Polly's Discovery of Sexuality in Gardam's Crusoe's Daughter

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

Like the works of Lively and Swift, Crusoe's Daughter places major emphasis upon various aspects of sexuality, including

Polly Flint, who always lives an odd sort of islanded, isolated existence, never attending school with other children, has to piece together all she knows about men, women, love, lust, and sexuality.

Her education as a sexual being begins, Polly relates, when shortly after she had refused to be confirmed as an Anglican, she "found that blood was pouring all down my legs. . . . Aunt Mary in her nurse's drapes drew herself up to the height of the ceiling and said, 'I shall get Frances,' and vanished, too, and I stood drunk and shaking and thinking of the crucifixion. 'I'm bleeding to death,' I said to Aunt Frances as she tiptoed in. 'No, no dear, you're not,' she said. 'I'll get Charlotte.' [34-35]. The maid, shocked that she has never heard about menstruation, assures her that its onset has nothing to do with her refusing confirmation. "It happens to everyone. Christians too," to which Polly replies, "Everyone? To everyone? To good people? To Father Pocock?" Charlotte then "gave me her version of our common female doom. I listened with horror, not only at the obscenity she was telling me but because it was she who had been chosen to tell me" [35].

Polly, whose few experiences of sexuality come in odd, askew ways and times, next encounters it when she "felt jealous" of her Aunt's smiling at her ten-year-old, short-lived friend, Stanley (who turns out to be Charlotte's illegitimate son). "It was the moment," Polly tells us, "I learned our bodies are only furniture. That attractiveness has nothing to do with looks or years" (45). Thirty years later she again discovers this truth, which still takes her by surprise, when she thinks of the new parish priest, the "milkman's lad" who had long ago asked "beautiful Miss Flint" for a kiss [200].

Gardam's protagonist also realizes that like age, gender does not entirely control sexual desire. For example, after Frances and Father Pocock decide to marry and go out to India as missionaries, Polly "passed Aunt Frances, flushed, standing up four-square to Mrs. Woods, who was looking at her with what seemed hatred and banging her stick on the rug until the sea-asters and arrow-grasses trembled in their oil-green bowl. 'You know how I love you,' Mrs. Woods was hissing" [59], and one is not surprised to discover that "nobody mentioned the scene. Ever" [59].

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