is almost certainly a pure product of Dodgson’s unconscious mind, with little conscious artifice in it. Alice through the looking-glass is a very different work, highly contrived and with a formal, even goal-oriented structure to it (so much so that its plot even maps onto a chess problem). This is very much more a product of conscious artistry, with Dodgson using a quite remarkable structure to produce a highly disciplined and effective nonsense story. And yet, its illogic (jam tomorrow, running fast just to stay still) smacks of deliberate seeking after paradox, unlike the oneiric illogic of Wonderland, which has the strange quality of seeming quite reasonable until one thinks about it.
So, through the looking-glass is a work of discipline, almost a deliberate retreat from the unconscious-derived madness of Wonderland, from which Dodgson retreated still further into the rather mediocre whimsey of Sylvie and Bruno, just as in verse he never dared revisit the place that gave birth to his greatest masterpiece, The hunting of the snark. So the two works come to represent the two poles of Nietzsche’s creative dyad, with Wonderland representing Dionysus and through the looking-glass representing Apollo.
This has very profound implications for our Alice, Lady Alice Fairchild. She is exposed to literal madness at the hands of Mrs Redman and retreats into order at the expense of being known to the world as an invert. And it seems quite safe to say that she has clung to her control, to her sense of self and sanity ever since. This is why her sexuality, unlike Dorothy’s, though powerful, is, until the final pages of the book, kept firmly under her mind’s control. Alice is Apollo.
The Apollonian Alice
Looking at Alice, we see that she has passed through the nightmare of unthinking sexual frenzy in her time with Mrs Redman, from which she emerged, quite literally, insane. She makes it clear that this period in her life constituted an attack on her mind rather than her body, and it was only regaining her mind that saved her. In terms of the Nietzschian archetypes, she came under attack by Dionysus and, for a time, her Apollonian nature was obliterated, and only recovered after a long period of suffering. So, now she is once more sane, she can give in to pleasure, as she does most memorably when she, Wendy and Dorothy take their excursion to an island on which Alice orchestrates a three-woman orgy, whose positive Dionysiac abandon counter-balances the simultaneous outbreak of the male Dionysiac shadow in Sarajevo. So it is clear that Alice is now firmly in control of her pleasures. She does not take them as they come, in the way that Dorothy does; she plans and commands them. She gives in to pleasure precisely when she has decided to do so.
There is an interesting confirmation of this analysis in the nature of Alice’s sexual roles. For one thing, she is the only character whose sexuality is monovalent. While all around her cheerfully couple with anything that moves, she is, right up to the point in the final orgy where she is persuaded to sodomise Mr Rougeur, able to say she has never had relations with a man. In other words, behind her apparent sexual abandon there is a clear element of choice and control. Moreover, it is clear that in sex Alice always chooses to take the male role, of determining who does what, who is penetrated and when. It is only at the very end of the book that she, it seems for the first time, takes a female role of being penetrated and loses control over what her lover does. All of this tells is that she is Apollo and it is only in the final pages of the narrative, as Lost Girls draws to its close, that she begins to reconcile herself with the true abandon of Dionysus. She herself admits that everything is changing, and acknowledges that that extends even to herself.
The Dionysiac Alice
So, if Alice is the face of Apollonian female sexuality in Moore’s universe, controlled and constrained just as Alice Liddell is in Through the looking-glass, who represents the Dionysian face? There are two answers, both illuminating, but one has wider ramifications linking Lost Girls to Moore’s wider universe in a way that is surely only natural, given that we are, after all, discussing the work of a writer one of whose ambitions is, in The league of extraordinary gentlemen, to unify all of English literature.
Within Lost Girls: Wendy as individuating psyche
The first answer may seem rather obvious. Within Lost Girls, while Alice Fairchild represents the ego, sexuality under the control of the mind, Dorothy Gale clearly represents the opposite, an easy sexuality without thought. Dorothy is an exuberantly sexual being, too elemental to have a defined sexuality. In a sense she is omnisexual, or is sexuality itself, almost undifferentiated. As such she stands at the opposite pole to Alice. But what is the purpose of this dyad?
To answer that question, we need to look at the third pole: Wendy Potter. She enters the narrative deeply unhappy, loveless, sexless and caged by repression. But, encouraged by Alice and Dorothy, she quickly leaves her middle-class mores behind and becomes, as is predicted near the start of the book, the combination of mind and body that outshines the pair of them. She is the synthesis to their thesis and antithesis, reconciling Nietzsche’s two modes in one person.
In addition to this Nietszchian / Hegelian view, we can look at Lost Girls from a Jungian point of view. We see that it describes the individuation process within Wendy’s psyche, in which Alice, the conscious mind, and Dorothy, the unconscious, who are separate at first, said separation being the cause of Wendy’s unhappiness, symbolised by the sexual drought that is her life, come together (quite literally) in order to take her on the journey of self-discovery that will make her whole.
