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Having downloaded the Comixology app in order to read Heathen, I had a sneaking suspicion that I was about to start reading more graphic stories. I've been hearing a lot of praise for Monstress, so it was a natural choice for my next set of purchases. Monstress is set in a secondary world built with a flavor of several Asian cultures as well as original invention, and a somewhat steampunky esthetic. Two conflicting peoples: one superficially "human", and one the "Arcanics"--descendents of human-Other lineage, manifesting in a variety of "monstrous" physical forms, many with zoomorphic characteristics. Arcanics also share a hazardous property: their flesh can be harvested and processed to produce "lilium", a mystical substance with various uses. That harvest can be done in whole or piecemeal, so many of the Arcanics in captivity are portrayed as maimed. At some point in the past, peaceful relations between humans and Arcanics broke down, horrendous wars were fought, and the land was divided. Arcanics in human lands are treated as dangerous but useful animals. In this world, a young Arcanic named Maika sets out on a quest...
What I liked
The art is breath-taking. The story-telling punches all my favorite buttons for being plunged into a world with no explanation and revealing details with no coddling or hand-holding. Up until the last page of this first volume, you're learning new things about the characters and events you thought you'd figured out. The plot twists and turns like a snake, destroying your understanding of what's going on even as it reveals. The focus on female characters similarly hits my sweet spot, as do the plentiful same-sex relationships. I love how the story combines familiar, but not over-used tropes from non-Western cultures, while still being an entirely invented secondary world. The stakes start high and get stratospheric.
What I didn't like
I'm really not attracted to stories with lots of gratuitous violence, dismemberment, casual slaughter, and the like. This is a very intense story where it's not a good idea to get emotionally attached to any particular character. Content warnings for graphic, gory violence, dismemberment, child abuse and death, and threats of sexual violence. Maika is strugling against a literal monster inside, and often loses that struggle. I find this work heartbreakingly beautiful and at the same time repulsive. It's beautiful enough and engaging enough (not in the "cute and pretty" sense of engaging--more in the "fish hook in your flesh" sense of engaging) that I will almost certainly continue reading the series, but some may find it too intense to enjoy.
It's always hard to find the balance between giving readers the descriptive details they want, and not going overboard. Reader feedback on the Alpennia books has taken contrary positions: some praising me in relief at not being subjected to endless details of ballgowns and parties, some wistfully longing for more details of ballgowns and parties. The tight third-person point of view that I use can make it awkward to describe things that the characters would take for granted or consider unremarkable. But sometimes there are opportunities for such descriptions to be critical for character development, as when Serafina is unexpectedly invited to the Ambassadors' Ball in recognition of her work with Margerit on the All Saints' Castellum mystery. This enflames Serafina's social anxiety. In her academic work, she may move among people who are comfortable in high society, but she is quite certain that she doesn't belong there herself. Unfortunately, the protestation that she has nothing suitable to wear fails when she is put in Jeanne's capable hands...
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Chapter 7 - Serafina
The shop had a tidy little face with a bow window on which neat gilded letters proclaimed “Madame Dominique, Modiste.” The simplicity of the display was an obvious testament to the quality of the custom she expected.
Once more Serafina hung back. “Jeanne, I don’t think…”
“You needn’t worry too much about the price. I won’t insult you by making a present of it—Antuniet scolded me on that point! But I’ve brought her a great deal of business and she will return me the favor by charging only what you can afford.”
“No, but Jeanne…a society dressmaker! She won’t want—” How tiresome to need to explain.
But Jeanne had already opened the door, setting the bell above it jangling.
The girl who came out of the back room to greet them wore the sort of neatly elegant dress that advertised the proprietor’s skills in even the simplest fashion. But Serafina scarcely glanced at her clothing, instead matching gazes with the bold eyes looking out from a brown face, framed by a lace-edged linen cap.
The girl dipped a curtsey, saying, “Good day, Mesnera de Cherdillac.”
“Celeste, I do hope your mother has time to do something for Maisetra Talarico,” Jeanne said. “I sent a note this morning but there was no time to wait for a reply.”
She disappeared with a nod.
“Her mother?” Serafina began, a different question on the tip of her tongue.
“Dominique studied dressmaking in Paris as a girl—she came here with a group of French émigrés back during the war—but I think she was born somewhere in the Antilles. I think you’ll like her. She has a knack for choosing exactly the right style. God knows she’s done wonders for Antuniet!”
Serafina was barely listening. A knot eased inside her when the girl returned, followed by a tall woman dressed with equally quiet elegance. She was darker than her daughter—well, that was hardly surprising if Celeste’s father were Alpennian. If Paolo had given her a child, she might have looked much the same. The thought pricked like a tiny hidden thorn. Serafina found her voice at last, “Madame Dominique, I would be very grateful if you could dress me for a dinner with the Royal Mystery Guild.”
It was the girl, Celeste, who took her measurements, jotting down numbers on a slate while Dominique brought forth samples of fabric and discussed the details of tucks and ruffles. Jeanne participated with a few pointed suggestions.
“Nothing too fussy, I think. There isn’t time.”
Tactful of her not to mention the cost.
“Perhaps something like that wine color you chose for Mesnera Chazillen’s New Year’s gown?”
Dominique deftly turned Jeanne’s suggestions into her own, bringing out a soft red wool with a border of flower vases woven in golds and blues. “This, I think. It was meant to be cut into shawls but if we set the border design at the hem—” She held it up to fall from just under the bosom. “—and a bit more of the motif on the sleeves. No ruffles at all, just a few tucks along the edge of the corsage.” She pinched the fabric between her fingers to show the effect along the collarbone and looked up at Jeanne for approval.
