Discuss Frank Wedekind’s Lulu in relation to its cultural and social context. Pay particular attention to the ways in which the play challenges and/or perpetuates certain assumptions concerning gender and sexuality; include a discussion of the play’s relevance to our contemporary context.
This essay will be exploring and discussing the character of Lulu in Frank Wedekind’s play of the same name. It will delve into the relationship that Lulu has with the men and women of the late 1800’s, as well as the challenges that women have experienced over the centuries having to deny their sexual appetite in a patriarchal world. There will be investigations into female oppression and gender status. Also one will be looking at the roles of fictional and factual ‘Femmes Fatales’ throughout the ages, from those in story books to actual ‘icons’ who have reached out to the world through modern media coverage. It will discuss whether being a sexually attractive woman is help or hindrance, is a woman a slave to men’s desires or is it a tool that women use to live and lead the life that they wish?
In research of the character of Lulu I read the introduction from the play Lulu adapted by Nicolas Wright and his insight to the character of Lulu and Frank Wedekind’s method research by having sexual encounters with a number of prostitutes. Using this method Frank Wedekind created lulu, by taking different the qualities and flaws of the prostitutes he had met, women who are described as “irresistible, some fearlessly honest, some devious, some manic, all doomed.” (Wedekind/Wright, 2007:11) Nicolas Wright gives the impression in the introduction that
“Certainly he must have come across a woman who, at the age of five or so, was raped and prostituted by a man who may have been her father. This is exactly what had happened to Lulu, as Wedekind goes to some trouble to spell out. Is he saying that this hideous event has formed her life, that’s it’s made her what she is as an adult? As a 19th-centery buck, he may not spot the connection. Yet his comments on women are full of insight, and the way the way lulu sexualises every relationship she enters into with a man seems very much part of damaged- child syndrome.”
By reading Nicolas Wright’s thoughts on how the character of Lulu is an abused child and is a damaged soul and as a character has a very warped view of what is acceptable and what is normal in a relationship. Due to the impression of her childhood raised by a man who is said to be her father who is insinuated in the play they had an inappropriate relationship. This is apparent in Act 4. She asks Schigolch to kill Rodrigo (an acrobat who is blackmailing lulu) for her.
“Lulu: what do you want? Don’t ask too much.
Schigolch: well, now…. if you ever felt nostalgic … for our old arrangement…..
Lulu: oh god…..!
Schigolch: Why not?
Lulu: I’m ….changed. I’m not a child any more.
Schigolch: what do see when you look at me now? Some aged monster?
Lulu; but you’ve already got a mistress.”
(Wedekind/Wright, 2007: Act 4:94)
Lulu from a young age was passed around like a toy for men’s enjoyment. This information reflects that Lulu is always looking for someone to look after her, and the security which comes with marriage, as she has never had that as a child. Now as an adult Lulu can only rely on her exceptional beauty and the fact all men from different status’ are drawn to her. This in turn empowers her to manipulate the men in her life, to bend to her every whim while the man still thinks he is in control. But in return by becoming what the man wants from her Lulu is able to enchant them by targeting their weaknesses and getting what she may want in that times before her eyes start to wonder again. This is more apparent when she marries for the second time, Eduard Schwarz. In this relationship she is the one who is control and she doesn’t like this as she has nothing to manipulate him with, so it is my belief this is the reason she begins an affair with Dr Franz Schoning. This marriage to Schwarz seems to be a healthy relationship and very comfortable life style, and which by Lulu entering into this affair with Schoning makes me wonder that Lulu is not wanting a loving family and the security of being married, she wants some danger and excitement to her life, and to me this selfish attitude which many women from her background would kill for makes me think what does Lulu really want? It’s apparent she needs the security of marriage which is what society expects of women in her status and situation. But this isn’t what lulu wants’ she is a healthy sexed woman with a natural sexual appetite which unfortunately was going against the society grain.
Lulu’s character was ahead of the time’s as she was written in a time when women were repressed and had to marry for security. In a way that was most women in that era ambition was to marry well and above their station. In Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin Mrs. Bennet was obsessed with finding husbands for her five daughters. The heroine of Pride of Prejudice Elizabeth Bennet is the complete opposite of Lulu. Whereas Elizabeth Bennet wants to marry for love, and disliked the idea of marrying just for security.
When she was proposed by her cousin Mr Collins it takes him some time to understand that his proposal is being rejected by Elizabeth, in that time was quiet unheard of to actually refuse a proposal.
“Your portion is unhappily so small that it will be in all likelihood undo the effects of you loveliness and amiable qualifications. As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall chuse to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.”
