"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The Black Widow Spider– A Tale Of The Sexual Will Of A Devouring Woman

Brent Lively had known since the beginning that his marriage to Beth Parker, daughter of an Iowa farmer, successful investor in iron works and copper, would never amount to much.  She was the classic calm, practical reasonable anodyne to the tempestuous relationship with Lacey Thomas, a woman who had eaten him to an inch of his life.  An inch was enough to survive, and although his sexuality was almost indistinguishable from what it was before her, so neutered was it; he was still alive, his sexual fires banked, his sexual soul temporarily under wraps, both waiting for an opportunity to reignite and emerge.

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Lacey had devoured him out of lust, ambition, and Lawrentian purpose.   She was woman who considered orgasm her birthright, the defining element of womanhood, the only event worth noting in an otherwise humdrum evolution; and the fact that Brent had been the first lover of any promise – a confident, strong, and equally sexually purposeful, desirous Mellors to her Lady Chatterley – was incidental.  She cared little who the gatekeeper to her sexuality was, only that he perform as was expected. Her great beauty – classic, imperious, and perfect was both a source of sexual power and a foil to her ultimate interests.  Physical beauty distorted the sexual calculus – too many incompetent men were drawn to her; and too many competent men were distracted by it.

Her previous lovers had been promising but inept, desirous enough, male enough, but without the will to make love as existential as Lawrence saw it, central to everything, incidental to nothing. Maleness and femaleness, Lawrence thought, were absolute, clearly defined, and primal, and true sex was the way for men and women to realize, appreciate, accept, and fulfill their sexuality.  The phallus might be the initiating instrument of sexual union, but a woman’s sexual energies stimulated and released by it were no less valid and important to physical and spiritual consummation.

Two rivers of blood are man and wife, two distinct eternal streams that have the power of touching and communing and so renewing, making new one another, without any breaking of the connecting link between the two rivers, that establishes the two forever.  And this, this oneness gradually accomplished throughout a lifetime in twoness is the highest achievement of time or eternity.  From it all things human spring, children and beauty and well-made things, all true creations of humanity. And all we know of the will of God is that he wishes this, this oneness, to take place, fulfilled over a lifetime, this oneness within the great dual blood-stream of humanity (Lady Chatterley’s Lover)

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Brent had had the sexual confidence, the purposefulness, and the desire to mate with Lacy; but he teetered on the edge, balked at her sexual omnivorous appetite, pulled away before he was consumed, unsatisfied, wanting more, but too fearful to give up and give in.

Lacey, like Lady Chatterley reviewed her options.  Mellors was as sexually sophisticated as Lady Chatterley and as aware of the sexual premium of mutual ‘finality’ but too diffident, too concerned with social class and propriety – like Miss Julie’s valet who needed to do the right thing, and was always chattel to it – and Brent was no different.  A likely candidate, a good choice, but ultimately too timid and withdrawn to perform.

Which is why he escaped Lacey and retired to the arms of a woman who had no such designs, no such hunger, and no such sexual designs.  Life with her, while ordinary, would never be feral or dangerous; and sex while never existential and always predictable, would always be procreative, physical and uncomplicated.  Neither she nor sex would change anything. 

Of course Brent quickly tired of the routine and longed for Lacey, although she was long dead and buried in an Amboy cemetery, visible from the Garden State Parkway, unceremoniously laid to rest with only a few mourners by the graveside and none of her lovers.  His failure with Lacey, his non-compliance with her non-negotiable sexual demands, and his being left on the curb did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm and his awkward sexuality.  Lacey would always be his Marilyn Monroe – a sexual icon, unattainable but more desirous because of it.

Beth was temperate, forgiving, longsuffering, and loving; and no matter how often or how far Brent strayed, she took him back; and he always came back, never contrite but exhausted.  Beth was always a safe haven.  Burton, Mungo Park, and Speke all had homes to which to return; or at least the dream of having one.  For Brent, he could never have had his own adventures without the guarantee of safe return and safe haven. 

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Why, one might ask, would a man like Brent Lively seek another Black Widow, a woman whose sexuality was impossible to satisfy and whose demands were intimidating and threatening?  Yet most men are like Mellors and see sex as metaphysical as Lawrence did.  While sex might be incidental and forgettable, without significance, a burnishing of ego at best, and a drunken and clumsy event at worst, the idea of sexual balance - an expression of complementary wills -  an ineradicable  piece of memory, and a defining experience was irresistible.

From this perspective Brent’s affairs were desultory and predictable.  There were sexually hungry women but whose voracity came from some petty psychological and all too familiar twist – an indifferent father, a demanding mother, a bad marriage, an overactive ego, or a distorted self-image – and never from the Nietzschean lust described by Lawrence. 

