"For, in fact, we only know of repression through its failures..."
The housemaid Collins endears
herself to Stephen by remarking: "Doesn't Miss Stephen look exactly like
a boy? I believe she must be a boy with them shoulders, and them funny
gawky legs she's got on her! And Stephen would say gravely: 'Yes, of
course I'm a boy'" (Well of Lonliness,19).
Stephen's fantasy with Collins
represents her budding "noblesse oblige" and
the forming of lesbian desire: "
Stephen pictured them living alone in a
low thatched cottage...Collins would sit by the fire with her shoes off.
Then Stephen would go and cut rich bread and much butter--and would put on
the kettle and brew tea for Collins, who liked it very strong and practically
boiling, so that she could
sip it from the saucer. In this picture it was Collins who talked about
loving, and Stephen who gently but firmly rebuked her: 'There, there,
Collins, don't be silly, you are a queer fish!" (25).
This fantasy is one that does not suggest proscribed
roles, but indicates the possible fluidity of butch-femme relating.
Stephen performs kitchen duties in a way that indicates her affection for
Collins: she lavishly butters the bread, she prepares the tea just as Collins
likes it. The butch's pleasure is
connected to giving, "...her ability to pleasure her fem [sic] was the key
to her own satisfaction" (Madeline Kennedy, 73). Though Hall is criticized
for her use of role-playing, this scene is sufficiently complicated
within the context of lesbian desire;
contextually the details of the same scene would have been impossible
with a man in Stephen's position. The exchange of desire suggests that
superficially Stephen playfully rebukes Collin's advances.
As butch, that is her role--to be the one who is
approached flirtatiously, and rebuffs the same desire. Butch-femme
nurtures difference, upon which erotic attraction in a heterosexist
culture is based, within the dyad of sameness.
The flow of exchange in relation to gender roles is complicated by class
structure. The class differences are acute in Stephen's relationships
with Collins, Angela Crossby, and Mary Llewellyn.
Stephen, in classic butch form, wants
to provide and protect with her honor and money. In the fantasy with
Collins, Stephen is "slumming", she is "living down" in a "low thatched
cottage" with her housemaid. This fantasy is part of a class picture
which can be viewed as both patronizing and
subversive: patronizing in that Stephen protects with her money even as
she condescends to "the help", writes about "the salt of the earth" as if
she knows "them", and perpetuates notions of the "free" individual and
salvation through bourgeois marriage;
subversive in that she serves her housemaid in this fantasy, gives her
money and property freely to Mary who needs a home and to Barbara and
Jamie, working-class lesbians, and ultimately realizes that
money cannot protect her because of her
therefore works for a living by writing. Stephen's right to Morton (her
home) and her inheritance can only be accessed legitimately through male
privilege, therefore Stephen learns quickly that
though modeling masculine ways does not grant one the
phallus, it creates gaps in which occasional power can be mastered.