“Yes, you’re right as always!” Jeanne laughed.
“Will you have jewelry?” Dominique asked.
Serafina started to shake her head but Jeanne suggested, “A string of pearls?”
“Perfect! Now how do you plan to wear your hair?”
By this time Serafina had abandoned the thought of having her own opinions, but they all stared at her in expectation. “I usually…” She unpinned a lock and wound it into a tight curl around her finger to hang along her cheek. “Like that.”
Celeste paused over her slate to say matter-of-factly, “I wish mine would do that.”
“Then I think just a small band,” Dominique concluded. “To tie around in back. No feathers, no ribbons.” She kissed her fingers to set the seal of approval on her own vision.
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I think that Chapter 13 "One of the Populace" is my favorite part of A Little Princess. You know that tv commercial a couple years back--I think maybe it was for an insurance company but I could be wildly wrong--showing a long chain of people doing random kindnesses for a stranger in passing, which was witnessed by a third party who was then inspired to do a random kindness for a stranger in passing, which was witnessed...and so forth? Chapter 13 it a bit of that, showing how an act of selfless charity can touch and chance the hearts of others unknown.
The chapter begins with a contemplation of the power of imagining, when Sara and Becky are commiserating after a hard day and, instead of telling stories reframing their lives as The Prisoners in the Bastille, Sara paints an idyllic story of the life the Indian Gentleman's monkey led before being captured and brought to England. When Sara asserts, "What you have to do with your mind, when your body is miserable, is to make it think of something else," Becky question whether that's really possible. In a very human moment, Sara admits, "Sometimes I can and sometimes I can't." Then she talks about the power of her princess persona. This segues into "one of the strongest tests she was ever put to" which forms the rest of the chapter.
We are shown the depths of Sara's most dreadful day, when the weather conspires against her, and Miss Minchin has refused her food as a punishment for some unstated transgression, and she's trying desperately to imagine herself into warm clothing and the most luxurious meal she can imagine: six penny-buns hot from the oven at the bake shop, which she would buy the a sixpence she imagines herself finding. And then...she finds a coin. (We learn later that she still has the sixpence that the Carmichael boy gave her for charity. But I have suggested that to actually spend it on such basic necessities would make it charity, and not the keepsake of a friend that she chooses to consider it.) The coin isn't even the meagre fortune she has imagined, but only fourpence. But there it is, right in front of a bakery, with hot buns just been put into the window display. Surely it is A Sign.
And then she sees the second Sign: a barefoot, rag-clad, freezing, starving beggar girl sitting on the steps of the bakery. Sara speaks to her and is struck to the heart at how much worse off the girl is than she herself, and her Princess Nature kicks in. If she is truly a princess, then it is her duty to give largesse to her people, even at great cost to herself. So she decides to share her small fortune with the girl.
This is the exact point at which the balance begins to assert itself. The owner of the bakery, impressed by Sara's honesty at first asking if anyone has lost the coin she found, and noting Sara's hungry look, impulsively gives her sixpence worth of buns for four. Sara, instead of splitting the six buns evenly, gives five of them to the beggar girl and keeps only one for herself. And when the bakery owner notices this--though not in time to speak to Sara again before she leaves--she is touched and a little shamed to think that a girl who was herself cold and hungry could give so much when she had barely noticed the presence of a starving child literally on her doorstep. So she invites the beggar girl inside to warm herself and tells her to come back any time she'd hungry. As we will learn much later, this is the first step toward a deeper relationship where she takes the beggar girl on as an apprentice and gives her a home. To be sure, it's only one beggar out of no doubt many on the streets. But it will turn that one person's life entirely around.
Though Sara doesn't know it yet, everything is looking up from here on. But there are diversions to endure first. Sara will undergo one more crushing disappointment before The Magic comes. And in echo of that, she passes Mr. Carmichael leaving his house on the trip to Moscow in a vain quest to locate Captain Crewe's lost daughter.
Monter, E. William. 1985. “Sodomy and Heresy in Early Modern Switzerland” in Licata, Salvatore J. & Robert P. Petersen (eds). The Gay Past: A Collection of Historical Essays. Harrington Park Press, New York. ISBN 0-918393-11-6 (Also published as Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 6, numbers 1/2, Fall/Winter 1980.)
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A collection mostly of case-studies of specific historic incidents or topics relevant to the changing understandings of homosexuality. Most of the papers address male topics. Only the three relevant to female topics are covered in this project.
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The majority of this article concerns accusations of sodomy between men, and looks at the numeric distribution of evidence with regard to the date, location, nature of the charge, and demographic information about the accused. The analysis is particularly interesting with regard to the interplay of religious and sexual concerns. There is a single reference to an incident involving women.
In 1568, a woman in Geneva was accused of fornication and “irritated her judges” by proclaiming her innocence, based on a claim that she was a virgin. When a midwife (who presumably examined her physically) testified otherwise, She broke down and confessed to both heterosexual fornication and a lesbian interaction four years previous with a woman who had died since then. The record of the sentence included, “it is not necessary to describe minutely the circumstances of such a case, but only to say that it is for the detestable crime of unnatural fornication. ... a detestable and unnatural crime, which is so ugly that, from horror, it is not named here.” But her death sentence focused more on the crimes of blasphemy and the heterosexual fornication. Execution was by drowning.
Given that torture seems to have been a routine part of obtaining evidence from defendants, the trial record may be considered more accurate with regard to what the court believed to be plausible than to the woman’s actual deeds.