Forbidden Partners

FORBIDDEN PARTNERS:                                                                                                                   Beatrice Cenci   
Forbidden Partners: notes on e-reserve reading material

These were the notes that accompanied the reserve readings for the course, to help guide the students through it.  You will see that chapter seven in The Tribal Imagination draws deeply from this course, and the student input which was such an important part of it.  You will see also my debt to James Twitchell -  and not just for the title.  These notes might be interesting for someone curious about how I put a course together, this one a seminar for freshmen. (Jane Austen and Nabokov were added in the book.)
1. “The Evolution of Incest Inhibition.”   Robin Fox
 From The Challenge of Anthropology.
This is a brief introduction to the anthropological issues in the study of the incest taboo.  It is pretty straightforward and you should have no trouble with it.  Get the general idea of the issues involved and how I try to answer the question.  There are a few technical terms – we can discuss them in class, but you will get the idea.  Why do we have incest taboos?  What are they and how do we try to answer such a question?  Come prepared with your own questions.
2.   “Forbidden Partners 1:  Incest and In-laws from the Ancients to the Renaissance”
Robin Fox – from The Tribal Imagination.
This is the opening of a chapter in a forthcoming book intended to introduce the subject of incest in literature.  It repeats some of the material from the first reading but puts a different slant on it – particularly with respect to the role of the marriage of cousins.  Try to get the basic argument and come prepared to ask questions.
3. The Story of  Isis and Osiris
 Excerpt from Sir James Frazer The Golden Bough
The first page is from Leeming The World of Myth and shows the original family of the gods of Egypt that gave rise to Isis and Osiris.
The next three pages start with “The Dying God” – read this, then proceed to his excerpts from Frazer:  “Osiris and Isis" 

4. Old Testament:  Genesis 15-21 – The Story of Lot’s Daughters
(From the New Oxford Annotated Bible)
  Start with the story of Abraham (15) to get the background. 
What was Abraham’s deal with God?
Earlier (Genesis 13) it was told how Lot was the son of Abraham’s brother, and had separated from him and gone to Sodom on the plain of the Jordan to prevent strife between their followers over resources.
What happened in Sodom and Gomorrah?
What happened with Lot’s daughters?
5. Old Testament: 2 Samuel 13 – The Story of Tamar and Amnon
This is a straightforward tale easy to follow.  Note that Absalom and Amnon were sons of King David, and Tamar was Absalom’s full sister and Amnon’s half sister (different mother.)  Look particularly at Tamar’s reaction to her brother, and think about Absalom’s motives.
6. The Book of Jubilees Chap 4.  The Children of Adam.
One of the “lost books” that didn’t make it into the bible.  An account by a writer in about 150 BC who tries to make up for the contradiction in Genesis.  Where did Adam’s sons get their wives?  Look for how the descendants of Seth solved the problem.  Whom did they marry?
7. Sophocles, Oedipus Rex (Oedipus the King).
Written in Athens about 450 BC.  The classic drama about incest.  But was incest the great crime of Oedipus? 
Excerpts: read the “Argument” which gives you the story.
First excerpt is where Creon brings the news of the oracle to Oedipus.
(My translation of this is included for comparison)
Second excerpt is the ending of the drama and Oedipus’ moving plea for the safety of his children.

8. Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book 9.  The Story of Byblis and Caunas.
A re-telling of an old myth by Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) in about AD 7. A brother-sister story very different from that of Amnon and Tamar.  The story tells itself and is easy to follow.  See how Byblis tries to justify her feelings.

9. Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book 10.  The Story of Cinyras and Myrrha.
And the birth of Adonis, and the origins of the Myrrh tree.
A father-daughter story again very different from Lot and his daughters.  Or is it?

10. Volsunga Saga. The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs
This was translated from the Old Icelandic saga of the tenth century by the poet William Morris and an Icelandic collaborator.  The tale is a bit rambling but once you get the characters straight you can follow the doings of Sigmund and Signy and Sinfjotli.  It is a gory and lively tale, with the brother and sister at the center.  Here is the family tree of Odin (the chief god) and his descendants to help you keep it straight.  Print out this page and keep it  by you for reference.

