WRITING WELL 7 - midwinter

by Susan Weber

The Snow Child story follows the opulent Count and Countess on horseback through the frozen wilds of their estate. A girl appears beside the road, naked and pure as snow. We are told she is the child of the Count’s desire. Husband and wife disagree on what to do with her. You may read Angela Carter’s brief and potent story here.

The narrative reads like a Jungian dream. Archetypes sparkle, images glow, clarity of purpose underlies the solid structure. The writer carves a channel to our inner world.

Carl Jung sees individuation as our main task. Who are you, who am I individually? I like the idea that the more we accept our unique selves, the more fully we may love. Besides being scholar and practitioner of psychology, Jung was an artist. Art is a powerful instrument of individuation.

I see The Snow Child characters as three aspects of one individual not too far along the path to self-acceptance. But then, how many of us are?

The Count dreams up a girl child. He gives her white skin, red lips, black hair, and stark nakedness. She does not act on her own behalf except at story’s end. It's up to the Count to protect her, which he does at first. He then betrays and, as an afterthought, defiles her. Perhaps the Count can’t trust himself to have a more complex object of desire, one with agency, contradiction, a mind of its own. The full-grown Countess is mounted right beside him; he expresses no desire for her.

I can relate to this Count who underestimates the depth, the grace, the fullness of mature desire. When it comes to publishing my work, I tend to downplay my desires. But if I want to publish, I'll need to flesh them out, go into the ring with them, expect them to challenge and change me.

The self-serving Countess brims with desire, but she’s stuck defining herself as the Count’s wife. Her focus is to squelch her husband’s desire for anyone but her. What does she want that is not about losing the Count?

Sometimes I ask the wrong questions about writing. Is it too late to develop my skills? What if I submit manuscripts before I’m any good? What if I embarrass myself? The point of writing is to do it well; that’s where I need to focus.

Other times I’m the naked child. The world is well-practiced in assigning innocent, obedient, beholden attitudes to women. Angela Carter, in this precise and telling story, overturns that narrative. She doesn’t leave the girl child melting in the snow. She resurrects her in passion and beauty and thorns. She conjures the ferocity of foxes. This is a writer of relentless, defiant survival with a warning to those who would sully the rose. It bites!

Photo by Erick F. Brandsborg CC BY-SA 2.0