Tuesday, 18 September 2012

A Caned and Confined Debutante? or What Can Be Got From a Picture?

Where, exactly does today's illustration come in to the scheme of things?  You may well ask – and I have no hard and fast answers; thank the Lord!  For the imagination is always far richer than reality, even if that 'reality' only exists in someone else’s imaginings.  What I mean is just look at it!  I'm well aware I have featured this print before, but let us devote a little time to its analysis – then with hope you'll see what it is about it that spawned all that has just gone before (above).
To start with:  What exactly is going on here - I mean beyond the obvious application of corporal punishment? What is here, what clues have we?  
There is a stern-looking woman dressed in what appears to be some sort of authoritarian-looking uniform holding what might be a wooden paddle (or a vanity mirror?).  
There is a half-naked, kneeling, bound female figure who is dressed in a very short shift and stockings, her bottom bared for punishment.  The latter’s hands and forearms are bound behind her back, presumably so that she cannot protect her bottom, and yet interestingly her ankles have been left free, suggesting an element of discipline by which she is obliged to keep position of her own accord.  
Finally, there is a woman dressed in high-fashion as if for a genteel soirée and looking about as out of place as it gets, a rope of pearls around her slender neck.  And yet she too is holding some form of correctional implement, making her very much part of the scenario despite her incongruous appearance given the background.
Then there is the dinner plate or perhaps shallow bowel.  That dinner plate - and the part it plays (or has played) in the proceedings - has always intrigued me; indeed for me it is what the picture is all about.  The artist has included it for some good reason; it clearly plays some important part in the story otherwise why put it in?  There is no need for anything to be included at that point in the illustration if the intention was to merely depict a young woman about to be -or having been – punished in the usual sense.  Yet the platter appears to be empty and has been drawn off-centre, as if having played its part it has been withdrawn from centre stage, yet has been left in view as a reminder of its importance.  
The first question I guess comes down to whether what is being depicted is something occurring within a domestic or institutional environment.  If the latter then the question comes down to: Is the establishment in question penal, scholastic (or even a medical or psychiatric) in nature.  All of this has a bearing on what might be going on, the identity of the participants and the role of that enigmatic dinner plate - and even possibly on whatever it may have held, or perhaps still holds indiscernible to the viewer.  
The latter - that there is something resting on the plate that the artist has chosen to leave invisible to the observer for some reason - is still a possibility, despite the object’s off-centre positioning.  What makes me think that maybe that is the case is the manner in which the girl's head is bowed while simultaneously twisting towards the lunch plate or whatever it is.  If she is being made to take something from the plate’s surface with her mouth, her hands and arms having been safely removed from the equation, then the plate having been placed off-centre in the manner depicted might make sense.  The plate having been placed in that position then obliges the girl to both twist and bend forward in order to reach its surface, leaving her bottom cheeks even more exposed to the fronds of the small whip the well-dressed woman is holding while of course simultaneously making the movement far harder for the girl to carry out.
The rough-hewn platform on which the subject is kneeling would not seem consistent with a domestic environment and no detail of the surroundings can be made out, although I for one find myself forming the impression that it is somewhere quite cramped and dark.  I find it difficult from the shadowing to identify the direction the scene is illuminated from.  The plate seems to possess a narrow ring of shadow running all the way round beneath its perimeter and the girl’s back seems nearly devoid of shadow other than beneath her forearms  Both these factors suggest to me that the scene is illuminated from directly above the girl's back, the light presumably coming from a lamp of some kind, with little or no natural light coming in obliquely, which in turn argues against there being a window present.   
None of these aspects totally rules out the drama being played out on the domestic stage, as it is quite possible that this scene is taking place in some segregated, perhaps especially arranged, area of a large house, but I think there is an argument suggesting that the circumstantial evidence leans towards some kind of institution.  And of course, if it is some form of institution, even if a penal institution, then if small and privately owned it might still exist within some enclosed area of a large private house or state.  You have to remember that this was an era devoid of any welfare system and when a large land owner might well take it upon his or herself, if charitably minded, to set up a workhouse or industrial school funded from his or her own pocket - for the finest philanthropic and charitable reasons, of course.
