Thoughts on Lost Girls

For those of you who don't know, Lost Girls is a graphic tale by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie (who became life-partners during the making of the book), which re-writes the characters and histories of Wendy Darling (Peter Pan), Alice Liddell (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland/ Through the Looking Glass) and Dorothy Gale (The Wizard of Oz). The book is sexually explicit, offering a fantasia of couplings, flows and desires - it's positively Deleuzian in its representations of desiring machines - it's Sadean too, but we'll get back to that - and it is utopian, in that its re-coding of the latent sexual content of Victorian and Edwardian children's literature is released (orgiastically) from the structures of repression into a polymorphously perverse world of unrestricted desire and sexual pleasure. A special roundtable discussion of the online journal ImageText (which can be found at: http://www.english.ufl.edu/imagetext/archives/v3_3/) does a good job of investigating the issues of sexuality and representation in the texts, but that's not my focus here.

I'm more interested in the politics of Lost Girls. It is crucial that the text takes place in the last few months before the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, and in fact the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo is depicted at the very end of Book 2. Lost Girls is then a retrospective belle epoque fiction, where the 'long Edwardian afternoon' is about to be plunged into dreadful night. As in Truffaut's Jules et Jim, also set in the 'innocent' years prior to 1914, a transnational male friendship is a crucial index of the text's critique of the Great War as the violent expression of a corrosive nationalism. While the German Jim and French Jules, close friends and two points of an erotic triangle with the beloved Catherine in belle epoque Paris, are able to maintain their friendship despite fighting on opposite sides (friendship transcending nationalism), in Lost Girls, this male homosociality is deficient. As Tof Eklund writes in his contribution to the ImageText roundtable, 'Lost Girls posits a uniquely male tendency to sublimate sex into violence as the cause of WWI. [Wendy Darling's husband] Harold and [Dorothy's 'boyfriend'] Rolf are judged harshly because each puts his national loyalty ahead of their mutual desire for each other' (paragraph 18) (http://www.english.ufl.edu/imagetext/archives/v3_3/lost_girls/eklund.shtml).

In fact, both Rolf and Harold are emblematically products of sexual repression (and thereby 'perversion'): Rolf is a shoe-fetishist who gets off on power-fantasies as well as literal jackboots, and Harold's deeply closeted homosexuality is connected with his job in armament manufacture and sales, and his investment in the 'manly' icon of the battleship. Where, for Wendy, Alice and Dorothy, the polymorphous perverse is utopian, for Rolf and particularly Harold the enjoyment of unrepressed sexual desire is temporary and abandoned in the face of the geopolitical narrative of national conflict. Their sexual 'liberation' is really an extension of their pre-disposition towards fascism. Rolf and Harold, when fucking, do so with an eye to power, to domination; their ineradicable phallicism is shunned by Alice, the 'leader' of the lost girls, whose desire is, until the very end, strictly lesbian - although she does wear a dildo, and it is when she is simultaneously penetrated by Wendy and Dorothy with similar strap-ons that she reaches her own epiphany, when she is able to let slip the reins of control. For Rolf and Harold, power holds sway over desire.

They, like the Red Queen of Alice's story, are Sadeans: the inflicting of pleasure on bodies is key. Desire is domination, and the possession of the mouth or vagina or asshole of the 'fuckee' is all that matters. As Alice's narrative demonstrates, this is ethically and emotionally corrosive: her sense of her own complicity in abusively transgressive sexuality leads her to the mental hospital, the emblem of her own 'lostness'. Alice is, in some sense, also a Sadean: the Austrian hotel in its final days of decadent, orgiastic sex inescapably refer to the Chateau de Silling in Sade's 120 Days of Sodom, the isolated castle wherein Sade's libertines conduct exhaustively repetitive sequences of sexual transgression. She is herself in as much need of 'liberation' from libertinage as Wendy Darling is from her sexless, prudish, up-tight hausfrau subjectivity.

The text ultimately recapitulates the correlation of female desire with fluidity, fecundity and the polymorphous, and masculinity with fascism, that we find critiqued in Klaus Theweleit's Male Fantasies, in which he investigates the fascist imaginary of German militiamen in the early 1920s, ex-soldiers who were recruited into the Nazi Party's SA organisation (the Brownshirts). Theweleit found that, in their diary writings and letters, these militiamen consistently imagined themselves as an armoured body, in mechanical phalanx with other 'hard-bodied' men, resisting the 'red flood' of female desire and communism (as pollution). In Lost Girls, this imagery is found when Dorothy has sex with the Tin Man, one of the worker's on her Father's farm. In a fantastical tableau, consisting of a single-page panel outside of the narrative diegesis (a device repeated in many narrative episodes told by Dorothy and Wendy), Dorothy is manacled and spread-eagled in a kind of abstract congress with a heavily robotic 'Tin Man', whose segmented metal phallus penetrates her vagina. It is a horrifying image, a violation unlike even the coercive or abusive sex found at points elsewhere in Lost Girls. The metal phallus, unlike the dildo, is a literal 'weapon'.

The connection between masculine phallicism and war is sealed in the final pages of part 3. Wendy, Alice and Dorothy, having told their stories and 'healed' their lostness, leave the empty hotel. Their room is subsequently occupied by the advancing German soldiers, some of whom build a bonfire in their room and smash Alice's abandoned mirror. The panels follow the smoke to the battlefield, where we find a soldier, legs propped apart, leaning back against the rim of a bomb-crater. This, it seems, is Rolf. His boots have been blown off and lay in the foreground, on the lip of the crater - as does something else. For Rolf has been emasculated, his genitalia blown to the other side of the crater, and a gaping wound tears him from crotch to sternum. Visually, what we have here is an invagination, a monstrous perversion of the imagery of the opened vulva that stands for the utopian possibilities of polymorphous sexual desire (aligned with the female body) throughout the text.

This, of course, is the terminal image of lost innocence in Lost Girls, and is, in a sense, what the text is really all about. The 'lost innocence' of Wendy, Dorothy and even Alice is recuperable on the old Freudian stage of storytelling and unrepressed sexual desire, but it is not so for Rolf. His fascist body-armour is undone by a bursting shell, his body exploded by the very military phallicism that seemed to armour it. While Alice can leave her mirror behind, having found a kind of wholeness, Rolf's dead eyes stare sightlessly into the dark future, his body fatally dis-integrated. These last few pages, leaving the reader not with the narrative of utopian female sexuality but the end-point, the self-rupture of male phallicism makes this a much less one-dimensional text than some of the contributors to the ImageText roundtable had supposed.

In 'MCMXIV', Phlilip Larkin wrote:

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word--the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

'Never such innocence again': can the same be said of the graphic novel after Lost Girls, which Moore proclaimed to be 'pornography' before the fact? Does Lost Girls enact a kind of de-flowering of the comic book, a leaving behind of childhood and childish things? If it is, I think Moore's critical point here is political rather than sexual. Children's literature, he seems to say, is no 'secret garden', but a literature of trauma and acting out; the belle epoque is no 'age of innocence', but produced monsters of its own. Just as his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen uses the forms and characters if the Imperial Romance and Scientific Romance to investigate colonialism and power and ethical complicity, so Lost Girls uses the forms and characters of classic children's literature to interrogate the corrosive power of fantasia. And it is we, the readers, who should never inhabit such innocence again.

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