All the great words, it seemed to Connie, were cancelled for her generation: love, joy, happiness, home, mother, father, husband, all these great, dynamic words were half dead now, and dying from day to day. Home was a place you lived in, love was a thing you didn't fool yourself about, joy was a word you applied to a good Charleston, happiness was a term of hypocrisy used to bluff other people, a father was an individual who enjoyed his own existence, a husband was a man you lived with and kept going in spirits.

As for sex, the last of the great words, it was just a cocktail term for an excitement that bucked you up for a while, then left you more raggy than ever. Frayed! It was as if the very material you were made of was cheap stuff, and was fraying out to nothing.


Sex without something more than simple physical satisfaction or the temporary resolution of old, minor sexual issues was never worth it.  There had to be something more.  Connie found it in Mellors, a sexual twin, an ontological partner, but few other women or men ever do.  Lacey was too devouring, too insistent on reaching a transcendental orgasm, to emasculating to find complementarity.  Brent was too timid, and although sexually aware, was reluctant to be devoured and consummated.

For Lawrence sexual complementarity was far from today’s sense of mutual respect, patience, and carefully-balanced parity.  It was the complementarity of wills – one dominant, the other submissive, regardless of gender.  Women in Love, Lawrence’s long, often preachy, and windy book about the sexual dynamics between the partners of two couples, gets at this idea of will.  

Each of the characters struggles to come to grips with their sexual will or lack of it; and most are conflicted between desires of submission and desires of dominance.  They challenge all the social conventions,  parental authority and patriarchy, feminine and masculine expectations to try to achieve sexual independence and identity.  They stumble and get so caught up in their intellectual pretensions to follow their natural instincts.


In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a book published after Women in Love and Lawrence’s last, he creates in Connie a woman without such pretentions.  Connie is as desirous as Gudrun and Ursula and as motivated, but far more mature and honest.

The beautiful pure freedom of a woman was infinitely more wonderful than any sexual love. The only unfortunate thing was that men lagged so far behind women in the matter. They insisted on the sex thing like dogs.

And a woman had to yield; but a woman could yield to a man without yielding her inner, free self. That the poets and talkers about sex did not seem to have taken sufficiently into account. A woman could take a man without really giving herself away. Certainly she could take him without giving herself into his power. Rather she could use this sex thing to have power over him. For she only had to hold herself back in sexual intercourse, and let him finish and expend himself without herself coming to the crisis: and then she could prolong the connection and achieve her orgasm and her crisis while he was merely her tool.

Mellors, while sharing sexual experience with Connie, follows her.  The women in Lawrence’s novels are always sexual leaders.  They are the ones with will, determination, and purpose; and the men in their lives rarely match up.  From Margaret, Paul’s mother in the autobiographical Sons and Lovers to Connie Chatterley, it is the women who have an insight into the limitless potential and power of sex. 

While Mellors and Brent may have sensed the importance of mating with powerful women, they were not always up to it.  Brent was nearly devoured and Mellors lost his way.  Strindberg’s Miss Julie was another sexually powerful, determined woman who used Jean, her valet for her own sexual ends; but both were too confined by society, culture, and bourgeois expectations to fulfil them. Ibsen’s women succeeded in realizing their power, but – like Lacey – destroyed the men they sought to manipulate.

In Women in Love after Birkin and Ursula have finally made love, Birkin expresses Lawrence’s central idea:

He knew what it was to have the strange and magical current of force in his back and loins, and down his legs, force so perfect that it stayed him immobile, and left his face subtly, mindlessly smiling. He knew what it was to be awake and potent in that other basic mind, the deepest physical mind. And from this source he had a pure and magic control, magical, mystical, a force in darkness, like electricity. It was very difficult to speak; it was so perfect to sit in this pure living silence, subtle, full of unthinkable knowledge and unthinkable force, upheld immemorially in timeless force…

Yet Birkin like Gerald cannot retain the focus, and have mated with imperfectly sexual women.  Neither Ursula nor Gudrun have achieved the sexual maturity of Connie Chatterley and therefore are distracting.  Although Birkin has an intimation of the power of sex, without the clear singularity of purpose of his lover, his intentions are diverted.

Lawrence’s idea of complete sexual parity, a complementarity of sexual wills, and the epiphanic nature of a perfect sexual union, is Platonic at best and romantic at worst.  Yet Brent like most men understood it well. Being nearly devoured by Lacey was only the beginning of his sexual maturity; and he had the resolve to keep looking.

Most men keep looking well beyond their ability to attract and keep a mate.  God’s greatest irony was to create men with a limited sexual life but condemned to an obsessive perennial fascination and desire for women.  A sexual Sisyphus, doomed to desire and flogged daily for it, almost reaching their sexual ideal, but turned back near the top.

Brent, like most men, returned to his wife and their predictable, comfortable older years.  At least he had tried, although that was cold comfort since he never stopped looking for another Lacey, albeit from his armchair. 

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