Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

"'A Little Humoring of Pussy's Points!'"; or, Sex-The Real Unsolved Mystery of Edwin Drood"

Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

"'A Little Humoring of Pussy's Points!'"; or, Sex-The Real Unsolved Mystery of Edwin Drood"

Article excerpt

I had considered entitling this essay, " 'Pussy, Jack, and many of 'em,'" or perhaps, " 'Let's have a little talk about Pussy'" or " 'I'd Pussy you ... if I was Pussy," or " 'You've only to call your Pussys by the dozen to make 'em come,'" all of which are quotes from chapter two of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the first two spoken by Edwin the last two by Mrs. Tope. The trouble is that there are just too many good choices to pick from in this chapter if you want to highlight an example of mischievous sexual double- entendres. The word "Pussy" occurs 20 times in this chapter--a fact that is particularly remarkable considering the woman in question is not even present. The OED indicates that the word "pussy" has been used as slang for female genitalia since about 1699, so it's reasonable to imagine that a man with Dickens's proclivities for nighttime slumming would be well aware of the sexual meaning of the term. And his playful juxtaposition of the word with other suggestive language makes the sexual double-entendres even clearer, particularly in chapter 2 and chapter 8. So, what is Dickens up to here--and why should we care?

To start with, Rosa's real name, "Rosa Bud," is also a longstanding term and image for female genitalia. The OED lists several examples of lips being compared to rosebuds in poetry from the seventeenth century onward, and "lips" have been used to refer to the external female genitalia since at least the sixteenth century (1598), so the connection between rosebuds and female genitalia is not hard to make. When Robert Herrick exhorted readers to "gather ye rosebuds while ye may," he wasn't just talking about picking flowers. So naming a young female character "Rosa Bud" and then giving her the nickname "Pussy" is playing pretty heavy-handedly with sex slang (tantamount to calling a male character "John Thomas" and making his nickname "Dick"--but we'll get to John Thomas later).

Chapter 2 of Drood, "A Dean and a Chapter Also," amounts to a tour de force of sex slang. In this chapter Edwin and Jasper settle in with sherry and walnuts after dinner, when Edwin proposes, "'Pussy, Jack, and many of 'em!'" which he quickly follows up with "'Happy returns, I mean,'" as if he recognizes how his toast to Rosa's birthday might be misconstrued (17). But Dickens seems to be going out of his way to make Edwin's toast an eyebrow-raising double-entendre. Even if he'd just had Ned say, "To Pussy --many happy returns of the day," there would still be a sexual implication but one not quite so brazen as "'Pussy, Jack, and many of 'em!'" which, grammatically, does NOT equate with "'to Pussy, Jack, many happy returns of the day,'" since the contracted pronoun "them" has no antecedent but "Pussy." The sentence literally means many happy returns of Pussy, since there is no mention of birthdays in the exclamation for the contracted "them" to refer to.

Dickens continues on the same track a few sentences later when Edwin says, "'And now, Jack, let's have a little talk about Pussy. Two pairs of nutcrackers?'" (17). The contiguity of "Pussy" and "nut-crackers" seems to suggest that the "Pussy" in question--Rosa--IS a "nut-cracker," another term for a "ball-breaker." Or, to be exact, she's like "two pairs of nut- crackers" as she's breaking both Edwin's and Jasper's nuts, a word which the OED indicates has been used to refer to "testicles" since at least 1863 and to the "end of the penis" since 1565. "Nutcracker" was also a Victorian slang equivalent of "pussy" (Burgan 284; Burton 92, n. 46). Edwin's subsequent frustrated complaints about Rosa support the suggestion that she is a "ball- breaker;" he refers to her later in the chapter as "Miss Scornful Pert" (17) and "Little Miss Impudence" (21) in expressing his irritation with her behavior.

Dickens's careful repetition in this scene of the word "crack" to indicate the cracking of walnuts underscores the scene's sexual tension and the connection between sexual tension and violence. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.