An Introduction to Sex: Flowers in the Attic

“Christmas wears me out because of the incest.”
    -My mom circa 2001

What she’d actually meant was that her eyes get tired in church on Christmas Eve because of the incense, but it’s hilarious, no? 

It’s Christmas in the US right now, and as I so often do at this time of year, I’m thinking of a hot (and vaguely troubling) scene in a book series that I loved as an adolescent.  The first books I ever read that mentioned sex, sexuality, and sensuality were those in the Dollanganger series (Flowers in the Attic et. al.) by V.C. Andrews.  When I found them (in my attic, of course) at the age of twelve, they opened up a whole new world to me — and to several thousand other adolescent girls, I imagine.  A damaging, fucked-up world. 

If you’re not familiar with the series, it begins with the tragic and accidental death of a father of four children (a teenage boy and girl and young twins).  In a state of shock, their mother whisks them away to live with her parents in Virginia and promptly locks them in the attic for years while trying to score a rich husband.  Their super crazy fundamentalist grandmother tries to kill them all because she considers them the spawn of Satan (their father is their mother’s half-uncle), but in the end, three of them escape (one of the twins dies) after three and a half years of being imprisoned.  During this time, the eldest son, who is a boy genius studying medicine, falls in love with his sister, who practices ballet in the attic, and sorta kinda rapes her.  Aaaaand that’s just the first book. 

When I was a twelve year-old girl reading these books, I of course never stopped to analyze the nature of the relationships or the gender roles in the book… I just reacted to the fact that all the male-identified characters seem to be mesmerized by Catherine and her magical feminine powers.  They all desperately crave her and can never imagine loving another woman after meeting her.  As a middle school student, I was like, “Hell, yes — I want the power to captivate men!”  It was my first introduction (to be continued by several books, television shows, movies…) to the incredibly destructive and ridiculous narrative that if the person a woman gives her attention to doesn’t have this reaction to her, she’s failing as a woman.  Never mind the fact that the first romantic relationship this character has is with her brother, the second is with an abusive and manipulative husband, the third is with her adopted father, and the fourth is with her mother’s ex-husband.  Seriously.  V.C. Andrews’s characters and plots are the zenith of clusterfuckery.  Also, the writing.  Oh, god, the writing:

Where was that fragile, golden-fair Dresden doll I used to be?  Gone.  Gone like porcelain turned into steel.

So. Awful.  She also uses the phrase “rigid male sex part” at some point. 

This book series is a revenge fantasy, and much like male-centered revenge stories propagate harmful gender narratives by focusing on a heroic and hyper-masculine protagonist who lives by a code and uses his dark cunning, grit, and brutal strength to leave a trail of bodies behind him on his quest to extract a morally unambiguous revenge, Andrews does the same in this female-centered revenge story by creating a femme fatale character who uses her body and her sexuality to seduce men and emotionally destroy them on her quest to get a horrifying revenge on her mother (who was willing to kill her own children for inheritance) and her grandmother (who was willing to kill her own grandchildren to maintain the family reputation).  And you thought your family was dysfunctional. 

Anyway, back to the steamy Christmas scene.  Cathy and Chris are laying with their heads underneath a Christmas tree, looking up at the lights like they used to do when they were children, and then they have a super hot three page-long makeout session wherein they want to have sex, but they know they shouldn’t because they’re related, but they’re both so completely overwhelmed by their desire for each other that they just can’t help it.  I know it’s wrong on so many levels (the abominable writing being more disturbing than the incest: “We melded in a hot blend of unsatisfied desire — before I suddenly cried out, “No — it would be sinful!”  “Then let us sin!”), but twenty years later, reading this scene still turns me on.  Something about the taboo of wanting someone you’re not supposed to want or can’t have a physical relationship with, the sexual tension that builds from that desire over time, and the release of said tension is crazy hot.

This was supposed to be a funny one-paragraph post about this one scene. Oops!  I think that the second book in the series that contains this scene was just made into a TV movie, so if you’re up for a few laughs, I’d suggest watching it with friends and a bottle of bourbon.  Take a shot for every time something inappropriate happens.   

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