11. Wagner’s Version in The Valkyrie. Act One.
We’ll see how Wagner adapted the story (Using the Nibelung Sagas)  for his own purposes in the 1870s for his opera cycle The Ring. This only makes sense if you watch it with the music – which we shall do.  But see what you can make of Wagner’s libretto here.  The translation is deliberately archaic in style to mimic Wagner’s German.   Siegmund escaping his enemies in the forest seeks refuge with Sieglinde, the wife of Hunding.  They fall in love and recognize each other as long separated brother and sister.  Hunding comes home and is suspicious.  Siegmund pulls a mysterious sword from the oak tree and they flee into the forest.
12.  Wagner’s Version in The Valkyrie Act Three, scene three.
Wotan (Odin)  the chief of the gods, wants to help the lovers, but Frika his wife insists that they be punished for breaking the rules of marriage.  Wotan has to agree and let Hunding kill Siegmund. Brunhilde, Wotan’s favorite daughter, has disobeyed him to help Sieglinde and baby Siegfried.  In this scene Wotan has a long debate with his daughter and finally punishes her by putting her to sleep in a Ring of Fire.  Get the emotional tone of the ending on p. 51.
13. Sir Thomas Malory Le Morte D’Arthur
We all think we know the story of Camelot but there is a lot in the original story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table that gets missed in the popular versions.  The excerpts here are from Thomas Malory’s original version (1485) – itself based on older tales.   The issue for us is the relationship between King Arthur and Mordred and Gawaine.  Try to figure out what Malory is telling us: how are Mordred and Gawaine the same to the King and how are they different?  Both are his nephews but in what significantly different ways. 
The conception of Mordred
The conception of Arthur
The rescue of Mordred
Mordred comes to Camelot to claim his birthright and conspires with other knights to bring down Arthur by exposing the affair between the queen and Sir Launcelot.  Civil war ensues.
Mordred Seizes Guiniver
The death of Gawaine
The death fight of Arthur and Mordred. 

14.Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon,
Written in 1968 this takes an interestingly different view of the relationships at Camelot.
She has the women of Camelot as pagan priestesses of the mother goddess pitted against Guinevere and her Christian priests.  Morgaine is a combination of Morgause and Morgan le Fay and is Arthur’s half sister with whom he has the ritual marriage described here.  They of course are masked and don’t know their relationship.
15.William Shakespeare, Hamlet (1590s) Act Three scene four.
You probably know the story well enough.  Hamlet’s father dies and his brother Claudius becomes king and marries the widow Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother.  The old king’s ghost tells Hamlet that he was murdered by Claudius, and the play then turns on Hamlet’s eventual revenge – which takes four hours and five acts to complete.  Hamlet’s “delay” has been the subject of a lot of debate.  Along the way, he has this scene with his mother – the old councilor Polonius is hiding behind a tapestry spying for the king.
16.John Ford, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (1633)
Giovanni and Anabella are brother and sister who fall in love.  When she realizes she is pregnant she agrees to marry Soranzo to cover.  It doesn’t work out.  Read these scenes to get some feeling for Ford’s extraordinary play.
Giovanni and the Friar: He confesses his love for Anabella
Anabella sees her brother.
They declare their love.
Their last meeting.
Giovanni kills his sister.
The gory ending we shall see on film.
17.John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667) Book Two
Milton in his epic poem tells the story of the rebellion, led by Satan, of the angels against God. They lose and are pitched from Heaven down to Hell.  There they debate and decide that they will fight back by corrupting God’s new creation, Man (Adam and Eve.)  Satan sets out to fly to earth via the Gates of Hell, and meets two creatures that bar his way.  He learns of his relationship to them.   Read the quotations under the painting by Blake and the two passages quoted in Twitchell’s book.  This is Satan, Sin and Death (and the horrific hellhounds) in Milton’s mythology – how is incest appropriate to their relationship?  (The quotations don’t make it clear that Sin is Satan’s daughter – she sprang from his head like Athena from the head of Zeus.)

