Saturday, 14 April 2007

Forbear the forebear of Three Bears.

Yes, it proceeds apace, this here education of mine. Little more than a week after discovering the secret Schlomo in S. S. Freud, I learn that Robert Southey - he of getting-about-with-Coleridge fame (before S.T.C. hitched up with Mahatma Wordsworth) - wrote the prototype to "Goldilocks and the Three Bears". My dealings thus far with R. Southey have mostly devolved around his alleged coinage of "autobiography", a term in which I take considerable professional interest, so it was an unexpected treat to find his sideline in porridge advertisements.

A treat, but also a source of some consternation to one who has long read her three bears story as an exultation of proletarian struggle.


Here's how it all went, before I bumped into Southey's version:

Mama Bear, Papa Bear and Baby Bear lived in a harmonious forest commune producing organic oats and freerange honey. Peace, porridge and beds for all. Papa Bear ate a big, huge bowl of porridge because he was big and huge; Mama Bear got herself a medium-sized bowl of porridge, because she was medium-sized; Baby Bear had a teeny, tiny-sized bowl of porridge, because he was teeny, tiny-sized. Perhaps the Bear Family tended to buy into somewhat socially constructed notions about the relationship between gender and porridge consumption, but Mama Bear had a higher degree in atomic physics and Papa Bear did most of the domestic work, so it was ok. Sexual politics aside, their porridge distribution policies were firmly rooted in Mr Marx's wise instruction: "from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs."

In flounces Goldilocks, yellow sausages of hair dangling about her ears. The name's a complete give-away. She's ruling class to her back teeth. Gold-i-locks. Wealth and property. And property, as her behaviour suggests, is theft. She consumes the proletariat's labour; she idles around in their beds while they're out working; she breaks one of their chairs.

The Bears return home en bloc. They roar en bloc. Goldilocks, our arch-capitalist, leaps out of bed where she's been smoking cigars and playing solitaire with her Amex cards, and resolves never to exploit bear labour again. It's a victory for ursine solidarity. United, we roar; divided, we are permanently deprived of our porridge.

All, well and good. But then I read
Southey's "Three Bears" and I find there ain't no Goldilocks. No glistening hair sausages. No air of curly blond privilege. Southey's porridge thief is variously a "little old Woman", a "naughty old Woman" and an "impudent, bad old Woman". There's no gold on her head. She's altogether in a bad way, oppressed and marginalised, not least by the narrator, who's intent on her defamation. She eats the Bears' porridge and she sleeps in their beds, sure; by the looks of things, she probably needs to. When Southey's bears come home, they're complete bullies. They roar her out of an upstairs window. Writes Southey, "whether she broke her neck in the fall, or ran into the wood and was lost there, or found her way out of the wood and was taken up by the constable and sent to the House of Correction for a vagrant as she was, I can not tell."

He cannot tell, our narrator. But it's pretty jolly clear that he'd be happy with any of them three outcomes. Those are not the words of a good comrade, Robert Southey.

No wonder Coleridge dumped you for Willie W.

21 comments:

TimT said...

The Bears return home en bloc. They roar en bloc.

En communist bloc, I suppose?

alexis said...

But of course. Just as soon as they draw their iron curtains.

TimT said...

By chance I happened to be browsing this this online version of a classic fairy tale book, including the 'Three Bears' story. It includes illustrations by Arthur Rackham, and it's brilliant.

TimT said...

Browsing yesterday, that is. There is a link direct to the Three Bears story. I like the first picture the best.

The captions to the pictures are marvellous: 'Someone has been sleeping in my bed, - and here she is!', 'What is it that you are singing, my good woman?', 'Away THAT flew into the dark, and she never saw it no more', and the classic 'Jack found it hard to hoist the donkey onto his shoulders' ...

alexis said...

That'll teach him to covet his neighbour's ass.

Thanks for them links. I love fairytales, their routine and shameless representations of cannibalism, abduction, child abuse, the moral schemas that often seem to come from no cultural tradition I know.

I don't really think the "Three Bears" lends itself to the hastily cobbled-togther Marxese offered in my post, but its lesson obviously relates to property.

Karen said...

