What do Mansfield's "The Little Governess" and "The Tiredness of Rosabel" tell us about women's sexuality?
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Interestingly, both of these stories feature female protagonists who are variously trapped in positions of poverty, dependence and oppression of various types. Note how in "The Little Governess" the protagonist is only travelling at night because the lady at the Governess Bureau had said that she must. She spends an awkward time, desiring company but at the same time she clearly does not know how to handle the porter that tries to take her bag and then demands payment or the group of men in the carriage next to her who ask her to join them:
Suddenly from the corridor there came a stamping of feet and men's voices, high and broken with snatches of loud laughter. They were coming her way. The little governess shrank into her corner as four young men in bowler hats passed, staring through the door and window.
Note how the governess "shrank" into her corner. Likewise, when her elderly companion forcibly kisses her, she finds it repugnant. All of these events combine to present us with a woman who is stifled in every sense: physical, sexual and psychological.
"The Tiredness of Rosabel" presents us with another woman subject to the forces of poverty and class distinction. Rosabel is introduced to us as being hungry and not having enough to eat. However, as she returns to her home from work and in lying down in her apartment, she becomes transfixed by a memory of a particular couple that she served, and especially the man:
How handsome he had been! She had thought of no one else all day; his face fascinated her; she could see clearly his fine, straight eyebrows, and his hair grew back from his forehead with just the slightest suspicion of crisp curl, his laughing, disdainful mouth. She saw again his slim hands counting the money into hers... Rosabel suddenly pushed the hair back from her face, her forehead was hot... if those slim hands could rest one moment... the luck of that girl!
It is clear that Rosabel intensely desires male companionship, and yet, because of her poverty, solitude and social background, all she can do is be with him in her fantasies, which she does in the rest of the tale.
Thus both of these stories present us with women who are variously trapped in different ways: by their social background, by their position, by their lack of resources, which results in them being inhibited sexually.
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