Even Jane Austen herself in 1802 accepted a marriage proposal from Harris Bigg-Wither, but she later changed her mind the next day. In all of her novels the heroine somehow ended in a suitable marriage with the man of their affections, yet she herself went on to becoming an ‘old maid’ which was her choice but in this article it states that
“Austen never felt she had been presented with adequate choices: it was either get married or become a governess or a teacher.” (http://www.sexualfables.com/spinster.php).
Harris Bigg-Wither who after her death read her books more closely in trying to understand her refusal of him and came to conclusion that marriage didn’t interest her, because in her novels she didn’t include sexual passion, and also she would only write about the prelude to marriage in a platonic way. So does this mean that Austen felt that sexual tension in a marriage would be the downfall of a relationship that started without it and that was based on affection? I feel that Austen a women of the early 1800’s who was expected to marry and was scared of sex and the complications that come with it, and thought marriage should be the product of two people in love and not a realistic and practical arrangement. She is quoted from a letter to her niece
“Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection,” (http://www.sexualfables.com/spinster.php).
So in the early 1800’s Jane Austen was changing the way women behaved towards marriage that being an old maid was the only acceptable life style if one wasn’t inclined to marry. But by not marrying sparked rumours in the 1990’s that Austen was in fact a lesbian and that was the real reason she didn’t marry. This theory hasn’t be proved or disproved, I think it’s an insult to any women if they choose not to marry that they are assumed be a lesbian. Even in today’s society women are targeted and frowned upon if they choose to have a career over starting a family, which in my opinion it is a man’s ego that is being injured by not being needed.
Frank Wedekind went a different way his play Lulu by making her of sorts a high class prostitute and giving Lulu the looks and the skills to manipulate the men she wanted to pursue. In my opinion the reason why Lulu was shocking for the time it was written in is because, it was common thought that men were driven by their sexual desires and women had none. If Lulu was a man this play would be called Casanova. If the lead was a male it wouldn’t be as shocking as the world would have heard of the antics of Giacomo Girolamo Casanova de Seingalt who had died 1798 who was renowned for a sexual predator of young women and a gambler. But Lulu wasn’t a man but she was influenced by the men in her life, she tried to gain power by enslaving the men she wanted with her sexual desire. Another woman in fiction used the same skills in attain what information her pray had.
Milady Clarick de Winter from The Three Musketeersa novelbyAlexandre Dumas. Milady Clarick de Winter was a teenager forced to enter the convent, but when she gets there she falls in love with a priest with who she escapes with. They leave the church with stolen property to fund their new life together, for which both of them get caught and were branded criminals with the fleur de liys. Then she appears in Athos’ village living with a man, and pretending to be his sister. When Athos, fell in love with her and married her. After some time together he finds the brand on her shoulder, saying she was a thief. Thinking she had married him only for his money which is not true, a heart-broken Athos tries to kill her by hanging her from a tree. But she survived. At the time the book is written, apparently it was acceptable to kill your wife if you found out she had committed a crime. Milady Clarick de Winter is a capable and beautiful spy, she is an example of a strong, independent woman with a tragic past, and filled with hate for men, she enjoys seduction and the destruction of men. The men she traps will provide her with support for a short period of time but will most likely to meet an untimely end if they learn of her past. Milady Clarick de Winter is remorseless for her countless crimes.
In my opinion Lulu and Milady Clarick de Winter are femme fatales, and to achieve their hidden purpose, by using their feminine assets such as beauty, charm, and sexual allure. Both seem to be victims, caught in a situation from which they cannot escape; the connections between Milady Clarick de Winter and Lulu are uncanny having relationships ending in deadly consequences for the men they ensnare. Both Milady Clarick de Winter and Lulu have many names given or changed them through marriage. Dr Goll Lulu’s first husband in the play is in discussion with Dr Franz Schoning on their preferences on what they like to call her.With all these men renaming her is it any wonder that no-one knows the real Lulu? Does lulu exist anymore? I feel that there is such a power in a name, and by changing that aspect of a person they no longer exist. So by changing lulu’s name constantly she becomes a whole new person with a new personality over and over again, and is sculptured into whatever the man wants.
“Goll: You see I call her ‘Popsy’.
Schoning: I thought ‘Mignon’ suited her well.
Goll: ‘Mignon’? No, ‘Popsy”s better, from my personal point of view. I have a weakness for the incomplete . . . the immature . . . the innocent child in need of fatherly protection.”
In the case of Milady Clarick de Winter she had to change her name as Athos, her first husband whom she loved deeply thought she was dead after hanging her from a tree, and for her own protection she changed it when she married Lord De Winter. With all these name changes is there wonder that these women manipulate men for their own gain. When it’s the man who has the power to change their names a moulding them into their puppets or to force them to change their name for protection. In the process stripping them of whom there are and who they could have been.