18.Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders, 1722
Moll is an adventurer and we pick up her adventures when she flees England and lands up in Virginia and marries a man there and has a family.  She forms an attachment to the man’s mother and when they swap life stories she discovers that this is her own mother and her husband is her brother.  The excerpts give you a flavor of the story from there on.  How is the incest treated?  What is Moll’s attitude to it? The mother’s and brother’s?  The son’s?  How does this differ from the incest stories we have already looked at?
Moll tells her Mother.
Moll tells her Brother.
Moll finds her Son.
19.Henry Fielding, Tom Jones (1749)
Tom is the prototype of the likable scoundrel.  Since the plot is complicated and you can’t appreciate the excerpts without it I will attach my summary of the plot as it bears on the incest (or is it?). 
The eating scene at the inn at Upton
The bedroom scene at the inn at Upton
Tom gets the news
Mrs. Waters explains.

Plot summary: Tom is born under mysterious circumstances and is presumed to be the child of Jenny Jones, a young woman with aspirations to learning, who confesses to being the mother, but refuses to name the father.  Squire Allworthy, a widower, in whose house the newborn Tom was discovered, agrees to adopt and raise the boy.  Jenny is sent away and not heard from, and Tom grows up in the household with the squire’s sister, Bridget – a woman of virtuous disposition, and her son Blifil, with whom he has an adversarial relationship.
The novel follows the picaresque formula as Tom leaves home and has a succession of adventures pursued by his true-love Sophia Western, daughter of Allworthy’s neighbor, who is in turn pursued by the squire and an angry husband, Fitzpatrick, and then again by Squire Western in pursuit of his daughter.  In the pivotal episode, Tom rescues a Mrs Waters from rape and robbery, and after a memorable meal (immortalized by Albert Finney and Joyce Redman in the 1963 movie) he beds her in the inn at Upton.  After much bedroom-farce confusion and hullabaloo, when the whole pack of pursuers descends on the inn, Tom escapes and the mysterious Mrs Waters goes of with Fitzpatrick.
The adventures proceed apace, and details do not concern us until Tom, in London, lands in jail for fighting a duel with Fitzpatrick.  He is rescued by Mrs Fitzpatrick who turns out be Mrs Waters.  Tom’s long-time friend Partridge (who had missed her at Upton) is appalled when he recognizes her as none other than Jenny Jones.
“Why then the Lord have mercy upon your soul, and forgive you,” cried Partridge; “but as I stand here alive, you have been a bed with your own mother.”
                                                                                                (Book XVIII, chap II)
For the ending read Mrs. Water’s explanation! (4th excerpt.)

19a.  James Twitchell on William Blake’s The Mental Traveller (1803 – published 1863)
This is a very strange visionary poem by Blake whose illustration of Milton you have already seen (if not look up # 17.)  He imagines a “mental traveller” – a kind of psychic space visitor who is visiting the land of men and women, i.e. our world.  This is how he represents what he sees.  Read the text (18b) and then read what Twitchell has to say about it.  The influence of Milton is obvious – is the Blake poem also about incest? If so, why?

19b.  Text of Blake’s The Mental Traveller
Note two “l” spelling is British English

20. François René de Chateaubriand, René (1802)
This is the novel that inspired the Romantic Movement.  It is in French of course so I have included here my own summary of the plot and a few concluding remarks.  Then there is a copy of the first American translation – just the conclusion of the novel, so you can read some details and get the feel of it.
Plot summary (Fox)
Translation of conclusion
21.Twitchell on: Lord Byron, Manfred (1817) Cain (1821)
We’ll talk about Cain in class.  Manfred is the Romantic Hero – an idealized portrait of Byron himself who played the part to the hilt, including an affair with his half-sister Augusta Leigh.  Count Manfed is described as suffering from intolerable guilt over some “sin” that cannot be expiated, as he wanders the earth.  See what Twitchell has to say about it and his opinion that Byron is really a moralist rather than a libertarian.  Pay attention to the poetry.  They don’t write like this anymore!
22.Twitchell on: Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Cenci (1818) The Revolt of Islam (1818).
We’ll talk about the second in class.  In The Cenci Shelley portrays a father from hell with no saving graces.  Read what Twitchell has to say about this about how Beatrice reacts to her father’s evil acts.  This is the only other case of father-daughter incest after Cinyras and Myrrah.  Think about how the two cases differ.  What do they tell us about fathers?

23. Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, 1847.
The Earnshaw family lives at the remote farmhouse of the title.  Mr Earnshaw brings home a mysterious boy he says he found in the streets of Liverpool.  The boy is called Heathcliff and is raised with Cathy who befriends him and Hindley who hates him.  Cathy and Heathcliff are passionately devoted to each other but Cathy grows up and wants to marry Edgar Linton.  Heathcliff runs away, Cathy marries.  Several years later Heathcliff returns, rich and gentrified and takes his revenge. He marries Edgar’s sister,  ruins Hindley and takes over the Heights.  Cathy is pregnant and dying and she and Heathcliff have a passionate final scene together.  She dies giving birth to young Catherine.  We shall discuss the resolution of the story in class.  Here are three episodes, which will let you sample Emily’s high gothic style.
The arrival of Heathcliff
The death of Cathy
Heathcliff’s anguish.

24.Twitchell on: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818)
This is another story everybody thinks he knows and is usually wrong – as Twitchell points out.  The film versions variously stray from the text as we shall see.  Read what Twitchell thinks the story is “about.”  What was the “monster” really up to?  What was Victor Frankenstein’s relationship with his “bride”?
25.Twitchell on Dracula and Vampires in general.
 Try to get Twitchell’s argument about what the older male vampire represents, and equally what female vampires (Lamias) are about.  As you know this is a hugely popular theme.  Why does Twitchell think it appeals in particular to pre-adolescent girls?  He leans heavily on Freud for an explanation so you learn something about the great psychiatrist’s thinking too.  He uses some unusual words.  Look them up. I had to.
26.George Eliot  The Mill on the Floss (1860)
In what is perhaps the best description ever of a childhood sibling relationship, Tom and Maggie Tulliver grow up in their idyllic home in the mill on the River Floss.  They are passionately close, even in their (often fierce) quarrels, and seem to be inseparable, and included in the relationship is Philip Wakem, a hunchback boy, who Maggie sees as a brother, and wishes he were her brother.  As they grow older, their father loses the mill in a dispute with Phillip’s father, and then dies leaving them in precarious circumstances.  Maggie and Phillip move from a sibling to a tentative romantic relationship, which is squashed by Tom.
            Relief for Maggie comes from her cousin (mother’s sister’s daughter) Lucy, and Lucy’s suitor Stephen Guest, a friend of Phillip’s, who is a shallow dandy but has an undoubted sexual attraction for Maggie.  Maggie becomes increasingly attracted to Stephen with the obvious complications.  In the end they elope together, but Maggie regrets this and returns in isolation and disgrace.  She reconciles with Lucy and Phillip; Steven flees.  The novel comes to an abrupt end when the river floods, and in a melodramatically memorable scene, the estranged Tom and his sister are reunited in a death by drowning.
Excerpts here:
Tom, Maggie and Phillip in childhood
The End: In their death they were not divided.

27.William Golding, The Scorpion God (1972)
William Golding, the greatest of fabulists, best known for Lord of the Flies, nicely turns the issue on its head in a tale set in a petty kingdom in pre-dynastic Egypt where as we know marriage with close kin among royalty was the rule.  The princess Pretty Flower shocks the priests and the court by her lack of attraction to her brother (who in turn does not like “bouncing up and down” on her.)  Also shocking is her resistance to her “lawful desire for her father.”  She compounds her sin by being attracted to the Liar, who tells obscene tales of foreigners who would rather marry strangers than their own family members (echoes of Iraq.)  In a scene like a strange parody of Giovanni and the friar, the Egyptian priest (the Head Man) hears Pretty Flower’s confession concerning her liaison with the Liar:
Pretty Flower confesses
The Head Man explains
The Liar Bargains
The Liar escapes