I love a damaged archangel as much as the next person and would hate to take Southey's side (having also only known him in a peripheral capacity), but he has got at least one thing right- Goldilocks was originally "Silver Locks", an old woman and a witch, no less. Consulting Marina Warner (From the Beast to the Blonde, p.157), I find that the earliest extant text of the story was written by one Eleanor Mure as a present for her nephew in 1831. There's plenty of high jinks, with Silver Locks falling off her chair, etc, but then it all turns rather nasty when the bears (who are very wealthy and have a lavish house) get home. They 'drag forth the dame half expiring with fear' and perform the customary tests to establish whether she is a witch (throwing her on a fire, 'swimming' her- she floats). Eventually they 'chuck her aloft of St Paul's churchyard steeple'.
Warner speculates that Southey's version has much to do with a common association between witches and beggars or vagrants. So you're spot on about the property connection. I have a vague memory of a (brief) reference to Goldilocks in Marx, but I get nothing on a quick search of the MIA, so it's probably my mind playing tricks on me again!

TimT said...

I never really worried about their morals, I just find the narrative structure so pleasing. Watching a fairy tale unfold is like listening to a fine piece of music. Perhaps this is why they have formed the plots for several operas and ballets.

Karen said...

"Overanalysis" has been the core of my being from a very early age- and the way all the links in a reading gradually build is musical and epic too!

lucy tartan said...

Goldilocks, is that a Protestant name?

alexis said...

"Overanalysis" indeed. The very notion strikes me as conceptually impossible, Dr K, especially if you accept the notion that utterances can mean things the utterers don't voluntarily or consciously mean them to mean.

And of course Marina Warner's already gone and done all the work on Goldilocks. Typical. She gets all the good research topics. No fair.

I would be positively ecstatic to find that Marx had referred to Goldilocks. Even if he didn't, perhaps we could start a rumour to that effect?

alexis said...

What are you suggestin', Lucy T? That the Three Bears espouse a wholesome Protestant work ethic, while Goldy is some kind of Papish or Jewish threat to middle class capitalist integrity? I guess that works.

Karen said...

Absolutely. There is no such thing as overanalysis. Tim's comment just struck me because a friend was accusing me of "overanalysis" recently.

The idea that Marx refers to Goldilocks is so strong in my mind that it bears further investigation. I will check my copy of Capital (which is where I seem to remember it happening) and report back if it isn't just my wild imagination.

alexis said...

"I will check my copy of Capital"! Is no mean feat, Karen, checking one's copy of Capital. Don't put yourself to too much trouble.

Karen said...

My copy of Capital is extensively annotated, Alexis, because that's what I do in lieu of a social life!

I can't find it, damnit! It's possible that I had a dream about this (this is exactly the sort of thing I dream about, I'm sorry to say) and now it's playing havock with my waking mind and making me indulge in a bit of obsessive compulsiveness in public.

Not to worry though! One day you and I will have to write the missing Goldilocks chapter of Capital, perhaps over a glass or two of Pimm's.

alexis said...

That, Karen, would be a positive pleasure. Let me know when you're next down south and I'll start brewing the Pimm's.

Karen said...

Oh God, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to very rudely invite myself to partake of your Pimm's stock, but that would be very nice, thanks.

alexis said...

Not rude at all! I wish more people would offer to partake of my Pimm's stock. Particularly alongside an offer to rewrite Das Kapital. I'm enjoying this e-chat-a-thon so much that I singularly regret not having exploited your company more while we were in the same city. Had we teamed up earlier, no great work of communist literature would remain unbegoldilocksed.

Karen said...

I wanted to apologise profusely for not partaking more of your company too, but not partaking of your company would be my punishment for that. I get very nervous talking to people sometimes. I'm sorry about that. But we found each other again thanks to the wonders of the electronic age, so no harm done- although you may not be able to hold me to my promise to rewrite Das Kapital!

torshy said...

The first time I ever heard of Alannah Hill was when a good friend who shall remain nameless told me that the jacket she was wearing which I so admired was Alannah Hill - and cost $300. I am still recovering from the shock and have not yet bought any single item of clothing which cost that much (although I did recently spend almost $200 on sports shoes. I maintain that I was distracted by buying them in a foreign currency, and also I was trying to avoid Nike). Nonetheless, love the scarf Lex. And the expression.

Anyway you're in the Bourne now and everyone knows they dress better than their northern cousins. Because they have weather, rather than various degrees of a nice sunny day.

alexis said...

Ach, Hanna, it's worse than $300. I now own a wee little jacket that retails for $429. It's grey, with the odd purple and pink touch, and I don't wear grey, unless I'm trying to impress the world with my sobriety. I'll save it up for court appearances and meetings with bank managers.

Proper sports shoes are expensive, but they're an investment in the longterm health of your knees.

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