Does society put the pressure on women to behave a certain way still? In a culture that is obsessed with the celebrity and the morbid fantasy of when things go wrong trying to find the information because even in death we as a society still want more. Marilyn Monroe was a beauty with curves; she was more than a ’50s sex goddess. She dominated the age of movie stars to become the most famous woman of the 20th Century and still has a strong fan base growing 45 years after her death. She was born Norma Jeane Mortenson and never knew who her father and was baptized Norma Jeane Baker. Her mother was mentally ill and Norma Jeane had to spend most of her childhood in foster homes and orphanages until she moved in with family friend, but when she was 16 the family she was living with was going to move and couldn’t take Norma Jeane with them. She had two options: return to the orphanage or get married.So even in the 1940’s girls without family had two choices the state or marriage, she married a boy who she had been dating for 6 months. On being discovered by a photographer while helping towards the war effort in a factory, and from then on she became a model and Marilyn Monroe. But her marriage didn’t survive her new found career. Then she soared to fame by landing film roles and various awards, but on the 5th august 1962 she died of a possible suicide. The events surrounding her death isthe most talked and debated conspiracy theories of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Many believe she was killed by order of the Kennedy’s and this was the belief of her second husband Joe DiMaggio and he died convinced the Kennedy’s were to blame, in an article about a book of his life written by his long term lawyer and friend Morris Engelberg. DiMaggio is to of expressed
“They murdered the one person I loved,” DiMaggio confided to Mr Engelberg.”
These beliefs come from man who loved her very deeply and expressed that the men she was in a romantic relationship was the cause of her demise, and many of her fans believe that there are allot of unanswered questions connected with her death and I agree the masses there is too much information missing. She was at the mercy of very powerful men who wanted to keep her quiet and the scandal if she ever diverged in the information she knew. The allegations of the Kennedys being connected with her death has not been proved or disproved. Like Lulu, Marilyn Monroe was playing a very dangerous game by underestimating the power she had over men and the men in power. It is insinuated that Lulu was killed by Jack the Ripper an educated man who used his status to lure vulnerable prostitutes with his refinery and wealth, one the suspects was Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondalehe was grandson of Queen Victoria but this was neither proved or disproved. When doing my research the similarities between Lulu and Marilyn Monroe was very chilling both women were killed as the result of men, but for me the fact that Lulu is a fictional character based on the women Wedekind met on his sex romping with prostitutes and his character has so many similarities with the icon Monroe is disturbing that plight of women hasn’t changed much in a hundred years and more.
My aim in this essay was to Discuss Frank Wedekind’s Lulu including the context and time it was written in, and if the female gender role has changed much in the time scale, by exploring other writers, and eventually looking at a modern day icon. I feel my discussion is in a very female point of view and I’m sure that if this was written by a man it would have a very different angle and maybe I should have gotten a male opinion on the subject. Did Frank Wedekind write Lulu to shock society? Or to show that women of the 1800’s were restricted my gender and status through text. When Frank Wedekind wrote Lulu I think he knew it would be shocking in his society as a sex tragedy but I don’t think that knew that he had divulged so much into the way women were repressed by their gender and how certain sexual traumas’ can affect the way women as a gender enter a sexual relationship. Even today women use their sexual allure to get what they want or to influence a man into doing things for them. I’m my opinion women have been fighting for the right to be equal with men but yet we as a sex still choose to use our beauty to get what we want and is that because from a young age society and story books use the stereotype of the woman is at home with the children and the man makes a living and supports his family. The times have changed and as a culture we have accepted same sex marriage, same sex adoption and a black president which I thought I would never see in my life time, but the life long battle of the sexes continues and I don’t think this is going to end with any outcome which will be acceptable for either side. Lulu is a modern drama of sex. It’s not a helpful story about gender roles or sexual politics, or even at heart a marriage play, as all four of her marriages end badly. Lulu is a ruthless test of the terrible destructive would be of a basic human drive, and of that favourite scapegoat for that destruction, the femme fatale.
- Austen.J (1996) Pride And Prejudice, London, Penguin Group.
- Wedekind.F/Wright.N (2007) Lulu, London: Nick Hern Books limited.
- Ascription of Identity: The “Bild” motif and the character of Lulu, Silvio Jose Dos Santos, The Journal of Musicology, Vol. 21, No.2 (spring 2004), pp. 267-308
- Masterpieces of French literature By Marilyn S. Severson
- Refraction of the Feminine: The Monstrous Transformations of Lulu, Karin Littau, MLN, Vol. 110, No. 4, Comparative Literature Issue (Sept., 1995), pp. 888-912
- The Three MusketeersbyAlexandre Dumas