28.Edgar Allan Poe, The Fall of the house of Usher, (1839)
You have probably read this story at school.  Here is my summary.
In America the theme seems to have almost exhausted itself, with the obsessive brother in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher (1839) having decided overtones of Ferdinand in Webster’s Jacobean masterpiece.  Note the narrator’s comment that:
“… the stem of the Usher race, all time-honored as it was, had put forward at no period, any enduring branch; in other words, that the entire family lay in the direct line of descent, and had always, with very trifling and very temporary variation, so lain.” 
There was he says a “deficiency of collateral issue.” Since the name had been transmitted intact, this must mean that the heir had always married a close cousin: all those who married could trace a direct relationship back to a common Usher ancestor.  Ushers had always married Ushers and the two nervously debilitated siblings were the result.  The incest is never openly stated, but they had lived in isolation for “decades” and were both approaching death.  Every schoolchild knows the story, and the gruesome ending where the sister Madeline returns from the crypt where brother Roderick had interred her before she was fully dead, and where her bloodied walking corpse falls on him and he dies in her embrace.  It is like a sanguinary gothic parody of the “clean” death of Tom and Maggie in The Mill on the Floss. 
I have put the whole story here.  You can read it through quickly.  Don’t get bogged down in the detail meant to prolong the suspense and deepen your sense of the strangeness of Usher’s character.
29.Ivy Compton Burnett, Brothers and Sisters, (1950)
This is a very complicated plot.  I have summarized it below.
The reclusive spinster, Ivy Compton-Burnett, returned with comic wit to the central theme, as found in Jane Austen, of the conflict between brother-sister affection and the needs of marriage.  She does this by introducing six pairs of siblings who meet in the restricted atmosphere of a small English country town in the indefinite Edwardian period that is always her setting.  The central pair is Andrew and Dinah Stace, although they have a younger brother Robin who acts as a kind of cynical chorus to the events. The siblings are part of a closed world in the home of their parents Christian and Sophia. The relationship twists are hard to follow in prose.  Diagram 7:2 should help to keep the record straight.
They have a pair of poor-relation cousins (the exact relationship is not defined), Tilly and Latimer.  The latter cling to hopes of marriage with their better-off cousins that remain unfulfilled.  Christian, the father of Andrew and Dinah, was an orphan, adopted at age ten, and reared by old Andrew Stace with his daughter Sophia, essentially as brother and sister.  The two become inseparable and want to marry.  Old Andrew adamantly refuses permission, and writes a letter, which he locks in a drawer, but he dies before revealing its contents.  It remains there for years during which Christian and Sophia do marry and have the children described.
Three other sibling pairs are introduced: Edward and Judith Dryden – he is the rector of the parish; Julian, a barrister, and Sarah Wakes; and Caroline and Gilbert Lang.  The latter have moved to the town with their elderly French mother, who had them late in life.  Julian and Sarah also would like to marry the Stace siblings, but as a first move outside themselves, Andrew and Dinah become engaged to Carloine and Gilbert Lang.  The various siblings think only in terms of a “double marriage” that will ensure they do not need to break up.  Then the shoe drops.  The letter in the drawer is discovered, and it turns out that Christian is old Andrew’s natural son and hence the half brother of Sophia (this makes them the sixth pair of siblings.)  On finding this out Christian has a heart attack and dies. 
Sophia and the children take the news stoically.  But at the same time Mrs. Lang, after looking at some family photos, tells Christian that she is his mother, but will not reveal who the father is.  Still, since Gilbert and Caroline are “by blood, half uncle and aunt” to the Staces, that engagement is called off.  Andrew and Dinah then become engaged to Edward and Judith. Diagram XX shows the relationships to this point, but has to reveal the next twist that, of course, the mysterious father is old Andrew Stace who had an affair with Mrs Lang when she was a young French maid.  At this, Edward and Judith drop out of the picture.
            --------  (cousins)-------------
           │                                        │     
           │                          Andrew Stace    =    Mary     +    Mrs. Lang      =   ?
           │                                                     │                │                   ___│____ 
Peter Bateman =                                        │                │                 │               │       
                        │                                   Sophia   =  Christian       Gilbert      Caroline      
            ______│____                             ______│_______                   
           │                   │                           │           │             │            
        Tilly           Latimer                    Dinah     Robin     Andrew    
              ___________                     __________
             │                    │                   │       
Edward Dryden     Judith         Julian Wake     Sarah
=  marriage       +  liason      │          │  siblings
Diagram 7.2  The Stace Family
Julian then proposes to Dinah but is turned down, so tries Caroline who seems to accept, and it is suggested that Sarah will accept Gilbert.  As a side plot, Tilly accepts a marriage proposal from a local merchant on condition that he will in turn take on Latimer as an apprentice. 
The readings are:
Andrew and the letter
The letter found
Sophia gets the news
The children discuss it