The uniformed woman could be taken for a governess employed in a large household, just about.  And yet her uniform with its black necktie and white-collar, blouse and long skirt looks a little too severe to my mind and more reminiscent of the uniform of a prison or reform school wardress of the era.  And again, the girl's arms being fastened behind her back in that manner somehow doesn't gel with me as the sort of approach a professional governess might have taken.  One would imagine any professional governess worth her salt would have used her strength of character, domineering personality and the application of discipline to make a girl keep her hands away from her bottom rather than fall back on physical restraint.  
Once again I think this argues for some kind of institutional scenario.  The only problem is the glaringly awkward presence of the well-dressed, well appointed woman.  If the scene were taking place someplace tucked away in a large house somewhere, then her presence might be more explainable.  I suppose that within an institution of some kind she might be one of the visiting Board of Governors or the chief warden or - if some form of reform school of reformatory - then perhaps the headmistress.  But even then, would she really be dressed like that, as if about to attend some high-class social ‘do’?  And would she be sullying herself by taking part in a punishment session herself.  The only explanation I can come up with is that she has some personal interest in the character about to go under her a whip - otherwise why not merely supervise, if supervision is the reason for her being there, while the wardress administers the punishment in the normal manner.  
I like the idea of the well-dressed woman being someone visiting - perhaps breaking her journey on her way to some big dinner or other social gathering - but I feel there is some more personal aspect to it than one of the governors giving the establishment the once over.  But then who she, why is she there, why is she so smartly dressed?  As in the case of the plate, there must be a good reason she has been drawn in that manner.  And of course we still have to explain the plate itself and how that might fit in.  
But imagine if, whoever this socialite woman actually is, the social gathering, or better still, dinner - given the presence of the plate - she is off to next is one the miscreant herself might have otherwise have been attending.  Perhaps it is a formal dinner appended to one of the more major debutant ‘coming-out’ balls of the season the well-dressed socialite is about to attend, a night that should have been one of the most important of the young lady's life, had she not stepped in some eighteen months or so previously to put an end to all that.  She greased some palms with silver then, and she has crossed others with silver since and now, as she does whenever she comes to visit.  But she begrudges that expense much less than drawing the cost of the debutant season with all its attendant ball gowns, hairstyling sessions and makeup artists from the girl's trust fund - she has other uses for that.   
Tonight’s is billed as one of the top five debutante balls of the world, and the second of the season.  But she won't be mean, she will share the experience.  She will be taking her notebook with her, sketching down notes of the latest styles and fashions; who was wearing what, who was wearing her hair in which style, which girl made the best entrance and who was dating who, that sort of thing.  She'll bring it with her next time she visits, read from it, regale the girl with so many vivid descriptions she will feel as if were there.  It is a shame that she can't be, but they wouldn't be able to be much with that hair anyway - too short for the latest piled-up styles… and so matted.  But then they have the girls work so long and hard in that work room - and you can expect them to leave hair brushes lying around in a place like this in any case, when they could be used to cause harm.  She’ll have a word with them before she goes; get them to cut it a little shorter for her.
Yes, she likes to keep her ward up to date on all the latest social chatter - it seems only fair, after all it is her trust fund that makes much of it possible these days, although much goes on paying for her keep too. But that is only as it should be; the fund was set aside for her education after all and they seem to be doing a good job; etiquette, deportment, manners, voice training, needlework, they covered it all here - and so much cheaper than one of those expensive Parisian academies.  In fact under such circumstances - if she hadn't written her ward’s committal record herself, in her own fair hand - it would be free, paid for by one of the church charities she was chairwoman for.  Yes it was sweetly ironic; Home for the Delinquent, the Destitute and Young Women in Moral Peril, it said on the signboard outside the gates.  Destitute – and yet her ward was not even the wealthiest in there; there were three such like her in total.
She'll bring her ward a piece of cake from tonight’s event too, with icing on, just like she did this visit from the first ball and dinner of the season.  Perhaps the girl will eat it without all this fuss the next time.  Why, she thought she'd be grateful for it after all those meals of oats steeped in fish-head stew.  Such a nice hunk of cake - expensive cake too, fit for a debutante’s ball, which is where it came from - and yet such distaste written all over that face, that pretty ski jump nose of hers wrinkling in distaste.  Such ungratefulness, it had to be punished, and she did eat it all up in the end anyway, every crumb - so why all the trials and tribulations among why?  Must have been something to do with what it had been marinated in after she had got it home…  If she didn't like that, perhaps next time she'd add a little something to the icing - perhaps re-do it altogether... 