So, that is interpretation number one: Lost Girls is an essay in Jungian depth psychology with the focus being on Wendy Potter. Interpretation number two takes us farther afield, but is somehow more Moore-like.
BEYOND Lost Girls : Alice in Moore-land
The reason I think that a second interpretation is necessary is that, though the interpretation given above works in itself, there is something missing. Dorothy is almost too unthinking. Alice Fairchild is not only sexuality driven by reason, most important of all she is our way into the hall of mirrors that is Lost Girls, so as well as being a participant, she is a detached, somewhat ironic voice keeping us at one remove from the events described. Remember, after all, that Alice is a writer, and that Lost Girls is really her story, her development, her escape. And so, interesting though the story of Wendy’s individuation is, it exists only within the narrative of Lost Girls. Perhaps it is the subject of the book that Lady Alice Fairchild is writing. To understand Alice herself, we need to look outside of Lost Girls.
At the end of Lost Girls Alice is incomplete, the Apollonian woman left to survey the nightmare unleashed by Dionysiac man and able only to retreat in the face of its terrible onslaught. Where is the Dionysiac woman who can take it on and beat it? I believe she is to be found in another Moore / Gebbie project: the Cobweb, who, it has to be said, even has very similar facial features to Alice.
The Cobweb is a crime-fighting science heroine who lives in Indigo City. She is noted mostly for her outspoken dress-sense (she wears a domino mask, an under-bust corset, stockings, a see-through lilac nightie and no underwear) and her extremely close relationship with her chauffeur / lover Clarice. Now, the Cobweb is the epitome of the Dionysiac woman: she is open to any and all sexual experiences, and she knows no inhibition. For her, thought and action are one. She is almost an extension of Goethe’s ewig weibliche into the mundane realm. And yet, she is no Dorothy. She does not approach sex thoughtlessly, but carefully embraces its joys; she maintains a calm, humorous detachment throughout, always aware of her actions and ready to comment on them.
So doesn’t that mean she is Apollonian, then? I don’t think so, but this is a critical point. Within Nietzsche’s duality, each of the two poles is not an isolated pure type; rather the distinction is between modes of thought. So, in Lost Girls, Dorothy is an almost pure type of the unthinking Dionysiac spirit, and yet so are the brutish German soldiers at the end of the book, going on their orgy of destruction. And so we see in them the danger of the Dionysiac spirit if it is not self-aware. Likewise, Harold Potter is (at least until his moment of self-realisation) almost purely unthinkingly Apollonian, and look at the harm he has done to Wendy. If we are to be saved from these potential dangers, then both Dionysus and Apollo must partake in part of each other’s qualities: Apollo must be able to acknowledge the world of the irrational, while Dionysus mush have self-knowledge.
As we have seen, Alice fits this description very well: she is a mind that can accommodate the body quite happily, provided it stays within certain limits, those limits being, as noted above, finally transgressed right at the end of Lost Girls. One can say that Lost Girls ends at a vital point in Alice’s own individuation where, after a life-long flight from the nightmare of Dionysiac abandon she encountered on the other side of the Looking Glass, she begins to re-embrace the world of the irrational.
The Cobweb, on the other hand, embraces irrationality with aplomb. She is extremely self-aware and knowing, but will never miss an opportunity to take pleasure when it is offered, even if it can get in the way of her business. And, let us be honest, her world is entirely irrational; there is not even a hint of logic in most of the stories she is involved in, with Moore and Gebbie seemingly delighting in thinking of yet more bizarre circumstances to involve her in. It is not, perhaps, surprising that Moore and Gebbie (no doubt at the Cobweb’s urging) have used her as the medium for some quite startling formal experiments, most noticeably in a surrealist collage novel rather reminiscent of Max Ernst’s La femme 100 têtes. Which is surely significant, for what is more Dionysiac than the oneiric world of surrealism?
So, is the Cobweb the perfect woman? No, for though she may be the perfect self-aware sexual being, a perfect meeting of desire and desirability, she, to be honest, isn’t all that bright, and tends to be lucky rather than capable. And, in spite of all her wanderings, she needs her Clarice to make her whole (and save her skin). But in Moore’s universe, she is the opposite pole which, when combined with Alice’s intellect could create the perfect woman.
And, of course, students of Moore’s work know full well that the perfect woman already exists and will, quite literally, live forever. Mina Murray (briefly Harker), leader of the League of extraordinary gentlemen is Apollo and Dionysus, able at one moment to plot the defeat of Martian invaders, and the very next moment to turn her attention to the serious business of bedding Allan Quartermain. It is quite clear that her unconscious mind holds no surprises at all, at least as far as she is concerned.