So here’s my second entry into the Women as Writers series!
Technically, this should be authored by ‘Anonymous’, however as Gemmell revealed herself as the author not long before the book was published I figured it would be okay to talk about it in this sense. That said, the fact that Gemmell wrote it as an anonymous author is really telling. As a female writer, Gemmell states that she ‘…wanted to write a scrupulously honest account of a woman’s secret life, and the only way I felt comfortable doing that was to withhold my name’. She also did it to protect herself, her family, and the friends that assisted her in writing the work. The power of anonymity means that the writer can be far more frank and honest about experiences and events that are written about in the work, even if they aren’t events or experiences that the writer went through personally. Gemmell, in her own way, speaks for most women in The Bride Stripped Bare, however it also proves that the need for anonymity is still applicable even in the 21st Century, when society is meant to be more accepting of works such as this. Gemmell herself discusses it in a passage of the letter at the back of my copy of the book:
I haven’t been as fortunate as my predecessor – I was ferreted out by a newspaper journalist even before my book was published. So, what to do, once my identity was in the public domain: publish under my own name, or honour the spirit in which the book had been written?Dear reader, I would like you not to know my identity; I would like you to accept the secrecy in which the book had to be written. I would like you to understand why, as a wife and mother, I might feel uncomfortable putting my name to this work, even though I felt compelled to write it and I’m so glad I did. But there are some people who will not want to accept this, and it is for them that this letter is written.
When she discusses ‘predecessor’, she refers to the book that inspired The Bride Stripped Bare: a seventeenth-century text, written anonymously, entitled Woemans Worth.
The Bride Stripped Bare is a novel that truly does delve into the mind of a woman and leaves nothing untouched, no stone unturned and no path untrod. In the same vein as Woemans Worth, Stripped deals with the private desires and untamed, animalistic needs of women who are in a marriage and aren’t quite satisfied, sexually speaking. Our main character, who remains nameless during the novel’s second person narrative, experiences most of the facets of typical (and non-typical) sexual life and fantasies, not with her husband who can’t get it up often enough for her liking but with a lover, Gabriel, who comes to her as a blank slate and whom she teaches the ways of pleasing a woman and keeping her in a marriage. She enters into an affair with Gabriel because she believes that her husband, Cole, has been having an affair with her best friend, Theo. She also enters into it because she believes that Gabriel is sending her lascivious love letters, which arrive on her doorstep hand delivered with no return address. With Gabriel, our protagonist experiences such a range of sexual exploration that she does not realise that Gabriel is falling in love with her. When she attempts to test out her newfound skills on her husband, Gabriel discovers the remnants of his efforts at shaving her and immediately explodes, professing his love for her. She storms out and returns to Cole’s side, ignoring all of Gabriel’s attempts to contact her via phone. By this point, she is ignoring Theo as well, and decides to have a child with Cole.
She eventually meets with Gabriel one last time, days before giving birth, in Spain where he is staying with family. They end their affair there, after Cole has left her because of a heated argument. She returns to London and so, too, does Cole, but their relationship is strained and the novel ends with the protagonist and her child disappearing, a push chair left on the edge of a cliff.
It’s left up to the reader to decide what happens to the protagonist there, and my own conclusion was that she had staged it and was now with Gabriel. But it has scope for change, depending on who you are and when you read it. For me, this book has changed my perceptions about many things that I didn’t realise were things I was concerned about until recently. And yet, it also showed me that in every one of us, there is a side that we don’t talk about. Except to our diaries, and maybe our partners if we trust them enough. I found the book to be an odd reflection of my own life, for the most part, however short it might be at this point. And I think the biggest thing I took away from it is that it’s okay to experiment, just do it reasonably. Also, don’t jump to conclusions, and that happiness might not lie in the same area for everyone.
Overall, The Bride Stripped Bare has much to offer anyone who reads it. I often found myself getting emotional over the protagonist’s demise, and urging her on when she felt confident. It’s books that produce these kind of reactions that often have the most to learn in them, so I encourage everyone who reads this blog to give it a go.
So never stop reading, and I’ll see you in the next blog post.