Anonymous said...

For some odd reason, my post didn’t appear, so let’s try this one again.

I’d say that this scene is domestic, not institutional. The well appointed woman is the lady of the house, and she has a oman who helps her manage the household - and her servants. The girl on the table is being trained in the house as a servant/slave. Note: If this is a house devoted to training slaves, then you could call it institutional, but I’ll leave the definitional arguments to other people.

The girl is being taught humility. She is required to eat off the plate like a dog, and she is required to clean the plate, and eat everything put in front of her. She’s not used to this, and she’s still somewhat resistant, which is why the well appointed woman has the whip. But the girl will most definitely learn.

The Non Victorian Chick

Orage said...

I agree with you!

Toyntanen said...

The Non Victorian Chick, "well appointed woman": That was exactly the term I was looking for!

But you say that for some odd reason your post didn’t appear the first time. That is what happens to 'inreadonly2' but in his case I get the forwarded message in my email from Blogger reporting that a post has been made and a draft of his posting. In your case the first I knew of it was when I got the email containing your second attempt. I don't know why this happens but it always seems to afflict 'imreadonly2', to the extent that in the past has emailed his contributions direct to me for me to post on his behsalf - which is why I don't think the anonymously posted story appended to my last entry is his work.

Only this morning I received an email from blogger reporting a comment had been posted, despite the fact that it clearly hasn't appeared here. This comment is anonymously posted and signed 'anonymous' (so presumably not one of yours, Non Victorian Chick). It reads as follows:

"Clearly the pubs of Eastbourne are good for the creative process. You should go there more often.

I posted my own interpretation of the new picture. Actually, I posted it twice because the first time it disappeared. Or maybe I did [something] wrong and didn't really post it. Anyway, I think the well appointed woman will do an excellent job of training the girl on the table."

Well, yes you did post it ok, 'anonymous', because Blogger forwarded it to me. As to why it did not actually appear on the blog is anyone's guess at the moment.

It's not just Eastbourne. I'm hanging out in the Starbucks in Chipping Barnett today - and the ideas are coming.

Hi Orage! by the way - hope you are feeling well!

It is always interesting to read other people's interpretations and visions. I'm not averse to the idea of a domestic scenario of some sort. It's just that I am particularly enamoured with the idea of unfair, blameless incarceration and of visitations by the individual or individuals responsible for having engineered the poor unfortunate's detention.

Think the loving wife, usurped by another and visited by her husband's mistress (or new wife, if a divorce has been wrangled), the woman responsible for having had her 'put away', Hackneyed I know, but I love it! Just imagine:

"Now don't forget to curtsy – and thank your visitors once again for having been kind enough to come. Lower than that… ankles crossed, left in front of right, skirt held out to the sides… Now thank Miss ---- for paying for your stay here... that's the way... and thank her for bringing that - ahem - 'meal' you've just enjoyed. Silly girl to need such a whipping just to learn a little humility!"

But notwithstanding that I think there is much millage to be had in invoking the domestic setting, I have never been keen on the overt use of the term 'slave'. 'Rendered destitute', 'made dependent', but never enslaved (though the great Victor Bruno made the term plausible by setting one of his tales in the American South, pre-abolition). I just don't think it works in most settings.

Anonymous said...

Well, I wrote servant/slave because I thought some people would have issues with the word slave. Obviously we don’t have chattel slavery in the modern world, but it’s also true that a person doesn’t have to become chattel to become unfree. Anyway, my first thought was domestic, not institutional.

But what if the image actually was institutional? This actually jogged a memory. Do you know what prison loaf is? It’s this stuff they serve in some American prisons to inmates who are violent or escape risks. The idea is that you don’t need utensils to eat this stuff. So maybe the girl is in an instituion, and maybe they’ve put her on prison loaf because she tried to escape or attack a matron with the aid of utensils that she souvenired from the kitchen. And maybe for good measure, she has to eat the stuff not only without utensils but without using her hands, like a dog, to teach her humility.

This is the Wikipedia entry for prison loaf.


And here are some pictures


For the record, no, I haven’t been to prison. But there was litigation over this stuff California because some of the prisoners said it was inhumane, and I read about it.

The Non Victorian Chick

WIP Fan said...

not been to prison, non Victorian chick? That's a shame -you might enjoy the tough regime.>0 Love the picture and the erotic ideas.I'm more turned on by the incareceration of women who have committed crimes -it seems more fun and just to punish bad girls..).

I like the whole idea of learning humility "ma'am permission to speaK, ma'am" "with raised hand of coutse."The prisoner asks permission top tak to tne visitor."
Better get back to my nutriloaf but if anybnody wants to talk about my ideas or shared interests , I'm on womeninprisonguy@gmail.com

Orage said...

@NVC (such a long handle!)
After reading the Non Victorian Chick's wiki entry, I found a very interesting article about taste testing nutraloaf:


I do share WIP Fan's fascination for the incarceration of women in prison or institutions(with CP thrown in of course). Spanking doesn't turn me on, it's too tame for my taste.

WIP Fan said...

Pleased to meet you, Orage.You are a person with taste!

Orage said...

Yes, but with tastes that would be frown on by a lot of people, not that I care snce I don't advertise them!

Anonymous said...

OK, so I put up a comment and it vanishes into cyberspace. Crap.

The Non Victorian Chick

WIP Fan said...

I wouldn't wat to advertise my tatstes either, Orage (and have nobody to discuss them with anyway).But who would want to be 2normal"?

Toyntanen said...

Hello, all!

Sorry to hear you are having problems posting, Non Victorian Chick! I'm not sure why this happens but if it does you can always email me your thoughts directly and I will post up your comments on your behalf, as I have done for ‘’imreadonly2’ in the past. I can do this from my cell phone now so there should not be too much of a delay.

You can always discuss your tastes with me, WIP. And indeed, along those lines, I shall be getting back to the email you sent me shortly. Sorry for the delay but a lot cropped up over the weekend – not least of which has been my finishing off my latest book / novel or whatever. Talking of which, I shall be going around today, once the gym is out of the way, taking photographs for the cover art, which may well involve me in travelling to Paddington Station and the surrounding area – a veritable nostalgia-fest, since I was born nearby and was brought up a mile or so away!

Of course since we are all anonymous here (even me, since Garth Toyntanen is merely a nom de plume) we should feel able to discuss what we want (as long as fairly legal). But I am always up for private correspondence - and with my new ‘smart phone’, now that I am getting a grasp of it, the reply time should soon be getting much shorter… Honest!

And as for being normal: Who the **** wants to be F-ing ‘normal’ anyway? (Whatever ‘normal’ is). Not me! And if they frown, they frown!

WIP Fan said...

I do feel I can discuss my weird tastes here and by e-mail with you, Garth , which is cool.I hope you are gong to supervise at a womens prison gym? (uniform white gym short and white pilmsolls must be worn by the inmates..)If not, have a pint of real ale for me on your travels!

Orage said...

" Who the **** wants to be F-ing ‘normal’ anyway? (Whatever ‘normal’ is)"

Heh heh! Guess who has recently been elected because boasting he would be a normal P? And no, the P doesn't stand for prostitute...at least for those who voted for him (not me!)

WIP Fan said...

I distrust anyone who thinks "normal" is a compliment or something to aspire to..)

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Ana said...

I wanted to comment on your thorough and well-written analysis, but I got distracted by your comments about a professional governess not needing physical restraints because she would rely instead on...

I am afraid that the rather vivid fantasies appearing prevented me from reading anything else. ;)

Toyntanen said...

I'm not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing, Ana!